II Samuel 3




Rival Interests (vs. 1-11)


The facts are:


  • A war lacking plan, purpose or enthusiasm is carried on between the house

of Saul and the house of David, in which the latter has the advantage.

  • David has six sons born to him while at Hebron.
  • A quarrel arises between Abner and Ishbosheth, consequent on an

accusation resented by Abner.

  • Abner charges his master with ingratitude, and threatens to transfer his

allegiance to David.

  • In seeking to give emphasis to his threat, Abner indicates his knowledge

of the Divine will concerning David.


The object of the historian in vs. 1-5 is obviously to give a representation, from a

political point of view, of David prior to the action of Abner in his favor; and in

vs. 6-11 to state the circumstance that led to a transfer of Abner’s support from

one side to the other. The general effect of the war between the two royal houses

and the growth of David’s domestic establishment are the two prominent items

of the situation prior to Abner’s change of policy. Judged solely by the standard

of the age, they pointed in the direction of advancing influence, but looked at in

the light of a higher standard they suggest a qualified prosperity.


1 “Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of

David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul

waxed weaker and weaker.”  There was long war. As Ishbosheth reigned

only two years, and as “the house of Saul” is the phrase used, it seems probable

that after Ishbosheth’s murder, during the five years before David’s election to

the throne of all Israel, the house of Saul had some puppet representative at

Mahanaim, and some commander in Abner’s place. But after the death of

this able man matters would go from bad to worse, and, though David

probably remained on the defensive, yet the contrast between the peace and

good government of Judah and the misery in Israel made all the tribes wish

to put an end to a harassing civil war. It is plain, too, that the Philistines,

repelled at first by Abner’s skill, had again gained the ascendant, and

regarded themselves so completely as the rulers of the country, that they

resented immediately with summary violence the bold act of the northern

tribes in choosing David to be their common king.


The woes of life are very real!  “There was long war.” The sentence is brief, and

understandable by a child. It is repeated with careless ease. As a rule, it connotes

to the ordinary reader only a general idea of men seeking to slay one another.

But to read history aright we ought to bring the faculty of imagination into full play;

and it is only as we exercise the historic imagination that we get a glimpse of the

sad facts embodied in this simple form of expression. Subjected to the

vitalizing power of this faculty, what unexpressed woes rise up to view!

What harsh and fierce dispositions! What weary marches and watches!

What murderous blows and bleeding wounds and agonizing deaths! What

widows’ wailings and orphans’ tears! What losses to homes and nation of

strong men and productive toil! This, which applies to the brief statement

of the sacred narrative, is equally true of greater woes. Men read of great

battles very much as they read algebraic symbols. The real items indicated

are not vivid to the mind. Men read also of the banishment of the wicked to

outer darkness in the same mechanical way. The hurry of life leaves no

time for the imagination to lay hold of the actual facts connoted. Hence the

power over the will of mere visible, present realities. Hence the difficulty of

getting the “powers of the world to come” to influence motive. Hence,

also, the necessity of each man making an effort to bring his mind into

actual view of the facts covered by language, and of the preacher and

teacher rendering the aid of well-chosen speech to further this effort.


 “David waxed stronger and stronger.” Of course he did. It could not but be

so, for he was a chosen servant, not seeking or doing his own will, but

simply placing his life in the hands of God, to work out for his people and

for future ages, purposes the precise nature of which he could not

understand. No weapon formed against him could prosper. He who

contended against him fought against God. The forces of nature were on

his side. Never did mortal more vainly contend against fate than did

Ishbosheth contend against David. The principle involved in this instance is

of wide range. Right is sure to prevail in the issue. The disturbing element

introduced by sin into the universe causes strife of the most grave

character. The whole line of Divine government, so far as we can trace it,

seems to be a line of conflict between right and wrong, holiness and sin.

The antagonism taken up in Eden runs on and becomes more acute on

Calvary, and is apparent now in a “long war” between the children of light

and the kingdom of darkness. Time is in favor of righteousness. There is

an endurance in truth which cannot be affirmed of error. As perhaps the

friends of David thought those years of war very tedious and dispiriting,

and sometimes even inconsistent with rightness of claim and purpose, so

we may be weary in the greater strife and become disturbed by cruel

questionings; yet the issue is sure. “Stronger and stronger” may be affirmed

of the kingdom of righteousness on earth. For even the seeming failures

and delays only become, in the hands of Providence, the means of

acquiring the hardier and more enduring virtues by which at last the final

victory shall be won. The same is true of any conflicts in which character is

at stake. Our “righteousness shall be brought forth as the light,” and our

“judgment as the noonday.”  (Psalm 37:6)  The parallel may be seen also in

the conflict of the “old” and the “new man.” The one is on the way to perish;

the other is “renewed day by day.”  (II Corinthians 4:16)


“The summary narrative of these seven years presents the still youthful

king in a very lovable light. The same temper which had marked his first

acts after Saul’s death is here strikingly brought out. He seems to have left

the conduct of the war altogether with Joab, as if he shrank from striking a

single blow for his own advancement. When he does interfere, it is on the

side of peace, to curb and chastise ferocious vengeance and dastardly

assassination. The incidents recorded all go to make up a picture of rare

generosity, of patient waiting for God to fulfil his purposes, of longing that

the miserable strife between the tribes of God’s inheritance should end” (A.



God, by the bestowment of His grace and the cooperation of His providence,

directing, protecting, and prospering David, in accordance with His

promises. His strength was not self-derived, but “cometh from the Lord.”

“And he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the

house of David shall be as God,” etc. (Zechariah 12:8); “Greater is He

that is in you than He that is in the world” (I John 4:4); “I have all

strength in him that giveth me power” (Philippians 4:13).

These show that God is with us, and that His righteous

purposes concerning us WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED!


2 “And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon,

of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;”  Unto David were sons born. This increase of

his wives is mentioned as a proof of David’s prosperity. For though contrary to

the Law (Deuteronomy 17:17), it was yet looked upon as part of the state

of a king, and as such had been practiced by Gideon (Judges 8:30),

who approached more nearly to the royal dignity than any other of the

judges. But it is the rule of the Books of Samuel that they generally abstain

alike from praise and blame, and allow facts to speak for themselves. But

never did a history more clearly deserve the title of ‘A Vindication of the

Justice of God.’ Alike in Eli, in Saul, and in David, their sufferings were

the result of their sins, and to the polygamy and lust of the last are due both

the crimes which stained his character and the distress of the last twenty

years of his life. (For Amnon, his first born, see ch. 13.)


3 “And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and

the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;

4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the

son of Abital;  5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David’s wife. These were

born to David in Hebron.”  Chileab. The Midrash explains Chileab as meaning

“Quite like the father.” He is called Daniel in the parallel genealogy in I Chronicles

3:1, and this was probably his real name, and Chileab a name of affection. He must

have died young, for Adonijah appears as David’s eldest son after the death of

Amnon and Absalom; and it is thus natural that he should still be known by the

name he bore as a child. Geshur. The word signifies “Bridgeland,” and is the

name of two districts, one of which formed the northern part of the tribe of

Manasseh, and extended on both sides of the Jordan, from the little Hermon to

the sea of Gennesareth (Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; 13:13). The other was

in Syria (ch. 15:8), and probably was situated upon some river, though its

exact position is not yet known. Talmai, its king, now gave his daughter to

be one of David’s wives, and though he was probably only a petty prince,

still it is a proof of David’s growing power that a potentate living at so

great a distance was willing to make an alliance with him. Of the other

wives and their sons nothing is known except of Adonijah, who inherited,

on the death of Absalom, the dangerous position of firstborn; and who,

after trying to make his rights good, was put to death by Solomon (I Kings 2:25).

As Eglah is especially called David’s wife, the Jewish interpreters hold that she

was the highest in rank in his household, and therefore identical with Michal,

who was restored to David while at Hebron. But she was childless; and more

probably the words are to be taken as simply closing the narrative, and as

belonging, therefore, equally to each of the six.


The historian tells us of the growth of David’s domestic establishment at Hebron.

Estimated by the customs prevalent in the East at that time, this acquisition by

David of wives and sons was supposed to add to the splendor and stateliness of

his regal position. All the paraphernalia of a court, the wide-reaching influence

of family connections, and the imposing show of a large household would lead

ordinary men to regard him as among the great ones of the earth. The

accidental surroundings of life form a delusively important part of what is

deemed to be human greatness. We are all children in so far as we are

influenced in our judgments on social position and weight of character by

the circumstantials of life. Even the more educated are prone to either

identify or associate greatness with large establishments. This kind of

conventionalism plays an important part in human affairs; BUT IT IS NOT

GOD’S STANDARD!   David’s polygamous habits were consistent with the

conventional morality of the age, and his domestic establishment projected

his public position before the eye of the people in a form accordant to

princely fashion; but we know that beneath all the signs of wealth and

greatness there were influences at work which could not but weaken his

moral force and mar the beauty and sweetness of his private life. Oriental

splendor and conventional moralities were indulged in at great moral cost.

David in Hebron with many wives and their accompaniments could not be

as morally robust as was David in earlier days. The same danger attends all

who conform to customs not based on strict principles of purity and

godliness. Fashion cannot make righteousness. Goodness may live amidst

habits essentially alien to the welfare of the individual and to saints, as

surely as life may continue in an atmosphere charged with malarious

poisons; but the enervation of the one will be as certain as of the other. The

insensibility of the man to the subtle action of the evil is only an

aggravation of its action and in no wise a make the disease less severe

or unpleasant without removing the cause. Modern Christians

should severely scrutinize the moral quality of the circumstances and habits

in which conventional usage allows them to live. This can only be done by

making use of tests absolutely given by God apart from the coloring

which custom is apt to give even to Divine laws.


6 “And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of

Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for

the house of Saul.  7 And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah,

the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou

gone in unto my father’s concubine?”  Abner made himself strong for the house

of Saul. The Hebrew really means that until this miserable quarrel about Rizpah,

Abner had been the mainstay of Ishbosheth’s throne and dynasty. She is proved to

have been a noble woman, with a warm and devoted heart, by the narrative

in ch. 21:8-11. But the harem of a deceased king was looked

upon as the special inheritance of his successor; and Absalom, by taking

David’s concubines (ch. 16:21-22), treated his father as a dead

man, and committed so overt an act of treason as made reconciliation

impossible. So Solomon put his brother Adonijah to death for asking

Abishag to wife (I Kings 2:23-25). Still, as Bathsheba there was no

impropriety in Adonijah’s request, and as Solomon deposed Abiathar and

put Joab to death for complicity, as we must conclude, in Adonijah’s

request, it was probably part of some scheme of conspiracy, and that, if

granted, it would have been used by Adonijah as a proof that the kingdom

really was his. Here there was no plot, and as Rizpah had probably always

lived apart from Ishbosheth, Abner may have expected that the king would

see no difficulty in the matter.



The Character of Abner (v. 6)


  • Abner, son of Ner, was first cousin of Saul, probably about the same age,

commander-in-chief of his army (I Samuel 14:50), and contributed

greatly to his early successes. He introduced David to the king after his

victory over Goliath, sat at the royal table (ibid. ch. 20:25), was well

acquainted with their relations to each other, took part in the persecution

(ibid. ch. 26:14), and, after the battle of Gilbea, became the main

support of the house of Saul (ch. 2:8). “‘Abner made himself

strong for the house of Saul,’ but God strengthened David, whom Abner

knew to have been designed for the kingdom by God” (Wordsworth).


