II Samuel 2
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." Unto
As soon as David had assuaged his grief, his thoughts would naturally turn
towards his country. Fuller news would reach him every day respecting the
movements of the Philistines, who, after so decisive a victory, would quickly
overrun all the central districts of
And very bitter must David’s feelings have been. Had he continued in
he and his six hundred men would now have hastened to the rescue, and all
the braver warriors of the land would have gathered round them. As it was,
he was too entangled with the Philistines, and too much distrusted by the
northern tribes, to be of much use. Still, we learn from I Chronicles 12.,
that brave men did continually swell the number of his followers. Detachments
of the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, instead of joining Saul at Gilboa, went to David
as he withdrew to Ziklag. And while he remained there a considerable body of
men from Benjamin and Judah came to him under the command of Amasa,
David’s nephew. So numerous were they as to alarm David, who went out
to meet them, fearing lest they had come to betray him; and glad was he to
hear their answer, “Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of
Jesse.” Thus even as it was, his forces daily grew more numerous; for
“from day today there came to David to help him, until it was a great host,
like the host of God” (I Chronicles 12:22). But there was no national
acknowledgment. With his numbers thus continually increasing, David was
encouraged to make some attempt for the deliverance of
position was one of serious danger. Great was the risk, but he knew where
to go for guidance, and determines, therefore, to put the matter into God’s
hand. He summons Abiathar with the ephod, and, in the presence of his
captains, asks for permission to go up to some city of his own tribe. The
answer is favorable, and Hebron is the city selected. It was a place of
ancient sanctity, was well situated in the mountains of Judah for defense,
and as the Philistines had not yet invaded that region, but probably would
soon try to ravage it, the people would be sure to welcome the presence of
one who brought with him a powerful body of trained men.
Inquiring of God (v. 1)
David had now arrived at a very important point in his career. Saul being
dead, his way to the throne was cleared; but the next step to take was
doubtful. Under these circumstances he adopted the course usual to him
when in difficulty. He “inquired of the Lord,” sought directions from Him
as to what he should do. The high priest, Abiathar, was with him with the
ephod (I Samuel 30:7), and by means of the Urim and Thummim could
ascertain for him the Divine will. By this method, doubtless, he received
directions to go into
came, and there they anointed David king over the house of
cannot ask direction from God in the same manner as David (We have
“.....boldness to entere into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, By a new
and living way, which He hath consecrated for us, through the veil,
that is to say His flesh; And having an high priest over the house of
God; Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith....”
Hebrews 10:19-22 – CY – 2018), but, using the means available for us,
we should imitate him in this respect.
1. It should be a constant practice. Part of our devotions every day should
consist of endeavors to ascertain more fully and accurately the will of
God concerning us, seeking of Him guidance in all our ways, that we may
know what the general commands of God mean for us in our position, in
the practical details of our individual life.
2. The practice should be made special under special doubts and
a. When like David we have to make a choice on which much depends,
and there is difficulty in choosing. When proposing to enter on a new
enterprise, to form new connections (especially a lifelong alliance), to
change our place of abode, etc. There will be reasons for and against,
promises of good, possibilities of evil, in each direction. What shall be
done? Inquire of the Lord.
b. When we meet with perplexities in the inquiry after truth. It is not by
mere logical processes that spiritual truth can be ascertained; from first to
last we need guidance from above, and should earnestly seek it,
1. By what methods. Where shall we find a Divine oracle to answer our
a. Reason and conscience will often (if we allow them free speech) give a
response which at once commends itself as a Divine reply. If one course be
morally right and the other morally wrong, one in manifest accordance with
the laws of Christ, the other in plain opposition to them, there is no room
for further question.
b. Holy Scripture is to be consulted. Not in the way of bibliomancy (the
use of books in divination), but by study of its revelations and precepts.
The New Testament is especially the Christian’s vade mecum (handbook
or guide), from whence he may obtain all needful instruction as to
THE WILL OF GOD!
c. The providence of God. Courses to which we are prompted by the best
desires may be seen not to be our duty, because ability and opportunity are
wanting to pursue them.
d. The counsels of wise and good men. Consulting them, our course will
often become clear. Yet we may not submit blindly and slavishly to our
e. The commands of superiors. For children at home the will of their
parents is the will of God; for servants, the commands of their employers;
always supposing in both cases that what is enjoined is not clearly sinful.
f. Withal and always, prayer for Divine guidance should be resorted to.
“Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths” (Psalm 25:4). By
direct influence on the minds and hearts of those who seek Him, God
becomes their Guide. His Spirit leads those who are willing to be led by
2. In what spirit. A simple and sincere desire to know and do the will of
God. In opposition to pride and self-will, and double-mindedness. Many
seek counsel of God as the advice of men is often sought. They virtually
make up their minds before they inquire, and “make it a matter of prayer”
in order that they may obtain a feeling of the Divine approval of the course
they have chosen. (Unfortunately, I did this once, and mercifully, God
taught me a lesson! CY – 2018) Not avowedly, not consciously, is this
done. But “the heart is deceitful” (Jeremiah 17:9), and never shows its
deceitfulness more than in such cases (compare Ezekiel 14:1-5;
II Thessalonians 2:10-14).
1. Our ignorance. “The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that
walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Human affairs are so
complex, appearances so deceitful, men often so untrustworthy, our vision
so limited, that we may well desire and shall wisely yield ourselves to
THE GUIDANCE OF GOD!
2. The right and power of God to direct us. As supreme Ruler, as perfect
in knowledge, wisdom, and goodness.
3. His promises. (See Psalm 25:12, 14; James 1:5.) Especially the
great promise of the Holy Spirit to all who ask of God this unspeakably
great and precious gift (Luke 11:13).
4. The blessedness of being DIVINELY LED. In present wisdom, holiness,
and happiness, and in eternal life.
5. The certainty of fatal darkness and stumbling to those who do not
inquire of God. (See Jeremiah 13:16; John 12:35; II Corinthians 6:2;.)
3 "And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man
household: and they dwelt in the cities of
They dwelt in the cities of Hebron. Not only had David
wives, whom he took with him to
married, and thus they and their households formed a numerous body of
people, for whom
they had flocks and herds captured from the Amalekites, for which they
needed pasturage. And therefore David dispersed them in the towns and
villages of which
to render it easy for him to summon them together, while taking care that
they did not injure his tribesmen, or dispossess them of their lauds. We may
feel sure that he consulted the chief men of
arrangements, and obtained their approval.
4 "And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king
over the house of
men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul." They anointed David.
Samuel’s anointing (I Samuel 16:13) had been private, and, if we may judge
by the manner in which Eliab treated David (ibid. ch.17:28), even his own
family had not attached much importance to it. It was nevertheless the indication
of Jehovah’s purpose, and now the anointing of David by the elders of Judah was
the first step towards its accomplishment. And this was an independent act,
though the knowledge of Samuel’s anointing had prepared the way for it;
and David thus acquired a legal right and authority by the nation’s will,
which Samuel could not have given him. So Saul’s anointing by Samuel,
and his election to be king at Gilgal, were independent acts; and while the
former gave the king his sacredness, the latter conferred upon him
jurisdiction and power. How came the
Philistines to allow this? When subsequently he was again anointed, and
became King of all
because he captured
to the Jebusites, but evidently because they thought him dangerous. But
why did they not crush him now? One reason, probably, was
was a difficult country for military operations. The tribe, too, had stood
aloof from Saul, and its strength was unbroken. But the chief reason
apparently was that David maintained friendly relations with Achish, and
paid him tribute. This explains the curious fact that Ziklag continued to be
the private property of the house of David (I Samuel 27:6). The doings
of a vassal of the King of Gath were regarded as of little importance. Had
he not even marched with them to Aphek, as one of the servants of
Achish? But when he endeavored to restore the kingdom of Saul, they
first made a hasty rush upon him, and, when repelled, they gathered their
forces for as formidable an invasion as that which had ended in their
victory at Gilboa.
Divine Guidance (vs. 1-4)
“David inquired of the Lord” (v. 1). A new chapter in the life of David
now opens. By the death of Saul and Jonathan the obstacles to his
accession were, in part, removed. The time of patient waiting was gone,
and the time for decisive action come. As he had not run before he was
sent, so he did not expect, without running, to attain. But he would not
take a step without the approval and direction of God. His inquiry
pertained to the Divine purpose he was chosen to fulfill, and the Divine
guidance he needed for its accomplishment. In this inquiry, as in his
subsequent conduct and experience, he was a pattern to us; since there is
for every man a Divine plan and purpose of life, which he should seek to
ascertain and strive to realize. Consider Divine guidance (in the way to a
country) to go astray from the right path and fall into danger.
Ø This liability arises from many erroneous paths presented to our view;
their attractive appearance and strong temptations. “There is a way which
seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”
Ø And from the imperfection of our own nature; our ignorance, and our
disposition to please ourselves rather than deny ourselves and please God.
