2 Samuel 2


The Emergence of David’s Monarchy (2:1-9:13)

David Becomes King of Judah

      • Afterward David inquired of Yahweh: “Should I go up to one of the cities of Judah?” Yahweh answered, “Go.” Then David asked, “Where should I go?” He said, “To Hebron.” So David went up with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. He also brought his men who were with him and their families, and they settled in the cities of Hebron. Then the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.

        • ESV Archaeology Study Bible writes, “David likely used the sacred lots stored in the ephod [Urim and Thummim] to inquire of the Lord…Hebron was a desirable city for many reasons. It sat halfway between Bethsheeba and Jerusalem at a major crossroad, about half a mile above sea level. Over two dozen natural springs surrounded Hebron, providing its inhabitants with a continuous and reliable water supply. Hebron also figured prominently in Israel’s history. It was here that Abram pitched his tent after God promised the land of Canaan to him and his descendants (Gen 35:27), and that Sarah died and was buried (Gen 23:2, 19)…”

      • ESV Study Bible adds, “Judah makes David its king. Saul’s general Abner, however, seeks to restore Saul’s kingdom with Saul’s son Ishbosheth as king…Judah has apparently decided that having a king is a good thing; but rather than seeking out a relative of Saul (who was from the tribe of Benjamin, 1 Sam 9:1), the people choose one of their own as king, the hero David, who was chosen by the Lord (1 Sam 16:1-23; 25:30). Even in Saul’s time, Judah formed a separate part of the army (1 Sam 11:8; 15:4), and now it was prepared to act independently from the rest of Israel.”

    • When David was told that, “It was the men of Jabesh-Gilead who buried Saul,” he sent messengers to them saying: “May you be blessed by Yahweh because you showed this loyalty to your lord, Saul, by burying him. Now, may Yahweh show loyalty and steadfast love to you. I also will reward you because you have done this. Therefore be strong, and be valiant, because your lord Saul is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me as king over them.”

      • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Jabesh-Gilead represented a strong constituency of Saul since he rescued them (1 Sa 11). David is arguing that since Saul and his family are dead, there is no further loyalty owed to them; they have ‘repaid’ Saul by giving him proper burial, and David will see to their defense in the same way Saul had. By gaining favor from these staunch supporters of Saul, David hopes to sway others to follow him as well.”

      • ESV Study Bible agrees, adding, “David seems to be presenting himself as Saul’s successor and suggesting that Jabesh-gilead should enter into a treaty relationship with Judah; Gilead, however, soon becomes part of Ishbosheth’s kingdom (2 Sam 2:8-9). David is not motivated by mere politics when he sends messengers to Jabesh-gilead. He is moved by their faithfulness toward their mutual sovereign and wants to reward them with blessings from the Lord and with his own work on their behalf.”

Ishbosheth Made King of Israel

      • But Abner, Ner’s son and the commander of Saul’s army, took Saul’s son Ishbosheth, and brought him to Mahanaim. He proclaimed him king over Gilead, the Geshurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel. Saul’s son Ishbosheth was 40 years old when he began to rule over Israel and he reigned for 2 years. The house of Judah, however, followed David. David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah for 7 years and six months.

        • On whether Ishbosheth’s rule included the Geshurites or Ashurites, NET Bible’s text critical notes writes, “The MT here reads ‘the Ashurite,’ but this is problematic if it is taken to mean ‘the Assyrian.’ Ish Bosheth’s kingdom obviously was not of such proportions as to extend to Assyria. The Syriac Peshitta and the Vulgate render the word as ‘the Geshurite,’ while the Targum has ‘of the house of Ashur.’ We should probably emend the Hebrew text to read ‘the Geshurite.’ The Geshurites lived in the northeastern part of the land of Palestine.”

      • ESV Study Bible says, “Abner tries to continue Saul’s kingdom, even on a reduced scale…From these verses and 3:9, it appears that Ishbosheth was little more than a puppet for Abner. Mahanaim, a city on the Jabbok River, was apparently the capital of Gilead. The fact that the capital had to be in Transjordan suggests the precariousness of Ishbosheth’s reign. Gilead and the Ashurites and Jezreel refers to the northern and Transjordanian part of the country, Ephraim and Benjamin to the central and main part. Ishbosheth did not necessarily have real control over all this area, especially since the Philistines apparently were in the Jezreel valley (1 Sam 31:7). All Israel is a summary description of the area just mentioned.”