  • Abner had  eminent abilities — military skill, prudence, energy, courage, and

perseverance; as shown by the honourable position he so long held in the

service of Saul, and his successful efforts after his death (ibid. vs. 8-12).

Nor was he destitute of generous sentiments. If he could not be called a good

man, Davud called him “a prince and a great man(v. 38).


  • His worldly ambition and carnal selfishness. This was probably the main,

if not the only, motive of his opposition to the Divine purpose; and to it

Ishbesheth evidently attributed the conduct with which he charged him,

regarding his act as an assertion of royal rights (v. 7). His pride and self-

esteem are also apparent in his haughty answer (v. 8).


“Ambition’s like a circle on the water,

Which never ceases to enlarge itself,

Till by broad spreading it disperse to naught.”


  • His passionate resentment, which, as is commonly the case, was an

indication of the truth of the charge brought against him; nor did he deny

it, but contemptuously declared that he was too great a man and had

rendered too many services to be accused of such a “fault;” and then took

an oath to avenge the insult by translating the kingdom to David, “as the

Lord had sworn” to him (vs. 9-10). “This was Abner’s arrogancy to

boast such great things of himself, as if he had carried a king in his pocket,

as that great Earl of Warwick in Edward IV.’s time, is said to have done”

(Trapp). “No man ever heard Abner godly till now; neither had he been so

at this time if he had not intended a revengeful departure from Ishbosheth.

Nothing is more odious than to make religion a stalking horse to policy”



  • His altered purposes. The change, although right and good in itself, was

due to a passionate impulse and probably the desire of personal advantage;

and, in its announcement, Abner betrayed his previous ungodliness and

present hypocrisy. “Alas! how eloquently can hypocrites employ the Name

of God, and take the sanction of religion, when by such means they think

to advance their present interests!” (Lindsay). But, on the other hand, it

may be said that his sudden wrath was only the occasion of his open

avowal of an irrepressible and growing conviction of duty, and of his

taking the decisive step which he had been long contemplating; and that he

henceforth faithfully endeavored to make amends for his former errors

and sincerely sought the welfare of the nation. “When an opposer of God’s

Word honestly turns, we should, without reluctance, give him the hand,

without undertaking to pass judgment on the motives that are hidden in his

heart” (Erdmann). David, unlike Joab (v. 25), put the best construction

on Abner’s conduct.


  • His energetic action and extensive influence. He sent messengers

immediately (Septuagint) to David, recognizing his authority, etc. (v. 12);

had communication with the elders of Israel (v. 18); spake in the ears of

Benjamin (v. 19), who might be jealous of the transfer of sovereignty to

Judah; and, having obtained their consent, came himself to Hebron with

twenty men, “representatives of Israel, to confirm his overtures by their

presence,” partook of an entertainment “of the nature of a league,” and

went away in peace. “David believed that in this offer of Abner a Divine

providence was to be observed which would make, as he hoped, a full end

to the unhappy civil war” (Krummacher).


  • His cruel fate. “Now is Ishbosheth’s wrong avenged by an enemy”

(Hall). Even though his present course was in fulfillment of the Divine

purpose, it averted not the consequences of his former conduct; and

retribution came upon him suddenly, unexpectedly, and by a wicked hand.

“One wicked man is made to be another’s scourge.” “Human sin must

serve the purposes of God’s kingdom” (Psalm 76:10). “David’s

kingdom is not promoted by Abner’s treason, as David so expected, but

rather by the taking away of Abner; thus the Lord, in the promotion of His

kingdom, chooseth not the instruments nor alloweth even the means which

appear good to men; but, by the contrary, He taketh away the same

instruments and means in which men have most confidence, and by others

more unlikely, and without men’s expectation, he advanceth the cause of

the Church and worketh great things” (Guild).


8 “Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said,

Am I a dog’s head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day

unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends,

and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest

me to day with a fault concerning this woman?”Then was Abner very wroth.

This extreme indignation on Abner’s part is not easy to understand; for he could

scarcely have expected Ishbosheth to endure quietly what at least was a great

insult. But probably the question, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s

concubine? does not mean a mild expostulation on the king’s part, but the

purpose to degrade Abner and strip him of his office. Probably after the

defeat by Joab at Gibeon, the army was less satisfied with its leader, and his

detractors may gladly have encouraged the king to use this opportunity for

bringing Abner down to his proper place. Weak kings often try to play the

strong man; but the attempt here only drove the imperious soldier to put

the matter to the proof, and show that the strength was his. We know that

David groaned all his life through under Joab’s iron will, and, though he

tried, yet that he never succeeded in throwing off the yoke. But Joab never

behaved unfaithfully to his sovereign as Abner did here, and his crimes

were deeds of violence committed in David’s cause. Am I a dog’s head,

which against Judah, etc.? The words literally are, Am I a dog’s head

that is for Judah? and are rightly rendered in the Revised Version, Am I a

dog’s head that belongeth to Judah? Am I at once worthless and a traitor,

a thing of no account, and on the side of thy enemies? In the words that

follow he protests, not so much his innocence as his great deserts. This

day — that is, at this very time — I am showing kindness unto the

house of Saul… and this day thou wouldest visit upon me — that is,

punish me for — the fault about this woman. (Bill Clinton, now twenty

years later, is still dealing with the Monica Lewinsky situation.  It was

addressed on television today, this being June 5, 2018 - CY).  I make and

maintain thee as king, and thou wouldst play the king upon me, the kingmaker!


Sometimes unrighteous men pay homage to righteousness.

There can be no question but that Ishbosheth knew well the nature and

validity of David’s claims; for the theocratic rule was a reality in Israel

during and subsequent to the life of Samuel. It was, therefore, wrong for

him to put forth any personal claim of his own. Jonathan’s example had

been lost upon him; and yet this man recognized the evil done by Abner in

lustful indulgence, and even ventured to protest against it. On the other

hand, Abner, while being unrighteous enough to indulge in sinful lust and

to abet the invalid claim of Ishbosheth, nevertheless is fired with

indignation that the love of gratitude should have been violated by the

young monarch. Thus men, pursuing a course which they know to be

contrary to the will of God, become, when personal and family matters are

involved, zealous, each in his own fashion, for what is right and proper.

Truly, man is a strange compound of moral light and darkness. The

psychological explanation is a study. It is the habituation to the wrong

which renders men so dull to appeals, so insensible to the real demerit of

their actions, and it is the latent force of conscience which saves them from

being parties to a course on which they have not taken the initial step.

Hence our Lord’s reference to the “gnat” and the “camel.”  (Matthew 23:24)

The prevalence of this state of moral confusion is very wide even in Christian

society. In the same individual may be found great sensitiveness and great

imperception and lack of understanding?  For example:


  • The holding of slaves and gain by the sale of them has coexisted with a

profound regard for religious worship.

  • Licentious men have had a dread of dishonesty.
  • Multitudes who rob God of the love and obedience due to Him

are indignant if an ordinary business debt is not paid.

  • The Pharisees could conspire to kill Jesus Christ, and yet feel very

unhappy if they omitted any of the ceremonials of the law.


It is a common thing for men and women to indulge in envy, jealousy, and ill will,

while extremely careful to keep up an external conduct conformable to the

requirements of the Decalogue. There is much scope for searching of heart on

this subject; and in dealing with it the preacher needs to exercise great

discrimination and delicacy of reference. Abner must be made to see himself

as Ishbosheth sees him, and vice versa. “Man, know thyself,” is a maxim of

immense importance to every one.


9 “So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath

sworn to David, even so I do to him; 10 To translate the kingdom from

the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over

Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.”  As the Lord hath sworn to David.

This not only shows that the prophetic promise of the kingdom to David was

generally known (see note on ch. 1:2), but that Abner regarded it as solemnly

ratified. There is no express mention of any such oath, but Abner was a man

of strong words, and possibly only meant that Jehovah’s purpose was

becoming evident by the course of events.


The passing of events may unveil the workings of conscience.  Viewed from a

distance by the people, Abner seemed to be a man who all along was conscientiously

and faithfully subordinating his life to the maintenance of a just cause. So far as we

can see from the narrative, he had been reticent (not revealing ones feelings or

thoughts readily) concerning the mental processes of which he was daily conscious.

But the incident of Ishbosheth’s accusation of immorality was as the removing of a

veil whereby the actual thoughts of Abner stood revealed. “So do God to Abner,

 and more also, except, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him.

To translate the kingdom from the huse of Saul, and to set up the throne of

David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.”  Thus Abner

had known all along that it was God’s will to give the kingdom to David. The

ideas and compunctions connected with this central fact had evidently been

covered up and suppressed. (Terms that those who keep up with politics understand

right well today!  - CY  - 2018)  The real inner life of struggle against right and

God was now exposed by his own act. In the case of every man there is

always an inner life necessarily hidden by himself from ordinary view. It is a

necessity of social existence that each man should be more unknown than

known to his fellows. Only where there is perfect holiness would perfect

knowledge of others be helpful to love and confidence. But in the case of

men pursuing a deliberate course which seems to others to be

conscientious, but is known to themselves to be contrary to right, there is a

rigid and designed concealment of their self-condemnation. They gain the

reputation of being upright, though perhaps misguided, men, while their

own conscience gives the lie to this public judgment. An incidental

reference, an unguarded hasty admission of fact, an effort to justify an

action, may be as a sudden rent in the covering of the real life within,

exposing to the view of others a guilty violation of truth, a perpetual

conflict against the well-ascertained will of God. This frequent

concealment of an inner guilty life and its possible unveiling by incidental

events should be a guide in forming an estimate of conduct, and a warning

to evil doers. The self-exposure, also, however incidental, is to be taken as

a preintimation of the final exposure WHEN GOD SHALL BRING



11 “And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared

him.”  He could not answer Abner. Though the reply was one of

open treason, and was spoken with violence, yet Ishbosheth did not

venture to bring the matter to an issue. Perhaps he looked round upon his

officers to see if any would take his side, and, when all were silent, he was

too feeble to dare to order the arrest and trial of his too powerful captain.



The  Dissensions of the Wicked (vs. 7-11)


  • The union of wicked men rests only upon regard for their own interests.

It is not founded on mutual esteem, and does not constitute true friendship

(I Samuel 18:1-4).


“The friendships of the world are oft

Confederacies in vice, or leagues in pleasure.”



  • When their interests come into collision, their dissensions begin. And

occasions of such collision are sure to arise. “Let us mark the inherent

weakness of a bad cause. Godless men banded together for selfish ends

have no firm bond of union. The very passions which they are united to

gratify may begin to rage against one another. They fall into the pit

(Psalm 7:15) which they have dug for others” (Blaikie).


  • Wicked men, engaged in a common enterprise against God, are not

indifferent to their reputation in the sight of one another. “Am I a dog’s

head,” etc. (v. 8)? Their conscience, though perverted, is not dead; their

self-esteem and love of approbation are fully alive; and they estimate to the

full their claims upon the gratitude of others.. They would even have their

crimes connived at for the sake of the benefits which they confer.


  • Nothing more surely tests and manifests the character of the wicked than

being reproved by each other for their faults. “Proud men will not bear to

be reproved, especially by those to whom they have been obliged” (Matthew

Henry). It is otherwise with the good (Psalm 141:5).


  • The strong despise the weak, and passionately resent their complaints,

however reasonable and just.


  • The weak suspect the strong, and, although they may feel justified in

speaking, are put to silence by their fears. “And he could not answer Abner

a word again, because he feared him,”


  • The dissensions of the wicked are the most effectual means of their

common overthrow, usually turn out to the advantage of the righteous, and

promote the extension of the kingdom of God.


