Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel)
David King Over Judah, and Ishbosheth King Over Israel. Battle at Gibeon - 2 Samuel 2
After David had mourned for the fallen king, he went, in accordance with the will of the Lord as sought through the Urim, to Hebron, and was there anointed king by the tribe of Jabesh, for the love which they had shown to Saul in burying his bones (Sa2 2:1-7), and reigned seven years and a half at Hebron over Judah alone (Sa2 2:10 and Sa2 2:11). Abner, on the other hand, put forward Ishbosheth the son of Saul, who still remained alive, as king over Israel (Sa2 2:8 and Sa2 2:9); so that a war broke out between the adherents of Ishbosheth and those of David, in which Abner and his army were beaten, but the brave Asahel, the son-in-law of David, was slain by Abner (vv. 12-32). The promotion of Ishbosheth as king was not only a continuation of the hostility of Saul towards David, but also an open act of rebellion against Jehovah, who had rejected Saul and chosen David prince over Israel, and who had given such distinct proofs of this election in the eyes of the whole nations, that even Saul had been convinced of the appointment of David to be his successor upon the throne. But David attested his unqualified submission to the guidance of God, in contrast with this rebellion against His clearly revealed will, not only by not returning to Judah till he had received permission from the Lord, but also by the fact that after the tribe of Judah had acknowledged him as king, he did not go to war with Ishbosheth, but contented himself with resisting the attack made upon him by the supporters of the house of Saul, because he was fully confident that the Lord would secure to him in due time the whole of the kingdom of Israel.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:1
David's return to Hebron, and anointing as king over Judah. - Sa2 2:1. "After this," i.e., after the facts related in 2 Samuel 1, David inquired of the Lord, namely through the Urim, whether he should go up to one of the towns of Judah, and if so, to which. He received the reply, "to Hebron," a place peculiarly well adapted for a capital, not only from its situation upon the mountains, and in the centre of the tribe, but also from the sacred reminiscences connected with it from the olden time. David could have no doubt that, now that Saul was dead, he would have to give up his existing connection with the Philistines and return to his own land. But as the Philistines had taken the greater part of the Israelitish territory through their victory at Gilboa, and there was good reason to fear that the adherents of Saul, more especially the army with Abner, Saul's cousin, at its head, would refuse to acknowledge David as king, and consequently a civil war might break out, David would not return to his own land without the express permission of the Lord. Sa2 1:2-4. When he went with his wives and all his retinue (vid., Sa1 27:2) to Hebron and the "cities of Hebron," i.e., the places belonging to the territory of Hebron, the men of Judah came (in the persons of their elders) and anointed him king over the house, i.e., the tribe, of Judah. Just as Saul was made king by the tribes after his anointing by Samuel (Sa1 11:15), so David was first of all anointed by Judah here, and afterwards by the rest of the tribes (Sa2 5:3).