      • On Ishbosheth, the HCSB writes, “Two, or possibly three, different names appear in the Bible for the son of Saul who became a rival to David. Throughout 2 Sm he is called Ish-bosheth, but in 1 Ch (8:33; 9:39) he is referred to as Esh-baal. Since Esh-baal means ‘Man of Baal’ or ‘Fire of Baal,’ the writer of 2 Sm apparently substituted bosheth (‘shame’ or ‘abomination’) for ba’al in his name to avoid mentioning the title of the pagan god (see Ex 23:13; Jos 23:7). A third name applied to this son may be Ishvi (1 Sm 14:49). The Hebrew word ba’al means ‘husband’ or ‘lord,’ hence it could have applied to Yahweh. (cp. Hs 2:16). Saul need not have been honoring a Canaanite divinity in giving the name to his son. But because the title was so closely associated with pagan worship, the biblical narrator was led to make a substitution.”

Civil War Between Israel and Judah

      • Abner, Ner’s son, and the troops of Saul’s son Ishbosheth, marched out from Mahanaim and went to Gibeon. Joab, Zeruiah’s son, and David’s troops marched out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. One group stationed themselves on one side of the pool and the other group on the other side of the pool. Abner said to Joab, “Let’s have the young men get up and compete in front of us.” Joab replied, “So be it.”

      • ESV Study Bible provides some context:

        • Gibeon is about 6 miles north- northwest of Jerusalem. The ‘pool’ (v. 13) is probably the huge round cistern cut into the rock on the north side of the site of Gibeon. Excavations at Gibeon have uncovered an elaborate water system. One part of the system is a large, circular shaft (37 feet in diameter), which was cut into bedrock to a depth of 82 feet. At the bottom was the water table that formed a pool. The pool was reached by a staircase also cut into the limestone. This is probably the pool mentioned in the present text (cf. Jer 41:12).”

Pool of Gibeon

        • This marks the first appearance of Joab the son of Zeruiah, though Abishai was referred to as his brother in 1 Sam 26:6. Joab was commander over the army (2 Sam 8:16) and appears frequently in 2 Samuel, often as a mover of events. Since Abner knows him and his brothers well (2:20-22), Joab probably came to Saul’s court soon after David’s rise to prominence. He was one of the three sons (Joab, Abishai, and Asahel) of David’s sister Zeruiah, and thus was David’s nephew (v. 18). Joab’s father probably died young, since he had a grave in Bethlehem (v. 32) and it was unusual for a man to be known by his mother’s name. Zeruiah is not identified in Samuel, but according to 1 Chron 2:16, she and Abigail, the mother of Amasa (2 Sam 17:25), were sisters of David and his brothers. Abigail is identified in 2 Sam 17:25 as ‘the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah.’ Therefore, it appears that Abigail and probably Zeruiah were maternal half sisters of David by an earlier marriage of their mother. (David’s sister Abigail is a different Abigail from Nabal’s wife, who later became David’s wife…)”

      • NET Bible’s text critical notes this clarification of the text has in view regarding the competition of these young men, “Heb ‘play.’ What is in view here is a gladiatorial contest in which representative groups of soldiers engage in mortal combat before the watching armies. Cf. NAB ‘perform for us’; NASB ‘hold (have NRSV) a contest before us’; NLT ‘put on an exhibition of hand-to-hand combat.’”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible counters this understanding with the following, “More likely, however, what we have here is an example of representative combat by a team of select warriors to decide the fates of opposing armies. The concept of representative combat has been encountered already in the context of David and Goliath, where David gained a decisive victory, killing Goliath and putting the Philistine army to flight… The line between two understandings of this contest, mock fighting or contest of champions, should perhaps not be too sharply drawn- one need only think of medieval jousting to understand that the line between sport and battle may have been thin. The purpose of ‘single combat’ or ‘representative combat’ was to decide victory without the necessity of wider bloodshed. The outcome here was decidedly inconclusive…”

    • So they got up and were counted off- 12 for Benjamin and Saul’s son Ishbosheth, and 12 from David’s troops. Then, each man grasped his opponent by the head and thrust his sword into his opponent’s side, so that they all fell dead together. Therefore, that place in Gibeon was called Helkath Hazzurim.

