David Anointed King Over Judah ()
Abner and Joab agreed that in order to minimize bloodshed, just twelve men from each side should fight each other; whichever group won, that side would be declared victor and a larger battle would be avoided. Amazingly, however, all twenty-four men died; each man killed his opponent! (verse 16). That place was later given a name: Helkath Hazzurim, which means “field of daggers.”
Since neither twelve-man group won, the entire forces of Abner and Joab began to fight each other, and Abner and his men were badly defeated (verse 17).
18–21 Zeruiah was David’s older sister (1 Samuel 26:6); her three sons, Joab, Abishai and Asahel, were therefore David’s nephews. Asahel, a very fast runner, took off in pursuit of Abner, who was trying to escape (verse 19).
Although Abner was opposed to David, he did not desire to kill fellow Israelites. So when he saw Asahel pursuing him, he urged him to turn aside” and satisfy his desire for revenge by killing one of Abner’s men (verse 21). But Asahel desired to kill only Abner.
22–23 Abner knew he could strike down” Asahel; Abner was an experienced warrior. Abner didn’t want to have a blood feud continue between himself and Asahel’s brother Joab. Perhaps Abner was afraid of Joab: “How could I look your brother Joab in the face?” (verse 22).
Nevertheless, Asahel was not to be deterred, and Abner killed him with the butt of his spear (verse 23). Abner immediately continued his flight. When Joab and David’s men arrived at the scene, they stopped—undoubtedly horrified.
24–27 But Asahel’s brothers Joab and Abishai, together with David’s men, continued to pursue Abner. Abner and his forces, mostly men from the tribe of Benjamin, finally paused on a hill, and Abner called out to Joab and asked him to stop his men from pursuing their brothers (verse 26). It was the specter of continuing bitterness between Israelite brothers that caused Joab to stop his pursuit at that time. Later on, however, the bitterness would erupt again, and Joab would finally avenge his brother’s death by murdering Abner (2 Samuel 3:27).
28–32 So Joab’s men no longer pursued Israel6 nor did they fight anymore at that time (verse 28). However, the war between the house of Saul and the house of David would soon start up again and continue for a long time (2 Samuel 3:1).
Abner and his men marched through the Arabah, the Jordan River valley; then they crossed the Jordan and came to Mahanaim (verse 29), Ish-Bosheth’s temporary capital in Gilead (verses 8–9).
Joab and his men returned to Hebron, stopping off at Bethlehem to bury Asahel in his father’s tomb—the family tomb (verse 32). Bethlehem was Asahel’s hometown, as well as his uncle David’s (1 Samuel 20:6).