                                      (vs. 12-21)


The facts are:


·         Abner, disgusted with Ishbosheth’s conduct, opens negotiation with

David for the transfer of the kingdom to him.

·         David consents to discuss the question on condition that Abner first of

all undertakes to restore unto him Michal, Saul’s daughter.

·         Concurrent with Abner’s efforts to bring this to pass, David makes a

demand on Ishbosheth for the restoration of Michal.

·         Abner, taking charge of Michal on her return to David, effects the final

separation from her weeping husband.

·         Reminding Israel and Benjamin of their former preference of David,

Abner seeks to bring them over to his cause.

·         Charged with instructions from the people, he proceeds to Hebron as a

legate to arrange the business with David.

·         As a result of the interview, it was left to Abner to complete the formal

submission of all the people to the authority of David


12 “And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose

is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my

hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.”

Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf; Hebrew,

under him. The Revised Version renders this “where he was;” but the

phrase really means “immediately” (see note on ch. 2:23). And this agrees

with the haughty temper of Abner. Without waiting for advice, or allowing

his anger to cool, he at once sent trusty envoys to open negotiations with

David. Whose is the land? Abner’s meaning in these words is plain. You,

David, he seems to say, will answer that the land is mine; for Jehovah has

promised it to me. But, as a matter of fact, much of the land is mine

(Abner’s), or at least belongs to the house of Saul, whose prime minister I

am. Yours is an abstract right; mine is actual possession. Come, let us

make the two agree. Give me fitting assurances of safety and reward, and I

will make your claim a reality.


The known will of God thus becomes a convenient pretext for the gratification at

once of Abner’s revenge and his ambition. His own lips convicted him of

insincerity and hypocrisy. His tardy obedience to the truth he knew was unreal

and unacceptable to God, however useful to David. It was self, and not God,

that ruled him throughout. Abner has many imitators — men who, instead

of simply and sincerely obeying the truth they know, make it wait on their

ambition or covetousness, now neglecting it, now acting according to it,

and professing great regard for it, as their selfish aims may prompt. They

choose their side in religion or polities, not according to conviction, but

according to their supposed interests; and if they change sides it is not

because of changed convictions, but because their ambition or avarice has

been disappointed — they have not been made enough of, or they have

quarrelled with some one, or their pride has been mortified, or they see that

they have been on the side of a decaying cause which cannot be of much

more service to them. Such men may be welcomed to the side they join,

and may be of some service; but they will not be trusted, and their service

will be of doubtful value. They tend to corrupt the society in which they are

active and influential, and deprive it of its true strengththat of sincere,

spiritual, consistent character.


13 “And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I

require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first

bring Michal Saul’s daughter, when thou comest to see my face.”

Except thou first bring Michal. Besides David’s affection for

Michal, there were political reasons for demanding her restoration. Saul’s

despotic act in giving her in marriage to another man (I Samuel 25:44)

had been a public disavowal of David as the son-in-law of the royal house,

and equivalent to a proclamation of outlawry. David’s rights were all

declared null by such an act. But now Ishbosheth must with equal publicity

reverse his father’s deed, and restore to David his lost position. It must

have been a most painful humiliation to him to be driven thus to cancel his

father’s decree, and declare thereby to all Israel that he was unable to

refuse hie assent to whatever his rival demanded. And for this reason David

sent his messengers directly to Ishbosheth, because the importance of

Michal’s surrender to him lay in its being a public act of the state. For

Michal, in ch.  21:8, we ought to read Merab (see note there).


14 “And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul’s son, saying,

Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an

hundred foreskins of the Philistines.”  A hundred foreskins.

This was the number which Saul had required (I Samuel 18:25), and David

acted rightly in not boasting that he had really given twice as many (ibid. v.27).

As he had paid her father the stipulated price, Michal, by Oriental law, was

David’s property.


15 “And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from

Phaltiel the son of Laish.”  Phaltiel the son of Laish. In I Samuel 25:44 he is

called Phalti. This word, in Hebrew lexicons, is usually regarded as a contraction

for Phaltiyah, “Jehovah is deliverance,” while Phaltiel means “El is

deliverance.” The substitution of El for Yah is one of those changes which

arose out of the superstitious reverence for the sacred name which to this

day causes the word LORD to be read in our Bibles where in the Hebrew

are the four consonants Y, H, V, H, which, by attaching to them the

vowels belonging to the Hebrew word edonay (or, adonay, lord) we make

into “Jehovah” (Yehovah).


16 “And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to

Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.”

Her husband went with her along weeping behind her. “Along weeping”

is a very awkward rendering of the Hebrew phrase, “going and weeping.”

The Revised Version is far better, “weeping as he went and followed her.”

Phaltiel had been Michal’s husband for eight or nine years, and his sorrow

at losing her excites sympathy for them both.  They had evidently loved one

another, and she was now going to be but one of many wives; and though

David may have desired her restoration because he valued her and cherished the

remembrance of their youthful affection, yet there was a large admixture of

political motive in his conduct. At Gallim she had been Phaltiel’s one jewel,

and had been loved for her own sake; at Hebron she would have many rivals.

But women of royal rank have often to pay the price of sacrificed affections

for the ends of statecraft. Near Bahurim, on the road from Jerusalem to Gilgal,

in the valley of the Jordan, the convoy approached the borders of Judah, and

Abner will not allow the weeping husband to enter David’s dominions.

Painful as was his fate, he had himself done wrong in marrying another

man’s wife; and if he was weeping now, we may well believe that David

had felt equal anguish when Michal was torn from him and sold to another,

— for fathers in those days received instead of giving a dowry upon the

marriage of their daughters. Saul in this matter was most to blame, and if

he had not committed this wrong, David might never have sought an evil

solace in multiplying to himself other wives.



Faithfulness in Small Things (vs. 13-16)


Michal was David’s wife, bound to his heart and life by ties sacred and

memorable (I Samuel 18:17-30). To political schemers it would seem

absurd to set a woman, not seen for many years, and known to be living in

forced matrimony with another man, ever against a whole kingdom. But

wrong done to her (ibid. ch. 25:44) had not invalidated her claim on

David’s affection. It was due to her, due to the memory of her father in

spite of his follies, due to the force of his own character on others, and due

to the old love (ibid. ch. 18:20-28) which changing fortunes had not

changed, that she should have justice done her on the very first opportunity

of enforcing it. David’s vision was clear enough to see that, if his claim to

be king over all Israel was valid because of the appointment of God, so

equally the claim of this banished woman on his love and care was also

valid, because based on principles which God had ordained for the

regulation of domestic life. The same Divine will was in both; and,

moreover, they were equally parts of the great system of obligations which

covers the whole area of human activity, and which is productive of highest

good to man when the different parts are equally held as sacred and are

rigidly observed. In human affairs there is often an apparent collision of

what are called small and great obligations. In reality there is no such thing.

There may be a question of order in which actions shall be done; but

obligation, in the moral sense, can never clash with obligation. To love the

Lord with all the heart is the prime, the chief duty, but it does not destroy

the duty of love to our neighbor. To take part in public affairs may be an

obligation, but the care of home is a valid claim which cannot be ignored.

There are duties which, entering into the minutiae of life or pertaining to

the home rather than to public affairs, may be regarded as relatively small,

but inasmuch as they are not the creation of custom but proceed from the

will of God and form parts of the great scheme of life, they are to be

regarded as sacred and binding as those which figure more largely before

the public eye.  It was not in David’s power to effect this by any personal

action. All he could do was to set agencies at work through Abner, and

trust in Providence for disposing the hearts of men aright. It was right

doubtless for the people to own him as king, but it was not in his power to

establish this right. On the other hand, it was in his power to do justice to a

banished woman, and demand, as a prior step, that she be restored to his

heart and home. There is always an uncertainty attending our efforts to

bring about great issues in the world’s affairs, even though those issues be

predicted and included in the Divine purpose; for our actions are but a few

among myriads of forces for and against the end for which we strive, and

for ages the goal may not be reached. It is our duty to do what we can, just

as it was David’s to use means for winning Israel over to the allegiance

which had been predicted and was part of the theocratic purpose; but we

have to act in faith that an overruling Providence is at work above us and

above all forces, and that the great issue will in some unknown way and

time be brought to pass. The statesman cannot make the nation great and

strong; he can only set in motion social and material forces which in due

course may accomplish the purpose in view. The missionary can but

contribute an item of force towards rendering the whole earth submissive

to Christ. The parent can contribute but some of the elements which in the

end will tend to form the final character of his children. The far-reaching

aims of life are binding on us, but their realization is not all in our power. It

is absolutely within our power to perform single acts of justice and

consideration as occasion offers. As the products of will, they may fill but a

small place in the world in comparison with the realization of those other

wider aims which are products of many wills; yet they afford opportunities

for proving our fidelity to truth and righteousness as surely as do the great

events to bring about which we can only contribute our part. David’s

profound regard for what was right shone forth in his care for a single

individual, just as truly as his faith in Providence appeared in subordinating

the attainment of his political ambition to this act of justice.


17 “And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying,

Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:”  And Abner had

communication with the elders of Israel.  Most probably this had taken place

before Abner escorted Michal to Hebron, and that he paid David but one visit —

that recorded in v. 20.  He would probably not take so decided a step as the

surrender of Michal without sounding the elders, that is, the local sheikhs,

and finding out how far they were inclined to support David as king of all

Israel. When everything was ready he would take Michal to Hebron, and

so have the opportunity of arranging with David for future action; and though

Ishbosheth would dislike the matter and suspect Abner of ulterior

purposes, yet he could not refuse so specious a plea as the escorting of his

sister. His previous failure, too, had taught him that Abner was master. We

may further be sure that David had everywhere many adherents. All Israel

knew that he was marked out by prophecy to be their king, and, moreover,

“all Israel and Judah loved him” (I Samuel 18:16). But when Abner

says, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you, he makes it

probable that, at some time after the defeat at Gilboa, the attempt had even

been made to elect David king. But Abner had then opposed it, and his

success in resisting the Philistines, and David’s unfortunate entanglement

with .those inveterate enemies of Israel, had made the attempt fail. And

now Abner’s attempt was to be equally unsuccessful.


18 “Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By

the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of

the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.”

The Lord hath spoken. Here again Abner’s statements go far

beyond the text of anything recorded in Holy Scripture, but probably they

give the popular interpretation of the prophecies respecting David. It will

be noticed also that Abner endeavors to meet the general prejudice

against David by asserting that he was Israel’s destined deliverer from

Philistine oppression. As Abner’s speech is virtually an acknowledgment of

failure, we may also be sure that he had found himself unable any longer to

make head against the Philistines on the western side of the Jordan, and

that Judah was the only tribe there that enjoyed tranquility. Everywhere

else they had once again established their supremacy. Though a brave

soldier, Abner was inferior, not only to David, but also to Joab, both as

statesman and general; and the weak Ishbosheth was no help to him, but

the contrary.



An Urgent Appeal (vs. 17-18)


 “Now then do it”. (v. 18). Having resolved to transfer his allegiance,

Abner here persuades the elders of Israel to make David king over the

whole land; as they afterwards did (ch. 5:1-3). A similar appeal

may be addressed to others, urging them to submit to the royal authority of

Christ, of whom David was a type (I Samuel 2:10). Translated into

New Testament language, it is, “We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be ye

reconciled to God” (II Corinthians 5:20). Consider:


  • WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. Jesus Christ is King, anointed and exalted

to the right hand of God; He reigns in grace and righteousness in many

hearts; but His kingdom is not yet fully revealed and universally extended

on earth, and it cannot be set up “within you” except by your own consent.

