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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the LORD said unto him, Go up. And David said, Whither shall I go up? And he said, Unto Hebron.
Enquired of the Lord - Through Abiathar, the high priest. The death of Saul and Jonathan had entirely changed David's position, and therefore he needed divine guidance how to act under the new circumstances in which he was placed. Compare the marginal references.
Hebron was well suited for the temporary capital of David's kingdom, being situated in a strong position in the mountains of Judah, amidst David's friends, and withal having especially sacred associations (see the marginal references note). It appears to have also been the center of a district 2 Samuel 2:3.
2So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal's wife the Carmelite.
3And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron.
4And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul.
David had already been anointed by Samuel 1 Samuel 16:13. His first anointing indicated God's secret purpose, his second the accomplishment of that purpose. (Compare the case of Saul, 1 Samuel 10:1; 1 Samuel 11:14.) David was anointed again king over Israel 2 Samuel 5:3. The interval between the anointing of the Lord Jesus as the Christ of God, and His taking to Himself His kingdom and glory, seems to be thus typified.
5And David sent messengers unto the men of Jabeshgilead, and said unto them, Blessed be ye of the LORD, that ye have shewed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul, and have buried him.
6And now the LORD shew kindness and truth unto you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing.
7Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be ye valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them.
8But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim;
Mahanaim - See Genesis 32:2. From 2 Samuel 2:12 it would seem to have been Ish-bosheth's capital.
9And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.
The Ashurites - If the tribe of Asher, the verse indicates the order in which Abner recovered the different districts from the Philistines, and added them to the dominions of Ish-bosheth, beginning with Gilead, and then gradually adding, on the west of Jordan, first the territory of Asher as far as Carmel and the whole plain of Esdraelon, and then the country of Ephraim and Benjamin, being in fact all Israel, as distinguished from Judah; and this reconquest may have occupied five years. Ish-bosheth's reign over Israel may not have been reckoned to begin until the conquest was complete.
10Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David.
Forty ... two - The numerals are somewhat strange. First, as regards the 40 years. Even assuming that Ish-bosheth's reign did not commence until five and a half years after Saul's death, which must have been the case if the two years in the text gives the true length of his reign, it is startling to hear of Saul's younger son being 35 years old at his father's death, born consequently some three years before his father's accession, and five years older than David, the bosom friend of his older brother Jonathan. The age, too, of Jonathan's child, Mephibosheth, who was five years old at his father's death, would lead one to expect rather a less age for his uncle. Next, as regards the two years. Since David (compare 2 Samuel 2:11; and marginal references) reigned seven years in Hebron over Judah only, it follows, if the two years in the text are correct, either that an interval of five years elapsed between Ish-bosheth's death and David's being anointed "king over all Israel," or that a like interval elapsed between Saul's death and the commencement of Ish-bosheth's reign. Of the two the latter is the more probable, and has the advantage of diminishing Ish-bosheth's age by between five and six years. But the narrative in 2 Samuel 3; 2 Samuel 4:1-12 of the "long war," of the birth of David's six sons, and of Abner's conspiracy and death, seems to imply a longer time than two years, in which case both the numerals would have to be corrected.
11And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
12And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon.
This expedition to Gibeon may have been for the purpose of shifting his metropolis to his own tribe of Benjamin, and to his family place, "Gibeah of Saul," close to Gibeon, with the further purpose of attacking the kingdom of David. "To go out" 2 Samuel 2:12-13 is a technical phrase for going out to war 1 Samuel 18:30.
13And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together by the pool of Gibeon: and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.
On the east of the hill (El-jib, the ancient Gibeon) is a copious spring, which issues in a cave excavated in the limestone rock, so as to form a large reservoir. In the trees further down are the remains of a pool or tank of considerable size (120 feet by 110 feet). This is doubtless "the pool of Gibeon."
Sat down - i. e. halted and encamped.
14And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.
Play - (Compare Judges 16:25; 1 Samuel 18:7). Here, the word is applied to the serious game of war, to be played by twelve combatants on each side, with the two armies for spectators.
15Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Benjamin, which pertained to Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.
16And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; so they fell down together: wherefore that place was called Helkathhazzurim, which is in Gibeon.
Compare Livy's history of the battle between the Horatii and Curiatii. This combat, like that, may have been proposed as a means of avoiding the effusion of blood of two nations united by consanguinity, and having a common powerful enemy in the Philistines.
Helkath-hazzurim - i. e. "the part, field, or plat Genesis 23:19 of the sharp edges or blades." This seems, on the whole, the best explanation of this rather obscure name.
17And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.
Neither side had the advantage in the combat of twelve a side; hence, the quarrel was fought out with great fierceness by the two armies, and the victory was won by David.
18And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.
19And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner.
20Then Abner looked behind him, and said, Art thou Asahel? And he answered, I am.
21And Abner said to him, Turn thee aside to thy right hand or to thy left, and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him.
His armour - Rather, as in the margin; i. e. content thyself with the spoil of some inferior soldier for a trophy.
22And Abner said again to Asahel, Turn thee aside from following me: wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?
23Howbeit he refused to turn aside: wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place: and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still.
With the hinder end ... - i. e. the wooden end, which was more or less pointed to enable the owner to stick it in the ground 1 Samuel 26:7.
The fifth rib - The word so rendered here (and in marginal references) means the abdomen, and is not etymologically connected with the Hebrew for five, as the translation "fifth rib" supposes, but with a verb meaning to be fat, or strong.
24Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, that lieth before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon.
Ammah ... Giah - Local, and otherwise unknown names.
25And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill.
26Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren?
27And Joab said, As God liveth, unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother.
Joab's speech means either "unless thou hadst spoken (challenged us to fight, 2 Samuel 2:14), the people would have returned from the pursuit of their brethren (many hours ago, even) this morning;" or, "If thou hadst not spoken (asked for peace, 2 Samuel 2:26), surely the people would have returned, etc., in the morning, i. e. would not have ceased the pursuit until the morning." The latter interpretation is the more accordant with Joab's boastful character.
28So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more.
29And Abner and his men walked all that night through the plain, and passed over Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and they came to Mahanaim.
Through the plain - See 1 Samuel 23:24. Bithron is unknown. From the expression all (the) Bithron, it seems likely that it is a tract of country, intersected by ravines lying on the east side of Jordan.
30And Joab returned from following Abner: and when he had gathered all the people together, there lacked of David's servants nineteen men and Asahel.
31But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner's men, so that three hundred and threescore men died.
32And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem. And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron at break of day.
Joab, having stopped the pursuit, passed the night with his army on the field of battle; the next morning he numbered the missing, and buried the dead; they carried the body of Asahel to Bethlehem and buried him there, and then joined David at Hebron. Hebron would be about 14 miles from Bethlehem, or about five hours' march.