A new section commences with ויּגּדוּ. The first act of David as king was to send messengers to Jabesh, to thank the inhabitants of this city for burying Saul, and to announce to them his own anointing as king. As this expression of thanks involved a solemn recognition of the departed king, by which David divested himself of even the appearance of a rebellion, the announcement of the anointing he had received contained an indirect summons to the Jabeshites to recognise him as their king now.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:6
"And now," sc., that ye have shown this love to Saul your lord, "may Jehovah show you grace and truth." "Grace and truth" are connected together, as in Exo 34:6, as the two sides by which the goodness of God is manifested to men, namely in His forgiving grace, and in His trustworthiness, or the fulfilment of His promises (vid., Psa 25:10). "And I also show you this good," namely the prayer for the blessing of God (Sa2 2:5), because ye have done this (to Saul). In Sa2 2:7 there is attached to this the demand, that now that Saul their lord was dead, and the Judaeans had anointed him (David) king, they would show themselves valiant, namely valiant in their reverence and fidelity towards David, who had become their king since the death of Saul. ידיכם תּחזקנה, i.e., be comforted, spirited (cf. Jdg 7:11). It needed some resolution and courage to recognise David as king, because Saul's army had fled to Gilead, and there was good ground for apprehending opposition to David on the part of Abner. Ishbosheth, however, does not appear to have been proclaimed king yet; or at any rate the fact was not yet known to David. וגם does not belong to אתי, but to the whole clause, as אתי is placed first merely for the sake of emphasis.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:8
Promotion of Ishbosheth to be king over Israel. - The account of this is attached to the foregoing in the form of an antithesis: "But Abner, the chief captain of Saul (see at Sa1 14:50), had taken Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and led him over to Mahanaim." Ishbosheth had probably been in the battle at Gilboa, and fled with Abner across the Jordan after the battle had been lost. Ishbosheth (i.e., man of shame) was the fourth son of Saul (according to Ch1 8:33; Ch1 9:39): his proper name was Esh-baal (i.e., fire of Baal, probably equivalent to destroyer of Baal). This name was afterwards changed into Ishbosheth, just as the name of the god Baal was also translated into Bosheth ("shame," Hos 9:10; Jer 3:24, etc.), and Jerubbaal changed into Jerubbosheth (see at Jdg 8:35). Ewald's supposition, that bosheth was originally employed in a good sense as well, like αἰδως and פּחד (Gen 31:53), cannot be sustained. Mahanaim was on the eastern side of the Jordan, not far from the ford of Jabbok, and was an important place for the execution of Abner's plans, partly from its historical associations (Gen 32:2-3), and partly also from its situation. There he made Ishbosheth king "for Gilead," i.e., the whole of the land to the east of the Jordan (as in Num 32:29; Jos 22:9, etc.). "For the Ashurites:" this reading is decidedly faulty, since we can no more suppose it to refer to Assyria (Asshur) than to the Arabian tribe of the Assurim (Gen 25:3); but the true name cannot be discovered.
(Note: In the Septuagint we find Θασιρὶ or Θασούρ, an equally mistaken form. The Chaldee has "over the tribe of Asher," which is also unsuitable, unless we include the whole of the northern portion of Canaan, including the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. But there is no proof that the name Asher was ever extended to the territory of the three northern tribes. We should be rather disposed to agree with Bachienne, who supposes it to refer to the city of Asher (Jos 17:7) and its territory, as this city was in the south-east of Jezreel, and Abner may possibly have conquered this district for Ishbosheth with Gilead as a base, before he ventured to dispute the government of Israel with the Philistines, if only we could discover any reason why the inhabitants ("the Ashurites") should be mentioned instead of the city Asher, or if it were at all likely that one city should be introduced in the midst of a number of large districts. The Syriac and Vulgate have Geshuri, and therefore seem to have read or conjectured הגּשׁוּרי; and Thenius decides in favour of this, understanding the name Geshur to refer to the most northerly portion of the land on both sides of the Jordan, from Mount Hermon to the Lake of Gennesareth (as in Deu 3:14; Jos 12:5; Jos 13:13; Ch1 2:23). But no such usage of speech can be deduced from any of these passages, as Geshuri is used there to denote the land of the Geshurites, on the north-east of Bashan, which had a king of its own in the time of David (see at Sa2 3:3), and which Abner would certainly never have thought of conquering.)
