Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 3:1
"And the war became long (was protracted) between the house of Saul and the house of David; but David became stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul weaker and weaker." הלך, when connected with another verb or with an adjective, expresses the idea of the gradual progress of an affair (vid., Ges. 131, 3, Anm. 3). The historian sums up in these words the historical course of the two royal houses, as they stood opposed to one another. "The war" does not mean continual fighting, but the state of hostility or war in which they continued to stand towards one another. They concluded no peace, so that David was not recognised by Ishbosheth as king, any more than Ishbosheth by David. Not only is there nothing said about any continuance of actual warfare by Abner or Ishbosheth after the loss of the battle at Gibeon, but such a thing was very improbable in itself, as Ishbosheth was too weak to be able to carry on the war, whilst David waited with firm reliance upon the promise of the Lord, until all Israel should come over to him.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 3:2
Growth of the House of David. - Proof of the advance of the house of David is furnished by the multiplication of his family at Hebron. The account of the sons who were born to David at Hebron does not break the thread, as Clericus, Thenius, and others suppose, but is very appropriately introduced here, as a practical proof of the strengthening of the house of David, in harmony with the custom of beginning the history of the reign of every king with certain notices concerning his family (vid., Sa2 5:13.; Kg1 3:1; Kg1 14:21; Kg1 15:2, Kg1 15:9, etc.). We have a similar list of the sons of David in Ch1 3:1-4. The first two sons were born to him from the two wives whom he had brought with him to Hebron (Sa1 25:42-43). The Chethibh וילדו is probably only a copyist's error for ויּוּלדוּ, which is the reading in many Codices. From Ahinoam - the first-born, Amnon (called Aminon in Sa2 13:20); from Abigail - the second, Chileab. The latter is also called Daniel in Ch1 3:1, and therefore had probably two names. The lamed before Ahinoam and the following names serves as a periphrasis for the genitive, like the German von, in consequence of the word son being omitted (vid., Ewald, 292, a.). The other four were by wives whom he had married in Hebron: Absalom by Maachah, the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur, a small kingdom in the north-east of Bashan (see at Deu 3:14); Adonijah by Haggith; Shephatiah by Abital; and Ithream by Eglah. The origin of the last three wives is unknown. The clause appended to Eglah's name, viz., "David's wife," merely serves as a fitting conclusion to the whole list (Bertheau on Ch1 3:3), and is not added to show that Eglah was David's principal wife, which would necessitate the conclusion drawn by the Rabbins, that Michal was the wife intended.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 3:6
Decline of the House of Saul. - Sa2 3:6-11. Abner's quarrel with Ishbosheth. - During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner adhered firmly to the house of Saul, but he appropriated one of Saul's concubines to himself. When Ishbosheth charged him with this, he fell into so violent a rage, that he at once announced to Ishbosheth his intention to hand over the kingdom to David. Abner had certainly perceived the utter incapacity of Ishbosheth for a very long time, if not from the very outset, and had probably made him king after the death of Saul, merely that he might save himself from the necessity of submitting to David, and might be able to rule in Ishbosheth's name, and possibly succeed in paving his own way to the throne. His appropriation of the concubine of the deceased monarch was at any rate a proof, according to Israelitish notions, and in fact those generally prevalent in the East, that he was aiming at the throne (vid., Sa2 16:21; Kg1 2:21). But it may gradually have become obvious to him, that the house of Saul could not possibly retain the government in opposition to David; and this may have led to his determination to persuade all the Israelites to acknowledge David, and thereby to secure for himself an influential post under his government. This will explain in a very simple manner Abner's falling away from Ishbosheth and going over to David.
Sa2 3:6 and Sa2 3:7 constitute one period, expanded by the introduction of circumstantial clauses, the ויהי (it came to pass) of the protasis being continued in the ויּאמר (he said) of Sa2 3:7. "It came to pass, when there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, and Abner showed himself strong for the house of Saul, and Saul had a concubine named Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, that he (Ishbosheth) said to Abner, Why hast thou gone to my father's concubine?" The subject to "said" is omitted in the apodosis; but it is evident from Sa2 3:8, and the expression "my father," that Ishbosheth is to be supplied. Even in the second circumstantial clause, "and Saul had a concubine," the reason why this is mentioned is only to be gathered from Ishbosheth's words. בּ התחזק: to prove one's self strong for, or with, a person, i.e., to render him powerful help. אל בּוא means "to cohabit with." It was the exclusive right of the successor to the throne to cohabit with the concubines of the deceased king, who came down to him as part of the property which he inherited.