“O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself,” etc. (Jeremiah
Ø It is evident from experience of past failures. David had taken many
false steps. And there is no man but has reason to feel, in looking back
over departed years, that his greatest folly has been to walk in the light of
his own wisdom, and his greatest wisdom to depend upon the wisdom of
Ø The need of it is specially felt by us when about to enter upon a new
enterprise, or a course of action to which we are impelled by outward
circumstances or inward conviction, but the exact nature of which is
uncertain, or which is dependent for its success upon the disposition and
cooperation of other persons.
(see I Samuel 14:16-23; 23. 1-12), yet:
Ø There are certain means which must be employed for a similar purpose
— such as considering our own capacities and condition; listening to the
voice of conscience; seeking the advice of good men; observing the ways
prayer to the Father “in the Name” of Christ.
Ø And to their proper employment a right spirit is essential; viz. sincerity,
docility, trustfulness, perseverance. Such was the spirit of David, as it
appears in his psalms; and therefore, while Saul exclaimed, “God answereth
me no more” (I Samuel 28:15), David could say, “I sought the Lord, and
He heard me” (Psalm 34:4).
Ø In various ways, in accordance with the means just mentioned, and
especially by the Holy Spirit, who prepares the heart, teaches the meaning
and application of the written Word, and produces impressions and
impulses in harmony therewith. “Ye have an unction from the Holy One,
and know all things” (I John 2:20; John 16:13).
Ø Individually, and in a measure fully adequate to the requirements of the
case and the capacity of profiting by it.
Ø Certainly. As of old, so now. God is as desirous as He is able to lead us
in the way wherein we should go, and He has given many faithful promises
to this effect. “I will guide thee with mine eye” (Psalm 32:8; 37:23; 48:14).
“Thine ears shall hear a voice behind thee, saying, This is the way, walk
ye in it, when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left.”
(Isaiah 30:21; 42:16; Proverbs 3:6).
Ø With humble obedience and entire dependence, as a child relying on the
superior wisdom of his father.
Ø Without hesitation, questioning, or delay.
Ø With cheerfulness, zeal, and energy. It is always given with a practical
end in view.
“And his men...
and they dwelt in the cities of
before them and prepared their way, so that they met with a peaceable
reception and found “a city of habitation.” (Psalm 107:7)
Ø The operations of
and the Spirit.
Ø A stronger assurance of the Divine leading is possessed. “If any man
willeth to do His will, he shall know of the doctrine....” (John 7:17).
Ø More light is given for further advancement. “Then shall we know, shall
follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is fixed like the morning
dawn” (Hosea 6:3); and it will brighten on our path into the radiance of
of those who are associated with him, and who, having shared his
perplexity and distress, now share his prosperity. Those who are guided by
God are thereby enabled and disposed to guide and bless others
And all who truly fulfill the Divine plan and purpose as David did
(Acts 13:22) are made “kings unto God,” and receive exalted honor
among men, increased power over them, and at length a crown of life, of
righteousness, and of glory. But, alas! how many go stumbling through life
without an aim, or only with one which is unworthy, and contrary to the
will of God, and then sink into “the blackness of darkness forever”
(Jude 1:13)! “The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the
promotion of fools” (Proverbs 3:35).
David Anointed King of
Course of events:
1. David’s message to the men of Jabesh (vs. 5-7).
2. Ishbosheth made King of Israel by Abner (vs. 8-11).
3. Civil war, and the death of Asahel (vs. 12-32).
4. Increasing strength of the house of David (ch. 3:1-5).
5. Dissension between Ishbosheth and Abner.
6. Abner’s negotiations with David, restoration of Michal,
communication with the tribes, and formal league (ch. 3:12-21).
7. Abner slain by Joab (ibid. vs. 22-28).
8. Lamented by David (ibid. vs. 31-39).
9. Ishbosheth murdered (ibid. vs. 4:1-8)
10. His assassins executed (ch. 4:9-12).
It was a great day in
(where the remains of the patriarchs had slumbered for centuries) was
stirred by the assembling of the elders for the coronation of David. His
presence among them, at the head of his six hundred heroes, had been
virtually a “public assertion of his claims to sovereignty” on the ground of
his Divine consecration by Samuel. His first anointing was essentially of a
private nature (I Samuel 16:13). “This second one, performed by the elders of
royal office.” Then followed the acclamation of the people (I Samuel 10:24; 11:15).
“Now doth David find the comfort that his extremity sought in the Lord his
God; now are the clouds for a time passed over, and the sun breaks forth;
David shall reign after his sufferings” (Hall). It has been supposed that he
wrote about this time Psalm 27. (inscription, “Before the anointing,”
“Jehovah is my Light and my Salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Jehovah is the Strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?”
“It is not likely that David’s muse went to sleep when the death of Saul at
Gilboa opened his way to the throne, or that it produced nothing but such
comparatively secular songs as the lament for Saul and Jonathan. It is
rather remarkable, however, that there is not a single psalm of which one
can affirm with confidence that it was written during the seven years and a
half that David reigned at
who took part in his inauguration acted in fulfillment, not only of the Divine
purpose concerning him, but also of the Divine predictions concerning
themselves; for the pre-eminence of
(Genesis 49:8). “In all great questions the men of
foremost and the strongest. From the time of David’s establishment on the
throne, the greatness of the tribe follows in some measure that of his family
(I Chronicles 5:2; 28:4)” (Davison). “And as they had the right to
choose their own prince, they might reasonably have expected that the
other tribes would have followed their example, and, by uniting in David,
have quietly submitted to the appointment of God, as they themselves had
themselves (Deuteronomy 17:15), “chosen out of the people”
(Psalm 89:19), he could understand and sympathize with them. He
possessed eminent military abilities and noble moral qualities; and he had
rendered invaluable services to his country, and shown special kindness to
the elders of his own tribe (I Samuel 30:26). His previous career was
well known to them, and had won their confidence and affection. The
character of a people is commonly manifested in that of its chosen ruler. As
Saul embodied and reflected the prevailing spirit of Benjamin and Ephraim,
so David embodied and reflected what was best in
spirit, lion-like courage, and religious devotion.
that appointment they were familiar. They recognized Jehovah as their
King; the Source of authority and of the endowments which were needful
for the kingly office. Their condition isolated them in feeling, to some
extent, from the other tribes (as afterwards more fully appears); but in
acting independently of them they rebelled against no existing and
legitimate authority, and they neither aimed at dominion over them nor
separation from them. They displayed a truly theocratic spirit. And, in the
election of a ruler, a people should always recognize the authority and obey
the will of God. “Kings derive their kingly majesty immediately from God,
but also mediately from their subjects” (J. Lange).
was to them “a minister of God.” Their obedience to God required their
submission to the king of His choice; whose authority, however, great as it
was, was not absolute. It is not said, as on a subsequent occasion (ch. 5:3),
that “he made a league with them;” but they doubtless submitted to him on
the understanding that he would rule according to the Divine will. The
efficiency of a ruler depends upon the free submission of his people; and
there is not a nobler exercise of freedom than submission to the highest
expected, under the government of “the man worthy of the sceptre,”
deliverance from their enemies, by whom they were now threatened; the
establishment of justice, from the want of which they had long suffered;
and the attainment of power and prosperity. Nor were they disappointed.
The pre-eminence of this tribe was ordained with reference to the advent
and exaltation of Christ, the promised
Judah” (Revelation 5:5); and the conduct of the men of
taken as illustrating the free acceptance of “him whom God hath anointed
with his Holy Spirit” on the part of His people; their humble obedience to
His rule, and their fervent desire for His universal reign. “Thou art worthy.”
“Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
By ancient covenant, ere Nature’s birth;
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim thee King; and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love.”
5 "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.
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
anointed me king over them." David sent messengers unto the men of
Jabesh-Gilead. This was David’s first act as king, and it was worthy of him.
Some suppose that when David was told of their deed, it was with a view of
prejudicing him against them. But this is not credible. By this time all men
knew how loyal and affectionate were David’s feelings towards his former king;
and moreover the men of Jabesh were bound to Saul by no ordinary ties of
gratitude (1 Samuel 11.). Nor could David wish that Saul’s remains, and
those of Jonathan, should be subject to indignity. We may well feel sure
that information respecting Saul was eagerly welcomed at
valiant men there would all rejoice at finding that the high spirit of the
nation was not quenched. But in sending to thank them, in premising to
requite them, and in bidding them persevere in similar conduct, David was
acting as the head of the nation; and, to justify his action, he informs them
that the men of
The Beginnings of Prosperity (vs. 1-7)
As the Second Book of Samuel introduces a turn of affairs in the national
experience, so this second chapter introduces a turn in the personal
experience of David. He passes from the bitter trials of the past, through
the anguish depicted in the first chapter, into the more prosperous and easy
circumstances of free public activity. Undoubtedly he was conscious of a
sense of relief from burdens almost more than he could bear (I Samuel
27:1); and being naturally buoyant and hopeful in spirit, the hitherto
restrained powers of his nature were now eager to manifest their energy.
