1 - 7 David King in Hebron
1 Then it came about afterwards that David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up to one of the cities of Judah?” And the LORD said to him, “Go up.” So David said, “Where shall I go up?” And He said, “To Hebron.” 2 So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess and Abigail the widow of Nabal the Carmelite. 3 And David brought up his men who [were] with him, each with his household; and they lived in the cities of Hebron. 4 Then the men of Judah came and there anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, “It was the men of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul.” 5 David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh-gilead, and said to them, “May you be blessed of the LORD because you have shown this kindness to Saul your lord, and have buried him. 6 Now may the LORD show lovingkindness and truth to you; and I also will show this goodness to you, because you have done this thing. 7 Now therefore, let your hands be strong and be valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”
David is still in Ziklag. For him, the announcement that Saul died does not mean that the question of the accession to the throne has been decided. After the news about Saul David could have go up triumphantly to become king immediately. He knows he is the anointed, but he will not take a step without the instruction of the LORD. David can wait. He knows that the intention of the LORD will not fail. A lot needs to be done before he can rule.
Prophetically it’s not like that either, that the kingdom of peace starts directly when the Lord Jesus comes back. Even then, there is still a lot to be done first. First things must be put right in an environment where for a long time everything has been against the anointed One because of the influence of the spirit of the antichrist and the reign of the person of the antichrist.
First David asks the LORD what he should do. That makes it clear that he has been restored. After the lamentation about Saul and Jonathan David asks the LORD if he will go to one of the cities of Judah. He gets a clear answer to that question. Then the next question is which city he will move to. He also receives a clear answer to this question. It is important to always ask the Lord to do something and also when and how we should do it. We may ask Him for concrete directions.
When David goes in obedience to the place the LORD named him, he takes both his wives with him. His men also go along. They are a picture of the people who are involved in the conquest of the kingdom by the Lord Jesus. His men have endured persecution and suffering with him, now they will be allowed to rule with him (cf. 2Tim 2:12a).
In Hebron David is anointed king by the men of Judah. David is anointed king three times. The first time that happened in a hidden way in the midst of his brothers (1Sam 16:13a). Here it happens for the second time, now by the men of Judah, who anointed him king over the house of Judah. In 2 Samuel 5 he is anointed for the third time, then made king over all Israel (2Sam 5:3).
We can also apply this to what has happened and will happen to the Lord Jesus. When He receives the Holy Spirit at His baptism, He is anointed in the midst of the remnant that we can designate as His brethren (Mt 3:16; cf. Mt 12:50). The second and third anointing of the Lord Jesus can be seen after the rapture of the church. When He returns, He will first be recognized as King by the remnant of Judah, and then He will be openly recognized by all people as Messiah, meaning ‘Anointed’ (Psa 2:2; 45:7).
The first act of David after his anointing is to wish the blessing of the LORD to the men of Jabez. He does this after he is told what these men have done. Here David shows the size of his heart. He wants to thank the men of Jabez for the respect they have shown Saul. It is also a wise thing to do. He shows that he does not seize this opportunity to become king. By thanking them he wins them over.
David praises the men of Jabes for their love service to Saul, their lord. It is an act that is also pleasing to the LORD, for it is a tribute to him who was appointed by Him as authority bearer. David does not leave it at the good wishes of the blessing of the LORD, but also promises that he himself will reward them. He makes no claim to their recognition of his kingship. Now that Saul is dead, David does not impose himself upon the men of Jabez. He only mentions that he is king over Judah. He does not want to subdue them, but to win their hearts.
This is a good indication of the current time of confusion and uncertainty in Christianity. Many don’t know what to do when they see how more and more things in the church that used to be self-evident are changing against Scripture. No one can be forced to make a decision. In such circumstances it is important to bless believers, that is to wish good things, as David does here. “If there is any virtue and if there is any praise, remember that” (Phil 4:8b).
8 - 11 Ish-bosheth King over Israel
8 But Abner the son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-bosheth the son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, even over all Israel. 10 Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he became king over Israel, and he was king for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. 11 The time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
Abner knows that David is the anointed king. Yet he takes Ish-bosheth and makes him king. With this, he works a division in Israel. The place where he does that, Mahanaim, speaks of that too. Mahanaim means ‘two armies’ (Gen 32:1-2). Israel’s enmity with David has not disappeared. Ish-bosheth means ‘man of shame’. He is the youngest son of Saul. It must have been a weak, spineless man. We read: “Abner ... had taken Ish-bosheth.” This state of affairs is in fact rebellion against God. Not Ish-bosheth, but David is the anointed of the LORD.