Abner was so enraged at Ishbosheth's complaint, that he replied, "Am I a dog's head, holding with Judah? To-day (i.e., at present) I show affection to the house of Saul thy father, towards his brethren and his friends, and did not let thee fall into the hand of David, and thou reproachest me to-day with the fault with the woman?" "Dog's head" is something thoroughly contemptible. ליהוּדה עשׁר, lit. which (belongs) to Judah, i.e., holds with Judah.
"God do so to Abner, ... as Jehovah hath sworn to David, so will I do to him." The repetition of כּי serves to introduce the oath, as in Sa2 2:27. "To take away the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba." We do not know of any oath with which God had promised the kingdom to David; but the promise of God in itself is equivalent to an oath, as God is the true God, who can neither lie nor deceive (Sa1 15:29; Num 23:19). This promise was generally known in Israel. "From Dan to Beersheba" (as in Jdg 20:1).
Ishbosheth could make no reply to these words of Abner, "because he was afraid of him."
Abner goes over to David. - Sa2 3:12. Abner soon carried out his threat to Ishbosheth. He sent messengers to David in his stead (not "on the spot," or immediately, a rendering adopted by the Chaldee and Symmachus, but for which no support can be found) with this message: "Whose is the land?" i.e., to whom does it belong except to thee? and, "Make a covenant with me; behold, so is my hand with thee (i.e., so will I stand by thee), to turn all Israel to thee."
David assented to the proposal on this condition: "Only one thing do I require of thee, namely, Thou shalt not see my face, unless thou first of all bringest me Michal, the daughter of Saul, when thou comest to see my face." הביאך אם־לפני כּי, "except before thy bringing," i.e., unless when thou hast first of all brought or delivered "Michal to me." This condition was imposed by David, not only because Michal had been unjustly taken away from him by Saul, after he had rightfully acquired her for his wife by paying the dowry demanded, and in spite of her love to him (Sa1 18:27; Sa1 19:11-12), and given to another man (Sa1 25:44), so that he could demand her back again with perfect justice, and Ishbosheth could not refuse to give her up to him, but probably on political grounds also, namely, because the renewal of his marriage to the king's daughter would show to all Israel that he cherished no hatred in his heart towards the fallen king.
Thereupon, namely when Abner had assented to this condition, David sent messengers to Ishbosheth with this demand: "Give (me) my wife Michal, whom I espoused to me for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines" (see Sa1 18:25, Sa1 18:27). David sent to Ishbosheth to demand the restoration of Michal, that her return might take place in a duly legal form, "that it might be apparent that he had dealt justly with Paltiel in the presence of his king, and that he had received his wife back again, and had not taken her by force from her husband" (Seb. Schmidt).
Ishbosheth probably sent Abner to Gallim (Sa1 25:44) to fetch Michal from her husband Paltiel (see at Sa1 25:44), and take her back to David. The husband was obliged to consent to this separation.
When he went with his wife, weeping behind her, to Bahurim, Abner commanded him to turn back; "and he returned." Bahurim, Shimei's home (Sa2 19:17; Kg1 2:8), was situated, according to Sa2 16:1, Sa2 16:5, and Sa2 17:18, upon the road from Jerusalem to Gilgal, in the valley of the Jordan, not far from the Mount of Olives, and is supposed by v. Schubert (R. iii. p. 70) to have stood upon the site of the present Abu Dis, though in all probability it is to be sought for farther north (see Rob. Pal. ii. p. 103). Paltiel had therefore followed his wife to the border of the tribe of Judah, or of the kingdom of David.
But before Abner set out to go to David, he had spoken to the elders of Israel (the tribes generally, with the exception of Benjamin see Sa2 3:19 and Judah): "Both yesterday and the day before yesterday (i.e., a long time ago), ye desired to have David as king over you. Now carry out your wish: for Jehovah hath spoken concerning David, Through my servant David will I save my people Israel out of the power of the Philistines and all their enemies." הושׁיע is an evident mistake in writing for אושׁיע, which is found in many MSS, and rendered in all the ancient versions.