His day had come after a long night of waiting. The promises of the past
were about to be fulfilled. Jonathan’s dream of his beloved friend being a
more worthy successor than himself was coming true. In one sense David
had always, even during his exile and sufferings, been a prosperous man, for he
was God's chosen servant, blessed with a good conscience and the favor of the
Eternal; but now he was all that with the additional circumstance of being about
to enter on a position of commanding influence among the people of God. We
have a counterpart to David’s position at this juncture in some of the
circumstances of our life; for in youth, in business, in Church work, and in
national affairs we sometimes meet with a similar beginning of prosperity.
In so far as the passage before us affords teaching on this subject, observe:
DANGER. In reading the narrative of David’s trials on the one side, and of
his prosperous circumstances on the other, we feel at once that in so far as
his religious life is concerned there was far more hope of him under the
former. The spiritual uses of adversity are very valuable, while on the other
hand the spiritual dangers of prosperity are subtile and manifold. And
likewise the transition from the one to the other is a time of peculiar
danger. For David the occasion for dependence on God was not so
obvious; and the demand for action would lay him open to mistakes and
sacrifices of principle new in his experience. The dangers of such a time
may perhaps be summarized thus. There arises a new and fascinating
diversion of thought and feeling from God; a corresponding absorption of
mental energy in the externals of life. The self-culture which consists in the
watchful and constrained subordination of every feeling and motive to the
will of God becomes somewhat relaxed. The free play of a much greater
variety of feeling, passing out toward the attractive objects present in an
opening success, lays us open to the insinuating flatteries of events, and the
consequent encouragement to substitute expediency for stern principle.
The presence or the prospect of a more abundant supply of material
comforts cannot but give vitality to whatever of latent power there may be
in the lusts of the flesh. The conscious elevation which awaits us is sure to
appeal to that deeply seated human pride which, when developed, looks on
others with more or less of disdain, and in proportion as the human lot is
now or prospectively free from care does the heart care less for the
blessings of A FUTURE LIFE! The youth passing from the restraints and
discipline of years into the wider sphere of life, and so enjoying the first
taste of freedom and of manly dignity, stands in a slippery place. Churches
passing from the trials of persecution into the ease of toleration cannot be
sure of the old fidelity. Nations springing into prominence may contract
habits of indulgence and arrogance in strange contrast with their former
self-control and devotion to duty. Private Christians when emerging from
the struggles of their early convictions may cease to watch and pray as
heretofore, and soon lose the vigor of their former faith.
PREPARATION WILL SHOW ITSELF IN CONTINUED
DEPENDENCE ON THE GUIDANCE AND BLESSING OF GOD.
Unquestionably David was a much stronger man, as a consequence of the
protracted trials of past years, than he would have been had there been no
waiting for the realization of hopes enkindled by the promise of God
(I Samuel 16:13). In the spiritual sphere, as in the material, reserves of force
are gathered, by the action of special laws, in view of a demand to be made
at a later stage of development. David in the wilderness and caves, Paul in
the retirement of
seasons of discipline and culture, fulfilled the Divine law of acquisition of
moral power prior to expenditure. And the reality of this acquisition in the
case of David appeared at once in the promptitude with which, under all
the distracting and diverting influence of a sudden elevation to importance,
he acknowledges his need of the guidance and blessing of God. There is a
natural necessity, not identical with true godliness, which causes men to
turn to God in their troubles. It is the instinct of a genuine piety alone
which prompts towards God when troubles cease and success begins. It is
a blessed omen when men, on the dawning of their prosperity, and when
flushed with the prospect of realizing long-cherished hopes, go straight to
God, and in prayer both acknowledge his goodness and seek his special
help for the occasion. Thus the subtile temptations and perils of the new
circumstances are met by a wise use of that spiritual strength which had
been stored amidst the trying influences of adversity or deferred hope. No
doubt the apostles during their early ministry, on and after the Day of
Pentecost, were giving out some of the spiritual power gathered into their
nature during the three years of discipline and restraint under their visible
Lord; in like manner men who go forth to successful encounter with evil
owe much to the spirit trained TO HONOR GOD IN ALL THINGS!
BY PIETY, INDUCES CAUTION AND CONSIDERATION FOR
OTHERS. Not only is continuous prosperity very perilous to man’s higher
life, but the prospect of it, after a season of trial, is likely to be charged
with elements of danger which only a well-nourished piety can neutralize.
David could not but think much of himself now as a free man, an object of
public interest, on the high road to affluence, and about to enter on
activities that would render him the chief object of interest. There would
thus arise a new and perilous self-consciousness. The sobrieties, caution,
and self-restraint acquired in adversity might now seem to be virtues suited
to a bygone time. A profound knowledge of the world and of self would
correct this judgment; but still the risk would be considerable, for man at
his best estate is morally weak. It is just here that a sincere, well-cultured
godliness comes in as a support to the dictates of a purely moral judgment
and the suggestions of expediency. The man after God’s own heart,
because of being such a man, looks out on his opening prospects with a
careful eye, and moves with as much caution and deference to a higher will
as in the former days of trouble; and the comfort of his household, as well
as the advancement to comparative ease and plenty of the men who had
shared his sufferings, engage his thought, and they become the first
partakers of the fruits of his improving fortunes (vs. 2-3). The same
moderating influence of piety is seen in the life of Joseph. The principle
involved is taught by our Lord in his perfect freedom, even amidst growing
honors, from self-absorption. With the measured step of sobriety he
marches on to full dominion, and with tender regard for the welfare of all
who have known the “fellowship of His sufferings.” The same mind in us
will tone down the dangerous excitement of successes, and induce a broad
and generous consideration of the claims and requirements of others.
exhibited in the life of David:
Ø The consciousness of our being God’s servants, living supremely to
effect His purpose in the world, gives great moral power to our conduct.
David lived and moved as a “man of God.” Blessed is he who can go forth
daily with that conviction!
Ø The assurance that God has a definite will in reference to our daily
movements is warranted, not only by philosophic considerations, but also
by the record of His actual dealings with His servants. David, the “sparrow,”
and the “hairs” of our head are means of illustrating that nothing in our life
is too insignificant for Divine care, and therefore for matter of supplication
Ø The true policy of man is another name for what is the will of God. No
this case it was humanly expedient to go first up to
because God knew it was best under the circumstances, He willed David to
go. In the higher moral sphere, God’s will is not a judgment based on
knowledge of circumstances; but, though absolute, yet it always coincides
with true policy.
Ø The means of ascertaining the main lines of right action are within reach
of a good man. God speaks in providence, conscience, and His Word.
(I am persuaded that it is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit to
show man that righteousness can be attained. John 16:8,10 – CY – 2018)
Ø There is immense moral support to our action when we have deliberately
sought and have learned the will of God. Firm is the step of such men, steady
is their eye.
There is no indication here or elsewhere in the Psalms that David was vexed and
fretful because he did not all at once succeed Saul as king of the entire nation.
There were doubtless in the circumstances of the case sufficient pleas for an unfilial
spirit to indulge in the language of disappointment; but the past discipline
of this true child of God had manifestly wrought in him such confidence in
methods, as to render him deaf and indifferent to unhallowed suggestions.
As many lines converted on David reaching the throne of
was the opening up of new lines that would ultimately converge on the complete
realization of the Divine purpose in his life. We thus have warrant for believing
that there are more forces working toward the goal of our life of godliness than
we can at present trace. This should comfort and strengthen us in all our efforts
to see Christ recognized as King of kings.
Truly, moral men in exalted positions give tone to society. During exile, David
was at the head of a band of men, and now he became the ruler of a people with title
of king. As leader and chief his spirit had influenced his followers. Now that he is
king, the people told him of the men of Jabesh-Gilead burying Saul. Why? Was it that
he might be revenged on men who had done honor to a persecuting enemy? Not thus
had they learned of their leader. They knew him of old as generous to Saul
(I Samuel 26:9-12); they had heard his pathetic lament over Saul (ch.
1:17-27), and they were sure that he would be comforted in knowing how
poor Saul’s corpse had been cared for. Obviously, the leader had given a
nobler, more generous tone to men beneath him. In ordinary life, such men
would have rejoiced in the death of a foe. It is doubtless true that the tone
of society proceeds largely from the higher to the lower in position. A
good monarch affects the peasant and the peer. The lower grades of
society get their tone very much from what prevails in ranks above them. If
our rulers and persons of position display kindliness, temperance, and
piety, they do much. thereby to fashion the character of others. The same
principle applies to thought. Ideas are wrought out by the highest minds,
and gradually permeate the thinking of the undisciplined and uncultured.
Hence the serious responsibilities of station in life!
