2 Samuel 2
David had paid due respect to the memory of Saul his prince and
Jonathan his friend, and what he did was as much his praise as theirs;
he is now considering what is to be done next. Saul is dead, now
therefore David arise.
I. By direction from God he went up to Hebron, and was there anointed
2 Samuel 2:1-4.
II. He returned thanks to the men of Jabesh-Gilead for burying Saul,
2 Samuel 2:5-7.
III. Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, is set up in opposition to him,
2 Samuel 2:8-11.
IV. A warm encounter happens between David's party and Ishbosheth's, in
1. Twelve of each side engaged hand to hand and were all slain,
2 Samuel 2:12-16.
2. Saul's party was beaten,
2 Samuel 2:17.
3. Asahel, on David's side, was slain by Abner,
2 Samuel 2:18-23.
4. Joab, at Abner's request, sounds a retreat,
2 Samuel 2:24-28.
5. Abner makes the best of his way
(2 Samuel 2:29),
and the loss on both sides is computed,
2 Samuel 2:3-=32.
So that here we have an account of a civil war in Israel, which, in
process of time, ended in the complete settlement of David on the
|David Made King at Hebron.
||B. C. 1053.|
1 And it came to pass after this, that David enquired 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.
2 So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the
Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal's wife the Carmelite.
3 And his men that were with him did David bring up, every
man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.
4 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 Jabesh-gilead were they that buried Saul.
5 And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-gilead, 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
6 And now the LORD shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also
will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.
7 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.
When Saul and Jonathan were dead, though David knew himself anointed to
be king, and now saw his way very clear, yet he did not immediately
send messengers through all the coasts of Israel to summon all people
to come in and swear allegiance to him, upon pain of death, but
proceeded leisurely; for he that believeth doth not make haste, but
waits God's time for the accomplishment of God's promises. Many had
come in to his assistance from several tribes while he continued at
Ziklag, as we find
(1 Chronicles 12:1-22),
and with such a force he might have come in by conquest. But he that
will rule with meekness will not rise with violence. Observe here,
I. The direction he sought and had from God in this critical juncture,
2 Samuel 2:1.
He doubted not of success, yet he used proper means, both divine and
human. Assurance of hope in God's promise will be so far from
slackening that it will quicken pious endeavours. If I be elected to
the crown of life, it does not follow, Then I will do nothing; but,
Then I will do all that he directs me, and follow the guidance of him
who chose me. This good use David made of his election, and so will all
whom God has chosen.
1. David, according to the precept, acknowledged God in his way.
He enquired of the Lord by the breast-plate of judgment, which Abiathar
brought to him. We must apply to God not only when we are in distress,
but even when the world smiles upon us and second causes work in favour
of us. His enquiry was, Shall I go up to any of the cities of
Judah? Shall I stir hence? Though Ziklag be in ruins, he will not
quit it without direction from God. "If I stir hence, Shall I go to
one of the cities of Judah?" not limiting God to them (if God
should so direct him, he would go to any of the cities of Israel), but
thus expressing his prudence (in the cities of Judah he would find most
friends), and his modesty--he would look no further at present than his
own tribe. In all our motions and removals it is comfortable to see God
going before us; and we may, if by faith and prayer we set him before
2. God, according to the promise, directed his path, bade him go up,
told him whither, unto Hebron, a priest's city, one of the cities of
refuge, so it was to David, and an intimation that God himself would be
to him a little sanctuary. The sepulchres of the patriarchs, adjoining
to Hebron, would remind him of the ancient promise, on which God had
caused him to hope. God sent him not to Bethlehem, his own city,
because that was little among the thousands of Judah
but to Hebron, a more considerable place, and which perhaps was then as
the county-town of that tribe.