Abner had spoken in the same way in the ears of Benjamin. He spoke to the Benjaminites more especially, because the existing royal family belonged to that tribe, and they had reaped many advantages in consequence (vid., Sa1 22:7). The verb היה in the circumstantial clause (Sa2 3:17), and the verb וידבּר in Sa2 3:19, which serves as a continuation of the circumstantial clause, must be translated as pluperfects, since Abner's interview with the elders of Israel and with Benjamin preceded his interview with David at Hebron. We may see from Abner's address to the elders, that even among the northern tribes the popular voice had long since decided for David. In 1 Chron 12 we have historical proofs of this. The word of Jehovah concerning David, which is mentioned in Sa2 3:18, is not met with anywhere in this precise form in the history of David as it has come down to us. Abner therefore had either some expression used by one of the prophets (Samuel or Gad) in his mind, which he described as the word of Jehovah, or else he regarded the anointing of David by Samuel in accordance with the command of the Lord, and the marvellous success of all that David attempted against the enemies of Israel, as a practical declaration on the part of God, that David, as the appointed successor of Saul, would perform what the Lord had spoken to Samuel concerning Saul (Sa1 9:16), but what Saul had not fulfilled on account of his rebellion against the commandments of the Lord.
When Abner had gained over the elders of Israel and Benjamin to recognise David as king, he went to Hebron to speak in the ears of David "all that had pleased Israel and the whole house of Benjamin," i.e., to make known to him their determination to acknowledge him as king. There went with him twenty men as representatives of all Israel, to confirm Abner's statements by their presence; and David prepared a meal for them all.
After the meal, Abner said to David, "I will raise and go and gather together all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with thee (i.e., do homage to thee before God as king), and thou mayest become king over all that thy soul desireth," i.e., over all the nation of God; whereupon David took leave of him, and Abner went away in peace. The expression "in peace" serves to prepare the way for what follows. It is not stated, however, that David sent him away in peace (without avenging himself upon him), but that "David sent him away, and he went in peace." Apart altogether from the mildness of David's own character, he had no reason whatever for treating Abner as an enemy, now that he had given up all opposition to his reigning, and had brought all the Israelites over to him. What Abner had done for Ishbosheth, including his fighting against David, was indeed a sinful act of resistance to the will of Jehovah, which was not unknown to him, and according to which Samuel had both called and anointed David king over the nation; but for all that, it was not an ordinary act of rebellion against the person of David and his rightful claim to the throne, because Jehovah had not yet caused David to be set before the nation as its king by Samuel or any other prophet, and David had not yet asserted the right to reign over all Israel, which had been secured to him by the Lord and guaranteed by his anointing, as one which the nation was bound to recognise; but, like a true servant of God, he waited patiently till the Lord should give him the dominion over all His people.
Abner assassinated by Joab. - Sa2 3:22. After Abner's departure, the servants of David returned with much booty from a marauding expedition, and Joab at their head. The singular בּא may be explained from the fact that Joab was the principal person in the estimation of the writer. מהגּדוּד, lit. from the marauding host, i.e., from the work of a marauding host, or from a raid, which they had been making upon one of the tribes bordering upon Judah.
When Joab learned. Lit. they told him) that Abner had been with David, and he had sent him away again, he went to David to reproach him for having done so. "What hast thou done? Behold, Abner came to thee; why then hast thou sent him away, and he is gone quite away?" i.e., so that he could go away again without being detained (for this meaning of the inf. abs., see Ewald, 280, b.). "Thou knowest (or more correctly as a question, Dost thou know?) Abner, the son of Ner, that he came to persuade thee (i.e., to make thee certain of his intentions), and to learn thy going out and in (i.e., all thine undertakings), and to learn all that thou wilt do" (i.e., all thy plans). Joab hoped in this way to prejudice David against Abner, to make him suspected as a traitor, that he might then be able to gratify his own private revenge with perfect impunity.
For Abner had only just gone away from David, when Joab sent messengers after him, no doubt in David's name, though without his knowledge, and had him fetched back "from Bor-hasirah, i.e., the cistern of Sirah." Sirah is a place which is quite unknown to us. According to Josephus (Ant. vii. 1, 5), it was twenty stadia from Hebron, and called Βησιρά.
When he came back, Joab "took him aside into the middle of the gate, to talk with him in the stillness," i.e., in private, and there thrust him through the body, so that he died "for the blood of Asahel his brother," i.e., for having put Asahel to death (Sa2 2:23).