8 "But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host, took Ishbosheth
the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;" Abner. This hero
had been present at the battle of Gilboa, and probably had rallied many of the
defeated Israelites, and made as much resistance as was possible to the onward
march of the Philistines. And as soon as he had effected his retreat into the region
beyond the Jordan, his power would be supreme. There was no one there to oppose
the commander-in-chief of what remained of Saul’s army. Certainly all that
remained of Saul’s body guard of three thousand men would gather round
Abner, and as the Philistines did not push their pursuit further than the
Abner was bound to do his best for Saul’s family, and the people would
feel this, and approve of his conduct in standing up for the children of their
king. Moreover, David by his conduct had made himself an object of
suspicion to all the valiant men who had formed Saul’s army, and these
would be the more embittered against him by their defeat. Ishbosheth.
This name signifies “man of shame,” that is, “man of the shameful thing,”
the idol. Originally he was named Eshbaal (I Chronicles 8:33; 9:39),
that is “man of Baal,” the word esh being merely a dialectic variation for
ish, equivalent to “man.” At this early date Baal was not the specific name
of any idol, but simply meant “lord,” “master,” “husband.” In the earlier
books of the Bible we find the word used of many local deities, who were
lords of this or that, but had nothing in common with the Phoenician Baal,
whose worship Ahab attempted to introduce into
Baal became a term of reproach, and Bosheth, “the shame,” was
substituted for it in the old names of which it had formed part. Thus
Gideon is still called Jerubbaal in I Samuel 12:11, but the title is
transformed into Jerubbesheth, or more correctly, Jerubbosheth, “let the
shame plead,” here in ch.11:21. Originally, therefore, the name
Ishbaal had no discreditable meaning, but signified, “man of the Lord,” or,
as Ewald supposes, “lordly man.” It was not till long afterwards, when
of “husband,” became an ill-omened word. Jonathan, whose own name,
“Jehovah’s gift,” in Greek Theodore, is proof sufficient that Saul’s family
were worshippers of the true God, called his son’s name Meribbaal, “the
Lord’s strife” (I Chronicles 8:34). In some strange way this was altered
into Mephibosheth, that is, “from the face of the shameful thing” (ch. 4:4.
etc.). Possibly it is a corruption of Meribbosheth, but it is remarkable that a
son of Saul by his concubine Rizpah also bore the name (ch. 21:8). Among the
ancestors of Saul, the simple name Baal, “Lord,” occurs (I Chronicles 8:30).
Mahanaim. Abner chose this town because it was on the eastern side of the
Jordan, and so beyond the range of the Philistines, who never seem to have
crossed the river. It was situated on the borders of the tribe of Gad and the
half-tribe of Manasseh, from both of which valiant warriors had joined David;
but the people generally were not ill affected to the house of Saul. As having
been assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:38), it had a quasi-religious character,
inherited from the vision of angels seen there by Jacob (Genesis 32:2). As a safe,
out of the way place, David subsequently took refuge there (ch. 17:24).
(On its exact site, see Conder’s ‘Heth and Moab,’ pp. 177-181.) (I find
it most interesting that this book can be viewed on the internet in PDF -
CY - 2018)
9 "And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over
Jezreel, and over Ephraim,
and over Benjamin, and over all
Make him king over. A different preposition is used with the
first three names from that employed afterwards, as though Ishbosheth’s
claim to dominion over Ephraim, Benjamin, and all
Mahanaim lay upon the borders of Gad and Manasseh, Abner would easily
control these two tribes, and Reuben, which was never an active or
enterprising tribe, would follow their lead. Of the Ashurites nothing is
known, and the reading is uncertain, as the Septuagint has “Thasir,” and the
Vulgate and Syriac “Geshur.” The Chaldee paraphrase boldly gives “the
house of Asher;” but this tribe lay close to
northwest. There are two places called Geshur (see on ch.3:3),
but neither of them seems meant, and more probably it was some place the
name of which was uncommon, and so was wrongly copied by scribes until
the present confusion arose. Jezreel. The name of this place, as specially
subject to Ishbosheth, is surprising; for the town, at this time of no
importance, lay in the wide plain between the mountains of Gilboa and the
little Hermon. But this district was the prize won by the Philistines, and
was a region where their cavalry and chariots gave them a great advantage.
For Ishbosheth to have had even a nominal dominion over Jezreel, he must
either have become a tributary, or Abner must have maintained a not
unsuccessful struggle there after the battle of Gilboa. The latter is the more
probable. In safe possession of all the country east of the Jordan, Abner
was not likely to consent to anything so humiliating as submission to the
Philistines; while David’s connection with Achish made it neither so galling
to him nor so disadvantageous. As the Transjordanic tribes assembled at
thousand men (I Chronicles 12:37), Abner plainly had large resources
at his command, and, though the people were not very earnest in the cause
of Saul’s house, yet they would probably assemble in considerable numbers
after the battle of Gilboa, to prevent any irruption of the victors into their
country. At their head Abner probably gained some advantages over the
Philistines, and thus became powerful enough to proclaim Ishbosheth king,
and as Ephraim and Benjamin acquiesced, he became nominally ruler over
10 "Ishbosheth Saul’s son was forty years old when he began to reign
David. 11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of
seven years and six months. Where are we to place the five years and a half of
difference? The usual assumption is that David was made King of Israel immediately
upon Ishbosheth’s murder; but this is wrong. We cannot believe that Abner
would allow so long a period as five years to elapse before asserting the
claims of Saul’s family, especially as David was already made King of
his care, and as some form of popular ratification was necessary, some
months may have passed before Ishbosheth was publicly installed as king,
though Abner must have acted in his name from the first. The main interval
of five years before David’s accession must have been after Ishbosheth’s
death. That murder, and still more so the murder of Abner, must have
made David an object of great suspicion to all
called him “a bloody man” (ch. 16:8), was but uttering a slander
commonly current among the people. Gradually most of them would
become convinced of his innocence; and all, as they contrasted the anarchy
which prevailed in their country with the peace and security won by David
circumstances. As the Philistines immediately resented their action, and
endeavored to crush the king before he could concentrate his power, it is
probable that during these five years they had again obtained practical
command of the more fertile districts of
years old. In the previous narrative Jonathan always appears as the most
important of Saul’s sons, and naturally it is assumed that he was the
firstborn; yet his child was but five years old at his father’s death, while
Ishbosheth, his uncle, a younger brother of Jonathan, is described as a man
of forty. Some think that Ishbosheth was the eldest son, but in I Chronicles 8:33
he is placed last, and, though a weak man, was not so feeble as to have been set
aside from the succession. But confessedly the chronology of Saul’s reign is so
full of difficulties, that it is impossible altogether to explain it (see note on
I Samuel 13:1).
12 "And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the son
of Saul, went out
from Mahanaim to
a further proof of considerable success on Abner’s side. Encouraged by the
result of numerous skirmishes with the Philistines, and the gradual restoration
of the king’s authority in Ephraim and Benjamin, Abner determined to make
the attempt to win back Judah also. There David had been content with protecting
Judah, and establishing good order; and, following his constant custom, had taken
no steps to obtain for himself the kingdom “over all Israel.” The war was of
Abner’s choosing, and shows him to us in the character of an able but
ambitious and restless man.
Opposition to the Divine Purpose (vs. 8-12)
The purpose of God, to make David king over His people, was as yet only
in part accomplished; and its fulfillment was opposed by Abner (I Samuel 14:50;
17:55; 20:25; 26:5) on behalf of “the house of Saul.” Having escaped from the
battle of Gilboa, he “took Ishbosheth, the son of Saul” (a man of feeble character,
and fitted to become a tool in his hands), “and brought him over to Mahanaim,
him king over
David reigned peacefully at
openly proclaimed Ishbosheth
(now forty years old) “king over all
“went out from Mahanaim
with the view of subjecting
sway. His principal motive was the desire of maintaining and increasing his own
power. “He was angry that this tribe had set up David for their king”
(Josephus). His conduct was “not only a continuation of the hostility of
Saul towards David, but also an open act of rebellion against Jehovah”
purpose, as well as the wish of the elders of
knew, as he afterwards acknowledged (ch. 3:17-18). His opposition represents
and illustrates that of men to the purposes of God generally, and more especially
to His purpose, that Christ shall reign over them and all mankind; of which
Ø The Divine Word (I Samuel 16:1). “To him give all the prophets
witness,” etc. (Acts 10:43; I Peter 1:11).
Ø Significant events, in confirmation of the Word; the overthrow of
the exaltation of “His
Ø The irresistible convictions of reason and conscience, and the
confessions which even opponents have been constrained to make.