II. The care he took of his family and friends in his removal to
1. He took his wives with him
(2 Samuel 2:2),
that, as they had been companions with him in tribulation, they might
be so in the kingdom. It does not appear that as yet he had any
children; his first was born in Hebron,
2 Samuel 3:2.
2. He took his friends and followers with him,
2 Samuel 2:3.
They had accompanied him in his wanderings, and therefore, when he
gained a settlement, they settled with him. Thus, if we suffer with
Christ, we shall reign with him,
2 Timothy 2:12.
Nay, Christ does more for his good soldiers than David could do for
his; David found lodging for them--They dwelt in the cities of
Hebron, and adjacent towns; but to those who continue with
Christ in his temptations he appoints a kingdom, and will feast
them at his own table,
III. The honour done him by the men of Judah: They anointed him king
over the house of Judah,
2 Samuel 2:4.
The tribe of Judah had often stood by itself more than any other of the
tribes. In Saul's time it was numbered by itself as a distinct body
(1 Samuel 15:4)
and those of this tribe had been accustomed to act separately. They did
so now; yet they did it for themselves only; they did not pretend to
anoint him king over all Israel (as
but only over the house of Judah. The rest of the tribes might
do as they pleased, but, as for them and their house, they would be
ruled by him whom God had chosen. See how David rose gradually; he was
first anointed king in reversion, then in possession of
one tribe only, and at last of all the tribes. Thus the kingdom of the
Messiah, the Son of David, is set up by degrees; he is Lord of all by
divine designation, but we see not yet all things put under him,
David's reigning at first over the house of Judah only was a tacit
intimation of Providence that his kingdom would in a short time be
reduced to that again, as it was when the ten tribes revolted from his
grandson; and it would be an encouragement to the godly kings of Judah
that David himself at first reigned over Judah only.
IV. The respectful message he sent to the men of Jabesh-Gilead, to
return them thanks for their kindness to Saul. Still he studies to
honour the memory of his predecessor, and thereby to show that he was
far from aiming at the crown from any principle of ambition or enmity
to Saul, but purely because he was called of God to it. It was told him
that the men of Jabesh-Gilead buried Saul, perhaps by some that thought
he would be displeased at them as over-officious. But he was far from
1. He commends them for it,
2 Samuel 2:5.
According as our obligations were to love and honour any while they
lived, we ought to show respect to their remains (that is, their
bodies, names, and families) when they are dead. "Saul was your lord,"
says David, "and therefore you did well to show him this kindness and
do him this honour."
2. He prays to God to bless them for it, and to recompense it to them:
Blessed are you, and blessed may you be of the Lord, who
will deal kindly with those in a particular manner that dealt kindly
with the dead, as it is in
Due respect and affection shown to the bodies, names, and families of
those that are dead, in conscience towards God, is a piece of charity
which shall in no wise lose its reward: The Lord show kindness and
truth to you
(2 Samuel 2:6),
that is, kindness according to the promise. What kindness God shows is
in truth, what one may trust to.
3. He promises to make them amends for it: I also will requite
you. He does not turn them over to God for a recompence that he may
excuse himself from rewarding them. Good wishes are good things, and
instances of gratitude, but they are too cheap to be rested in where
there is an ability to do more.
4. He prudently takes this opportunity to gain them to his interest,
2 Samuel 2:7.
They had paid their last respects to Saul, and he would have them to be
the last: "The house of Judah have anointed me king, and it will
be your wisdom to concur with them and in that to be valiant." We must
not so dote on the dead, how much soever we have valued them, as to
neglect or despise the blessings we have in those that survive, whom
God has raised up to us in their stead.
|A Civil War in Israel.
||B. C. 1053.|
8 But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took
Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;
9 And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and
over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all
10 Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to
reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah
11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of
Judah was seven years and six months.
12 And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the
son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.
13 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.
14 And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and
play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.
15 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.
16 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 Helkath-hazzurim, which
is in Gibeon.
17 And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was
beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.
I. A rivalship between two kings--David, whom God made king, and
Ishbosheth, whom Abner made king. One would have thought, when Saul was
slain, and all his sons that had sense and spirit enough to take the
field with him, David would come to the throne without any opposition,
since all Israel knew, not only how he had signalized himself, but how
manifestly God had designated him to it; but such a spirit of
contradiction is there, in the devices of men, to the counsels of God,
that such a weak and silly thing as Ishbosheth, who was not thought fit
to go with his father to the battle, shall yet be thought fit to
succeed him in the government, rather than David shall come peaceably
to it. Herein David's kingdom was typical of the Messiah's, against
which the heathens rage and the rulers take counsel,
1. Abner was the person who set up Ishbosheth in competition with
David, perhaps in his zeal for the lineal succession (since they must
have a king like the nations, in this they must be like them,
that the crown must descend from father to son), or rather in his
affection to his own family and relations (for he was Saul's uncle),
and because he had no other way to secure to himself the post of honour
he was in, as captain of the host. See how much mischief the pride and
ambition of one man may be the occasion of. Ishbosheth would never have
set up himself if Abner had not set him up, and made a tool of him to
serve his own purposes.
