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 Hebron.

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 Palestine, where the battle had been fought.

And very bitter must David’s feelings have been. Had he continued in Israel,

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 Israel; but his

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 Judah and settle at Hebron; “and the men of Judah

came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.” We

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



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

fellow men.


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



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

with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron."

They dwelt in the cities of Hebron. Not only had David

wives, whom he took with him to Hebron, but many of his warriors were

married, and thus they and their households formed a numerous body of

people, for whom Hebron could scarcely find accommodation. Moreover

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 Hebron was the capital, posting them in such a manner as

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 Hebron as to these

arrangements, and obtained their approval.


4 "And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king

over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the

men of 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 Israel, the Philistines gathered their hosts at once; not

because he captured Jerusalem, which was then a mere hill fort belonging

to the Jebusites, but evidently because they thought him dangerous. But

why did they not crush him now? One reason, probably, was that Judaea

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)

                                          (Ziklag and Hebron)


“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

crown) as:


  • URGENTLY NEEDED. We are liable (like travelers in a strange

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”

(Proverbs 14:12).


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.


  • DILIGENTLY SOUGHT. Although the Urim and Thummim are gone

(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

of Providence; studying “the Scriptures of truth;” and, above all, offering

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).


  • FAITHFULLY FOLLOWED. “And David went up thither” (v. 2).


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.


  • GRADUALLY CONFIRMED in the experience of him who obeys.

“And his men... and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron (v. 3). God went

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 Providence concur with the teachings of the Word

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

perfect day.


  • WIDELY BENEFICIAL. More especially it contributes to the good

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

(Numbers 10:39).


  • GLORIOUSLY TERMINATING. “They anointed David king” (v. 4).

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 Judah.  (v. 4)



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 Hebron. The ancient city among the hills of Judah

(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

Judah, was his public solemn installation (based on that anointment) into the

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 Hebron over the tribe of Judah” (Binnie). Those

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 Judah had been long foretold

(Genesis 49:8). “In all great questions the men of Judah are the

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

done” (Chandler). In their conduct we see:



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 Judah; its independent

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 Shiloh,the Lion of the tribe of

Judah” (Revelation 5:5); and the conduct of the men of Judah may be

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 Judah have

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 Hebron, and the

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 Judah had made him their king.




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.





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 Arabia (Galatians 1:17-18), other good men during

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!




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.


  • The following GENERAL LESSONS naturally flow from this subject as

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

(Matthew 10:29-31).


Ø      The true policy of man is another name for what is the will of God. No

doubt in this case it was humanly expedient to go first up to Hebron; and

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

the order of Providence, and such breadth of view with respect to Divine

methods, as to render him deaf and indifferent to unhallowed suggestions.

As many lines converted on David reaching the throne of Judah, so this elevation

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

Jordan, he was free to do as he chose. Nor would there be any opposition.

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 Israel. From that time

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

Israel had been horrified by Jezebel’s doings, that Baal, except in the sense

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’sHeth 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 Israel."

Make him king over.  A different preposition is used with the

first three names from that employed afterwards, as though Ishbosheth’s

reign over Gilead and Jezreel was a reality, but that he had only a shadowy

claim to dominion over Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel. Gilead. As

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 SyriacGeshur.” The Chaldee paraphrase boldly gives “the

house of Asher;” but this tribe lay close to Phoenicia, on the extreme

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

Hebron to make David king to the number of one hundred and twenty

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

all Israel.


10 "Ishbosheth Saul’s son was forty years old when he began to reign

over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed

David. 11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of

Judah was seven years and six months."  Ishbosheth…two years ... David...

 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

Judah at Hebron. Still, as the war with the Philistines was the first object 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 Israel. Shimei, when he

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

for Judah, would regard his election as the best course under the

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 Palestine. Ishbosheth... was forty

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 Gibeon."  Abner… went out. This is

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,

and made him king over Gilead,” etc.  After five years of great exertions (while

David reigned peacefully at Hebron) he drove the Philistines out of the country,

openly proclaimed Ishbosheth (now forty years old) “king over all Israel,” and

went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon with the view of subjecting Judah to his

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”

(Keil), whose purpose, as well as the wish of the elders of Israel, he well

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

observe that:



  • IT IS PLAINLY REVEALED. By the testimony of:


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

adversaries, the exaltation of “His Chosen,” the growth of His power

(Acts 2:22-24).


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).


  • IT MAY BE WICKEDLY OPPOSED (in virtue of the freedom which,

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

advance him to be ruler over all Israel” (Chandler).


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 Israel will not lie, nor repent”

(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 Gibeon: and they sat down, the one

on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the

pool."  The pool of Gibson. As Gibeon, which lay about six miles

northwest from Jerusalem, was twenty-six miles distant from Hebron, and

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 Judah.

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

his forces. And Joab and “the servants of David” marched to Gibeon and

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:


  • BEGUN RECKLESSLY. “Let the young men arise and play [fight]

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.”



  • WAGED FEROCIOUSLY. “And they caught each other by the head,”

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.


  • EXTENDED RAPIDLY. “And there was a very sore battle that day,”

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).


  • ENDED LAMENTABLY. Abner was beaten,” and three hundred

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

triumph.” (Guild)


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

Abner’s part.


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 cave of Adullam

(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 Gibeon, and took part in the battle with Abner

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

kingdom of God, to entertain an improper desire of worldly honor and

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.”

(Milton, ‘Lycidas.’)


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 Bethlehem, and lay to heart the lessons taught by his

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

(Matthew 20:28).


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 wilderness of Gibeon."

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.


  • THE QUESTION. The feelings which it indicates are excited in view of:


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.


  • In Conclusion:


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

after Israel no more, neither fought they any more."  Unless thou hadst

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 Gibeon, but across the

Jordan to Mahanaim (v. 29). Regarding the question not merely as the

utterance of Abner, nor from an Old Testament point of view, we may take

it as expressive of :


  • A CONVICTION OF THE EVILS OF WAR. “Shall the sword devour

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

men in Europe who have been trained for arms, and between four and five

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:


a.      ambition,

b.      avarice,

c.       revenge,

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?”

(Bishop Porteus.)


Is war, then, under all circumstances, inexpedient and wrong? It is

maintained that:


(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

warranted from:


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 Providence and quickening Spirit of “the God of peace.”


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 in Bethlehem. And Joab and his men went all

night, and they came to Hebron at break of day."

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)

                                    (Gibeon, Bethlehem, Hebron)


“What a glorious thing must be a victory, sir!” it was remarked to the Duke

of Wellington. “The greatest tragedy in the world,” he replied, “except a

defeat” (‘Recollections,’ by S. Rogers). The rejoicing by which it is

attended, is usually mingled with weeping and sometimes swallowed up of

grief. Various persons are thus affected for various reasons. Think of the

sorrows endured:


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

Bethlehem, where the sorrow of the preceding day is renewed. It reminds

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 Hebron at

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.”

(Hebrews 9:27)


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 Israel.” “The victory that day was

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 Bethlehem, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth

peace, good will toward men.”  (Luke 2:14; 15:7)




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