I. Coronation and Conflicts (2 Samuel 1:1–5:5)
I. Coronation and Conflicts (1:1–5:5)
1:1-4 The opening verses of 2 Samuel pick up right where 1 Samuel left off. This book is devoted to David’s forty-year reign as king. It also includes the establishment of the Lord’s covenant with David, through which the promised Messiah would come. Despite David’s faults and those of his descendants, this was a unilateral, unconditional promise that God would keep. The author of 2 Samuel wants his readers to see the events of David’s kingship against the backdrop of the Davidic covenant. He also wanted to encourage them in faithfulness to the Lord—something their ancestors frequently failed to achieve. Although earthly kings often fail, the true King of Israel is always on his throne and will never abandon his people or his promises.
The story continues after David’s defeat of the Amalekites (see 1 Samuel 30) and his return to Ziklag (1:1). Though David and his men were victorious, the Israelite army under King Saul had not been. A straggler appeared at Ziklag with tragic news from Saul’s camp: Israel’s forces had been defeated by the Philistines, and Saul and his son Jonathan [were] dead (1:2-4).
1:5-10 The young man who reported this to David gave firsthand details of how he knew Saul and Jonathan were gone, even telling David that he had killed Saul himself at the wounded king’s request (1:6-10). He also presented Saul’s crown and armband as gifts to David, Israel’s new king (1:10).
1:11-16 It’s important to note that the man was lying about his role in Saul’s death. The author of 1–2 Samuel has already informed us that Saul committed suicide (see 1 Sam 31:4-6). Moreover, the fact that the man “happened to be on Mount Gilboa” (1:6) at the moment of a major battle is a pretty sketchy story. We don’t know if David suspected the man was lying, but he judged the man according to his own testimony. Most likely, he was robbing corpses after the battle (and before “the next day” when “the Philistines came to strip the slain”; see 1 Sam 31:8). When he found Saul dead, he probably saw it as an opportunity to curry favor with the soon-to-be king. He may have thought, “If I say I killed Saul, David will reward me generously!”
Though the man no doubt thought he was bringing David happy news for which he might be rewarded, he didn’t realize that he was actually digging his own grave. The man was the son of a resident alien (1:13). As such, he was subject to King Saul and should have shown reverence for the king rather than a willingness to take his life. Strike one. He was also an Amalekite (1:13). The Amalekites had opposed Israel during the exodus, and the Lord had commanded Saul to destroy them all (see 1 Sam 15:1-3). Strike two. By his own admission (whether true or not), the man killed the Lord’s anointed (1:10, 16). David had two opportunities to end Saul’s life, but he chose to leave Saul in God’s hands (see 1 Sam 24, 26). This Amalekite should have done the same. Strike three. So, David had him executed (1:15).
1:17-21 The rest of the chapter shows why David became well-known as a poet and musician in Israel. Many of the Psalms bear his name. The power and emotion in his lament are incredible (1:17). David was not only heartsick, but also deeply concerned for the honor of Saul and Jonathan and, ultimately, for the God of Israel. David could not bear the thought of the uncircumcised gloating in victory over God’s king and army. If the men’s deaths were announced in the cities of Gath or Ashkelon, the daughters of the Philistines would rejoice—as the daughters of Israel had rejoiced at the victories of David and Saul (1:20; see 1 Sam 18:7). David even called down a curse on the mountains of Gilboa, the place where Saul and Jonathan fell (1:21).
1:22-27 David’s tribute to the military prowess of Saul and Jonathan was appropriate. Saul had proved to be unfit spiritually to be Israel’s king, but he was a brave warrior who led his army in many battles. And Jonathan had proven his own courage, leading daring raids that helped turn the tide (1:22-23). Together, father and son fell in the thick of battle (1:25). Nevertheless, they were mighty (1:27)
David’s expression of grief and brotherly love for Jonathan is especially poignant (1:26). These two men had made a covenant of friendship and lifelong loyalty to each other (see 1 Sam 20:14-17, 42; 23:15-18). And their bond was not broken by death, as David would soon go to great lengths to care for and protect Jonathan’s crippled son Mephib-osheth (see 2 Sam 9).
An era in Israel’s history was over, ending in tragedy for the royal family and the nation itself.
2:1-7 With David’s period of mourning complete, it was time to look to the future and claim the throne of Israel that was rightly his. He inquired of the Lord as to his next step and was told to go to Hebron, located about twenty miles south of Jerusalem in the territory of Judah (2:1). There the men of Judah . . . anointed David king over the house of Judah (2:4). But, he was not yet king over all of Israel, a fact serving as an early indication of the coming division between the northern territories, which would one day become Israel, and the southern territories, which would be called Judah.