2. Mahanaim, the place where he first made his claim, was on the other
side Jordan, where it was thought David had the least interest, and
being at a distance from his forces they might have time to strengthen
themselves. But having set up his standard there, the unthinking people
of all the tribes of Israel (that is, the generality of them) submitted
(2 Samuel 2:9),
and Judah only was entirely for David. This was a further trial of the
faith of David in the promise of God, and of his patience, whether he
could wait God's time for the performance of that promise.
3. Some difficulty there is about the time of the continuance of this
competition. David reigned about seven years over Judah only
(2 Samuel 2:11),
(2 Samuel 2:10)
Ishbosheth reigned over Israel but two years: before those two years,
or after, or both, it was in general for the house of Saul
(2 Samuel 3:6),
and not any particular person of that house, that Abner declared. Or
these two years he reigned before the war broke out
(2 Samuel 2:12),
which continued long, even the remaining five years,
2 Samuel 3:1.
II. An encounter between their two armies.
1. It does not appear that either side brought their whole force into
the field, for the slaughter was but small,
2 Samuel 2:30.
We may wonder,
(1.) That the men of Judah did not appear and act more vigorously for
David, to reduce all the nation into obedience to him; but, it is
likely, David would not suffer them to act offensively, choosing rather
to wait till the thing would do itself or rather till God would do it
for him, without the effusion of Israelitish blood; for to him, as a
type of Christ, that was very precious,
Even those that were his adversaries he looked upon as his subjects,
and would treat them accordingly.
(2.) That the men of Israel could in a manner stand neuter, and sit
down tamely under Ishbosheth, for so many years, especially considering
what characters many of the tribes displayed at this time (as we find,
1 Chronicles 12:23,
&c.): Wise men, mighty men, men of valour, expert in war, and
not of double heart, and yet for seven years together, for aught that
appears, most of them seemed indifferent in whose hand the public
administration was. Divine Providence serves its own purposes by the
stupidity of men at some times and the activity of the same persons at
other times; they are unlike themselves, and yet the motions of
Providence are uniform.
2. In this battle Abner was the aggressor. David sat still to see how
the matter would fall, but the house of Saul, and Abner at the head of
it, gave the challenge, and they went by the worst. Therefore go not
forth hastily to strive, nor be forward to begin quarrels, lest
thou know not what to do in the end thereof,
A fool's lips and hands enter into contention.
3. The seat of the war was Gibeon. Abner chose it because it was in the
lot of Benjamin, where Saul had the most friends; yet, since he offered
battle, Joab, David's general, would not decline it, but there joined
issue with him, and met him by the pool of Gibeon,
2 Samuel 2:13.
David's cause, being built upon God's promise, feared not the
disadvantages of the ground. The pool between them gave both sides time
4. The engagement was at first proposed by Abner, and accepted by Joab,
to be between twelve and twelve of a side.
(1.) It should seem this trial of skill began in sport. Abner made the
(2 Samuel 2:14):
Let the young men arise and play before us, as gladiators.
Perhaps Saul had used his men to these barbarous pastimes, like a
tyrant indeed, and Abner had learnt of him to make a jest of wounds and
death and divert himself with the scenes of blood and horror. He meant,
"Let them fight before us," when he said, "Let them play
before us." Fools thus make a mock at sin. but he is
unworthy the name of a man that can be thus prodigal of human blood,
that can thus throw about firebrands, arrows, and death, and
say, Am not I in sport?
Joab, having been bred up under David, had so much wisdom as not to
make such a proposal, yet had not resolution enough to resist and
gainsay it when another made it; for he stood upon a point of honour,
and thought it a blemish to his reputation to refuse a challenge, and
therefore said, Let them arise; not that he was fond of the
sport, or expected that the duels would be decisive, but he would not
be hectored by his antagonist. How many precious lives have thus been
sacrificed to the caprices of proud men! Twelve of each side were
accordingly called out as champions to enter the lists, a double jury
of life and death, not of others', but their own; and the champions on
Abner's side seem to have been most forward, for they took the field
(2 Samuel 2:15),
having perhaps been bred up in a foolish ambition thus to serve the
humour of their commander-in-chief. But,
(2.) However it began, it ended in blood
(2 Samuel 2:16):
They thrust every man his sword into his fellow's side (spurred
on by honour, not by enmity); so they fell down together, that
is, all the twenty-four were slain, such an equal match were they for
one another, and so resolute, that neither side would either beg or
give quarter; they did as it were by agreement (says Josephus)
dispatch one another with mutual wounds. Those that strike at other
men's lives often throw away their own and death only conquers and
rides in triumph. The wonderful obstinacy of both sides was remembered
in the name given to the place: Helkath-hazzurim--the field
of rocky men, men that were not only strong in body, but of firm
and unshaken constancy, that stirred not at the sight of death. Yet
the stout-hearted were spoiled, and slept their sleep,
Poor honour for men to purchase at so vast an expense! Those that lose
their lives for Christ shall find them.