"And for Jezreel," i.e., not merely the city of that name, but the plain that was named after it (as in Sa1 29:1). "And for Ephraim, and Benjamin, and all (the rest of) Israel," of course not including Judah, where David had already been acknowledged as king.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:10
Length of the reigns of Ishbosheth over Israel, and David at Hebron. The age of Ishbosheth is given, as is generally the case at the commencement of a reign. He was forty years old when he began to reign, and reigned two years; whereas David was king at Hebron over the house of Judah seven years and a half. We are struck with this difference in the length of the two reigns; and it cannot be explained, as Seb. Schmidt, Clericus, and others suppose, on the simple assumption that David reigned two years at Hebron over Judah, namely up to the time of the murder of Ishbosheth, and then five years and a half over Israel, namely up to the time of the conquest of Jerusalem: for this is at variance with the plain statement in the text, that "David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah seven years and a half." The opinion that the two years of Ishbosheth's reign are to be reckoned up to the time of the war with David, because Abner played the principal part during the other five years and a half that David continued to reign at Hebron, is equally untenable. We may see very clearly from 2 Samuel 3-5 not only that Ishbosheth was king to the time of his death, which took place after that of Abner, but also that after both these events David was anointed king over Israel in Hebron by all the tribes, and that he then went directly to attack Jerusalem, and after conquering the citadel of Zion, chose that city as his own capital. The short duration of Ishbosheth's reign can only be explained, therefore, on the supposition that he was not made king, as David was, immediately after the death of Saul, but after the recovery by Abner of the land which the Philistines had taken on this side the Jordan, which may have occupied five years.
(Note: From the fact that in Sa2 2:10, Sa2 2:11, Ishbosheth's ascending the throne is mentioned before that of David, and is also accompanied with a statement of his age, whereas the age of David is not given till Sa2 5:4-5, when he became king over all Israel, Ewald draws the erroneous conclusion that the earlier (?) historian regarded Ishbosheth as the true king, and David as a pretender. But the very opposite of this is stated as distinctly as possible in Sa2 2:4. (compared with Sa2 2:8). The fact that Ishbosheth is mentioned before David in Sa2 2:10 may be explained simply enough from the custom so constantly observed in the book of Genesis, of mentioning subordinate lines or subordinate persons first, and stating whatever seemed worth recording with regard to them, in order that the ground might be perfectly clear for relating the history of the principal characters without any interruption.)
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:12
War between the supporters of Ishbosheth and those of David. - Sa2 2:12, Sa2 2:13. When Abner had brought all Israel under the dominion of Ishbosheth, he also sought to make Judah subject to him, and went with this intention from Mahanaim to Gibeon, the present Jib, in the western portion of the tribe of Benjamin, two good hours to the north of Jerusalem (see at Jos 9:3), taking with him the servants, i.e., the fighting men, of Ishbosheth. There Joab, a son of Zeruiah, David's sister (Ch1 2:16), advanced to meet him with the servants, i.e., the warriors of David; and the two armies met at the pool of Gibeon, i.e., probably one of the large reservoirs that are still to be found there (see Rob. Pal. ii. pp. 135-6; Tobler, Topogr. v. Jerusalem, ii. pp. 515-6), the one encamping upon the one side of the pool and the other upon the other.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:14
Abner then proposed to Joab that the contest should be decided by a single combat, probably for the purpose of avoiding an actual civil war. "Let the young men arise and wrestle before us." שׂחק, to joke or play, is used here to denote the war-play of single combat. As Joab accepted this proposal, twelve young warriors for Benjamin and Ishbosheth, and twelve from David's men, went over, i.e., went out of the two camps to the appointed scene of conflict; "and one seized the other's head, and his sword was (immediately) in the side of the other (his antagonist), so that they fell together." The clause רעהוּ בּצד וחרבּו is a circumstantial clause: and his sword (every one's sword) was in the side of the other, i.e., thrust into it. Sending the sword into the opponent's side is thus described as simultaneous with the seizure of his head. The ancient translators expressed the meaning by supplying a verb (ἐνέπηξαν, defixit: lxx, Vulg.). This was a sign that the young men on both sides fought with great ferocity, and also with great courage. The place itself received the name of Helkath-hazzurim, "field of the sharp edges," in consequence (for this use of zur, see Psa 89:44).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:17