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “The meaning of the name ‘Helkath Hazzurim’ (so NIV; KJV, NASB, NRSV similar) is not clear. BHK relates the name to the Hebrew term for ‘side,’ and this is reflected in NAB ‘the Field of the Sides’; the Greek OT revocalizes the Hebrew to mean something like ‘Field of Adversaries.’ Cf. also TEV, NLT ‘Field of Swords’; CEV ‘Field of Daggers.’”

      • The battle that day was very fierce, and Abner and the troops of Israel were defeated by David’s troops. Zeruiah’s three sons were there: Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was a fast runner- like a wild gazelle. He chased Abner, not turning to the right or left as he pursued him.

      • Then Abner turned and asked, “Is that you, Asahel?” Asahel replied, “Yes it is.” Abner said to him, “Turn aside to the right or left. Seize one of the troops and take his spoil.” But Asahel wouldn’t stop chasing him. So Abner said again, “Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you down? How could I ever look your brother Joab in the face?” But Asahel refused to turn aside. So Abner struck him in the stomach with the back end of his spear and the spear exited his back. He fell and died right there where he was. Everyone who came to the place where Asahel fell and died, stood still.

      • NLT Illustrated Study Bible provides a little clarity, “Abner’s words reflect respect between peers trained for the same career, as well as a sense of fair play. The youthful Asahel would have been no match for the more experienced Abner. Abner also knew that if he killed Asahel, the conflict with David would escalate and David’s forces would seek revenge…”

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible explains why Abner told Asahel to “turn aside” and “seize of the troops and take his spoil,” “The rank or status of a soldier was indicated by the quality of his weapons, which would become the property of the victor if he was defeated in combat. Asahel wants to claim the enemy commander’s gear.”

      • On Abner killing Asahel with the back end of his spear, the NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible writes, “Unless the text should read ‘with a backward thrust,’ then Abner’s ability to kill a man with the butt of his spear reflects both his own physical prowess and the fact that the butt end of spears would have typically been fitted with a metal casing useful for prodding and for sticking the spear into the ground (without damaging the spearhead itself); recall 1 Sa 26:7, where Saul’s spear was ‘stuck in the ground near his head.’ Archaeological excavations have uncovered numerous such end casings, and they can be seen also in wall paintings.”

      • ESV Study Bible adds, “…After this episode the enmity between the surviving sons of Zeruiah and Abner, the killer of Asahel, will be a major factor…Asahel was one of David’s mighty warriors, ‘one of the thirty’ (23:24; see also 1 Chron 11:26; 27:7).”

    • But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner, and as the sun was setting they came to the hill of Ammah, which is near Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. The men of Benjamin rallied behind Abner. Coming together in a single group, they took their stand on the top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab, “Must the sword devour forever? Don’t you realize this will end in bitterness? How long before you order your troops to stop pursuing their brothers?” And Joab replied, “As surely as God lives, if you had not spoken, the troops would not have stopped pursuing their brothers until morning.” So Joab blew the trumpet and all the troops stopped; they didn’t pursue Israel anymore, nor did they fight anymore. All that night, Abner and his men marched through the Jordan Valley. They crossed the Jordan River, then marching all that morning, they arrived at Mahanaim.

      • Joab returned from chasing Abner and gathered all the troops. 19 of David’s men were missing, in addition to Asahel. But David’s men had killed 360 Benjaminites- Abner’s men. They took Asahel to Bethlehem and buried him in his father’s tomb. Then Joab and his men marched all night, arriving at Hebron at daybreak.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, “In Israel’s monarchal period, it was common practice for important families to bury succeeding generations of their dead in rock-cut or cave tombs or tomb complexes…The bones of earlier burials would be either collected in a ‘charnel pit’ or simply pushed to the periphery of the tomb, while the most recently deceased would be placed on a bench shelf…”

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