5. The whole army at length engaged, and Abner's forces were routed,
2 Samuel 2:17.
The former was a drawn battle, in which all were killed on both sides,
and therefore they must put it upon another trial, in which (as it
often happens) those that gave the challenge went away with loss.
David had God on his side; his side therefore was victorious.
|Asahel Slain by Abner.
||B. C. 1053.|
18 And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and
Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild
19 And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not
to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.
20 Then Abner looked behind him, and said, Art thou Asahel?
And he answered, I am.
21 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
22 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?
23 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.
24 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.
We have here the contest between Abner and Asahel. Asahel, the brother
of Joab and cousin-german to David, was one of the principal commanders
of David's forces, and was famous for swiftness in running: he was
as light of foot as a wild roe
(2 Samuel 2:18);
this he got the name of by swift pursuing, not swift flying. Yet, we
may suppose, he was not comparable to Abner as a skilful experienced
soldier; we must therefore observe,
I. How rash he was in aiming to make Abner his prisoner. He pursued
after him, and no other,
2 Samuel 2:19.
Proud of his relation to David and Joab, his own swiftness, and the
success of his party, no less a trophy of victory would now serve the
young warrior than Abner himself, either slain or bound, which he
thought would put an end to the war and effectually open David's way to
the throne. This made him very eager in the pursuit, and careless of
the opportunities he had of seizing others in his way, on his right
hand and on his left; his eye was on Abner only. The design was brave,
had he been par negotio--equal to its accomplishment: but let
not the swift man glory in his swiftness, any more than the strong man
in his strength; magnis excidit ausis--he perished in an attempt too
vast for him.
II. How generous Abner was in giving him notice of the danger he
exposed himself to, and advising him not to meddle to his own
2 Chronicles 25:19.
1. He bade him content himself with a less prey
(2 Samuel 2:21):
"Lay hold of one of the young men, plunder him and make him thy
prisoner, meddle with thy match, but pretend not to one who is so much
superior to thee." It is wisdom in all contests to compare our own
strength with that of our adversaries, and to take heed of being
partial to ourselves in making the comparison, lest we prove in the
issue enemies to ourselves,
2. He begged of him not to put him upon the necessity of slaying him in
his own defence, which he was very loth to do, but must do rather than
be slain by him,
2 Samuel 2:22.
Abner, it seems, either loved Joab or feared him; for he was very loth
to incur his displeasure, which he would certainly do if he slew
Asahel. It is commendable for enemies to be thus respectful one to
another. Abner's care how he should lift up his face to Joab gives
cause to suspect that he really believed David would have the kingdom
at last, according to the divine designation, and then, in opposing
him, he acted against his conscience.
III. How fatal Asahel's rashness was to him. He refused to turn aside,
thinking that Abner spoke so courteously because he feared him; but
what came of it? Abner, as soon as he came up to him, gave him his
death's wound with a back stroke
(2 Samuel 2:23):
He smote him with the hinder end of his spear, from which he
feared no danger. This was a pass which Asahel was not acquainted with,
nor had learned to stand upon his guard against; but Abner, perhaps,
had formerly used it, and done execution with it; and here it did
effectual execution. Asahel died immediately of the wound. See here,
1. How death often comes upon us by ways that we least suspect. Who
would fear the hand of a flying enemy or the butt-end of a spear? yet
from these Asahel receives his death's wound.
2. How we are often betrayed by the accomplishments we are proud of.
Asahel's swiftness, which he presumed so much upon, did him no
kindness, but forwarded his fate, and with it he ran upon his death,
instead of running from it. Asahel's fall was not only Abner's
security from him, but put a full stop to the conqueror's pursuit and
gave Abner time to rally again; for all that came to the place stood
still, only Joab and Abishai, instead of being disheartened, were
exasperated by it, pursued Abner with so much the more fury
(2 Samuel 2:24),
and overtook him at last about sunset, when the approaching night would
oblige them to retire.
