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Go to Bible: 2 Samuel 3
“And the war.” 2 Samuel 3:1 should have been the concluding summary verse of chapter 2. The war, started in chapter 2, went on for a long time.
“between the house of Saul and the house of David.” The war is not categorized as a full fledged civil war between warring Israelite tribes, but rather is a power struggle for control of Israel between the house of Saul (his descendants and followers) and the house of David. Other Israelites would have certainly been pulled into the conflict, but it was a battle for the kingship of Israel between David and Saul’s house.(top)
“his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess.” Very quickly after being anointed king over the tribe of Judah (2 Sam. 2:4), David had six sons by six different women (2 Sam. 3:2-5). It is unlikely that all David’s wives had only sons, suggesting that this list is more to show the strength of the kingdom than to give a full representation of David’s family. Scripture had just said David’s house was getting stronger (2 Sam. 3:1), and a king having sons was one way that happened. The diversity of David’s harem supports the conclusion that he was marrying for political reasons. David had not yet gained control of all Israel and needed a broad base of followers and allies to succeed. For example, Jezreel was in the heart of the northern territory of Israel in the Jezreel Valley, and David’s marriage to Ahinoam from Jezreel would assure him support in that important military and agricultural region.
Another of David’s wives was Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (2 Sam. 3:2). She was not an Israelite. Geshur was a territory just north of the territory conquered by the tribe of Manasseh in the Transjordan (east of the Jordan River). Geshur was not conquered by Israel during the time of Joshua and remained independent. Since Geshur was just north of the territory controlled by Saul’s son Ish-bosheth when he set up his capital in the Transjordan in Mahanaim (2 Sam. 2:8), David’s marriage to Maacah assured him that Ish-bosheth would not secure military allies from the region north of him. Years later however, when Absalom, David’s son by Maacah, murdered his brother Amnon, Absalom fled to his grandfather Talmai king of Geshur who protected him (2 Sam. 13:37).
The fact that David married a non-Israelite for political and military reasons may have seemed wise at the time, and certainly seemed to pay off in his war with Ish-bosheth, but it certainly also may have set a bad precedent for his family. Solomon married a non-Israelite before he even became king. He married Naamah the Ammonite who gave birth to Rehoboam, and Rehobaom became the king of Judah after Solomon died (1 Kings 14:21). Solomon went on to marry many non-Israelite women, and they greatly contributed to his downfall in life (1 Kings 11:4).(top)
“Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite.” Chileab had a second name, “Daniel” (1 Chron. 3:1).
Abigail had been the wife of Nabal, who was evil and whom David was going to kill, but Abigail interceded for her husband and household and kept David from killing Nabal (1 Sam. 25:2-35). Nabal died, likely of a stroke (1 Sam. 25:37-38), and then David sent and took Abigail as a wife (1 Sam. 25:39-42). Abigail’s son, David’s second son, was likely first named “Daniel” (thus the name in 1 Chron. 3:1). “Daniel” is a compound of “God” (el) and the verb “judge” and would have meant something like, “God has judged,” with the idea being, “God has judged me and found me innocent.” Thus, Daniel was likely given his name because David felt himself innocent in Nabal’s death and in the fact he had taken Nabal’s wife as his own. David noted as much when he said that Yahweh had pleaded his case in the death of Nabal (1 Sam. 25:39).
It is likely that in time “Daniel” was given the name “Chileab,” which means “like the father” (Jewish Study Bible: Tanakh Translation, Jewish Publication Society), which would have happened if Chileab was known to be like his father in certain ways. Nothing is known about Chileab other than that he was David’s second son. He almost certainly died young. Neither Absalom, David’s third son, or Adonijah, David’s fourth son, saw Chileab as being in the way in their bids for David’s throne, which Chileab would have been had he been alive.(top)
|2Sa 3:4||- (top)|
|2Sa 3:5||- (top)|
“gaining strength.” In this context this refers to Abner’s gaining political power and authority.(top)
“a concubine whose name was Rizpah.” It is possible that Saul had only one concubine, because she is the only one named, and it is not clear why she was called a “concubine” and not a wife. Was she a slave? It is possible that Saul did not formally marry her. In any case, she lived a very unfortunate life. She lost her husband and benefactor when Saul died, apparently did not develop any lasting relation with Abner (and in any case he died too), and then her two sons, both by Saul, were executed for Saul’s sin (2 Sam. 21:8).
“Why did you.” Ish-bosheth challenged Abner because in Eastern culture when a king was killed or deposed the successor claimed the right to his wives and concubines. Saul was dead and Abner had sex with Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines. Ish-bosheth thought that Abner was positioning himself to claim the throne; and he may have been doing just that in case something happened to Ish-bosheth.
“go into.” In this context this is an idiom for sexual intercourse.(top)
“Am I a dog’s head.” It is unclear why Abner used this expression. It may have simply been because dogs were unclean animals and known to be backbiters (and they were also sexually promiscuous) and they were looked down upon in biblical society (unlike today when dogs are loved and considered faithful companions). Some fanciful explanations have been made to try to explain the expression, but there is no good reason not to take it at face value and admit we do not know why Abner used it.