Abner was present when Saul said, “Thou shalt both do great things
and shalt also still prevail” (I Samuel 26:25). His opposition was therefore
inexcusable. “While men go on in their sins, apparently without concern,
they are often conscious that they are fighting against God” (Scott).
within certain limits, men possess) because of:
Ø The delusions of unbelief. The tempter whispers as of old, “Yea, hath
God said?” (Genesis 3:1); they “willfully forget” what has taken place
(II Peter 3:5); “neither will they be persuaded” of the truth and
obligation of the Word of God (Luke 16:31).
Ø The plea of present expediency, and the expectation that, if they must
submit, there will come a “more convenient season” for doing so (Acts
24:25). Abner thought “that he might be able, upon better terms, to make
his peace with David when the time should come that the Lord was to
to be ruler over all
Ø Selfishness, pride, and ambition; the love of pleasure and power, the
habit of self-will, the self-confidence engendered by success, “the mind of
the flesh” which “is enmity against God.” (Romans 8:6) “Ye do always
resist the Holy Ghost” (Acts 7:51).
fulfillment of the Divine decree (Psalm 2:7; 110:1; I Corinthians 15:25),
Ø Changes not. “The Strength of
(I Samuel 15:29).
Ø Is effected by infinite wisdom and might, against which the skill and
strength of men contend in vain.
Ø Comes to pass either with or without their will, in mercy or in judgment,
in the salvation of the penitent or the destruction of the persistently
rebellious “These mine enemies which would not that I should reign
over them bring hither and slay them before me” (Luke 19:27).
13 "And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out,
and met together
by the pool of
on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the
pool." The pool of Gibson. As
about the same distance from Mahanaim, it is plain that David knew of
Abner’s march. Possibly he had been summoned to yield his kingdom up to
Ishbosheth as the rightful lord, but, while taking no measures to extend his
rule, he felt himself justified in defending his election
to be king ever
The pool of Gibeon is described by Robinson (‘Researches,’ 2:136) as “an
open tank about a hundred and twenty feet in length and a hundred in
breadth, surrounded by a grove of olive trees. Above it, excavated in the
rock, is a subterranean reservoir, to receive the water from a copious
spring, from which the overflow descends into the tank below.” As neither
party was willing to shed the first blood in a civil war, of which the
Philistines would reap the benefit, they both halted in sight of one another
on opposite sides of the hill, with the tank below them in the middle.
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." Let the young men now
arise. “Now” is not an adverb of time, but is hortative, and therefore rightly
translated in the Revised Version, “I pray thee.” It is by no means certain that
Abner meant that this single combat should decide the war; for similar preludes
before a battle are not uncommon among the Arabians, and serve, as this did,
to put an end to the mutual unwillingness to begin the onslaught. So, too, games
often preceded outbreaks of Scandinavian blood feuds. And this was
probably Abner’s object. He was the assailant, but now found that his men
shrank from mortal combat with their brethren. There is thus no
comparison between this combat and that of the Curiatii and Horatii
described in Livy, 1. 10:25. Let them play. The word is grim enough,
though intended to gloss over the cruel reality. On each side twelve of the
most skilful champions were to be selected, who were to fight in stern
earnest with one another, while the rest gazed upon the fierce spectacle.
The sight of the conflict would whet their appetite for blood, and their
reluctance would give place to thirst for revenge. The request was too
thoroughly in accordance with Joab’s temper for him to refuse, and his
immediate answer was, Let them arise.
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.
His sword in his fellow’s side. The absence of the verb in the
original sets powerfully before us the rapidity of the whole action. But
what an action! Twenty-four experienced men each take the other by the
head, and, without any attempt at self-defense, thrust their swords into
their opponents’ side, and leave their own sides exposed to a similar thrust.
Were they, then, unskillful in the use of weapons? Impossible. Were they
blinded by hatred of one another? But no rancor would make a man
forget his skill in defense. Here there is no variety, no checkered fortune of
the combatants, but all twenty-four do and suffer just the same; and it is
remarkable that they had swords only, and no shields. With shields on their
arms, they could not have seized one another by the hair. It seems certain,
therefore, that this mutual butchery was the “play;” nor can we conceive of
a more murderous and savage proceeding. Abner, at the head of his fierce
Benjamites, thought, perhaps, that Joab had no men among his followers
willing to throw life away in so senseless a manner. But Joab was as ready
as Abner, and possibly some code of false honor, such as used to make
men practice duelling, required the acceptance of the challenge. And so,
with their appetite for blood whetted by the sight of twenty-four murders,
they hastened to begin the fight. Helkath-hazzurim. Literally this means
“the field of flints;” but as the flint is constantly used for any hard rock
(Psalm 78:20), the Authorized Version has admitted into the margin a
paraphrase taken from the Vulgate, which supposes that by flints are meant
“strong men,” and renders, “the field of strong men.” So in Isaiah 26:4
“the flint,” or rock, “of ages,” is even translated “everlasting strength.”
Flints, however, were constantly used by the Israelites for knives whenever
extreme sharpness was required. Thus for the circumcising of Israel,
Jehovah commanded Joshua to prepare knives of flint (Joshua 5:2); and
in course of time the sharp or whetted edge of a weapon was called its
flint. Thus in Psalm 89:43 we read, “Thou hast turned back the flint of
his sword.” The name therefore probably means “the field of the sharp
knives” (see margin of the Revised Version), and refers to the short swords
with which they murdered one another.
17 "And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten,
and the men of Israel, before the servants of David. 18 And there were
three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel
was as light of foot as a wild roe." A very sore battle. The purpose of Abner
was thus gained. Excited by the spectacle of merciless slaughter, the armies
maneuvered no longer, but rushed fiercely to the attack, and fought with fury.
But the mighty men of David were irresistible. Only nineteen of his warriors
fell, while Abner lost three hundred and sixty, and was forced to flee.
Fratricidal Strife (vs. 13-17)
“And that place was called Helkath-Hazzurim” (v. 16). The hostile
attitude assumed by Abner appeared to David to render necessary active
measures in self-defense. It is not said that he inquired of the Lord. If he
had done so the conflict which ensued between brethren might possibly
have been averted. As it was, he sent an army of observation under the
command of Joab, who (although not mentioned before) had doubtless
accompanied him in his exile (I Samuel 22:1), and was now general of
forces. And Joab and “the servants of David”
encamped opposite Abner “and the servants of Ishbosheth” (v. 13). At
length Abner, impatient of delay, challenged a conflict between certain
picked men on each side, not merely “to see which were best” (Josephus),
but either to decide the day by the issue or to draw on a general
engagement. Joab readily accepted the challenge, and the conflict
commenced. It was:
before us.” “Let them arise” (v. 14).
Ø Self-interest, ambition, and envy often quench the love of brethren
(vs. 26-27), and indispose them to seek reconciliation with each other.
Ø The indulgence of evil passion blinds men to the consequences of their
words and actions.
Ø Familiarity with scenes of strife and war tends to produce insensibility to
human suffering and slaughter. That a deadly struggle could be spoken of
as a pastime shows how lightly life was estimated and how heartlessly it
was sacrificed. “Ambitious and bloody men often consider the dire trade of
war and the slaughter of their fellow creatures as a mere diversion” (Scott).
“Some seek diversion in the tented field,
And make the sorrows of mankind their sport.
But war’s a game which, were their subjects wise,
Kings should not play at.”
etc. (v. 16).
Ø When the love which should prevail among brethren gives place to
wrath, that wrath is generally most intense and cruel. Civil wars are
proverbially more bitter than any other.
Ø Men are sometimes so intent upon injuring their opponents as to forget
to defend themselves, and rush upon their own destruction.
Ø The attempt to end strife by means of strife is commonly vain; “it is
rather a spur to further effusion of blood than a bridle to hinder the same.”
“What can war but endless war still breed?”
Ø The issue of the conflict does not necessarily prove the justice of the
Ø Mutual strife tends to mutual extermination. “All they that take the
sword shall perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52). The “field of sharp
blades” was a lasting memorial of destructiveness rather than of courage; a
warning rather than a pattern.
etc. (v. 17).
Ø The strife of a few excites the wrathful passions of many, by whom it is
Ø Every injurious word and act furnishes an additional impulse to wrath
and retaliation; and the conflict goes on increasing.
Ø That which at first may be easily checked passes entirely beyond control.
“The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water,” etc.
(Proverbs 17:14; 26:21).
and sixty of his men died; Joab’s brother Asahel was slain, with nineteen of
David’s servants. “In war God punishes the sins of both parties.”
Ø He who gave the challenge and commenced the conflict was the first to
complain of the result (v. 26), and was bitterly reproached as the cause
thereof (v. 27).
Ø He who accepted the challenge was filled with grief and revenge.
Ø Both sides experienced heavy loss and sorrow.
Ø Even David could not but regret the weakening of the nation in presence
of the common foe; or fail to see in the strife of brethren the consequences
of his own faithlessness (I Samuel 27:1, 10-11). If he had not taken up
his abode with the Philistines the conflict would probably never have
Ø When men commence a quarrel they little know where it will end.