You must:


Ø      Receive him heartily as your King and Lord, your absolute Owner and

supreme Ruler, as well as your Redeemer and Saviour; by a personal,

inward, voluntary act; in the renunciation of whatever is opposed to his

will, and the submission and surrender of your whole being to his direction

and control. “Now be ye not stiff necked, as your fathers were, but yield

yourselves unto the Lord” (II Chronicles 30:8; Romans 6:13).


“Our wills are ours, we know not how;

Our wills are ours to make them thine.”


Ø      Confess Him openly, by uniting with His people, testifying your faith in

Him, and proclaiming His Name before men. “With the heart man

believeth,” etc. (Romans 10:10). “Whosoever therefore shall confess

me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is

in heaven.”  (Matthew 10:32)


  • WHEN YOU SHOULD DO IT. Whatever reason exists for doing it

at all should induce you to do it now. There are not a few who are

persuaded of their duty, yet break the force of every appeal by delay and

the intention of doing it at a future time. But:


Ø      The present is a most favorable opportunity. The King “waits to be

gracious,” and sends you the message of reconciliation. “Men and brethren,

to you is the word of this salvation sent.” “Behold, now is the acceptable

time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (II Corinthians 6:2).


Ø      If you do it today, tomorrow and all your future days will be days of

peace and happiness.


Ø      If you wait till tomorrow, it is probable that you WILL NEVER DO IT!

Your susceptibility to Divine influences will be lessened, your

indisposition, which is the real cause of delay, will be increased:


o       life is uncertain,

o       probation is brief,

o       the end is nigh.


Say not, with the procrastinator, “To morrow” (Exodus 8:10); “Go thy way

 for this time; when I have a more convenient season, I will call for thee.”

 (Acts 24:25); for “the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice,

Harden not your hearts....” (Hebrews 3:7). “‘Cras! cras!’ (Tomorrow!

tomorrow!) is the cry of the raven. This is the thing that destroys many;

while they are saying, ‘Cras! cras!’ SUDDENLY THE DOOR IS

SHUT!   (Augustine). “The man that procrastinates struggles ever

with ruin” (Epictetus). “There is a circumscribed space of time appointed

thee, which if thou dost not employ in making all calm and serene within,

 it will pass away and thou wilt pass away, and it never will return” (Marcus

Antoninus, 2:4).


“Defer not till tomorrow to be wise;

Tomorrow’s sun to thee may never rise.”



19 “And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went

also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good

to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.”

In the ears of Benjamin. This tribe alone, probably, was

really loyal to the house of Saul, their kinsman. But since the withdrawal of

the court to Mahanaim, they got but little good from it, and were left to

resist the predatory bands of the Philistines as best they could. So warlike a

tribe too would despise Ishbosheth, and long for a braver man to aid them

in fighting their enemies.


20 “So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him.

And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.

21 And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all

Israel unto my Lord the king, that they may make a league with

thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thine heart desireth.

And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.”  Twenty men

with him. These, we may feel sure, were not common soldiers, but chieftains

selected from those elders who were on David’s side; and, though the honorable

escort of Michal was the pretext, yet Ishbosheth must have felt sure that more

was intended. Most of them, however, would join Abner on the road, especially

those who represented Benjamin and the western tribes. On arriving at Hebron

they were honorably received, and, after a feast, they settled the conditions on

which David was to be made king of all Israel; and Abner then departed in peace,

after giving the assurance that all the tribes would now gladly assemble,

and by solemn compact and covenant make David their king. The terms of

the league, and the conditions agreed upon for Ishbosheth, are not

mentioned, because upon Abner’s death the whole plan fell to the ground,

and David had to wait for many years before his hopes were fulfilled. But

we gather from this covenant and ch. 5:3 (where see note) that the early

kings of Israel were not absolute monarchs.



                                    Abner’s Ambitions of Preeminence


The following was true of  Abner.  There lies, also, at the spring of

every man’s conduct, be he a public character or only a private individual,

some master passion to which all other feelings and aims are subordinate,

and it is good for each one, and necessary to the true interpreter of life, to

find out what it is. In public affairs there can be no question that in very

many instances it is not fear of God, not pure patriotism, not regard for

human interests as such, but open or disguised love of pre-eminence which

furnishes the main incentive to conduct. The form of conduct may be such

as would result from the action of higher and better feelings, but that is

simply the result of policy. This feeling, which finds its scope in the rivalry

and struggle of individuals, is but the social form of the generic feeling

known as selfishness, or, as modern theologians term it, selfism, which in

its essence is sin and probably the metaphysical explanation of sin itself,

and which, moreover, is the solution of the fact that men do not recognize

the eternal King, but prefer to belong to an inferior order of things. To

please self, men will even consent to lose moral rank, and become foes

rather than friends of the Righteous One.  To an aspiring man, as was Abner,

it was intensely mortifying to be charged with wrong doing by one nominally his

superior, and the moral sting of the charge probably lay in its truth. This was, on

the part of Ishbosheth, a virtual assumption of both moral and legal superiority;

and, as such, was a blow at that secret, unexpressed sense of superiority which

Abner had all along felt in relation to the weak young man whose cause he

had patronizingly advocated. In even bad men the moral sense is strong, if

not in leading to right courses, yet in making them wretched for wrong

doing, inwardly and morally Abner was now weak in the presence of his

royal master. The soul that is humiliated does not like to be reminded of its

humiliation, and, if possible, the occasions of such reminders must be

avoided and punished. The change wrought in Abner lay in the deep region

of unexpressed and inexpressible feelings. The old love of pre-eminence

was untouched by the collision with Ishbosheth. The masterful springs of

human life are not easily dried up or supplanted. The immediate effect was

simply to raise up a minor yet strong personal feeling, which came as a dam

between the old love of pre-eminence and the interests of Ishbosheth, and

caused it to flow with widened channel in another direction. Emotions

stimulate thinkings, and personal feelings arouse ingenuity. Swift as

lightning Abner saw that he could be a yet more important personage than

ever, and, at the same time qualify his moral humiliation by the sweets of

revenge. In spite of Joab and the other son of Zeruiah, he would figure as

the means of placing the crown of a united people on David’s head. It

should be seen that what war could not do Abner had the power to do. The

names of David, Israel, and Abner would henceforth be indissolubly

associated in the annals of the time. Instead of pre-eminence at the court of

Ishbosheth, there would be pre-eminence at the court of David, and in the

judgment of a compact nation. There have been other instances of

statesmen, under the influence of resentment, changing their course, and

apparently, but not in reality) their principles.


That Abner should have so explicitly referred to the Divine purpose (ver. 9)

cannot be ascribed to information recently received, but must be accounted

for on the ground that he had all along had the truth suppressed in his own

mind. He here unwittingly unveils his own conscience and condemns his

past course as a violation of solemn obligations rising far above social

considerations and personal preferences. To the people he, perhaps,

seemed to be a man upheld by a sense of right, but to himself he was

known as a rebel against God. The Divine truth asserted inwardly its own

reality. Its light revealed to himself, whenever he calmly reflected on his

conduct, the dark and damaging characters of his public career. And

though he was now adopting right principles, and so would in future

escape the pain of knowing that his actions were not running counter to

their direction, yet, being conscious of adopting them for unprincipled

reasons, he could not avoid the conviction that he was doing the right thing

for David, not because of a love of God, but for personal ends. The sense

of right would thus reveal to him the essential crookedness of ways that

were ostensibly straight. The man who does right things from bad motives

never knows the blessedness of the just. (There is no right way to do the

wrong thing.  CY – 2018)  Probably there is no determinate

course of wrong doing in which the light of truth does not bear some

witness more or less distinct. Even those who, following lower passions,

change the glory of the incorruptible God into images after their own

likeness (Romans 1:23), at times find within a protest against their

conduct (Romans 2:15). No man who has heard the claims of Christ to

universal dominion as clearly and authoritatively set forth as ever Abner

had heard of the Divine right of David, can live opposed to Him, or, as a

mere matter of policy, fall in formally with his rights, without being

sensible at times of a voice which tells him of his dangerous position and

worthless character. Many a converted man has borne testimony that, for

years previous to his conversion, the truth of God bore faithful witness as

to what was the will of God concerning him in his relation to the Anointed



The change of allegiance was, for Abner, a momentous step. For onlookers it meant

on his part a judgment, and self-respect demanded that that judgment should be

justified by every possible means. His policy being the same along an altered

course, he must so act as to make it appear that he had come into the possession

of new and true principles, and so get the credit of acting on principle and not on

policy void of principle. Of course, a man who sincerely came to the belief

that God had purposed David to be king, and loved the doing of the will of

God, would at once go and offer his services to David. Abner did this. Of

course, he would be eager to fulfill all conditions that might be specified by

David in bringing to pass the will of God (vers. 13-16). This was true of

Abner. And as to gaining over others to his new view of things, no pains

would be spared to show the reasonableness of the course now to be taken.

Abner made out a case before the elders of Israel and the more sturdy

Benjamites, and was able to report to David complete success (vers. 17-

21). What zeal and ingenuity were implied in all this may be imagined by

those only who know how hard it is to justify sudden changes of conduct

and get one’s followers to entertain new ideas. But Abner’s love of

preeminence in national affairs must perish if these efforts were not

forthcoming. The same will apply to any one who changes sides in public

affairs, and at the same time desires to attain to the distinction formerly

obtained or secretly longed for. In fact, fully to gratify the cravings of

selfish ambition means toil upon toil. However gratifying the completion of

one’s aims may seem, it is a vain and miserable issue when regarded in the

clear light of pure principle. In the real moral world — the sphere in which

God alone awards the prizes of life — he is not crowned who does not

strive lawfully” (II Timothy 2:5), that is, is not observant of all the

great and holy principles on which alone God would have men act. It is

certain, therefore, that men of the Abner stamp, who are doing the right

things, not because they are right and of God, but for personal ends, will

one day find that their efforts will, while being used up by God in

furtherance of the dominion of Zion’s King, bring to themselves none of

the glory and honor which alone fall to those who persist in “well doing”

(Romans 2:6-7).





·         There is a day coming when the actions which seem to lie in the

direction of the kingdom of Christ, and, in fact, as right actions, are due to

him, will be unveiled so as to be seen in their relation to the actual feelings

in which they originated, and then those, who during a part of their life

were regarded as good workers, will be known as “workers of iniquity”

(Matthew 7:21-23).

·         In the lives of some men one portion is spent in endeavoring to undo

the deeds of former misspent days, and not always with clean hands in the

sight of God.

·         The secret of every life is to be found in the heart, and hence the need

constantly of the prayer that God would create within us a clean heart.

·         It is a right thing for men of influence, when the force of truth is openly

admitted by themselves, to do what lies within their power to bring others

over to its practical recognition.

·         The great mass of the people are very much influenced in the course

they take in public affairs by the reason of able leaders; hence the

responsibilities of leaderships in the government of God.



            David’s Patience in Waiting on God’s Timing


A careful examination of facts will show that David’s conduct in this

narrative, and indeed all through his early career, was the very reverse of

Abner’s. His entire course, from the day of his call from the sheepfold to

the proffered allegiance of Abner, was one of simple honest desire to do

the will of God. Again and again had he resisted temptations to grasp at

power; and his conduct in the interview with Abner, and use of his

services, proceeded from the same principle, that, in its very nature,

excluded selfish motive.


In inanimate and irrational things the Divine purpose is so stamped upon their being

or wrought into the texture of their nature that as a matter of course they, in their

movements, follow in the line appointed. Their action is necessarily normal.

