and the weapons of war perished! not only the valiant soldiers were killed, but their arms were lost; and particularly he may mean Saul and Jonathan, who as they were the shields of the people, so they were the true weapons and instruments of war, and with them all military glory perished; which must be understood as a poetical figure, exaggerating their military characters; otherwise David, and many mighty men with him, remained, and who revived and increased the military glory of Israel, as the following history shows.
INTRODUCTION TO SECOND SAMUEL 2
This chapter relates that David, upon inquiring of the Lord, was directed to go up to Hebron, and did, where he was anointed king of Judah, 2 Samuel 2:1. And that being told of the kindness of the men of Jabeshgilead in burying Saul, he sent them thanks, and promised to remember it, and took the opportunity to let them know he was anointed king over Judah, 2 Samuel 2:5. It also relates that Abner set up Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, to be king over Israel, 2 Samuel 2:8; and that there was an encounter between twelve of Abner's men and twelve of David's, which brought on a sore battle between them, in which Abner was beaten, 2 Samuel 2:12; and Asahel, who was of David's party, was slain in the pursuit by Abner, 2 Samuel 2:18; when a retreat was sounded by Joab, at the influence of Abner, who, with his wen, betook themselves to Mahanaim, where he had left Ishbosheth, 2 Samuel 2:26. And the chapter closes with an account of the slain on both sides, the burial of Asahel, and the return of Joab with David's men to Hebron, 2 Samuel 2:30.
that David inquired of the Lord; of the Word of the Lord, as the Targum, by Abiathar the priest, and through the Urim and Thummim, in the ephod he had put on on this occasion:
saying, shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? though the Lord had promised him the kingdom, and he had been anointed by Samuel by his appointment, yet he was not hasty to take it into his hands, but was desirous of acting according to the will of God, and by his direction, and wait his time when and where he should go and take possession of it; he mentions Judah because it was his own tribe, and where he had the most friends:
and the Lord said unto him, go up; from Ziklag into the tribe of Judah, but did not mention any particular place whither he should go; hence another question was put:
and David said, whither shall I go up? To what town or city in the tribe of Judah? whether Jerusalem or any other?
And he said, unto Hebron; a city of the priests, a city of refuge, Joshua 21:13, twenty miles from Jerusalem, or more, which is not directed to, because it was then chiefly in the hands of the Jebusites, and because, as Procopius Gazaeus says, Hebron was now the metropolis of Judah.
and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail, Nabal's wife, the Carmelite; who were beloved by him, and who had shared with him in his troubles, and which he took with him to partake of his honour and grandeur, wealth and riches; in which he was now a type of Christ. See Romans 8:17.
(y) Ut supra, (Travels &c.) p. 137.
And they dwelt in the cities of Hebron; in the towns and villages about it; for that itself being a city of refuge, and inhabited by priests, there was not room enough for all David's men, who were now increasing, persons from various tribes flocking to him. See 1 Chronicles 12:1.
and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah; they did not take upon them to make him king over all Israel, but left the rest of the tribes to act for themselves; and no doubt in this they had the mind of David, who was not willing to force himself upon the people at once, but by degrees get the whole government into his hands, as Providence should make his way; these men knew the kingdom was promised to their tribe, from Genesis 49:10; and were quite clear in what they did, and, without question, knew that David had been anointed by Samuel: but as that anointing was only a declaration of the Lord's choice of him, and of his will that he should be king after Saul's death, he is again anointed by the people, as an inauguration into his office:
and they told David, saying, that the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul. It is highly probable, that as soon as David was anointed king, the first thing he thought of was to inquire after the body of the late king, and give it an honourable interment, and upon inquiry was told that the men of Jabeshgilead had buried him already. See 1 Samuel 31:11.
and said unto them, blessed be ye of the Lord; which may be considered either as a wish, the Lord bless you for it, or as a prediction, the Lord will bless you:
that ye have showed this kindness unto your lord, even unto Saul,
and have buried him. To bury the dead, with the Jews, was always reckoned an instance of humanity and kindness, and indeed of piety; an act done in imitation of God (z), who buried Moses, and so it might be expected the divine blessing would attend it.
(z) T. Bab. Bava Metzia, fol. 32. 2. and Sotah, fol. 14. 1.
and I also will requite you this kindness, because ye have done this thing. He not only prayed to God to bless them and reward them for it, but would remember them himself, and at a proper opportunity would show favour to them for this act of kindness to Saul. De Dieu proposes to consideration whether it may not be as well interpreted to this sense, "and I also do you this kindness" because of it; that is, have done you this honour by sending messengers to you, to thank you for it, and by wishing a blessing upon you on account of it, and by praising and commending you for it; but the former sense seems best.
for your master Saul is dead; or rather "though" (a) he is dead; for that he was dead they knew full well, having buried him, and needed no information of it; but being dead, they might be discouraged, as having none to protect and defend them, or come to their relief as he did, should they be attacked:
and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them; or "for even", or "notwithstanding" (b); and this therefore being the case, he would take their parts, and help and assist them; and which he suggests to them, to invite them to own him as their king also, and put themselves under his protection.