David also learned that the men of Jabesh-gilead had buried Saul (2:4). Therefore, he promised to show them the same goodness they had shown to Saul (2:6). But, he also wanted them to affirm their loyalty to him as their new king (2:7).
2:8-11 The extent of the division between the north and the south became evident when Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, set up Saul’s weak son Ish-bosheth (whose name meant “man of shame”) as king over all Israel instead of recognizing David’s legitimate rule (2:8-9). As will become clear as the story unfolds, Abner was the real power behind the throne (see 3:6-11). This rebellion against David (and against the Lord) would lead to civil war, with Israelite brother against brother for the two years Ish-bosheth reigned over Israel (2:10). David would remain in Hebron for seven years and six months, until he moved his throne and capital to Jerusalem (2:11; see 5:6-12).
2:12-23 The conflict started in a way very familiar to the readers of 1 Samuel. Just as David and Goliath had fought as representatives of their armies to determine the outcome of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines (see 1 Sam 17), Abner suggested a similar contest to Joab, his counterpart as the commander of David’s army (2:12-14). When the contest ended in a tie, a fierce battle broke out, including the dogged pursuit of Abner by Asahel, a brother of Joab (2:17-20). Abner tried to make Asahel give up, but Asahel persisted until Abner killed him (2:21-23).
2:24-32 Joab and Abisahi, his other brother, took up the pursuit until Abner’s army rallied around him. Abner persuaded Joab to stop on the grounds that it would only lead to further bloodshed between brothers (2:24-26). Joab called off the chase, which allowed Abner and his army to return to their headquarters at Mahanaim (2:27-29). Joab and David’s army counted their losses: twenty men in all. But, they had inflicted eighteen times that many casualties on Abner’s men (2:30-31). They took Asahel’s body and buried it in his hometown of Bethlehem and returned to David at Hebron (2:32). But, Joab did not forget what Abner had done to his brother Asahel. He would wait for the right moment to take his revenge.
3:1-5 This long war was not just between two rival armies and their commanders, but between two kingdoms—and it’s clear that God was blessing the house of David, which was growing stronger (3:1). The author lists David’s first six sons, each born to a different mother (3:2-5). Though acquiring many wives was a practice of ancient kings, it was not to be the practice of Israel’s king (see Deut 17:17). At least one of David’s marriages was made to form an alliance with a foreign power: Maacah was the daughter of King Talmai of Geshur (3:3).
The names of three of his sons—Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah (3:2-4)—will appear later in David’s story. Unfortunately, as a consequence of David’s own sins of adultery and murder, God’s judgment would visit his family and bring the king much grief (see 11:1–12:15). These three sons would themselves commit heinous sins, including incestuous rape, murder, and rebellion.
3:6-11 Things began to change when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with Saul’s concubine, Rizpah (3:7). Such an action was considered an attempt to lay claim to a king’s throne. Abner flew into a rage and accused Ish-bosheth of calling him a traitor. Abner had so much power that Ish-bosheth did not dare to respond to Abner because he was afraid of him (3:11).
3:12-16 Abner then pledged his loyalty to David and offered to make a covenant with him (3:12). The king accepted the offer on condition that Abner would bring David his first wife, Michal (3:12-13). Michal was Saul’s daughter whom he had given to David; later, he gave her to another man while David was a fugitive (see 1 Sam 18:27; 25:44). There had never been a divorce, so Michal was taken from Paltiel and given to David, legal son-in-law to Saul and rightful heir to the throne (3:15).
3:17-19 Abner then set about building support for David among the elders of Israel (3:17). He reminded them of God’s promise that David was God’s chosen servant to save his people from the Philistines and all Israel’s enemies (3:18). Abner also approached the Benjamites, Saul’s own tribe, to get their agreement to back David. Then, he brought the good news of his negotiations to David at Hebron (3:19).
3:20-23 David was happy to receive Abner and his entourage; he prepared a banquet to host them (3:20). Abner promised to go throughout all Israel and unite the people as one under David so that he could be king over the entire nation (3:21). David was obviously pleased, and the author is careful to note three times that David sent Abner on his mission in peace (3:21-23). That would become important in light of what was about to happen. When Joab returned to Hebron, he was informed of Abner’s visit (3:22-23).
3:24-25 Joab was furious that the killer of his brother Asahel had been treated kindly by David. He went to the king to accuse Abner of deceiving him as a spy. It’s hard to know for certain what Joab’s motives were. Revenge for the death of his brother? Protection of David’s throne? Jealousy that Abner might be a rival for command of David’s army? Perhaps all of the above.