Ø Strife should be diligently checked at the beginning.
Ø “Let us fight that good fight only whereof the apostle speaks, which is
between the flesh and the spirit, which only hath the profitable end, the
glorious theatre, the godly armor, and the blessed reward of assured
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
armor. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him.
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?" Asahel pursued after Abner.
This episode is fully narrated, both because of Asahel’s rank as David’s
nephew, and also because of its tragical consequences to Abner himself.
Asahel was a son of Zeruiah, David’s sister, and, while his own brothers were
of little use to him, his nephews, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, were the mainstays
of David’s throne. As their father’s name is never mentioned, but only the
mother’s, Zeruiah was probably a woman of great ability, and her sons inherited
it from her. Possibly she had married beneath her station, or her husband had
died early; but certainly her sons, thinking more of her than of their father, had
soon thrown in their lot with David her brother (but see note on v. 32).
The youngest of the three, Asahel, was remarkable for his personal
accomplishments, and especially for swiftness of foot, for which he was
compared to the Zebi, the camp name of Jonathan (ch.1:19). It
now caused his death. For conscious that Abner was the sole support of
Ishbosheth’s party, and indignant at his challenge to useless slaughter, he
pursued after him, allowing nothing to divert him from his object, and
hoping to end the war by slaying the veteran commander. But though he
had the fleetness of an Achilles, he had not his robust strength, and Abner,
knowing that the combat was unequal, remonstrated with him, and bade
him turn aside, and be content with winning the spoils of some meaner
warrior. It is evident from this that Abner saw in this defeat in a battle of
his own choosing, the certainty of the near downfall of the house of Saul,
and, as he would then be in Joab’s power, he was unwilling to have a blood
feud with a man of such determined character. “How,” he asks, “should I
hold up my face to Joab thy brother?” It would be his duty, as the avenger
of blood, to slay me. Apparently, during this conference, he was standing
with the butt end of his lance held towards Asahel, to ward off his blows,
but, as the spearhead was turned the other way, Asahel forgot that even so
it might be used for offence. For it was pointed, that it might be stuck in
the ground at night (I Samuel 26:7), and possibly shod with iron,
though it is more likely that it was only hardened by being thrust into the
fire. So when he saw that his words had no avail, and that Asahel was not
on his guard, he suddenly struck him with it so violent a blow that it
pierced his body right through, and Asahel fell down dead. It is probable,
from the merciless force used, that there was a sudden outburst of anger on
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." The fifth rib. This rendering here and in other
places arises from the derivation of the word from the numeral five, but this
notion has long been abandoned, and the word is now known to be formed from a
verb signifying “to be fat or stout.” Really it means the abdomen, and is so
translated in the Septuagint and Vulgate, while the Syriac gives only the general
sense, and renders “the breast.” In the same place; Hebrew, under him;
that is, immediately. So violent was the blow that Asahel dropped down
dead without a struggle. So tragic was his fate, and so great the affection
of David’s men for the young warrior, that the pursuit ceased, and all, as
they came up, remained standing by the side of the corpse.
The Untimely Fate of Asahel: To Young Men (vs. 18-23)
Asahel was the youngest of three brothers; the others being Joab and
Abishai. They were the sons of Zeruiah (half-sister of David) and a
Bethlehemite (v. 32) whose name has not been recorded; and they had
much in common. When Asahel fled to David at the
(some ten or twelve years before the events here mentioned) he was
probably a mere lad; he shared his uncle’s hardships and participated in his
exaltation. He was one of the famous thirty (ch. 23:24), “valiant
men of the armies” (I Chronicles 11:26); accompanied Joab and
Abishai in their march to
and “the servants [soldiers] of Ishbosheth.” He was:
1. Possessed of eminent gifts. “Asahel was as light of foot as a gazelle” (v. 18);
like “swift-footed Achilles,” and like Harold I. (son of Canute), surnamed
Hare-foot, “because he was light and swift of foot (Rapin). He was also
distinguished by enterprise, courage, perseverance, and other admirable
qualities. Mental endowments are incomparably superior to physical; but
both are gifts of God, and should be recognized as such; they enable those
who possess them to render valuable service to His people; and they should
be employed in humble obedience to His will. Yet not unfrequently they
become an occasion of vain glory, and are perverted from their proper
exercise and end.
2. Actuated by an unwise ambition. “And Asahel pursued after Abner,”
etc. (v. 19). He sought to take him prisoner or put him to death, and so
end the conflict; and doubtless, also, to display his own superior speed and
strength, and obtain the glory of the achievement. He was on the right side,
and, considering the circumstances of the case, there was something
laudable in his attempt. But it is possible, even in connection with the
power (Matthew 20:20-23). Those who do so generally:
a. set an inordinate value upon the object at which they aim,
b. exhibit an undue confidence in their own abilities,
c. depreciate the difficulties of its attainment, and
d. expose themselves to great risk and peril (Titus 2:6; I Timothy 6:9).
“Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame’s proud temple shines afar?”
3. Heedless of salutary warning. “And Abner looked behind him, and said”
etc. (vs. 20-23). “Turn thee aside,” etc. “Slay one of the common
soldiers and take his accoutrements as booty, if thou art seeking for that
kind of fame” (Keil). He cared little about the safety of his men, and was
chiefly concerned about his own; but his advice was considerate, wise, and
once and again repeated. Asahel, though swifter of foot, was not his equal
in experience and skill; and (like many other young men) he despised the
warning of the old warrior, was headstrong and over confident of success,
and rushed rashly and blindly upon his fate. “Heat of zeal sometimes, in the
indiscreet pursuit of a just adversary, proves mortal to the agent,
prejudicial to the service” (Hall).
4. Struck down in youthful prime. “And Abner with the hinder end of the
spear smote him,” etc.; suddenly, unexpectedly, and when he seemed on
the point of accomplishing his purpose. With one blow his life was cut
short, his hope disappointed, his promise of a brilliant future extinguished.
“Often do men fancy themselves about to seize upon happiness, when
death stops their career and lays them in the dust. And if they will rush
forward in the road to destruction, though plainly warned of their danger,
they can blame none but themselves” (Scott).
“Fame is the spur that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life.”
5. Regarded with mournful pity. “As many as came to the place where
Asahel fell down and died stood still” (see ch. 20:12), overcome
with surprise, compassion, and grief; “and they took up Asahel, and buried
him,” etc. (v. 32).
6. Remembered with mischievous resentment. (ch. 3:30.) He left
behind him a legacy, not of peace and good will, but of wrath and revenge.
Pause at his tomb in
untimely, fate (Jeremiah 9:23). Let your ambition be different from his:
a. to overcome carnal and selfish ambition in your own heart,
b. to save life rather than to destroy it, and
c. to follow in the steps of him who was servant of all
Here is scope for your noblest aspirations and most strenuous efforts. And
your hope will not be destroyed, but crowned by death.
“Fool not; for all may have,
If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave.”
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
Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner; really, but Joab
and Abishai pursued, and so the Revised Version. The sight of their
slaughtered brother made them only the more determined in the pursuit,
and doubtless, at their command, the soldiers would leave Asahel and
follow their commanders. Of the “hill of Ammah” and Giah we know
nothing; but it is evident that no halt was made until sunset.
25 "And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after
Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill."
The children of Benjamin… became one troop. Benjamin was probably
the only tribe that entered keenly into Ishbosheth’s cause; for
the maintenance of the kingdom in the family of Saul meant the
continuance of that favoritism which had enriched them at the expense of
the community (I Samuel 22:7). They were, too, a very warlike tribe,
and Abner was one of themselves, and probably, therefore, the main body
of his army, and certainly his most trustworthy men, were Benjamites.
Profiting by the delay caused by the halting of David’s soldiers round tile
body of the fallen Asahel, Abner had rallied his men, and posted them on
the top of the hill, where they were prepared now to fight on more equal
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?" Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness
in the latter end! The Vulgate renders this, “Art thou not aware that
desperation is dangerous?” This is a very obvious truth, but probably Abner
had in his mind something more statesmanlike. The struggle was for the
empire over all Israel, and whoever won would be king over both sides.
But every man slain meant a blood feud, which would continue even after
the kingdom was united; and Abner probably felt that his own slaughter of
Asahel that day would render his position in David’s realm difficult and
dangerous. Among the Arab tribes quarrels are very common, but bloodshed
rare, because of the blood feud which follows. Moderation was thus necessary
on both sides, while cruelty and the immoderate use of victory would sow
the seeds of future trouble.
Longing for the Cessation of Wars (v. 26)
“Shall the sword devour forever?” This exclamation of Abner respecting
the pursuit of his discomfited troops by the conquering troops of Joab, has
often been uttered in respect to war in general. As so employed it
expresses horror of war, and impatient longing for its final termination.