“loyalty.” The Hebrew word is checed (#02617 חֶסֶד), and it has a wide range of meanings, but its basic meaning is covenant loyalty. However, it was also used of loyalty and the actions associated with loyalty, thus the translation “kindness” in many English versions. There is no indication in the text that Abner and Saul made a covenant together, so the REV simply has “loyalty” here.
Abner could have indeed transferred the whole kingdom to David, something he now tried to do, but he had not moved in that direction because of his loyalty to Saul, so he was greatly insulted that Ish-bosheth would basically accuse him of trying to take Saul’s throne by sleeping with Rizpah. It is not clear why Abner slept with Rizpah. It does not seem he was trying to take Saul’s throne by stealth, and he knew the prophecies that David would be king. Perhaps it was as simple as the fact that she was beautiful and available.
“have not delivered you into the hand of David.” Surprising words from the mouth of Abner! This shows that he knew about God’s condemnation of Saul and the promise that David would be king (1 Sam. 13:13-14; 15:26-28, and 1 Sam. 15:35-16:14), but why he had not acted on that earlier is unknown other than what he said was his loyalty to Saul. In any case, Ish-bosheth’s criticism of Abner changed his position and he began to work to turn the kingdom over to David.
This incident is a clear example in the Word of God showing the power of words. Because of this one reproof by Ish-bosheth, Abner’s direction in life changed. No wonder there are so many verses in the Bible about being careful with our words and what we say.
“this woman.” Abner does not mention Rizpah by name, but calls her “this woman,” which in this context is a reflection of the lower cultural status of women at the time, something that shows up in many verses in 1 and 2 Samuel.(top)
|2Sa 3:9||- (top)|
|2Sa 3:10||- (top)|
“Ish-bosheth.” The Hebrew text reads, “he,” but the name “Ish-bosheth” is inserted for clarity, as it is in many modern versions.(top)
“Whose is the land.” Exactly what Abner meant by that statement is debated, but the most likely explanation is that Abner knew Yahweh had given the land to David, which is why he wanted to cut a covenant with David, but Abner also knew that there was a lot of work to be done to bring the tribes of Israel firmly under David’s hand and so David would want to make a covenant with Abner. The terms of the covenant are never mentioned but it likely involved Abner having a position of power in David’s kingdom.(top)
|2Sa 3:13||- (top)|
“Give me my wife Michal.” This seems cruel since David had other wives and Michal seemed to be happily with the man Phaltiel, but in the culture, once David became king over Israel he could not afford to have a wife (there had been no divorce) with any other man in the kingdom because if she had a child people could claim it was David’s and set up a rival to the throne. David knew this and so said he would not meet with Abner unless Michal was returned to him. Along with that, David’s being reunited with Michal reconnected him to the house of Saul and thus in one way legitimatized David’s rule over the kingdom of Israel once ruled by Saul.
The Law of Moses forbade a man from marrying a woman, divorcing her, then remarrying her (Deut. 24:1-4). Since David does generally obey the Mosaic Law, the fact that David reunites with Michal is a strong indication that he never divorced her, but her father, king Saul, took her from David when he had the chance when David had to flee for his life (1 Sam. 19:14-18). Saul gave Michal to Phaltiel, but she was not legally divorced from David at the time, a point specifically made in Scripture (1 Sam. 25:44). But at that time in his life Saul was ignoring and defying the Word of God in many different ways, and that was just one more way that Saul disobeyed God.(top)
“took her from her husband.” In a very real sense Phaltiel brought trouble upon himself when he agreed to marry Michal. He had to know that she was married to David. Now that bad decision comes back to cause him (and everyone involved) trouble.(top)
“Bahurim.” Ancient Bahurim was just east of Mount Scopus, which is just north of the Mount of Olives and connected to it by a lower saddle between the mountains. Thus, Abner had given Phaltiel plenty of time and miles to deal with reality and return back home. In another mile or so, immediately south of Jerusalem, Abner would leave the tribal area of Benjamin and be in the tribal area of Judah where the locals might not be so friendly, so he told Phaltiel to go back home. Abner had another 30 miles or so to reach Hebron, so he was still more than a day’s march away from David.
“And he returned.” Phaltiel would have been killed had he not left, and he knew that. Abner would never have let him jeopardize the reunification of the tribes of Israel, and besides, he was not legally married to Michal anyway.(top)
“elders of Israel.” These would have been elders from the various tribes of Israel who were recognized as leaders by their respective tribes.
“Even yesterday, even before.” Abner uses language that reminds the people that it was not that long ago they loved David and followed him (1 Sam. 18:16). The Hebrew text, which is idiomatic and choppy in English, is smoothed out in most English versions, but the way Abner speaks and the force of it seems important to present.(top)
“By the hand of my servant David.” There is no place in Scripture where this prophecy and promise was specifically stated, but the fact that the elders did not challenge it and agreed to follow David means that in essence it was well known.