(a) "licet enim", V. L. "quamvis", Piscator. So Pool and Patrick. (b) "tamen", V. L. "nam similiter", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator.
took Ishbosheth the son of Saul; and who seems to be his only son left, except what he had by his concubine. This man's name is Eshbaal in 1 Chronicles 8:33. Baal is the name of a shameful idol, and which was therefore sometimes called Bosheth, "shame". See Hosea 9:10; wherefore such names of men, which had Baal in them, were changed for Besheth or Bosheth, as the names of Jerubbaal and Meribbaal, who were called Jerubbesheth and Mephibosheth. See Judges 8:35; compared with 2 Samuel 11:21, and 2 Samuel 4:4 with 1 Chronicles 8:34. The latter of these, a son of Jonathan, bid fairest for the crown by lineal succession, but he being but five years of age, and lame, this man Abner judged fittest for his purpose; and though he knew it was the will of God, and he had sworn that David should be king, yet so blind and obstinate was his ambition, that he set up another against him:
and brought him over to Mahanaim; a city on the other side Jordan, in the tribe of Gad, on the border of the half tribe of Manasseh; see Joshua 13:26; and hither Abner had Ishbosheth, partly to keep the men of Jabeshgilead in awe, to whom David had sent messengers, acquainting them with his being king of Judah, and prevent their joining with him; and partly that he might be at a proper distance both from the Philistines and from David, till he could form his measures, and gradually carry his point, as he did.
and over the Ashurites: that is, those of the house or tribe of Asher, as the Targum, and indeed none else can well be thought of; some indeed read the Geshurites, as the Vulgate Latin version; but these were never expelled by the Israelites, and had at this time a king over them, 2 Samuel 3:3; see Joshua 13:13,
and over Jezreel; the great plain which went along the borders of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali, and included these tribes:
and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin: the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin:
and over all Israel, excepting the tribe of Judah; that is, he prevailed first on one of these, then on another, until he got all the tribes of Israel to own him for their king; David all this time being still and quiet, and not opposing him, waiting God's own time to open the way for his possession of the kingdom over all Israel, and having a strict regard to his oath to Saul, 1 Samuel 24:21.
and reigned two years; which some understand of these, and no more; and whereas David reigned seven years and a half over Judah, before he reigned over all Israel, it is thought by the Jewish chronologer (c) that there was a vacancy in the throne of Israel for the space of five years, and so says Kimchi; which vacancy was either before the reign of Ishbosheth, it being a matter in dispute whether he or Mephibosheth should be set up, or after his death; the tribes of Israel being so long before they acknowledged David their king; or Ishbosheth's reign of two years must be in the middle of David's reign over Judah; but there is no need to suppose either of these, for the text says not that Ishbosheth reigned only two years; but the meaning is, as Ben Gersom observes, that he had reigned two years when the following things happened, and a war began, and not by him but by Abner, and carried on by him; and he being an inactive prince, the rest of his reign was reckoned as no reign, whereas he lived and reigned the same length of time David did over Judah; see 2 Samuel 3:1,
but the house of Judah followed David; kept close to him as their king, yielding a cheerful obedience to him.
(c) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 13. p. 37.
was seven years and six months; to which being added thirty three years he reigned over all Israel in Jerusalem, made forty years and six months; and which, for the roundness of the number, is usually called forty years. See 2 Samuel 5:4.
and the servants of Ishbosheth the son of Saul; who seem to be not only his domestic servants, that waited upon him, or his courtiers, but his whole army by what follows:
went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon; came from the city on the other side Jordan, where perhaps they had been two years past, concerting schemes to bring all Israel under the government of Ishbosheth; in which they had succeeded, only Judah stood out with David; and in order to reduce that tribe, they passed over Jordan and came to Gibeon, a city in Benjamin. See Joshua 18:25.
and the servants of David, went out; that is, his army went out from Hebron to Gibeon, which was twenty four miles (d) to meet that under Abner; for though he had but one tribe with him, and Ishbosheth had all the rest, yet Judah was a numerous, powerful, and warlike tribe; and besides many out of the other tribes had joined them, and, above all, God was on their side, and they had his promise to rely upon with respect to the establishment of the kingdom in the house of David, and his power and providence to trust in, and therefore went out boldly and cheerfully to meet the armies of Israel under Abner:
and met together by the pool of Gibeon; the same perhaps with the great waters in Gibeon, Jeremiah 41:12,
and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool; facing one another, and watching each other's motions.