When David heard this, he said, "I and my kingdom are innocent before Jehovah for ever of the blood of Abner. Let it turn (חוּל, to twist one's self, to turn or fall, irruit) upon the head of Joab and all his father's house (or so-called family)! Never shall there be wanting (יכּרת אל, let there not be cut off, so that there shall not be, as in Jos 9:23) in the house of Joab one that hath an issue (vid., Lev 15:2), and a leper, and one who leans upon a stick (i.e., a lame person or cripple; פּלך, according to the lxx σκυτάλη, a thick round staff), and who falls by the sword, and who is in want of bread," The meaning is: May God avenge the murder of Abner upon Joab and his family, by punishing them continually with terrible diseases, violent death, and poverty. To make the reason for this fearful curse perfectly clear, the historian observes in Sa2 3:30, that Joab and his brother Abishai had murdered Abner, "because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle" (Sa2 2:23). This act of Joab, in which Abishai must have been in some way concerned, was a treacherous act of assassination, which could not even be defended as blood-revenge, since Abner had slain Asahel in battle after repeated warnings, and only for the purpose of saving his own life. The principal motive for Joab's act was the most contemptible jealousy, or the fear lest Abner's reconciliation to David should diminish his own influence with the king, as was the case again at a later period with the murder of Amasa (Sa2 20:10).
David's mourning for Abner's death. - Sa2 3:31, Sa2 3:32. To give a public proof of his grief at this murder, and his displeasure at the crime in the sight of all the nation, David commanded Joab, and all the people with him (David), i.e., all his courtiers, and the warriors who returned with Joab, to institute a public mourning for the deceased, by tearing their clothes, putting on sackcloth, i.e., coarse hairy mourning and penitential clothes, and by a funeral dirge for Abner; i.e., he commanded them to walk in front of Abner's bier mourning and in funeral costume, and to accompany the deceased to his resting-place, whilst David as king followed the bier.
Thus they buried Abner at Hebron; and David wept aloud at his grave, and all the people with him.
Although the appointment of such a funeral by David, and his tears at Abner's grave, could not fail to divest the minds of his opponents of all suspicion that Joab had committed the murder with his cognizance (see at Sa2 3:37), he gave a still stronger proof of his innocence, and of the sincerity of his grief, by the ode which he composed for Abner's death:
33 Like an ungodly man must Abner die!
34 Thy hands were not bound, and thy feet were not placed in fetters.
As one falls before sinners, so hast thou fallen!
The first strophe (Sa2 3:33) is an expression of painful lamentation at the fact that Abner had died a death which he did not deserve. "The fool" (nabal) is "the ungodly," according to Israelitish ideas (vid., Psa 14:1). The meaning of Sa2 3:34 is: Thou hadst not made thyself guilty of any crime, so as to have to die like a malefactor, in chains and bonds; but thou hast been treacherously murdered. This dirge made such an impression upon all the people (present), that they wept still more for the dead.
But David mourned so bitterly, that when all the people called upon him to take some food during the day, he declared with an oath that he would not taste bread or anything else before the setting of the sun. לחם הברות does not mean, as in Sa2 13:5, to give to eat, on account of the expression "all the people," as it can hardly be imagined that all the people, i.e., all who were present, could have come to bring David food, but it signifies to make him eat, i.e., call upon him to eat; whilst it is left uncertain whether David was to eat with the people (cf. Sa2 12:17), i.e., to take part in the funeral meal that was held after the burial, or whether the people simply urged him to take some food, for the purpose of soothing his own sorrow. אם כּי are to be taken separately: כּי, ὅτι, introducing the oath, and אם being the particle used in an oath: "if," i.e., assuredly not.
"And all the people perceived it (i.e., his trouble), and it pleased them, as everything that the king did pleased all the people."
All the people (sc., who were with the king) and all Israel discerned on that day (from David's deep and heartfelt trouble), that the death of Abner had not happened (proceeded) from the king, as many may probably at first have supposed, since Joab had no doubt fetched Abner back in David's name.
Finally, David said to his (confidential) servants: "Know ye not (i.e., surely perceive) that a prince and great man has this day fallen in Israel?" This sentence shows how thoroughly David could recognise the virtues possessed by his opponents, and how very far he was from looking upon Abner as a traitor, because of his falling away from Ishbosheth and coming over to him, that on the contrary he hoped to find in him an able general and a faithful servant. He would at once have punished the murderer of such a man, if he had only possessed the power. "But," he adds, "I am this day (still) weak, and only anointed king; and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too strong for me. The Lord reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness." The expression "to-day" not only applies to the word "weak," or tender, but also to "anointed" (to-day, i.e., only just anointed). As David was still but a young sovereign, and felt himself unable to punish a man like Joab according to his deserts, he was obliged to restrict himself at first to the utterance of a curse upon the deed (Sa2 3:29), and to leave the retribution to God. He could not and durst not forgive; and consequently, before he died, he charged Solomon, his son and successor, to punish Joab for the murder of Abner and Amasa (Kg1 2:5).