In creatures endowed with a rational will there comes in the prerogative of

option. The possibility of an abnormal course belongs to such beings as an

essential element of their constitution. The angels that have kept their first

estate, and fallen angels and man, illustrate the two sides of the case. In the

affairs of ancient Israel the revealed purpose of God was that David should

be king (v. 9). This was the will of the Eternal, by which every man, from

Samuel and Saul in the highest ranks to the lowliest descendant of Jacob,

was to be guided in his political life. How Samuel and Jonathan conformed

to this law is beautifully seen in their respective careers. How David was

governed by it is to be seen in the strong faith in his own destiny which ran

through his patient endurance of exile; in his firm but restrained opposition

to Ishbosheth; and also in his negotiations with Abner. It is this conscious

conformity of action with the Divine purpose in relation to public affairs

that raises the strong assertions of integrity in the Psalms above the

suspicion of being the outgoings of a self-righteous spirit that claims

perfect internal holiness in the sight of God. As a rule, our private conduct

is normal in so far only as it is the carrying out in action of the definite

purpose of God that we should govern self for Him. Hence sin is properly

said to be a fall (Hosea 14:1). Hence our Saviour’s was the only true

life. He was man as man should be. It was His meat and drink to do His

Father’s will. The goal of redemption is to raise us to the full stature of

men in Christ Jesus. This view of human life, inwrought as a principle into

all the operations of heart and mind, will do much to bring about the final

harmony of our own lives, and indeed of all things, for discords will cease

in proportion as rational created wills move in unison with the Divine.


Between David’s revealed predestination to be king over the chosen race, and the

realization of the Divine will in the factual facts of history, many acts on his part

had to be performed. It would be perplexing to an ordinary mind to prestate the

agencies and methods by which the shepherd boy and exile should at last

peacefully ascend the throne and reign over a united people. Had human

passion, or bare calculation, or mere politic balancing of advantages been

taken as guide and governor of action, there would doubtless have been, in

his case, a reproduction of the tragic struggles so often recorded in the

history of public affairs. But conformity of self to the holy will of God

being the root principle of life, conjoined with the never absent conviction

that Providence was sure to be on his side in seeking to conform self to the

revealed will, this illumined his pathway even amidst the darkest of earth’s

shadows, and enabled him to see what courses should be avoided and what

pursued. Clearly he must not give scope to mere lust of power; for where

the need and what the use of that when the Holy One had sworn that he

should reign? Clearly, also, he must not use force and conquer the people

over whom as king he is to rule; for had not God chosen him to be king

over a chosen race, for the realization of high spiritual issues stretching far

into a glorious future? Equally plain was it that there is no need to have

recourse to the cunning and craft and falsehoodsthe policy void of

moral principle — which a godless spirit might suggest; for was he not the

chosen servant of the Holy One of Israel, who has no need of low born

policies to establish his dominion over men? Hence David’s patience in

exile, his tender regard for Saul even when others suggested revenge, his

merely defensive action at Hebron, and his manifest unwillingness to force

Ishbosheth from the throne and to compel Israel to submit to himself. He

had faith in God and in God’s supremacy over the hearts and destinies of

men. In so far as he had a policy it was suggested by his fundamental

principle, and embraced three things:


  • Use of peaceful means.  His abstention from hostilities during Saul’s

lifetime, and his subsequent nonaggressive action against Ishbosheth,

as also his willingness to accept the services of Abner with the elders

of the people.


  • Waiting on Providence for some free movement on the part of Israel.

David accepted the allegiance of Abner, viewing it as simply a fact

brought about apart from any bribe or effort on his part, and being in its

outward form, with which he was alone concerned, conformable to the

revealed purpose (v. 9), and consistent with his belief in an overruling

Providence which reaches to the spirits of men.


  • A regard for the effects on the house of Saul and the natural

interest of the people in that house.  His laying down the condition

(vs. 13-16) on which he would accept the services of Abner; for while

personal affection and conjugal duty alike suggested the restoration of

Michal from her enforced banishment (I Samuel 25:44), such a course

would prove to Ishbosheth and Israel that he still cherished his old

regard for the house of Saul, and thus tend to win all parties over to a

peaceful settlement.


Here, then, was a sound and wise policy grounded on, and in fact issuing out of, the

abiding recognition of the main principle that God had a will concerning his life,

to effect which was at once his glory and delight. The facts suggest their own

application and lessons. They find their highest and truest counterpart in the life

of the Son of David, whose advance to universal supremacy proceeds from the

declared will of God (Psalm 72.), and is secured in patience, by means in

nature pure and peaceful, by an unseen action on the spirits of men making

them willing, and by a kind and considerate regard for the varied

susceptibilities of human nature. They also furnish illustrations of how the

Church may combine policy and principle, displaying the wisdom of the

serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. We furthermore learn that, in

pursuing our individual course through the world, we may, by keeping the

main principle of having a holy Divine purpose to work out clearly before

the mind, ever have at hand a pure, bright light by which we shall see what

means and methods in detail may be safely and honorably used for seeking

the end we have in view.

There is evidence in David’s early career that he had to endure the blame of

eager and less conscientious men for being so very scrupulous in the use of

means. The sons of Zeruiah were, also, not satisfied with what they would

call his timorous policy (vs. 24, 25, 39). Those years spent in Hebron,

merely keeping in check the assaults of Ishbosheth’s men (vs. 1, 22),

seemed to give a doubtful meaning to the Divine promise which had

become the property of both David and the true sections of the nation

(vs. 9-10, 17-18). But the man of God held on, and would not swerve

from the policy founded on clear principle. Events proved that he was right

and the overeager men wrong. In due course, Providence so governed the

action of leading forces, that the entire people were brought (vs. 17-21)

under influences which at last issued in his realizing the end on which his

heart had been so long set. In fact, he allowed GOD TO WORK where man

cannot work, i.e. on the spirits of men beyond the reach of our own hand

and voice. Once more we see it illustrated that God’s time and methods are

best. The same peaceful issue is coming on as the result of “the patience of

the saints” (Revelation 14:12) and their undying faith in the action of the

Spirit of God on the spirits of men. It is when professing Christians lose their

faith in God, and have recourse to questionable devices, that, in seeking to

hasten on, they really retard the progress of that which they have at heart.

Taking a wide view of the government of God in the unfolding of the moral

order, we see the same attainment of remote ends by means of righteous and

quiet acting through long epochs. What is thus true on a large scale will be found

true also of the individual lifethe effort to realize the holy will of God IN

OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCE.  In public and private affairs, in working out

our lines of policy founded on principle, we should not forget to leave a very broad

margin for the action of God beyond anything we can do or attempt. (He is able

to do EXCEEDING ABUNDANTLY above anything we ask or think!  -

Ephesians 3:20 – CY – 2018)  There are springs which God’s

hand alone can touch. He can govern the free actions of leaders of men, so

that the actual course they freely take, though not most pure in motive,

shall, in its form, harmonize with the main purpose of the Eternal. Would

that man had more faith in GOD, THE LIVING GOD!



                                                (vs. 22-27)


The facts are:


  • Joab, returning from an expedition, finds David at Hebron after Abner’s


  • Hearing from the people a general statement of what had transpired

between the king and Abner, Joab reproaches David for his peaceful

conduct, and insinuates that Abner was simply playing the spy.

  • Sending a messenger, unknown to David, after Abner, he induces him to

return to Hebron, and, under pretence of a quiet conference, he leads him

aside and assassinates him.

  • Hearing of the deed, David at once repudiates it, and in strong terms

desires that heavy judgments may fall on the head of Joab and his house.

  • David orders a general mourning for Abner, attends his funeral, and

utters a pathetic lamentation over him.

  • The king’s sorrow assumes a solemn and impressive form throughout

the day, so as to convince the people of his utter abhorrence of the crime

and his sense of the national loss.

  • David causes his servants to know that he cherished a regard for the

great abilities and possible services to Israel of Abner, and was pained and

enfeebled in his action as anointed king by the perverse conduct of the sons

of Zeruiah.


22 “And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a

troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not

with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone

in peace.  23 When Joab and all the host that was with him were come,

they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath

sent him away, and he is gone in peace.”  From pursuing a troop. This gives

a wrong idea, as though Joab had been repelling an attack. The Revised Version

is right in rendering “came from a foray,” the troop being a company of men sent

out on a predatory excursion. It is not unlikely that David had arranged this

expedition in order that his interview with Abner might take place in Joab’s

absence; and as he returned with “great spoil,” he had probably been away

for some nine or ten days, during which he had penetrated far into the

country of the Amalekites. Had David acted frankly and honorably, Joab

would not have stood in the way of his master’s exaltation, and the blood

feud between him and Abner might have been arranged. But it is evident

that David secretly disliked and chafed under the control of his strong-willed

and too-able nephew.


24 “Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done?

behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him

away, and he is quite gone?  25  Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner,

that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in,

and to know all that thou doest.”  What hast thou done? David’s secret dealing

makes Joab see a personal wrong to himself in the negotiation with Abner. There

could be no room, he feels, for both of them in David’s army, and David

meant, he supposes, to sacrifice himself. In hot haste, therefore, he rushes

into the king’s presence, and reproaches him for what he has done, but

covers his personal feelings with professed zeal for his master’s interests.

Abner is a mere spy, who has come on a false pretext, and with the real

intention of learning David’s going out and coming in, that is, his present

manner of life and undertakings. All that thou doest; literally, all that

thou art doing; all that is now going on, and thy plans and purposes. Abner

would not only judge by what he saw, but in his interview with David

would lead him on to talk of his hopes and prospects. David had little time

to explain the real object of Abner’s coming, nor was Joab in a mood to

listen to anything he said. He had detected his master in secret

negotiations, and would regard his excuses as tainted with deceit. And

after giving vent to his auger in reproaches, he hurried away to thwart

David’s plans by a deed of most base villainy. Had David acted openly, all

would have been done with Joab’s consent and approval.


26 “And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after

Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew

it not.”  The well — Hebrew, cistern of Sirah. Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 8. 1. 5)

says that this cistern was situated about two miles and a half north of

Hebron. There was probably a caravanserai there, at which Abner halted,

intending to continue his march homewards as soon as the coolness of

evening set in. Here Joab’s messengers overtook him, and, speaking in

David’s name — for otherwise Abner would not have fallen into the trap

— asked him to return for further conference, mentioning, perhaps, Joab’s

arrival as the reason. In this way Abner’s suspicions would be set at rest,

and it would seem quite natural for him to find Joab waiting for him at the



27 “And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in

the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the

fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.”

Joab took him aside in the gate. As we read in ch. 18:24 of David sitting

“between the two gates,” and of “the roof over the gate,” and in v. 33 of

“the chamber over the gate,” Ewald’s idea of there being a roofed inner space,

with a guard room over it, as in the mediaeval gate towers in German towns,

is probably right. As the “two gates” would make the space between them

gloomy, the spot would just suit Joab’s purpose. He meets Abner, therefore,

in a friendly manner, and drawing him aside, as if to converse with him apart

from the people going in and out, there assassinates him. The place was so

public that the deed must have been witnessed by multitudes, though the

gloom, felt the more by them from the contrast with the bright glare of

sunshine outside, had given Joab the opportunity of drawing his sword

without Abner’s observing it. For the blood of Asahel his brother. Joab’s act

was in accordance with Oriental feeling; and the duties of the avenger of

blood might with some straining be made to cover his retaliation for an act

done by Abner in self-defense (Numbers 35:26-27). It is remarkable that Hebron

was itself a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7), and this may have led Joab to murder

him in the gate, before he had actually entered. Still, Abner did not expect any

such retribution, and supposing that Joab knew of the purpose that had

brought him to Hebron, he could not suppose that he would be so

indifferent to his master’s interests as to put a summary stop to the

negotiations for uniting the tribes under David. As it was, this deed

brought upon David an evil name, and four or five years had to elapse

before the tribes could be induced to take him for their king. Even then his

hold over them was far less than it would otherwise have been; for though

the shock was gradually got over, yet the suspicion still clung to him. And

if the deed was Joab’s own act, still David had contributed to it by

underhand dealings. His very fear of Joab had caused him to wrong his able

general, and given him just cause for resentment.