Ø The nature of war. The mutual slaughter of each other by those who are
“brethren.” This aspect of the slaughter of one part of the chosen people by
another presented itself to Abner. But in the light of Christianity all men
are brothers, and war is a species of fratricide. They are all children of
God, brethren of Christ, redeemed by His blood, and capable of sharing His
eternal glory and blessedness. In this view of war, not only the actual
conflicts, but all the elaborate preparations made for them, appear very
Ø Its causes. “Whence come wars and fightings among you? come they
not hence, even of your lusts?” (James 4:1). The evil passions of men
are their cause — lust of territory, of dominion, of glory, of money; the
spirit of revenge and retaliation; even the love of excitement and adventure.
Not less, but if possible more hideous, is the cool, calculating policy of
rulers, which sets armies in motion with no regard to the lives which it
sacrifices or the misery it occasions; or, again, the desire for active service,
with its opportunities of distinction, promotion, and other rewards, which
springs up amongst the officers, if not the rank and file, of standing armies,
and which takes no thought of the dreadful evil which “active service”
Ø Its effects. “Shall the sword devour forever?” War is like a huge wild
beast which “devours.” It eats up human beings by thousands or tens of
thousands at a time. It was a small consumption of men which took place
in the battle and pursuit of which this question was first used. Only twenty
men had fallen on the one side, and three hundred and sixty on the other.
Modern wars “devour” on a far greater scale, partly in actual battle, more
from wounds received in battle, and from the diseases which the hardships
of war produce. War not only devours men in vast numbers, and thus
occasions incalculable sorrow and misery; it consumes the substance of
nations, the creation of peaceful industry; it wastes their mental and
physical energies. And still more sad to contemplate are the immoral effects
both on the actual combatants and on those who employ them; the hateful
passions excited and strengthened, the deterioration of national character
Ø Its universal prevalence. Among peoples in every part of the world, in
every stage of civilization, and down through every age. However men
differ in other respects, they are alike in this practice. Whatever changes
take place, this survives. The progress of science and art, of discovery and
invention, and of mechanical skill, seems to have no other effect in regard
to war than to increase the power of mutual destruction. War lays them all
under tribute to enlarge its ability to “devour” and destroy more easily and
rapidly, and on a larger scale. In view of all these considerations good men
may well sigh and cry, “Shall the sword devour forever?” There have
doubtless been wars on which, in spite of all the evils they occasion, lovers
of their kind could look with sympathy and satisfaction so far as one party
was concerned. Such are wars of defense against unjust aggression, wars
undertaken by a people to obtain liberty as against some crushing tyranny,
wars against hordes of barbarians who threaten devastation and destruction
to hearths and homes, and all that civilized men value. But even in such
cases we may well ask — Will it ever be necessary to use so dreadful an
instrument as war in the endeavor to obtain rights or abolish wrongs? Will
men never be amenable to reason? Must there ever be retained the power
to resort to the violent methods of war?
“The cause of truth and human weal,
O God above!
Transfer it from the sword’s appeal
To peace and love.”
The sword shall not devour forever. Wars will at length come to a final
Ø Divine prophecy assures us of this. (Isaiah 2:4; 11:6-9; Micah 4:3-4;
see also Psalm 72:3, 7; Zechariah 9:10.) Not only shall wars cease,
but there shall be such a feeling of universal security that the arts of
war shall cease to be learned.
Ø An adequate power for effecting this change is in the world. Christianity
— the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the accompanying might of the Holy
Spirit. The revelation of God in Christ, especially of the relation of God to
all men and His love to all; the redemption effected for all; the precepts of
the gospel, inculcating love even to enemies, and the doing good to all; the
example of Him who was Love Incarnate; the dignity and worth of men,
and their relation to each other, as seen in the light of the gospel; the
sacred brotherhood into which faith in Christ brings men of all lands; the
prospect of a heaven where all Christians will be united in service and
blessedness; — these truths go to the root of the evil in the hearts of men.
They cannot be truly received without subduing the passions which lead to
war, and implanting the affections which insure peace.
Ø Experience justifies the hope that this peace-producing power will at
length be triumphant. That it will be in operation everywhere, and
everywhere effectual. So far as it has been experienced, it has made its
subjects gentle, loving, peaceful, more willing to suffer than to inflict
suffering. Multitudes exist in the world so ruled by the gospel and the
Spirit of Christ, that it is simply impossible they should on any account take
to killing each other. What has transformed them CAN TRANSFORM
OTHERS. Let vital Christianity become universal, and peace must be
universal too. It is on the way to become universal, though its advance is
slow to our view. The effect of Christianity, so far as it has prevailed,
on war itself encourages hope. It has become humane in comparison with
wars recorded in this Book and in the pages of general history. And amongst
civilized nations there is a growing indisposition to resort to war, an
increasing willingness to settle their differences by peaceful methods. This
is doubtless partly the result of the tremendous costliness and destructiveness
of modern warfare, but partly also of the growth of a spirit of reasonableness,
equity, and humanity.
Ø Cherish the spirit and principles of peace, i.e. of Christ and Christianity.
Ø Endeavor to diffuse them. And do this earnestly and hopefully, with the
assurance of a final success in which you will participate joyfully.
Ø Use your influence as citizens to discourage war. “And the God of
peace shall be with you” (II Corinthians 13:11).
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
spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up; or as the Revised
Version renders, had gone away, nor followed every man his brother. The Revised
Version makes the sense more plain. Joab throws the whole blame, and rightly so,
on Abner. David would under no circumstances have attacked Ishbosheth, and
Joab with his men had marched to the tank of Gibeon simply to repel an invading
force. When there, Joab, doubtless by David’s orders, had remained strictly on
the defensive, and so unwilling were both armies to fight, that Abner had to
resort to a most cruel scene of butchery in order to inflame their passions
and force them to begin a conflict of brother against brother. But for
Abner’s challenge, both armies would have separated as friends. And Joab
still acts upon the same principle of forbearance, and gives the signal for
stopping the pursuit. He was not a man of a tender heart, but he was wise
and sensible, and fully aware that the slaughter of Abner and his men, even
if he could have destroyed them all, would only have rankled in the minds
of all Israel, and set them against David and his rule.
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." And Abner and his men walked all that night. At the end of
the chapter we learn that Joab did the same. Each army had about twenty-six
miles to march, and the night was less exhausting for a long walk than
the day. As soon, then, as Abner saw Joab and his men occupied with the
removal of Asahel’s body, he withdrew from the hill of Ammah, and,
passing through the Arabah, or plain of Jordan, crossed the river by the
same ford which he had used when starting on his unfortunate errand, and
so returned home. The phrase, all Bithron, shows that this was a district,
but nothing more of it is known.
War (vs. 24-29)
“Shall the sword devour forever?” (v. 26; ch. Samuel 11:25). The
sword is more destructive than ravenous beasts, famine, pestilence
(ch. 24:13; Leviticus 26:26), earthquake, tempest, or fire. The
history of its ravages constitutes a considerable portion of the history of
mankind. Of these we have here a slight but noteworthy instance. Twenty-four
brave men of the same nation (half of them chosen from each of the
opposing forces) fell, pierced by each other’s weapons. In the succeeding
battle and flight several hundreds were slain (v. 31). At sunset the
defeated general rallied his scattered troops on the hill of Ammah, and
appealed to the commander of the pursuing forces to withdraw them and
avert the bitter consequences that would otherwise ensue. “Now the battle
is going against him he complains of the devouring sword; and, though it
had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him — a sort of
eternity” (Gill). Joab answered that but for his challenge in the morning
there would have been no conflict at all; but (probably as yet unacquainted
with the death of his brother Asahel) he sounded a retreat (v. 28); and
Abner and his men forthwith departed, not to
utterance of Abner, nor from an Old Testament point of view, we may take
it as expressive of :
forever?” By it:
1. Numberless lives are consumed. The immediate and avowed object of
war is the destruction of men’s lives; and its most effective instruments (to
the construction of which the utmost ingenuity is devoted) are those that
destroy the greatest number in the shortest possible time. “War is the work,
the element, or rather the sport and triumph of death, who glories not only
in the extent of his conquest, but in the richness of his spoil” (R. Hall,
‘Reflections on War’). Since its ravages began many times more than the
whole number of the present population of the globe have probably been its
2. Incalculable snfferings are inflicted; on those who are left to die on the
field, or are borne to hospitals and linger out a miserable existence; on the
non-combatant population among whom the devourer pursues his way; on
whole nations and multitudes of desolate and sorrowing homes far distant
from the scene of strife.