25 And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together
after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an
26 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?
27 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.
28 So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and
pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more.
29 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.
30 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.
31 But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of
Abner's men, so that three hundred and threescore men died.
32 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.
I. Abner, being conquered, meanly begs for a cessation of arms. He
rallied the remains of his forces on the top of a hill
(2 Samuel 2:25),
as if he would have made head again, but becomes a humble supplicant to
Joab for a little breathing-time,
2 Samuel 2:26.
He that was most forward to fight was the first that had enough of it.
He that made a jest of bloodshed (Let the young men arise and play
2 Samuel 2:14)
is now shocked at it, when he finds himself on the losing side, and the
sword he made so light of drawing threatening to touch himself. Observe
how his note is changed. Then it was but playing with the sword; now,
Shall the sword devour for ever? It had devoured but one day,
yet to him it seemed forever, because it went against him; and very
willing he is now that the sun should not go down upon the wrath. Now
he can appeal to Joab himself concerning the miserable consequences of
a civil war: Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the
latter end? It will be reflected upon with regret when the account
comes to be made up; for, whoever gets in a civil war, the community is
sure to lose. Perhaps he refers to the bitterness that there was in the
tribes of Israel, in the end of their war with Benjamin, when they wept
sorely for the desolations which they themselves had made,
Now he begs of Joab to sound a retreat, and pleads that they were
brethren, who ought not thus to bite and devour one another. He that in
the morning would have Joab bid the people fall upon their brethren now
would have him bid them lay down their arms. See here,
1. How easy it is for men to use reason when it makes for them who
would not use it if it made against them. If Abner had been the
conqueror, we should not have had him complaining of the voraciousness
of the sword and the miseries of a civil war, nor pleading that both
sides were brethren; but, finding himself beaten, all these reasonings
are mustered up and improved for the securing of his retreat and the
saving of his scattered troops from being cut off.
2. How the issue of things alters men's minds. The same thing which
looked pleasant in the morning at night looked dismal. Those that are
forward to enter into contention will perhaps repent it before they
have done with it, and therefore had better leave it off before it be
meddled with, as Solomon advises. It is true of every sin (O that men
would consider it in time!) that it will be bitterness in the latter
end. At the last it bites like a serpent those on whom it
II. Joab, though a conqueror, generously grants it, and sounds a
retreat, knowing very well his master's mind and how averse he was to
the shedding of blood. He does indeed justly upbraid Abner with his
forwardness to engage, and lays the blame upon him that there had been
so much bloodshed as there was
(2 Samuel 2:27):
"Unless thou hadst spoken," that is, "hadst given orders to
fight, hadst bidden the young men arise and play before us, none of us
would have struck a stroke, nor drawn a sword against our brethren.
Thou complainest that the sword devours, but who first unsheathed it?
Who began? Now thou wouldst have the people parted, but remember who
set them on to fight. We should have retired in the morning if thou
hadst not given the challenge." Those that are forward to make mischief
are commonly the first to complain of it. This might have served to
excuse Joab if he had pushed on his victory, and made a full end of
Abner's forces; but like one that pitied the mistake of his
adversaries, and scorned to make an army of Israelites pay dearly for
the folly of their commander, he very honourably, by sound of trumpet,
put a stop to the pursuit
(2 Samuel 2:28)
and suffered Abner to make an orderly retreat. It is good husbandry to
be sparing of blood. As the soldiers were here very obsequious to the
general's orders, so he, no doubt, observed the instructions of his
prince, who sought the welfare of all Israel and therefore not the hurt
III. The armies being separated, both retired to the places whence they
came, and both marched in the night, Abner to Mahanaim, on the other
(2 Samuel 2:29),
and Joab to Hebron, where David was,
2 Samuel 2:32.
The slain on both sides are computed. On David's side only nineteen men
were missing, besides Asahel
(2 Samuel 2:30),
who was worth more than all; on Abner's side 360,
2 Samuel 2:31.
In civil wars formerly great slaughters had been made (as
in comparison with which this was nothing. It is to be hoped that they
had grown wiser and more moderate. Asahel's funeral is here mentioned;
the rest they buried in the field of battle, but he was carried to
Bethlehem, and buried in the sepulchre of his father,
2 Samuel 2:32.
Thus are distinctions made between the dust of some and that of others;
but in the resurrection no other difference will be made but that
between godly and ungodly, which will remain for ever.