Ish-bosheth is king for two years “over Israel”. Israel’ here is the name for Israel without Judah, because David is king over Judah. Judah is no longer part of it. Ish-bosheth has no right to the kingship. Yet we see great meekness in David toward him. It may be that David’s meekness partly stems from a lack of initiative, because he leaves too much to Joab. Yet he can only show such indulgence because he knows that his right to that place is indisputable.
When people adopt something they are not, they are generally slightly touched when something happens to their disadvantage and they feel threatened quickly. But he who knows God’s truth and trusts it, can afford to let things pass over him without getting angry or afraid of harm.
We see that with David. This allows Ish-bosheth to rule over Israel for a certain time, while David is king ‘only’ over the house of Judah. The test here may well be even greater than under Saul. Saul was the anointed of the LORD; but Ish-bosheth is one without right. This is the way God goes with His anointed king, and David complies.
12 - 17 Abner is Defeated by David
12 Now Abner the son of Ner, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon with the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them by the pool of Gibeon; and they sat down, one on the one side of the pool and the other on the other side of the pool. 14 Then Abner said to Joab, “Now let the young men arise and hold a contest before us.” And Joab said, “Let them arise.” 15 So they arose and went over by count, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. 16 Each one of them seized his opponent by the head and [thrust] his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon. 17 That day the battle was very severe, and Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David.
In this section we meet two army commanders, Abner, the general of Ish-bosheth, and Joab, the general of David. Abner is a noble man with a noble character, but he is on the wrong side. Good people are sometimes on the wrong side. That is why he is also an opponent of David. He knows that David is the anointed one of the LORD and yet he takes sides against him.
Next to David stands a man, Joab, who thinks only of himself, of profit. Bad people are sometimes on the right side. He never thinks of the case of the LORD. It is hard to understand why David gave this man so much power. Opposite Joab David is weak. David calls him hard. That is the same as with Ish-bosheth and Abner where we also see a weak king and a strong commander.
Joab is mentioned here for the first time. He is associated with David, but does not share in David’s faith. Joab is a man who is characterized by performing evil deeds and great deeds. Both types of action are about his own advantage. He does not tolerate rivalry. Whoever he sees as a rival, he gets rid of.
Abner takes the initiative to fight. He seems to be out to bring Judah back under the authority of Saul’s house. This is a battle against God and He must therefore lose it. The scene of the war is by the pool of Gibeon. Abner probably chooses that place because it is in the Benjamin area, where Saul has the most friends.
Abner makes a proposal where only a few fight instead of the whole. Instead of outragedly rejecting this proposal, Joab accepts it. The result is a useless slaughter with twenty-four dead, because they are all so good and fast that they kill each other. The only one who has won is death, which is insatiable.
What should have been prevented by the young men’s fight is happening now. The brotherly struggle expands and becomes a fight between the men of Israel and the men of David.
18 - 23 Abner Kills Asahel
18 Now the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab and Abishai and Asahel; and Asahel [was as] swift-footed as one of the gazelles which is in the field. 19 Asahel pursued Abner and did not turn to the right or to the left from following Abner. 20 Then Abner looked behind him and said, “Is that you, Asahel?” And he answered, “It is I.” 21 So Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or to your left, and take hold of one of the young men for yourself, and take for yourself his spoil.” But Asahel was not willing to turn aside from following him. 22 Abner repeated again to Asahel, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?” 23 However, he refused to turn aside; therefore Abner struck him in the belly with the butt end of the spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died on the spot. And it came about that all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.
In his youthful hubris Asahel seems to be targeting Abner. He relies on his speed and agility in pursuit. His speed, possibly at the same time his pride, brings him rapid destruction. Reckless he rushes after Abner, while he seems to forget that Abner is an experienced warrior.
Although Abner is on the wrong side, he is an honest warrior. Twice he tries to convince Asahel to leave behind him. That shows his noble character.
First he points out to Asahel other men he could kill. That would also give him credit. Asahel does not accept the proposal. He seems to be inspired by only one thing and that is getting Abner into his hands, dead or alive. That will bring him much fame.