(d) Bunting's Travels, p. 146.
let the young men now arise, and play before us; with their swords after the manner of gladiators or duellers; that it might appear who were best skilled in the use of the sword, and who were the bravest, stoutest, and most courageous; and this he proposed in a way of bravado, and in order to bring on a battle, or to decide the quarrel between them; and this bloody barbarous exercise Abner calls play, as if it was a diversion and pastime to see men wounding and killing one another:
and Joab said, let them arise; he accepted the challenge, not caring to be hectored and bullied by Abner.
which pertained to Ishbosheth, the son of Saul, passed over the pool of Gibeon unto Joab's men; so forward were they to engage in this duel, and it makes it still more appear that they were the aggressors:
and twelve of the servants of David; of his army under Joab, whom Joab either selected, or they, offered themselves as willing to engage with the twelve that were come over.
and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; which he had in the other:
so they fell down together; the twelve on each side, all the twenty four; some think only the twelve on Abner's side fell; but to me it seems that they all fell dead as one man, since they thrust their swords in each other's sides:
wherefore that place was called Helkathhazzurim, which is in Gibeon; the field of rocks, or of mighty men as strong as rocks, who stood as immovable, and would not give way, but fell and died in the field of battle; the Targum interprets it, the inheritance of the slain.
and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David; the army under him had the worst of it, and were routed, and obliged to flee before the army of David under the command of Joab.
Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel; Joab was the general of the array, Abishai was he who went into Saul's host at night, and took away his spear and cruse of water at his head, 1 Samuel 26:6; and it is for the sake of the third, Asahel, that the account is given, the story of his death being about to be told.
And Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe: swiftness of foot, as well as courage, for which this man was famous, 1 Chronicles 11:26; was a very great qualification for a warrior (e). So Achilles, in Homer (f), is often said to be swift of foot, and others of his heroes are commended for their swiftness. Harold son of King Canutus, was from his swiftness (g) called Harefoot; as here this man for the same reason is compared to a wild roe, which is a very swift creature, or to one of the roes that were in the field as in the original text. See Sol 2:7; one sort of which, called "kemas", is said to run as swift as a tempest (h).
(e) Cornel. Nepos, Epaminond. l. 2.((f) , Iliad. 1. lin. 15. (g) Rapin's History of England, vol. 1. p. 128. (h) Aelian. Hist. de Animal, l. 14. c. 14.
and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left in following Abner; he kept his eye upon him, and pursued him closely, disregarding persons on the right or left he could have made prisoners; but those he neglected, being bent on taking Abner if possible.
And said, art thou Asahel? for it seems he knew him personally, being well acquainted with his family:
and he answered, I am; so that they were very near to each other, as to discourse together, and be heard and understood by each other.
turn thee aside to thy right or to thy left; he does not advise him to go back, which would have been to his disgrace, having engaged in the pursuit, but to turn to the right or left, as if pursuing some other person and not Abner:
and lay thee hold on one of the young men, and take thee his armour; one of the common soldiers, or an attendant on Abner, a young man like himself, whom he might be able to cope with, and take him a prisoner and disarm him, when he was not a match for such an old experienced officer as he was; and this Abner seems to speak as a friend, consulting the young man's safety and his honour too.
But, Asahel would not turn aside from following him; fired with the ambition of taking him, and not content with any prey short of him; and perhaps was the more animated by what he said, as supposing it arose from fear of him.
turn thee aside from following me, wherefore should I smite thee to the ground? which was giving him fair warning, and letting him know what he must expect, if he did not desist from his pursuit:
how then should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother? the general of David's army, a stout valiant commander, a man of spirit and resentment, whom Abner knew full well, and that should he slay his brother, he would never be friendly with him, or look pleasantly on him; he would never forgive him, but seek ways and means to avenge his blood on him and by this it seems as if Abner was conscious to himself that he was in a wrong cause, that the kingdom was of right David's, and would be his, and he must be obliged to make peace with him; when he should stand in need of Joab as his friend, which he could not expect, if he slew his brother, nor to live in favour and friendship with him hereafter.
Wherefore Abner, with the hinder end of the spear; he had in his hand, which seems to have had a pike at both ends; so that with the hinder end of it, next to Asahel, he thrust it at him, without turning to him: and
smote him under the fifth rib; the place where hang the gall and liver, as the Jewish commentators from their Talmud (i) observe. There are twelve ribs, seven of which are called true ones, and five spurious; if this was the fifth of the seven, the spear must pierce the breast (k), and strike the seat of life, the heart and lungs; if the fifth from the eighth and first of the spurious ones, then wounding the hypochondria, it must pass to the vital bowels of the abdomen, which seems to be the case here (l): according to some (m) this is meant of the inferior ribs, which we call the short ribs, and any of these five are called the fifth rib; and Abner must strike him in the right side, because he was behind him, and which stroke must be deadly, because he struck him through the liver:
that the spear came out behind him: the thrust was so violent that the spear went through him, and came out at his back:
and he fell down and died in the same place; he fell at once, and died on the spot immediately:
and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still; that is, such of David's men who were in the pursuit after the Israelites, when they came to the spot, and saw Asahel dead, they had no power to proceed in the pursuit, being so troubled and grieved at the death of him.
