Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 4:1
Murder of Ishbosheth. - Sa2 4:1. When the son of Saul heard of the death of Abner, "his hands slackened," i.e., he lost the power and courage to act as king, since Abner had been the only support of his throne. "And all Israel was confounded;" i.e., not merely alarmed on account of Abner's death, but utterly at a loss what to do to escape the vengeance of David, to which Abner had apparently fallen a victim.
Saul's son had two leaders of military companies (for בן־שׁאוּל היוּ we must read שׁ לבן היוּ): the one was named Baanah, the other Rechab, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, "of the sons of Benjamin," i.e., belonging to them; "for Beeroth is also reckoned to Benjamin" (על, over, above, added to). Beeroth, the present Bireh (see at Jos 9:17), was close to the western frontier of the tribe of Benjamin, to which it is also reckoned as belonging in Jos 18:25. This remark concerning Beeroth in the verse before us, serves to confirm the statement that the Beerothites mentioned were Benjaminites; but that statement also shows the horrible character of the crime attributed to them in the following verses. Two men of the tribe of Benjamin murdered the son of Saul, the king belonging to their own tribe.
"The Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and were strangers there unto this day." Gittaim is mentioned again in Neh 11:33, among the places in which Benjaminites were dwelling after the captivity, though it by no means follows from this that the place belonged to the tribe of Benjamin before the captivity. It may have been situated outside the territory of that tribe. It is never mentioned again, and has not yet been discovered. The reason why the Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and remained there as strangers until the time when this history was written, is also unknown; it may perhaps have been that the Philistines had conquered Gittaim.
Before the historian proceeds to describe what the two Beerothites did, he inserts a remark concerning Saul's family, to show at the outset, that with the death of Ishbosheth the government of this family necessarily became extinct, as the only remaining descendant was a perfectly helpless cripple. He was a son of Jonathan, smitten (i.e., lamed) in his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came from Jezreel of Saul and Jonathan, i.e., of their death. His nurse immediately took him and fled, and on their hasty flight he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth (according to Simonis, for בשׁת מפאה, destroying the idol); but in Ch1 8:34 and Ch1 9:40 he is called Meribbaal (Baal's fighter), just as Ishbosheth is also called Eshbaal (see at Sa2 2:8). On his future history, see Sa2 9:1-13, Sa2 16:1., and Sa2 19:25.
The two sons of Rimmon went to Mahanaim, where Ishbosheth resided (Sa2 2:8, Sa2 2:12), and came in the heat of the day (at noon) into Ishbosheth's house, when he was taking his mid-day rest.
"And here they had come into the midst of the house, fetching wheat (i.e., under the pretext of fetching wheat, probably for the soldiers in their companies), and smote him in the abdomen; and Rechab and his brother escaped." The first clause in this verse is a circumstantial clause, which furnishes the explanation of the way in which it was possible for the murderers to find their way to the king. The second clause continues the narrative, and ויּכּהוּ is attached to ויּבאוּ (Sa2 4:5).
(Note: The lxx thought it desirable to explain the possibility of Rechab and Baanah getting into the king's house, and therefore paraphrased the sixth verse as follows: καὶ ἰδου ἡ θυρωρὸς τοῦ οἴκου ἐκάθαιρε πυροὺς καὶ ἐνύσταξε καὶ ἐκάθευδε, καὶ Ῥηχὰβ καὶ Βαανὰ οἱ ἄδελφοι διέλαθον ("and behold the doorkeeper of the house was cleaning wheat, and nodded and slept. And Rahab and Baana the brothers escaped, or went in secretly"). The first part of this paraphrase has been retained in the Vulgate, in the interpolation between Sa2 4:5 and Sa2 4:6 : et ostiaria domus purgans triticum obdormivit; whether it was copied by Jerome from the Itala, or was afterwards introduced as a gloss into his translation. It is very evident that this clause in the Vulgate is only a gloss, from the fact that, in all the rest of Sa2 4:6, Jerome has closely followed the Masoretic text, and that none of the other ancient translators found anything about a doorkeeper in his text. When Thenius, therefore, attempts to prove the "evident corruption of the Masoretic text," by appealing to the "nonsense (Unsinn) of relating the murder of Ishbosheth and the flight of the murderers twice over, and in two successive verses (see Sa2 4:7)," he is altogether wrong in speaking of the repetition as "nonsense" whereas it is simply tautology, and has measured the peculiarities of Hebrew historians by the standard adopted by our own. J. P. F. Knigsfeldt has given the true explanation when he says: "The Hebrews often repeat in this way, for the purpose of adding something fresh, as for example, in this instance, their carrying off the head." Comp. with this Sa2 3:22-23, where the arrival of Joab is mentioned twice, viz., in two successive verses; or Sa2 5:1-3, where the assembling of the tribes of Israel at Hebron is also referred to a second time, - a repetition at which Thenius himself has taken no offence, - and many other passages of the same kind.)