3. Enormous cost is incurred; in the maintenance of armies and the
provision of materiel, besides the withdrawal of great numbers from the
operations of productive industry and serious interference with commerce;
immense national debts are accumulated and burdensome taxes imposed on
present and succeeding generations. There are nearly thirteen millions of
millions actually under arms, costing in all ways about five hundred millions
sterling a year. The sum total of the national debts of the European nations
amounts to nearly five thousand millions of pounds (‘Statesman’s Year-
Book’). (We are talking 18th Century here – CY – 2018)
4. A pernicious influence is exerted, with respect to morality and religion.
“War does more harm to the morals of men than even their property and
their persons” (Erasmus). It has its origin in unregulated desire (James
4:1; I John 2:16), which it excites, manifests, and intensifies. “The
causes of all wars may be reduced to five heads:
d. providence (precaution), and
e. defence” (Owen Feltham, ‘Resolves’).
“If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least
of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses,
with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a
temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which
almost all the virtues are excluded and on which nearly all the vices are
incorporated” (R. Hall).
a. What angry feelings does it stir up between nations whom
“God hath made of one blood”! (Acts 17:26)
b. What infuriated passions does it arouse in contending armies!
c. What cruel deeds does it commend!
d. What iniquitous courses of conduct does it induce!
e. What false views of glory does it inculcate!
f. What bitter and lasting enmities does it leave behind!
“One murder makes a villain,
Millions a hero! Princes were privileged to kill,
And numbers sanctified the crime!
Ah! why will kings forget that they are men,
And men that they are brethren? Why delight;
In human sacrifice? Why burst the ties
Of nature, that should knit their souls together
In one soft bond of amity and love?”
Is war, then, under all circumstances, inexpedient and wrong? It is
(1) The state, like the individual, has a natural right of self-defense, and is
bound (in fulfillment of the purpose for which it exists) to protect its
citizens by repelling external invasion as well as repressing internal violence
(Whewell, ‘Elements of Morality;’ Paley; Gisborne; Mozley, ‘University
(2) By means of war national subjection is sometimes prevented, national
grievances are redressed, national honor is upheld, aggression checked,
pride abased, liberty, peace, and prosperity secured, patriotism kindled,
powerful energies and heroic virtues developed.
(3) It has often received the Divine sanction (Exodus 17:14; Joshua 8:1;
I Samuel 11:6). “Perpetual peace is a dream, and it is not even a
beautiful dream. War is an element in the order of the world ordained by
God. In it the noblest virtues of mankind are developed — courage and the
abnegation of self, faithfulness to duty, and the spirit of sacrifice; the
soldier gives his life. Without war the world would stagnate and lose itself
in materialism” (Von Moltke). But this is the view of one who has been “a
man of war from his youth” and “shed much blood” (I Chronicles
And it may be said that:
(1) War is not ordained by God like tempests and earthquakes or even
pestilence, but is directly due to the wickedness of men. That which is in
itself evil, however, often becomes an occasion of good.
(2) “There is at least equal scope for courage and magnanimity in blessing
as in destroying mankind. The condition of the human race offers
inexhaustible objects for enterprise and fortitude and magnanimity. In
relieving the countless wants and sorrows of the world, in exploring
unknown regions, in carrying the arts and virtues of civilization to
unimproved communities, in extending the bounds of knowledge, in
diffusing the spirit of freedom, and especially in spreading the light and
influence of Christianity, how much may be dared, how much endured!”
(3) The right of resistance to evil is limited, and does not justify the taking
away of life (Wayland, ‘Elements of Moral Science;’ Dymond, ‘Essays’).
(4) No advantages gained by war are an adequate compensation for the
miseries inflicted by it; less suffering is experienced and higher honor
acquired by enduring wrong than avenging it; the exercise of justice,
forbearance, and active benevolence is the most effectual means of averting
injury and securing safety and happiness.
(5) The Divine sanction given to specific wars in the Old Testament was
not given to war in general, and it does not justify the wars which are
waged, without the like authority, at the present time.
(6) War is virtually forbidden by numerous precepts and the whole spirit of
the New Testament (Matthew 5:9, 39, 44; 26:52; Romans 12:18-21;
I Thessalonians 5:15; I Peter 2:23; 3:9-13). The most that can
be said is that “any principles upon which the Christian casuist would
justify war in certain circumstances would not justify perhaps one in ten of
the wars that have been waged” (J. Foster, ‘Lectures,’ vol. 2.).
devour forever?” Its ravages may be stayed; and means must be employed
for that end, such as:
1. The consideration of the real nature and terrible consequences of war;
and the education of the people, especially the young, so that they may
cease to admire military glory and to be beguiled by “the pomp and
circumstance of war” — may feel an intense aversion to it, and seek in
other ways their common interest and true elevation.
2. The adoption of political measures for the settlement of international
disputes and the removal of causes of strife; viz. arbitration by friendly
powers, the reduction and disbandment of standing armies, etc.
3. The repression of evil passions in ourselves and others.
4. The practice and diffusion of Christian principles; which indispose all in
whom they dwell to break the peace themselves, and dispose them to make
peace among others. “The sons of peace are the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
the sword devour forever?” Surely not. The hope of universal peace is
1. The advancing intelligence of men, the growth of popular government
(making war less dependent than heretofore on the arbitrary will of rulers),
the possession of “nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws.”
2. The better understanding and more perfect realization of the spirit of
3. The overruling
4. The express predictions of His Word concerning the effects of the reign
of “the Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7; Micah 4:3; 5:2, 5; Psalm 72:7).
“It is in war that the power of the beast (anti-christ) culminates in the history
of the world. This beast will then be destroyed. The true humanity which sin
has choked up will gain the mastery, and the world’s history will keep
sabbath. What the prophetic words affirm is a moral postulate, the goal of
sacred history, the predicted counsel of God” (Delitzsch, on Isaiah 2:4).
“O scenes surpassing fable and yet true;
Scenes of accomplished bliss; which who can see
(Though but in distant prospect) and not feel
His soul refreshed with foretaste and with joy?”
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." Nineteen men… three hundred and three score men.
Though David’s “mighties,” as they were called, excelled in the use of
arms, yet the disparity of numbers is remarkable; for the Benjamites were
also famous warriors. We can only account for it by the superiority of the
tactics of Joab, who was a man of consummate military skill, and who
knew both how to gain a victory and how to use the advantage which the
pursuers have over the pursued to the full. If we sometimes wonder that
David endured Joab so long, we ought to remember how much he owed to
his nephew’s genius, and that Joab was always faithful to himself.
32 "And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his
father, which was
night, and they
The sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem. The
Name of Zeruiah’s husband is never mentioned, but he was evidently of the
same town as his wife, and at his death, when probably still young, he had
received honorable sepulture. As Bethlehem is about eleven miles distant
from Gideon, Joab probably marched thither straight from the battlefield,
and spent the next day in paying the last tribute of respect to his brother,
and in refreshing his men. At nightfall he resumed his march to Hebron,
which was fifteen miles further to the south, and where he would arrive on
the morning following that on which Abner reached Mahanaim.
The Sorrows of Victory (vs. 30-32)
“What a glorious thing must be a victory, sir!” it was remarked to the Duke
defeat” (‘Recollections,’ by
attended, is usually mingled with weeping and sometimes swallowed up of
grief. Various persons are thus affected for various reasons. Think of the
1. At the fall of fellow soldiers. “Nineteen men and Asahel” (vs. 23, 30)
who come not to the muster after sunset (vs. 24, 30), nor answer to the
roll call, but lie in the chill embrace of death. “Alas! fallen are the heroes.”
2. In the burial of the dead. (v. 32.) No opportunity is afforded for
seeking out and burying all the slain; but the remains of Asahel are carried
across the hills by night (v. 29) and laid in the tomb of his father in
us of a pathetic scene of recent times described in the familiar lines:
“We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sod with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light,
And our lanterns dimly burning.”
3. When the news is conveyed to
their homes. “They came to
break of day;” a day of bitter grief to many bereaved hearts. “By the
slaughter of a war there are thousands who weep in unpitied and unnoticed
secrecy whom the world does not see; and thousands who retire in silence
to hopeless poverty for whom the world does not care” (Dymond).
4. For the miseries of fellow sufferers; the enemy — defeated, bereaved,
and mourning — for they too are “brethren,” and cannot but be
remembered with sympathy and pity.
5. Concerning the state of the departed. A soldier’s life is not favorable to
piety and preparation for heaven, and the passions by which he is
commonly swayed when his earthly probation is suddenly terminated are
such that we can seldom contemplate his entrance into the eternal world
with feelings of cheerfulness and hope. “After death the judgment.”
6. On account of the animosities of the living, which are increased by
conflict and victory, and are certain to be a source of future trouble
(ch. 3:1, 30, 33).
7. Because of the dishonour done to the cause of the Lord’s Anointed.
Religion suffers, the progress of the kingdom is hindered, and the King
himself is “grieved for the misery of
turned into mourning” (ch. 19:2). So is every victory gained by
“the devouring sword.” But there are victories which are bloodless and
tearless, sources of unmingled joy; spiritual victories over ignorance and
sin won by and through the might of him at whose birth the angels sang
upon those hills of
peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14; 15:7)
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