Under the pretence of speaking with him in a friendly and confidential manner,

he drew his victim aside in the middle of the gate, and smote him there. Possibly

Abishai alone was witness of the act. “Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour

secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deuteronomy 27:24).


The first impression, on reading the account of the conduct of Joab, is that

of the most villainous treachery, and one at once enters into the anger and

vexation of David. But the treacherous act professedly in the service of

David was the outcome of a permanent condition of mind. Ostensibly it is

to be ascribed to the resentment cherished on account of the death of

Asahel; but the action of a man occupying a responsible position in a great

undertaking is not governed merely by the presence of a feeling of this

kind. The resentment would have had no positive power to issue in this

deed had not the mind of Joab been out of harmony with the mind. of

David in the views taken of the kingdom, its principles, and methods of

consolidation. A public servant will govern his private passions if his mind

is in full sympathy with his master’s, so as to see that the indulgence of

them would be uncongenial to him and injurious to his interests. Joab was

deficient in sympathy with the higher qualities and aims of his great master,

and consequently the bad qualities found an outlet which otherwise would

have either had no existence or would have been suppressed for his sake.

That Joab was not in full sympathy with David’s pure and lofty aspirations is

seen both in this account and also in the pressure previously put upon

David in exile by his chief men to take away the life of Saul, as, again, in

the subsequent allusions to his conduct (ch. 19:7). That such a

man should have been at the head of military affairs in David’s service is

not surprising, for David had from the first to take such men as were

disposed to follow his fortunes, and when he set up regal authority in

Hebron it was in the nature of things for the man of greatest will power to

push his way to the front. Kings cannot make their ministers; they can only

use what the age produces. It was not David’s fault; it was the natural

condition of things, arising from myriads of concurrent causes, that there

was not one man since the death of Samuel and Jonathan that was so

spiritual and far seeing as to enter with full enthusiastic sympathy into his

conceptions of the kingdom of God and the holy principles on which it

should be established and governed. The evil of having to work out great

and glorious issues in conjunction with men who do not enter into the inner

spirit of the enterprise is remarkably illustrated in the case of our Saviour.

There was not one who could enter into the full depth and breadth of His

work in the world. Relatively His blundering disciples, often paining His

heart by their worldly notions, were as far removed from Him as was Joab,

with his crude ideas and low feelings, from David. Nor could it be

otherwise unless men were supernaturally transformed. The same holds

good now in the instruments Christ has to use in carrying on His work in

the world. How defective many laborers and followers are in sympathy

with His holy aspirations and methods! Indeed, it is the same in every

secular employment. Seldom, if ever, does the servant enter fully into the

mind of the master. Ideas and feelings cherished by the directing and

originating mind are, of necessity, inadequately appreciated by

instrumentalities not perfectly charged with them. The servant, in this

sense, is not equal to his lord.


Because Joab did not really understand the pure and generous spirit of

David, his very zeal for him assumed forms not only opposed to the king’s

wishes, but fraught with evil tendencies for the kingdom. It is obvious from

v. 24 that Joab misapprehended the peaceful, generous policy of David,

and v. 25 reveals the fact that he was in his heart actually opposed to the

course which had been taken; for he actually dares to rebuke him for not

perceiving the cunning spy in the man of peace. So far was he out of

sympathy with the principles and policy of the king, that he stealthily, and

with the aid of his brother (v. 30), even allowed the personal resentment

of his heart to issue in an act which was not only unjust and base in itself,

but also in direct opposition to the will and measures of David. Here we

have, as the outcome of his worldly spirit, displeasure with his king,

assumption of superior wisdom, indulgence in personal revenge, murder,

and practically assertion, for the time being and in a particular instance, of

supreme power. Not one of these evils would have come to the surface of

life, but would have been crushed in their most incipient stage, had his

nature been more in sympathy with that of his master. Inasmuch as by full

sympathy we alone can really understand, appreciate, fall in with, delight

in, and surrender every faculty and subdue every errant feeling to the

prompt carrying out of our Lord’s designs, so, conversely, a lack of

sympathy cannot but result in the evils of misapprehension of designs,

nonappreciation of motives and methods, discontent with actual deeds,

withholding of services, and free scope to passions, in nature and

consequences at variance with His superior will. The lives of the apostles

during our Saviour’s ministry on earth abundantly illustrate this. Bred in an

atmosphere of formalism and religious exclusiveness, they entered not into

the perfect mind of Christ, and consequently wondered at His methods

(Luke 9:44-45), desired what was contrary to His Spirit (vs. 46-56),

and, in the case of Peter, actually rebuked Him for arranging to establish His

kingdom by a method which seemed to them to be unnecessary and

unbecoming (Matthew 16:21-23). The persecutions authorized by the

Church in dark ages, the methods introduced by Ignatius Loyola and

subsequently adopted by his followers, the bitter spirit cherished towards

men differing in minor matters of faith or practice, and the sundry base

deeds which grow out of a professedly Christian life because it is not well

nourished in fellowship with Christ Himself, — these are some of the evils

appearing in the course of the establishment of the kingdom of heaven as a

consequence of the servants of the Lord not being in full harmony of spirit

with him they profess to serve.



It is probable that Joab was with David in exile, and, like many others, he may

have been drawn over to his side partly because of the intimation given by

Samuel and recognized by Jonathan of the Divine choice of David, and partly

because of disgust at the misgovernment of Saul. However much he might

have failed in the first instance to comprehend and appreciate the holy aims

and principles of his leader, he could not have shared so long in David’s

fortunes and misfortunes without having many opportunities of learning

what manner of person he was, and how decidedly spiritual were his aims

and purposes. He appears not to have profited by these privileges, and

consequently, by the action of a well known psychological law, the original

secularity of his nature gained in power, so that when a contest arose

between a private passion and acquiescence in his master’s arrangements,

there was not sufficient moral force to restrain and destroy the passion, and

hence the dark deed which disgraced his name and caused him to be in the

future a man distrusted and abhorred (v. 39). The reverse is seen in the

case of the apostles, excepting Judas, who all grew out of their imperfect

sympathy with the innermost heart of Christ, and brought forth fruit

accordingly. In private life there can be no question but that, when

opportunities for getting nearer and nearer to the mind of Christ are

neglected, the lower tendencies of human nature gain force, and when

temptation to exercise them arises, sad deeds are done and reputations are

damaged. Probably, if all things were explained, it would come out that

many of the sad crimes perpetrated by persons professedly in the kingdom

and service of Christ are connected with failure to maintain and deepen the

sympathy of the heart with all that is in Christ and His work. “Without me

ye can do nothing;” “Abide in me.”   (John 15:4-5)




Ø      It becomes us to be on our guard lest mere private feelings of the lower

order should gain ascendency over the more general considerations that

pertain to the kingdom of God.


Ø      It will be useful if we now and then calmly reflect on the degree to which

the cause of God may have suffered through our own defective sympathy

with its more spiritual interests.


Ø      The great need of each one is to cultivate close fellowship with Christ,

so as more fully to enter into his mind.


Jealousy and ambition were Joab’s  main motives. He was “afraid of losing his

command of the army and his dignity with the king, and lest he should be deprived

of those advantages and Abner should obtain the first rank in David’s court”

(Josephus). Hence his suspicion and slander of Abner (v. 25). “Through envy

of the devil came death into the world” (Wisdom of Solomon 2:24).


“Envy at others’ good is evermore

Malignant poison setting on the soul;

A double woe to him infected by it —

Of inward pain the heavy load he bears,

At sight of joy without he ever mourns.”




28 “And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are

guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood of Abner the

son of Ner:”  I and my kingdom are guiltless. By this David means, not his

royal house, but the people generally, who too often have to pay the

penalty for the sins of their rulers (see ch. 21:1). Necessarily this

is the case, wherever the crime is a state crime; but David protests that

Abner’s murder was a private crime, for which Joab and Abishai alone

ought to suffer.


29 “Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and let

there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that

is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or

that lacketh bread.”  Let it rest on the head of Joab. The Hebrew word is very

strong, “Let it roll itself,” or throw itself upon Joab’s head. The force of

the expression thus indicates the great excitement under which David was

laboring; yet even so it was no slight matter to utter so bitter a curse upon

a man so powerful, and whose military skill was so essential to the

maintenance of his throne. To a man of David’s strong sense of justice, it

was a small matter that by Abner’s murder the kingdom of the ten tribes

was lost perhaps forever; what he hated was the wickedness of this mean

act of personal revenge. And thus his imprecations are all such as would be

humiliating to a family so distinguished for great physical as well as mental

gifts, as the house of Zeruiah. Nor was David content with this; for we

gather from I Chronicles 11:6 that during the intervening years Joab

was deprived of his office, and that he regained it only by an act of daring

bravery. (For the miserable condition of one suffering with an issue, see

Leviticus 15:2, etc.; and for that of a leper, Leviticus, chapters 13 and 14.)

Instead of one that leaneth on a staff, some translate “a distaff holder,” that is,

a poor effeminate creature, fit only for woman’s work. The true sense is

probably a cripple — one who needs a crutch. That falleth on the sword;

more correctly the Revised Version, that falleth by the sword. The two last

imprecations mean that if any of the race of Joab and Abishai escape these

personal blemishes, yet that his fate shall be, in war an inglorious death,

and in peace a life of poverty. This curse of David is regarded in the

Talmud (‘Sanhedr.,’ 48.2) as very sinful. Undeniably it was uttered in

violent anger, and while Joab’s act was utterly base and deceitful, yet he

had the excuse for it of Asahel’s death and David’s double-dealing. The

latter made him conclude that the man who had killed his brother was also

to usurp his place. Possibly this suspicion was not without reason. As

David was strong enough to deprive Joab of his command, it is plain that

he had nothing to fear from telling him his plans. Joab would have

assented, the blood feud have been appeased by a money payment, and all

gone well. But David, it seems, wished to hold Joab in check by giving at

least a share in the command to the veteran Abner.


30 “So Joab, and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain

their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.”  Joab and Abishai his brother.

Nothing is said of Abishai having taken part in the murder, but the words

suggest that it was a premeditated act, and that Abishai was privy to it.