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 4:7
Punishment of the murderers by David. - Sa2 4:7. As the thread of the narrative was broken by the explanatory remarks in Sa2 4:6, it is resumed here by the repetition of the words וגו ויּבאוּ: "They came into the house, as he lay upon his bed in his bed-chamber, and smote him, and slew him," for the purpose of attaching the account of the further progress of the affair, viz., that they cut off his head, took it and went by the way of the Arabah (the valley of the Jordan: see Sa2 2:29) the whole night, and brought the head of Ishbosheth unto David to Hebron with these words: "Behold (= there thou hast) the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul thine enemy, who sought thy life; and thus hath Jehovah avenged my lord the king this day upon Saul and his seed." No motive is assigned for this action. But there can be little doubt that it was no other than the hope of obtaining a great reward from David. Thus they presumed "to spread the name of God and His providence as a cloak and covering over their villany, as the wicked are accustomed to do" (Berleb. Bible).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 4:9
But David rewarded them very differently from what they had expected. He replied, "As Jehovah liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity, the man who told me, Behold, Saul is dead, and thought he was a messenger of good to me, I seized and slew at Ziklag (vid., Sa2 1:14-15), to give him a reward for his news: how much more when wicked men have murdered a righteous man in his house upon his bed, should I not require his blood at your hand, and destroy you from the earth?" The several parts of this reply are not closely linked together so as to form one period, but answer to the excited manner in which they were spoken. There is first of all the oath, "As truly as Jehovah liveth," and the clause appended, "who redeemed my soul," in which the thought is implied that David did not feel it necessary to get rid of his enemies by the commission of crimes. After this (Sa2 4:10) we have an allusion to his treatment of the messenger who announced Saul's death to him, and pretended to have slain him in order that he might obtain a good reward for his tidings. כּי, like ὅτι, simply introduces the address. בּעיניו ... המּגּיד is placed at the head absolutely, and made subordinate to the verb by בו after ואחזה. לתתּי־לו, "namely, to give him." עשׁר is employed to introduce the explanation, like our "namely" (vid., Ewald, 338, b.). בּשׂרה, good news, here "the reward of news." The main point follows in Sa2 4:11, beginning with כּי אף, "how much more" (vid., Ewald, 354, c.), and is introduced in the form of a climax. The words משׁכּבו ... אנשׁים are also written absolutely, and placed at the head: "men have slain," for "how much more in this instance, when wicked men have slain." "Righteous" (zaddik), i.e., not guilty of any wicked deed or crime. The assumption of the regal power, which Abner had forced upon Ishbosheth, was not a capital crime in the existing state of things, and after the death of Saul; and even if it had been, the sons of Rimmon had no right to assassinate him. David's sentence then follows: "And now that this is the fact, that ye have murdered a righteous man, should I not," etc. בּער, to destroy by capital punishment, as in Deu 13:6, etc. דּם בּקּשׁ (=דּם דּרשׁ, Gen 9:5), to require the blood of a person, i.e., to take blood-revenge.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 4:12
David then commanded his servant to slay the murderers, and also to make the punishment more severe than usual. "They cut off their hands and feet," - the hands with which they had committed the murder, and the feet which had run for the reward, - "and hanged the bodies by the pool at Hebron" for a spectacle and warning, that others might be deterred from committing similar crimes (cf. Deu 21:22; J. H. Michaelis). In illustration of the fact itself, we may compare the similar course pursued by Alexander towards the murderer of king Darius, as described in Justin's history (Sa2 12:6) and Curtius (Sa2 7:5). They buried Ishbosheth's head in Abner's grave at Hebron. Thus David acted with strict justice in this case also, not only to prove to the people that he had neither commanded nor approved of the murder, but from heartfelt abhorrence of such crimes, and to keep his conscience void of offence towards God and towards man.