2 Samuel 2
David Anointed King Over Judah ()
1–3 After Saul died, David was free to leave Philistine territory and return to his own tribal territory of Judah; no longer would he and his men be pursued by Saul. But before returning, David inquired of the LORD (verse 1). He most likely had Abiathar the priest inquire for him using the ephod and the Urim and Thummim (see 1 Samuel 23:6,9). The Lord indicated that David should return to Judah.
David next inquired concerning which city in Judah he should go to. By a process of elimination (see 1 Samuel 10:20–21), the Lord indicated that he should go to the city of Hebron, one of Judah’s most important cities (Joshua 14:13–14). So David and his two wives, together with his men and their families, went to Hebron and settled there.
4–7 Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and anointed David king over the house (tribe) of Judah (verse 4). David had already been anointed king privately by Samuel (1 Samuel 16:13), but it was also important to have a public anointing ceremony in which the leaders of the whole tribe acknowledged that David had been divinely anointed by the Lord.
When David heard that the men of Jabesh Gilead had buried Saul and his sons (see 1 Samuel 31:11–13 and comment), he sent messengers to thank them and to offer them his friendship and support. Although David was sincere in what he said, he was also hoping to win their friendship and support in return. David, after all, had been chosen by God to be king over all Israel, not just Judah; and he would need support from other cities and tribes in order to establish his rule over the whole land.
War Between the Houses of David and Saul (2:8–32)
8–9 While David was beginning his reign in Judah, the commander of Saul’s army, Abner, was establishing Saul’s only surviving son Ish-Bosheth as king over the remaining tribes of Israel4 (verses 8–9).
Abner brought Ish-Bosheth over (the Jordan River) to Mahanaim, a city east of the Jordan in the Israelite territory of Gilead; and there Abner established him as king over several of Israel’s tribal territories and—the writer adds—over all Israel5 (verse 9). Abner was clearly setting up a confrontation between the house of Saul” and the house of David” over who would be the true king over all Israel”; Abner was, in effect, challenging David’s right to the throne.
10–11 David reigned in Hebron for seven and a half years. Ish-Bosheth, however, only became king over Israel—that is, over a few of the northern Israelite tribes—during the last two years of David’s reign in Hebron. Ish-Bosheth’s reign ended with his murder (2 Samuel 4:5–8), and soon thereafter David became the true king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1–5).
12–17 In order to prevent David from extending his power north ward from Judah, Abner and Ish-Bosheth crossed over to the west side of the Jordan and went to Gibeon, Saul’s hometown in the tribal territory of Benjamin, just to the north of Judah (verse 12). In response, Joab, David’s nephew and chief military leader (1 Samuel 26:6), took some men and went to Gibeon to confront Abner (verse 13).
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).