3:26-27 Assuming Abner was engaging in deceit, Joab left David and concocted some deceit of his own. While David was unaware, he sent a message to Abner to come back, probably saying that David wanted to see him again (3:26). When Joab met Abner, he approached as if to speak to him privately. Then, he murdered Abner as revenge for the death of Asahel, his brother (3:27; see 2:21-23). Joab’s other brother Abishai was also involved in the plot (see 3:30).
3:28-29 David was grief-stricken at the news of Abner’s murder. He had made a covenant with him to bring about peace in Israel and to consolidate his kingdom (see 3:12-13). So, he wanted to avoid the appearance that he had anything to do with Joab’s underhanded plot. David declared that he was forever innocent before the Lord and pronounced a severe curse on Joab and his descendants.
3:30-35 David showed his genuine grief for Abner in every way possible. Consolidating all of Israel under his rule depended on it. He knew how important it was that the people of Israel understood that he was not gaining the throne through evil means. He commanded mourning for Abner (3:31), walked behind the coffin (3:31), wept at the tomb (3:32), composed a lament as he had done for Saul (3:33-34; see 1:17-27), and fasted (3:35).
3:36-39 David’s innocence was accepted by all the troops and all Israel (3:37). He lamented the violent nature of Joab and his brother, the sons of Zeruiah, but he did not discipline them for their deeds (3:38-39). The fact that Zeruiah was David’s half-sister may explain his reluctance to take action (see 17:25; 1 Chr 2:16).
4:1-3 The death of Abner spread panic throughout the northern half of Israel where Ish-bosheth was king (4:1). He was a weak ruler, and with Abner gone, the people may have feared that David would invade and conquer them. Here the author introduces two Benjaminites who had served Saul, Baanah and Rechab (4:2). But, before completing this account, the author inserts a parenthetical note.
4:4 Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, Saul’s son and David’s trusted friend. When Saul and Jonathan were killed by the Philistines, Mephibosheth was five years old. When his nanny fled with him in fear, she dropped him, and his feet became crippled. The author includes this note here to prepare the reader for the later story of David’s kindness to Mephibosheth, out of his love for Jonathan (see chapter 9).
4:5-8 Returning to Rechab and Baanah, the author tells us that they took matters into their own hands and cold-heartedly assassinated Ish-bosheth. He was defenseless in his bed when they murdered him (4:5-7). That they were evil men with selfish motives becomes even more evident, for they tried to curry favor with David as the new king of Israel. They took Ish-bosheth’s head to David at Hebron, hoping to be rewarded (4:8).
4:9-12 Little did they know that another man had similarly hoped for the king’s approval by eradicating David’s rival, but things didn’t turn out so well for him (see 1:1-16). David essentially told them, “The last guy who did something like this was indeed rewarded—with death!” (3:10). The cowardly nature of the attack against a righteous man horrified David (4:11). There was no evidence that Ish-bosheth was seeking to take David’s life. So David gave orders, and his men killed Re-chab and Baanah. Cutting off the killers’ hands and feet—the parts of their bodies used in the murder—served as a gruesome way of denouncing their wicked actions and warning anyone else who might think of committing a similar act (4:12). Furthermore, David needed to make it clear to all of Israel that he’d had nothing to do with this deed.
5:1-2 God was sovereignly controlling events to bring David to the national throne. All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron. They acknowledged several important facts that made David the right choice to rule over the nation. First, they were all flesh and blood (5:1)—that is, they were members of the twelve tribes of Israel, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In other words, they were brothers. Second, David was their national military hero, a revered leader. Even back when Saul was king, David had fought Israel’s battles. Third and most important, they recognized God’s calling and anointing on David, for God had said to him, You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will be ruler (5:2).
5:3 Previously, the men of Judah, David’s own tribe, had anointed him as king (see 2:4). But now, all the elders of Israel came to Hebron and anointed David king over Israel. It had been a long road since the day God had first commanded Samuel to anoint a young shepherd as the one to replace King Saul (see 1 Sam 16:11-13). David had endured much hardship and persecution. But, through it all, he trusted the Lord and waited on his perfect timing. Though David was by no means perfect (as 2 Samuel will soon reveal), his willingness to obtain God’s purpose for him in God’s way is a model for others to follow. David was God’s kingdom man.
5:4-5 At age thirty, David became king, ruling over Judah seven years and six months and thirty-three years over all Israel, too (5:4-5). Thus, he reigned over God’s people for forty years (5:4). The Davidic dynasty had begun. And through it, the Son of David, the Messiah, would one day come (Matt 1:1).