II Samuel 2–4. Civil War.
Key Notes: David won the kingdom without a fight. Abner tried to play both sides and lost. Joab emerges as an assassin with authority. A split in the kingdom is postponed.
The book of First Samuel is about the life of Saul and the beginning of David’s movement toward becoming king in place of Saul. The book ends with the death of Saul and some of his sons, seeming to leave David free to secure the kingdom of Israel. (See ntotes on II Sam.27-IISam z2.) It did not happen simply and it is puzzling to try to understand why.
Second Samuel chronicles the life of David. It is the story of a genius, a polymath, who excelled in music and literature, government and war. He founded a great nation. Yet we will see him fail in his role as father and husband. There are many lessons for us.
II Sam. 2:1–4a After Saul’s death, David asked God if he should leave Ziklag, which had belonged to the Philistines, and move to a city of Judah. The Lord said he should go to Hebron, so he with his two wives and small army moved there and established himself in Judah. Hebron is an ancient city. It was Abraham’s first place of residence in Canaan, 2,000 B.C. (Genesis 13:18). It still exists today.
2:4b-7 When David heard that the men of Jabesh-Gilead had retrieved and honored the bodies of Saul and his sons, he commended them for loyalty to Saul and let them know that he was king over Judah. It was the only politicking that he did.
2:5–11 Meanwhile, Abner, Saul’s general, set up another son of Saul named Ishbosheth to be king in Mahanaim, a safe town on the other side of Jordan. [David will go there when he has to escape from Absalom. (II Samuel 17:24)]. Ishbosheth was to be king over the east Jordan tribes, part of the territory around the Sea of Galilee, and Ephraim, the hill-country west of the Jordan. That would be all the non-Philistine territory except for Judah. There is no evidence that the elders of the tribes were involved.
This early separation of Israel from Judah is prophetic of the final rupture that occurred in 920 B.C. under Rehoboam, Solomon’s son. There was another brief rupture after Absalom was defeated. II Samuel 20:1–2
2:12–17 From his safe-haven east of the Jordan, Abner made a raid on David’s territory. Joab, David’s nephew and general of his army, met Abner at the pool of Gibeon. Twelve men from each side engaged in what sounds like a ritualized war dance. The 24 men killed each other. That was the signal to start fighting.
2:18–23 Asahel, Joab's brother, chased Abner and they talked as they ran. Abner begged him to quit. Better to take the spoil from the dead. How could Abner face Joab afterward if Ashahel lost? As Ahahel closed in on him, Abner hit him with the butt end of his spear with such force that he died instantly. He probably did not mean to kill him since he did not use the point of his spear. Asahel died in a fair fight in which he was the aggressor.
2:24–32 Joab and Abishai, Asahel’s brothers, kept up the pursuit of Abner. The Benjaminites gathered around Abner on a hill-top, making Joab pause. Abner said the fight was senseless. Joab agreed. The trumpet was sounded and the men went home. It took 16 hours for Abner and his men to get back to Mahanaim. Joab and his troops were home in 6 hours. Abner lost 20 times more men that Joab. He was badly beaten. Plainly, he had made a serious mistake in trying to challenge David’s men in battle.
3:1–5 The ongoing warfare weakened Abner’s position. Meanwhile, David was home in Hebron quietly building a family around his six wives.
3:6–11 Abner demonstrated his authority over the house of Saul by sleeping with Saul’s concubine, Rizpah. When Ishbosheth protested, Abner flew into a rage. He had protected Saul’s kin from David all this time and was being rewarded with criticism-- on a technicality, in his view. He would accomplish for David what God had sworn to David in the first place: David would be king over the whole country. Ishbosheth was speechless. Abner realized that Ishbosheth was too weak to become a ruling monarch, and he had been defeated in the raid on Judah. He had only one remaining hand to play: abandon Ishbosheth and Saul’s side and ingratiate himself to David.
3:12–16 Abner sent a feeler out to David. David demanded his wife Michal, daughter of Saul, as a condition for dealing with Abner. He did not need another wife, and her husband Paltiel and Michal both lost out. Michal was a political pawn, attaching Saul’s house to David. Bringing her over to David would be a token of surrender by Abner and Ishbosheth.
3:17–21 Abner reminded the elders of Israel that they had wanted David as king. God had promised the throne to David as they well knew. He also spoke to the men of Benjamin, Saul’s tribe. David entertained Abner and his delegation. They went away promising to deliver all Israel over to David.
3:22–30 Joab returned from a raid and was alarmed at the prospect of Abner getting close to David, calling him a spy. He sent messengers after Abner, met him in the city gate and killed him without warning. He was avenging his brother Asahel’s death, but he also probably feared Abner’s prowess as a warrior and a leader. David’s accession to the throne was basically settled in a battle between rival generals.
3:31–39 David was surprisingly upset by the murder of Abner. He called Abner a prince and a great man. He led the people in fasting and mourning and walked in the front of the funeral procession. He lamented Abner’s death: “as one falls before the wicked you have fallen.” He denounced Joab as an evil doer but he was unable to control Joab or Abishai, powerful men, sons of his sister Zeruiah. Joab deserved punishment as the Amalekite had received when he bragged of killing Saul, but David was too weak to act. Joab shrugged off the rebuke. He would remain David’s right hand man until his final days.
4:1–12 Ishbosheth was soon assassinated by two renegade Benjaminites who were captains of Saul’s raiding parties. They sneaked past the sleeping doorkeeper who was tired from sifting wheat. They killed the sleeping king in his bed and brought his head to David. Surely they would receive commendation for getting rid of another enemy. As in the case of the death of Saul, supposedly at the hands of the Amalekite (IISam.1:-9–16), David was outraged at the murder of an innocent man. They were executed and their bodies mutilated.
Summary of II Samuel 2–4: Everyone knew that David should have the kingdom. But Abner, Saul’s cousin and general of his army, thought he would make a try for it. He set up a son of Saul as a puppet and proceeded to raid Judah to probe David’s defenses. He met with serious opposition and decided it was more expedient to go over to David’s side. However, Joab, David’s general, regarded Abner with prejudice for several reasons and killed him. Some Benjaminites then killed the puppet king. David’s position was secure. He had won the kingdom by sitting still. Mephibosheth was the remaining member of Saul’s primary sons. He was crippled and disabled. We will hear more of him later, in David’s care. The carnage was over. David was king. God promised him the kingdom. God gave him the kingdom by allowing the opposition to destroy itself.
David waited on the Lord:
“... I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage.
Yea, wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:13–14, a psalm of David).
“Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers!
For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord, and do good; so you will dwell in the land and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart”
(Psalm 37:1–4, a psalm of David).
In tempestuous times and in quiet times, we wait upon the Lord.