“out of the hand of the Philistines.” There are likely many things that Abner said when he met with the elders of Israel, but it is clear from what is in Scripture that he spoke in terms of their interests and what they wanted, and they certainly wanted to be delivered from the threat of the Philistines, which David did when he became king.(top)
|2Sa 3:19||- (top)|
“banquet.” The Hebrew is mishteh (#04960 מִשְׁתֶּה). It is a banquet with lots of wine. Everett Fox (The Schocken Bible) translates it “drinkfest.”(top)
|2Sa 3:21||- (top)|
“Just then.” The Hebrew text reads, “And, behold,” but in this context it has the force of “just then.”
“the servants of David.” In this context, men of David’s army.(top)
“it was told to.” The person or persons is unnamed, which shifts the focus to the message and not the messenger.(top)
“gone, yes, gone.” The Hebrew text has the figure of speech polyptoton. [For more on the figure polyptoton see E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech Used in the Bible, and for more on the figure and the way the REV translates it, see commentary on Gen. 2:16].(top)
“your going out and your coming in.” This is spoken as an idiom and technically is the figure of speech polarmerismos. Polarmerismos occurs when two extremes are used to represent a whole. Here, “going out and coming in” represents the two extremes of life, such as when a person goes out in the morning and comes back in at night. In this context it means all that you are doing, which is doubled for emphasis in the last phrase of the verse: “know all that you are doing.” Joab was adamant that Abner only came to David to spy on what he was doing and gain an advantage in elevating Ish-Bosheth to the throne over Israel. For a similar use of polarmerismos, see 1 Kings 3:7.(top)
“the well of Sirah.” According to ancient witnesses and modern historians and archaeologists, this is almost certainly a place about 2.5 miles northeast of Hebron. This means that when Joab came back from raiding and met David, Abner had just left, which is supported by 2 Samuel 3:22, which indicates that that is what happened. The fact that Abner did not get very far was likely one reason Abner agreed to go back to Hebron.(top)
“he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother.” This gives us at least one reason Joab killed Abner; the ancient right of the avenger of blood and the blood feud. Although Abner killed Joab’s brother Asahel in a war, the fact still remains he killed Joab’s brother, and Joab would not forgive it.(top)
|2Sa 3:28||- (top)|
“and on all his father’s house.” David’s saying the bloodguilt for the death of Abner should alight on all Joab’s “father’s house” implicates Joab’s brother Abishai as well, and we learn from 2 Samuel 3:30 that Abishai was part of the plot to kill Abner. The Bible does not say what part Abishai played in Abner’s death; perhaps he was part of the delegation that brought Abner back to Hebron. David asks that the blood of Abner alight on all “his father’s house,” and he says that knowing that Joab’s mother is his sister, Zeruiah (2 Sam. 2:18; 1 Chron. 2:15-16), and therefore Joab and Abishai are his nephews.
“Let there not fail from the house of Joab.” This curse pronounced by David is very serious and is multigenerational. No doubt Joab committed murder, but does that warrant a curse upon his descendants forever such that they are sick, diseased, and hungry? This seems to be one of the places where David’s emotions overpowered his good judgment.
David pronounced a curse, but he did not move to execute Joab as a murderer, perhaps because of the ancient law of the avenger of blood, and that it could be argued that Joab acted as the avenger of blood for his brother Asahel. But it seems clear that Abner did not feel he needed protection from an avenger of blood because if he had then he would have gone to live in one of the cities of refuge in Israel, and apparently David did not feel that way either because if he had, he would not have had Abner come to Hebron to meet him.
“who holds a crutch.” The scholars debate whether this should be “crutch” or “spindle,” and the versions and commentaries are divided. Those who argue for “crutch” point out that it fits well in the context and there is lexical grounds for the translation (cp. CJB, JPS, NIV, NLT). Those who argue for “spindle” also say that it fits well in the context—a curse that Joab’s male descendants would not be warriors but would do women’s work—and also claim lexical support for their position (cp. HCSB, ESV, NET, NRSV). The decision is difficult, and what David meant is still uncertain. The REV went with “crutch” in part because to have “spindle” means importing the idea that this part of the curse only applied to the male descendants of Joab since the women regularly worked with spindles, but David’s curse is on the whole house of Joab, men and women.(top)
“Joab and Abishai…killed Abner.” See commentary on 2 Samuel 3:29.(top)
|2Sa 3:31||- (top)|
|2Sa 3:32||- (top)|
“godless fool” The Hebrew noun translated “godless fool” is nabal (#05036 נָבָל). “The substantival adjective נָבָל, nabal, denotes the most extreme kind of ‘fool.’ Such fools reject the very existence of God and mock him as if he were powerless” (Andrew Steinmann, Concordia Commentary: 2 Samuel).(top)
|2Sa 3:34||- (top)|
|2Sa 3:35||- (top)|
“good in their eyes.” And idiom meaning it was good to them, it pleased them. What David did pleased the people.(top)
|2Sa 3:37||- (top)|
|2Sa 3:38||- (top)|
“too hard.” The Hebrew is qasheh (#07186 קָשֶׁה), in this context, too hard, rough, severe; perhaps also cruel.(top)