As this single combat decided nothing, there followed a general and very sore or fierce battle, in which Abner and his troops were put to flight by the soldiers of David. The only thing connected with this, of which we have any further account, is the slaughter of Asahel by Abner, which is mentioned here (Sa2 2:18-23) on account of the important results which followed. Of the three sons of Zeruiah, viz., Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, Asahel was peculiarly light of foot, like one of the gazelles; and he pursued Abner most eagerly, without turning aside to the right or to the left.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:20
Then Abner turned round, asked him whether he was Asahel, and said to him, "Turn to thy right hand or to thy left, and seize one of the young men and take his armour for thyself," i.e., slay one of the common soldiers, and take his accoutrements as booty, if thou art seeking for that kind of fame. But Asahel would not turn back from Abner. Then he repeated his command that he would depart, and added, "Why should I smite thee to the ground, and how could I then lift up my face to Joab thy brother?" from which we may see that Abner did not want to put the young hero to death, out of regard for Joab and their former friendship.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:23
But when he still refused to depart in spite of this warning, Abner wounded him in the abdomen with the hinder part, i.e., the lower end of the spear, so that the spear came out behind, and Asahel fell dead upon the spot. The lower end of the spear appears to have been pointed, that it might be stuck into the ground (vid., Sa1 26:7); and this will explain the fact that the spear passed through the body. The fate of the young hero excited such sympathy, that all who came to the place where he had fallen stood still to mourn his loss (cf. Sa2 20:12).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:24
But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner till the sun set, and until they had arrived at the hill Ammah, in front of Giah, on the way to the desert of Gibeon. Nothing further is known of the places mentioned here.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:25
The Benjaminites then gathered in a crowd behind Abner, and halted upon the top of a hill to beat back their pursuers; and Abner cried out to Joab, "Shall the sword then devour for ever (shall there be no end to the slaughter)? dost thou not know that bitterness arises at last? and how long wilt thou not say to the people, to return from pursuing their brethren?" Thus Abner warns Joab of the consequences of a desperate struggle, and calls upon him to put an end to all further bloodshed by suspending the pursuit.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:27
Joab replied, "If thou hadst not spoken (i.e., challenged to single combat, Sa2 2:14), the people would have gone away in the morning, every one from his brother," i.e., there would have been no such fratricidal conflict at all. The first כּי introduces the substance of the oath, as in Sa1 25:34; the second gives greater force to it (vid., Ewald, 330, b.). Thus Joab threw all the blame of the fight upon Abner, because he had been the instigator of the single combat; and as that was not decisive, and was so bloody in its character, the two armies had felt obliged to fight it out. But he then commanded the trumpet to be blown for a halt, and the pursuit to be closed.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:29
Abner proceeded with his troops through the Arabah, i.e., the valley of the Jordan, marching the whole night; and then crossing the river, went through the whole of Bithron back to Mahanaim. Bithron is a district upon the eastern side of the Jordan, which is only mentioned here. Aquila and the Vulgate identify it with Bethhoron; but there is no more foundation for this than for the suggestion of Thenius, that it is the same place as Bethharam, the later Libias, at the mouth of the Nahr Hesbn (see at Num 32:36). It is very evident that Bithron is not the name of a city, but of a district, from the fact that it is preceded by the word all, which would be perfectly unmeaning in the case of a city. The meaning of the word is a cutting; and it was no doubt the name given to some ravine in the neighbourhood of the Jabbok, between the Jordan and Mahanaim, which was on the north side of the Jabbok.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:30
Joab also assembled his men for a retreat. Nineteen of his soldiers were missing besides Asahel, all of whom had fallen in the battle. But they had slain as many as three hundred and sixty of Benjamin and of Abner's men. This striking disproportion in the numbers may be accounted for from the fact that in Joab's army there were none but brave and well-tried men, who had gathered round David a long time before; whereas in Abner's army there were only the remnants of the Israelites who had been beaten upon Gilboa, and who had been still further weakened and depressed by their attempts to recover the land which was occupied by the Philistines.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 2:32
On the way back, David's men took up the body of Asahel, and buried it in his father's grave at Bethlehem. They proceeded thence towards Hebron, marching the whole night, so that they reached Hebron itself at daybreak. "It got light to them (i.e., the day dawned) at Hebron."