Deferred Punishment


Many a modern Joab does not at once suffer for his sin as conscience and

public opinion would demand. There are vile deeds performed,

horrible.vices indulged, characters and fortunes ruined, and widespread

miseries induced, by persons whose actions are not discovered, or, if

discovered, are such as civil authority does not touch. The common

judgment of men is that severe punishment is due to such, but it comes not

in their life. The betrayer of purity, the licentious liver who hides his vices,

the forger who escapes discovery, are but instances of many. They seem to

escape any open and public infliction of punishment, and carry no more on

their conscience than Joab did on his, which would be little, just in

proportion as it was debased. The solution of this apparent anomaly is

really to be found in the consideration that the government of God extends

over an area wider than this present life, and that for profound reasons, not

all revealed, it is not best for judgment to fall all at once and at the time of

the committal or even discovery of the sin.  With God a thousand years are

as one day. His methods of ruling men here evidently proceed on the fact

that there is a future and a great day of account, when men shall receive

according to the deeds done in the body.  “For God shall bring every

work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or

whether it be bad.”  (Ecclesiastes 12:14)  “Some men’s sins are open

beforehand, going before to judgment; and some men they follow

after.  Likewise also the good works of some are manifest beforehand;

and they that are otherwise cannot be hid.”   (I Timothy 5:24-25)

To remove the fears and perplexities arising from the fact that sin is often long

unpunished in this world, God has distinctly made known how He regards it,

what terrible issues will come of it, and how just is the outcome of all

crime on the perpetrator. The words of David concerning Joab’s desert are

mild compared with those of Christ and His apostles concerning the desert

of those who DELIBERATELY REJECT CHRIST, pierce Him with their sins,

and trample on the blood of the everlasting covenant (Matthew 11:20-24;

Hebrews 10:26-31).


It is important to cherish strong faith in God’s methods of government if

we would be calm and strong in assertion of right and awaiting a proper

adjustment of rewards.


David’s mind was averse to Joab. He cherished distrust and displeasure toward

him. He had scope for action, and possibly for true repentance, but in his monarch’s

estimation he was a base and condemned man. No easy, jaunty spirit on the part of

Joab could alter this serious fact. There existed in the mind of his king the condition

of feeling which was prophetic of a doom one day to be actualized. In like manner

“God is angry with the wicked every day.”  (Psalm 7:11)  Those who seem to escape

present punishment are already condemned in the sure, infallible judgment

of God. Merciful and pitiful as He is, and not willing that any should perish,

He cannot but regard their secret sins with abhorrence, and see in them,

unless they repent and seek newness of life and forgiveness in Christ, a

debased form of humanity gradually maturing to receive into themselves

the wrath treasured up against the day of wrath (>Romans 2:4-6). The

prosperous wicked seldom reflect on how the Holiest and Wisest of all

looks on them. Men great and esteemed in the world are often despised by

God because he knows what their true character is.





                                     Joab (vs. 22-30)


Among those who played a prominent part in David’s reign the foremost

man was his nephew Joab. He was possessed of great physical strength and

daring, clear judgment and strong will, eminent military skill, and immense

power over others; “a bold captain in bad times.” With the ruder qualities

of activity, courage, and implacable revenge, “he combined something of a

more statesmanlike character, which brings him more nearly to a level with

his youthful uncle; and unquestionably gives him the second place in the

whole history of David’s reign. In consequence of his successful attempt at

the siege of Jebus, he became commander-in-chief, the highest office in the

state after the king. In this post he was content, and served the king with

undeviating fidelity. In the wide range of wars which David undertook,

Joab was the acting general, and he therefore may be considered as the

founder, as far as military prowess was concerned, the Marlborough, the

Belisarius, of the Jewish empire” (Stanley). His patriotism was

unquestionable; nor was he without piety (ch.  10:12).


His natural gifts, good qualities, and invaluable services were more than

counterbalanced by his moral defects and numerous vices. “He ever

appears wily, politic, and uuscrupulous” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’). “He is

the impersonation of worldly policy, secular expediency, and temporal

ambition, eager for his own personal aggrandizement, and especially for the

maintenance of his own political ascendency, and practicing on the

weaknesses of princes for his own interests; but at last the victim of his

own Machiavellian shrewdness” (Wordsworth).


 “Joab was a type of the national aspect of Judaism. He was intensely

Jewish, in the tribal meaning of the word, not in its higher, world wide

bearing; only Judaean in everything that outwardly marked Judaism,

though not regarded in its inward and spiritual reality. Nor is it without

deep symbolical meaning, as we have the higher teaching of history, that

Joab, the typical Eastern Judaean — may we not say, the type of Israel

after the flesh? — should, in carrying out his own purposes and views,

have at last compassed his own destruction” (Edersheim).




                                    Biblical References to Joab


(1) Early life (I Samuel 22:1);

(2) conflict with Abner (ch. 2:13, 24, 30);

(3) capture of the stronghold of Zion (I Chronicles 11:6);

(4) captain of the host (ch. 8:16; 20:23);

(5) conflicts with the Ammonites and Syrians (ch. 10:7);

(6) reduction of the Edomites (I Kings 11:15-16);

(7) complicity in the murder of Uriah (ch. 11:14);

(8) capture of Rabbah (ch. 11:1; 12:26);

(9) relations with Absalom (ch.14:1, 29);

(10) defeat and murder of Absalom (ch.18:2, 14);

(11) upbraiding the king (ch. 19:5);

(12) replaced by Amasa (ch. 20:4);

(13) murder of Amasa (ibid. v. 10);

(14) defeat of Sheba (ch. 20:22);

(15) remonstrance with David (ch. 24:3);

(16) defection to Adonijah (I Kings 1:7);

(17) denounced by David (ibid. ch. 2:5);

(18) put to death by Benaiah at the command of Solomon (ibid. ch. 2:28, 34).]



Impunity in Crime Commonly Produces Disastrous Effects


Under the circumstances, it would hardly have been possible for David to punish

Joab and Abishai. “Probably public feeling would not have supported the king,

nor could he, at this crisis of his affairs, have afforded the loss of such generals,

or brave the people and the army” (Edersheim). Great men often owe their

exemption from punishment to their position. But crime, although unpunished

by man:


  • Incurs the righteous displeasure of God. (vs. 29, 39.) Human

punishment does not and cannot always accord with the Divine. Although

David could not punish, he durst not forgive. His words “express his moral

horror at this evil deed, and at the same time the everlasting law of God’s

recruiting justice.” “The extension of the curse to the descendants clearly

refers to the threatenings of the Law; and in both cases the offensive

character disappears if we only remember that whoever by true repentance

freed himself from connection with the guilt, was also exempted from

participation in the punishment” (Hengstenberg).


  • Incites other men to similar crimes. It is not improbable that Baanah and

Rechab were induced to assassinate Ishbosheth (v. 6 of the next chapter)

by the unavenged death of Abner.


  • Encourages other criminals to continue his evil course, increases his

obduracy, and causes him to “wax worse and worse.” “Joab prospered

even after his sin. God gave him time for repentance. But he hardened his

heart by sin. And in the end he was cut off.  SUCCESSFUL CRIME IS

SPLENDID MISERY.  (“Because sentence against an evil work is not

executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set

in them to do evil!”  Ecclesiastes 8:11 – CY – 2018)


  • Escapes not forever the retribution which it deserves. “Evil pursueth

sinners;”  “He, that being reproved hardeneth his neck, shall

suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.” (Proverbs 13:21; 29:1).

Joab sinned with a strong and violent hand, and by a strong and violent hand

he at length perished (I Kings 2:34; Psalm 58:11).


“O Blind lust!

O foolish wrath! who so dost goad us on

In the brief life, and in the eternal then

Thus miserably overwhelm us!”

(Dante, ‘Purgatory 12.)


31 “And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him,

Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner.

And king David himself followed the bier.   32 And they buried Abner in

Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner;

and all the people wept.”  David said to Joab. The excuse of the blood feud

made it impossible for David to punish Joab further than by depriving him of

his command; but he made him condemn his own deed by taking part in the

public mourning for the man he had murdered. This mourning consisted in

going in solemn procession, clad in sackcloth, before Abner’s body, carried

on a bier to the grave, while David followed as chief mourner; and the

emphatic way in which he is called King David suggests the thought that

he went in royal state, so as to give all possible dignity to the funeral. His

tears and lamentations with uplifted voice were so genuine and hearty as to

move the people to a similar outburst of grief. But while all those at

Hebron had proof that David was innocent, the people generally would

know only that, when Abner was escorting the king’s wife back to him,

and arranging for his election to rule over all Israel, he was treacherously

murdered at the gate of Hebron by one who was chief over David’s army

and also his nephew.


The people were publicly afflicted for the loss of Abner. A light was quenched

in Israel(v. 38). His presence and influence would have contributed to the

reconciliation of the tribes and the welfare of the nation (v. 21). David’s

sorrow was sincere; his tears (in confirmation of his words) evinced the

tenderness and sympathy of his heart, moved the people also to tears, and

(in contrast with the bearing of Joab) convinced them of his innocence and



33 And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool

dieth?”  The king lamented. The word is the same as that used in ch. 1:17.

The word rendered “fool” is nabal (for which see I Samuel 25:25). The idea

contained in the word is not that of mere silliness, but of worthlessness

also; and thus in Psalm 14:1 we find that the nabal is also an atheist.


David admired the worth of Abner.  He was not a villain (fool)

or murderer, deserving of being put in fetters and dying a felon’s death; but

brave, capable, noble-minded, “great in council, great in war,” and worthy

of respect and honour. A generous man sees and appreciates what is best in

other men. “The generous spirit of David kept down all base and selfish

feeling, and added another to those glorious conquests over his own heart

which were far higher distinctions than his other victories, and in which he

has left us an example which all, from the least to the greatest, should try

to emulate” (Blaikie).


34 “Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a

man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept

again over him.”    Thy hands were not bound. Abner had been put to death

by Joab for killing Asahel. But there had been no legal process. He had not

been brought in fetters before a judge to be tried for the crime alleged, but

murdered for private ends. And thus, “As a man falleth before the children

of iniquity, so had he fallen,” that is, by crime, and not by law. These

words are probably the refrain of the dirge, like those in ch. 1:19, 25, 27,

and were followed by the celebration of Abner’s bravery, but

they alone are recorded, because they contain the main point. Abner’s

death was not, like the sentence upon Baanah and Rechab (see next chapter),

an act of justice, but one of lawless revenge; and by this poem David proclaimed,

not only his innocence, but also his abhorrence of the crime.


35 “And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it

was yet day, David swear, saying, So do God to me, and more also,

if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down.”  The people came

to cause David to eat meat. The Jewish commentators, Philippson, Cahen, etc.,

consider that the occasion for this was given by the custom of taking food after

a funeral (Jeremiah 16:7; Ezekiel 24:17), which in time degenerated into the

giving of a costly banquet (Josephus, ‘Bell. Jud.,’ 2. 1). To this day, at a Jewish

funeral in Germany, the bearers are regaled with eggs, bread, and wine. While,

then, others were partaking of the food that had been provided, David remained

apart, and when urged by the assembled multitude to join them in their

meal, he protested that he would continue fasting until sunset. He thus

proved that his sorrow was genuine, and the people were convinced of his

innocence, and pleased at the honor which he thus did to the fallen soldier.


36 “And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as

whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.”  Whatsoever the king did

pleased all the people. This is a tribute to the king’s conduct generally. The

people would have been grieved and astonished if David had been guilty of

this mean murder; but his indignant disavowal of it was in accordance with

his usual justice and uprightness, and so it confirmed their high opinion of him.

Thus while the more distant tribes condemned David, those who had the best

opportunity for forming a judgment gave their verdict in his favor.


37 For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not

of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.”  All Israel understood. The

twenty men who had accompanied Abner would be witnesses of all that

David did, and would carry their report of it home, and of the high estimation

in which his character was held at Hebron. And this gradually would be told

throughout the tribes, and the final verdict of all well-disposed people would

be in David’s favor.