Abner makes a second attempt to change Asahel’s mind. With this he gives him the chance to leave the battlefield alive. If he goes on, he will have to kill him. Abner is not out for his death. Behind Asahel Abner also sees Joab. He knows Joab and knows that he will surely avenge the death of Asahel, and that he does not consider any means too bad for that.
Unfortunately, Asahel does not listen and is killed, because Abner strikes him in the belly with the butt end of the spear. Asahel will not have expected this unusual act. He will have been surprised by this tactic. The effectiveness is there. This shows that also on the side of David are men who act unwise.
The result is a delay in the battle. When Asahel is dead on the road, all the chasers stay with him. This gives Abner the chance to escape.
24 - 26 Joab and Abishai Pursuit Abner
24 But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and when the sun was going down, they came to the hill of Ammah, which is in front of Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon. 25 The sons of Benjamin gathered together behind Abner and became one band, and they stood on the top of a certain hill. 26 Then Abner called to Joab and said, “Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that it will be bitter in the end? How long will you refrain from telling the people to turn back from following their brothers?”
Joab and Abishai continued the pursuit. Then comes the sunset and the battle must be stopped. At that moment Abner makes a good proposal. He does not want this fight. At the same time, he himself is guilty of this struggle. He took up the sword himself and caused the civil war. He perseveres in defending the wrong king.
In verse 26, the poignant question from Abner to Joab sounds: “Shall the sword devour forever?” In other words: ‘Will there never be an end to the killing? The question is justified and exploratory. However, the following question also arises whether Abner is the right person to ask that question. If he had resigned himself to God’s choice of his king, this battle would not have taken place.
This can also be applied to our time and situation. We may be saddened by a battle among brothers, but we must also ask ourselves to what extent we ourselves are to blame for it. How many people have already been lost to God’s testimony by a battle between brothers? When will we stop our self-willed actions? When will we focus all our attention again on the Lord and His Word, to learn from Him meekness and humility of heart and to walk in that mind in the truth?
27 - 32 Joab Stops the Pursuit
27 Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely then the people would have gone away in the morning, each from following his brother.” 28 So Joab blew the trumpet; and all the people halted and pursued Israel no longer, nor did they continue to fight anymore. 29 Abner and his men then went through the Arabah all that night; so they crossed the Jordan, walked all morning, and came to Mahanaim. 30 Then Joab returned from following Abner; when he had gathered all the people together, nineteen of David’s servants besides Asahel were missing. 31 But the servants of David had struck down many of Benjamin and Abner’s men, [so that] three hundred and sixty men died. 32 And they took up Asahel and buried him in his father’s tomb which was in Bethlehem. Then Joab and his men went all night until the day dawned at Hebron.
Joab is too much a military man not to accept Abner’s proposal. Continuing the battle would cost many men. He also rightly accuses Abner of having had to speak these words much earlier. Then there would have been no struggle with the many unnecessary losses. As a sign that the pursuit can be stopped and the battle can stop, Joab blows on the trumpet. Abner and his men can then return to Mahanaim where Abner made Ish-bosheth king (verses 8-9).
The balance sheet of losses is drawn up. Twenty men, including Asahel, were killed by David’s men. Of the men of Abner eighteen times as many men have died. Asahel receives a special mention among the fallen. He gets a special burial. He is buried in the grave of his father in Bethlehem. The others will probably have been buried on the battlefield.
Just like Abner and his men, Joab and his men walk all night long. They reach Hebron as the light begins to become. That is a nice combination. Hebron means ‘fellowship’. Fellowship with God is only possible in the light. That the light begins to become has something to do with the dawning of a new day or period for the people of God. The first rays of sunshine of the establishment of David’s kingship can be seen. Unfortunately Joab is not a man in whose life there is much to see of dealing with God. He is someone who is only interested in his own advantage. That will become clear later.
The history in this chapter can be applied practically as follows. It is a question of the Lord Jesus being able to establish His dominion in our lives and in the exercise of that dominion getting full freedom from us. If there are other forces working in our lives that stop this, we may ask Him if He wants us to learn to deal with them in the right way.
Also for the establishment and exercise of His authority among His people we have to work in a way that suits Him. If other forces are working in that area, we can ask Him to teach us how to deal with them. Men like Joab don’t always set the good example.
Let us pray that we will be saved in direct dependence on the Lord Himself. Let us also pray that we will be saved from going with them in a battle that only produce losers. We must learn to fight the good fight (1Tim 6:12; 2Tim 4:7), with the right weapons and methods (2Tim 2:5).