The continued presence of David, asserting his rightful authority and infusing his

own generous spirit into the administration of affairs, could not but have the effect

of lessening the influence of Joab and setting a limit to the range of evil he

otherwise might do. The king was among his people for their good and the restraint

of one who, in spirit, was their calamity. Here, again, do we not get a glimpse of

what is true in the spiritual sphere? God does not leave evil men entirely

unrestrained to carry out their designs and to afflict the world with their

base spirit. As responsible beings, they have their freedom to act for a while, but

He “restrains the wrath of man” (Psalm 76:10), He is present in our human affairs,

checking and controlling so that other influences less powerful in appearance

shall be brought to bear and find full and free scope. It is never to be forgotten

that, though there are Joabs amongst us, “hard” in spirit and cruel of purpose,

and bearing on their conscience the blood of others, there is amongst us THE

ETERNAL KING whose love, generous sympathy, and determination to care

for the faithful NEVER FAIL!


38 “And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a

prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?”  A prince and a great man.

David pronounces this high estimate of Abner’s worth to his servants, that is,

to his officers, and especially to the six hundred mighty men. His conduct is

bold and open, and must have greatly humiliated Joab and Abishai. But though

the six hundred approved of David’s conduct, and respected him for it, yet

probably, as Abner had killed Asahel, they would not have consented to

any further punishment than the disgrace inflicted on Joab by his being

deprived of the command of David’s warriors. 


God does manifest much sympathy with those who suffer from wrong doing. 

David’s lament over Abner as one noble in position and in some aspects of

character, and yet brought to a premature end as though he were a mean, weak,

and inferior person; his taking upon his own heart the anguish which he knew must

afflict multitudes; his abstention from food and present comforts because of

the common calamity; his revulsion of feeling from the “men too hard” for

him; and his use of authority for securing for Abner the highest funeral

honors; — all this, so natural and beautiful in Israel’s king, so soothing to

the hearts of the troubled people, is strikingly suggestive of the wonderful

way in which God, while denouncing sin and foretelling its punishment,

manifests His sympathy with a world afflicted with the deeds of evil doers.

This is largely the meaning of our Saviour’s life among men. This is one

element which enters even into the great transaction on Calvary. This is the

explanation of the manifold ministries of comfort and encouragement

raised up by the Head of the Church for the relief of those who are bowed

down, and the mitigation of many of the calamities which come in

consequence of the sins of others.


Abner’s greatness was marred by his unscrupulous ambition, and Joab was worse

than he. The multitude are very dependent on great leaders, whether in war or

peace, and can do little without them. “Thou art worth ten thousand of us” (ch. 18:3).

Leading and inspiring the many, they make them partners in their own greatness. The

influence of their deeds, or (in the case of intellectual leaders) their thoughts, raises

others towards their own level. The character as well as the progress of a people

depends a good deal on its great men.



naval commanders. If war must be, it is of vast importance that it should be

conducted by able captains. But not only these, men great in the arts of

peace, — great statesmen, philosophers, historians, scientists, poets,

artists, preachers, etc. Especially when distinguished ability is combined

with unselfish devotion to the good of the nation or the race. For selfish

ambition belittles the great, and moral corruption renders them powerful

for evil instead of good.


GREAT MEN MUST DIE. In some conditions of society their lives

are more exposed to peril than the lives of others — whether from the

assassin, or from fickle monarchs or ambitious rivals, using the forms of

law to put them out of their way; or the cares incident to greatness may

shorten their days. “I have said, Ye are gods… but ye shall die like men”

(Psalm 82:6-7) — a truth they should bear in mind:


  • to keep them sober and humble,
  •  to stimulate their diligence, and
  •  preserve in them a sense of responsibility to God;


a truth which others should remember, that they may not idolize the great,

nor unduly confide in them (see Psalm 146:3-4) or dread their anger

(Isaiah 51:12), nor, to secure their favor, sin against Him who lives forever;

and that they may be themselves the more content to die.    


The truly great do not die altogether:


“But strew his ashes to the wind

Whose sword or voice has served mankind

And is he dead whose glorious mind

Lifts thine on high?

To live in hearts we leave behind,

         Is not to die.”



Let us be thankful that it is not necessary to be great in order to be either

happy or useful. Goodness is the essential thing. A comfort to the many

who can never be distinguished.


Yet real greatness is possible to all. Through faith in Christ we become

children of God, “heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ,” to be “glorified

together with him (Romans 8:17). In the kingdom of heaven greatness

is secured by conscientious obedience to the Divine commandments

(Matthew 5:19), humility (ibid.  ch. 18:4; Luke 9:48), and self

abasing, self-denying service of others (Mark 10:42-45). Such

greatness is substantial and immortal (I John 2:17).


Let us rejoice that the great “Captain of our salvation” lives forever, in

fulness of power to save and bless all who trust in Him.



The Fall of a Prince and a Great Man (v. 38)


The world is sometimes startled by the fall of an eminent man in a sudden

and violent manner — like that of the Czar of Russia or the President of

the United States. Here is the epitaph of such a man. Reflect:


1. How uncertain is the continuance of human life! This familiar but little

heeded truth is set forth in an impressive manner by such an event, teaching

that no station is exempt from the approach of death, no safeguards

effectual against it. “Death is come up into our windows, and is entered

into our palaces” (Jeremiah 9:24).


2. How unstable is the foundation of earthly greatness! It is built upon the

sand, and in a moment crumbles into dust. Goodness alone (the essence of

true greatness) endures and goes with the soul into “everlasting

habitations.”  (Luke 16:9)


3.  How dreadful is the prevalence of diabolical wickedness! One

assassination begets another. And at times there is abroad in society a spirit

of lawlessness, recklessness, and ungodliness, which is full of peril, and

calls for the earnest efforts and prayers of good men THAT IT MIGHT



4. How profitable is the remembrance of a noble minded man! “He being dead,

yet speaketh.”  (Hebrews 11:4)


39 “And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the

sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil

according to his wickedness.”  I am this day weak…the sons of Zeruiah be too

hard for me. David would gladly have had Abner as a counterpoise to Joab’s too

great power. As it was, though an anointed king, he had but one tribe loyal

to him; the rest were the subjects of a rival; and the Philistines were

oppressing all alike. Had Abner’s enterprise been carried out, all the tribes

would have been united under his sway. He could thus have made head

against the Philistines, and Abner, in command of the Benjamites and other

tribes, would have curbed the fierce self-will of Joab. As it was, the sons of

Zeruiah might be reprimanded, and could not treat David as Abner had

treated Ishbosheth; but they were indispensable. David had a strange set of

men around him in those outlaws (I Samuel 22:2); and Joab, brave,

skillful, and unscrupulous, was a man after their own heart. They had just

returned with great booty from a foray under his command; and it was a

brave and manly thing in David to reprove him so openly, and dismiss him

from his command. Had he attempted more, and Joab had stood upon the

defense, there were plenty of “men of Belial” (I Samuel 30:22) to side

with him, and David might have met with the fate threatened him at Ziklag

(ibid. v. 6). As it was, he proved himself to be king, and Joab, in

spite of everything, remained a most faithful officer, and the right hand man

in his kingdom, and one even trusted with perilous and disgraceful secrets

(ch. 11:14).


The death of Abner was, even more than his life would have been, conducive to

David’s interests. “It must have seemed to him, from a prudential point of view,

that it was a piece of good fortune. But the strength of his moral indignation does

not suffer itself to be assuaged by worldly considerations” (Delitzsch). Hatred of

wrong is a sign and measure of the love of right. “Ye that love the Lord, hate evil”

(Psalm 97:10). David was as severe toward evil doers as he was tender

and pitiful toward the victims of their wickedness. “He was a man extreme

in all his excellences — a man of the highest strain, whether for counsel,

for expression, or for action, in peace and in war, in exile and on the

throne” (E. Irving)



The Sons of Zeruiah (v. 39)


The mental and moral qualities of men are largely traceable to hereditary

tendencies. If Joab and Abishai resembled their mother, she must have been

a woman of strong mind, and of a suspicious, irascible, and intolerant

temper, rather than noted for her simplicity, meekness, and forbearance.

And so much may be inferred from the manner in which David associates

the name of his sister with her sons (ch. 16:10; 19:22; I Kings 2:5). Their

spirit and conduct were different from his, obnoxious to

him, and constrained him to make this confession to his confidential

servants on the evening of the day of Abner’s funeral. “It was one of those

moments in which a king, even with the best intentions, must feel to his

own heavy cost the weakness of everything human, and the limits of human

supremacy” (Ewald).



WEAKNESS. “I am this day weak [tender, infirm], and an anointed king.”

The most absolute monarch cannot do all he would. Truly good men,

though anointed and endued with spiritual power, are by no means perfect,

but are “compassed with infirmity.”  (Hebrews 5:2)  Even the weakness

of a strong man is felt.




Zeruiah, are too hard [rough, obstinate, powerful] for me.”   (We need

to evaluate the company we keep?  CY – 2018)


Ø      David has been severely condemned for not punishing the sons of Zeruiah;

but in order to justify such condemnation, we should have a better

acquaintance with all the circumstances of the case. He was not

without sinful infirmity.




doer of wickedness according to his wickedness.” This is expressive of:


Ø      Dependence on the Divine power to accomplish what he himself cannot



Ø      Faith in the Divine permission of unrequited evil for a time, for wise and

beneficent ends.


Ø      Desire for the maintenance, vindication, and triumph of eternal

righteousness in the earth (vs. 22-30).


o       “The Lord will render to him according to his works”

(II Timothy 4:14).

o       “Jehovah shall reward, the doer of evil according to his

wickedness.”   (v. 39)




Sure Retribution (v. 39)


“The Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.” In

the Revised Version the words are rendered as a wish: “The Lord reward

the wicked doer according to his wickedness.” The substantial meaning is

the same in both translations. “In his impotence to punish Joab himself,

David remits him to the just judgment of God” (‘Speaker’s Commentary’).

The words may be taken in respect to all evil doers. None can escape the

judgment of God, even if they escape punishment from men.



DOERS. This follows from:


Ø      The relations of God to men. As Ruler, Lawgiver, Judge. He will

certainly not fail in the exercise of the functions which belong to these

relations. Even if we think of Him as Father, we may be equally certain that

impenitent sinners will not go unpunished. What would a father be worth

who should allow a depraved son to defy himself, and seriously injure other

children of the family, with impunity? If he can by any means, gentle or

severe, reform him, well, — this he will prefer; but if not, he must banish

and abandon him. And to say that Omnipotent love need not and cannot

resort to this extremity of punishment is to go beyond our knowledge, and

contrary to the plain statements of Holy Writ, where the chastisement

which reforms and the punishment which crushes are clearly distinguished.

To make Gehenna a purgatory is certainly to add to the teaching of our

Lord respecting it.  “If any man shall add unto these things, God shall

add unto him the plagues that are written in this book.”  (Revelation 22:18)


Ø      His threatenings. Those of conscience and those of Holy Writ. They

abound throughout the Bible, and are nowhere more frequent and awful

than in the teaching of the tender and loving Christ.


Ø      His character. As holy and just, loving righteousness and hating iniquity;

truthful in regard to His threatenings as well as His promises.


Ø      His omniscience. Men often succeed in hiding their evil deeds or

themselves from their fellow men; but it is impossible thus to escape

Divine judgments (see Job 34:21-22).


Ø      His omnipotence. Criminals may in some states of society be, like Joab,

too strong to be punished by those in authority; but God is mightier than

the mightiest. There is no possibility of resisting His judgments.


6. The teachings of experience. The penalties which follow violations of

natural law. The results of wrong doing upon body, mind, circumstances.

The penalties inflicted by society on those who practice certain forms of




"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."


This material can be found at:



If this exposition is helpful, please share with others.