(i) T. Bab. Sanhedrin, fol. 49. 1.((k) "Transadigit costas, et crates pectoris ensom". Virgil. Aeneod. l. 12. ver. 506. (l) Vid. Scheuchzer. Physic. Sacr. vol. 3. p. 501. (m) Weemse's Portrait of Man, p. 24.
and the sun went down when they came to the hill of Ammah; a hill by the side of which was a pool of water, as Kimchi thinks, and from thence so called:
that lieth before Giah; a place near Gibeon, but nowhere after mentioned:
by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon; very likely not far from the city from which it had its name.
(n) "Autem", V. L. Tiguriue version; "sed", Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; so Kimchi.
and became one troop; were united together in a body, and became a regular troop:
and stood on the top of an hill; which was some advantage to them, and from whence they could take a view of Joab's army, and observe its motions.
and said, shall the sword devour for ever? slay men, and devour their blood. See Jeremiah 46:10. That he was not thoughtful of, nor concerned about, when he set the young men to fighting before the battle, and called it play to wound and shed the blood of each other; but now the battle going against him, he complains of the devouring sword; and though it had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him, a sort of an eternity:
knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? since it might issue in the death of himself, or of Joab, or of both, as it had in Asahel, or, however, in the death of a multitude of others; and which at last would cause bitter reflection in the prosecutors of the war:
how long shall it be then ere thou bid the people return from following their brethren? he pleads relation, that the men of Israel and the men of Judah were brethren; so they were by nation and religion, and therefore should not pursue one another to destruction; but who was the aggressor? It was Abner, that brought his forces against Judah; the men of David acted only on the defensive.
unless thou hadst spoken; that is, these words in 2 Samuel 2:14; "let the young men arise and play", that he had not given the challenge to fight:
surely then in the morning the people had gone up everyone from following his brother; they would have gone away and never fought at all; they were not desirous of shedding their blood, and following after them to slay them: thus he lays the blame upon Abner, and makes him to be the cause and beginner of the war. Some render the particle by "if", and give the sense, that if he had spoken what he last did sooner, the people would long before this time have desisted from pursuing them; for it was not from a thirst after their blood, and a desire to luke vengeance on them, that they pursued them, but to bring them to submission, and lay down their arms; for they could not in honour retreat until they desired it; but the former sense seems best, and is the general sense of the Jewish commentators.
and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more; as soon as they heard the trumpet sound, the meaning of which they understood, they stepped at once, and left off their pursuit:
neither fought they any more; that day, and perhaps no pitched battle afterwards; for none we read of, though the war continued after this a long time, and there might be often skirmishes, which greatly weakened Abner's party. See 2 Samuel 3:1.
and passed over Jordan; at one of the fords of it:
and went through all Bithron; the name of a province or country, as Jarchi, called so perhaps from its being separated from the rest of the tribes of Israel by the river Jordan; some think the mountains of Bether were in this country, Sol 2:17. From Gibeon, where the battle was fought, to Bithron, according to Bunting (o), was twenty eight miles, the which he says was in the tribe of Gad, twenty eight miles from Jerusalem northeastward, lying between Dibon and Jordan:
and they came to Mahanaim: from whence they came, and where they had left Ishbosheth, 2 Samuel 2:8. From Bithron to this place, according to the same writer (p), was sixteen miles.
(o) Travels, &c. p. 145, 146. (p) Ibid.
and when he had gathered all the people together; who had been pursuing the Israelites, some one way and some another:
there lacked of David's servants nineteen men, and Asahel; who is particularly mentioned, because a very honourable man, valiant and courageous, a relation of David, and brother of Joab the general, and the loss of him was greater than all the rest. This has made some think that the twelve men of the servants of David were not killed in the duel, or otherwise there must be but seven slain in the battle; though that is not more strange than that in the battle with Midian not one should be slain, and, yet a terrible slaughter was made of the Midianites, Numbers 31:1. So in a sharp battle between the Spartans and Arcadians, ten thousand of the latter were slain, and not one of the former (q). Stilicho killed more than an hundred thousand of the army of Rhadagaisus, king of the Goths, without losing one of his own men, no, not so much as one wounded, as Austin affirms (r). At the battle of Issus the Persians lost an hundred ten thousand men, and Alexander not two hundred (s). Julius Caesar killed in the three camps of Juba, Scipio, and Labienus, ten thousand men, with the loss of fifty men only (t). After these instances, not only the case here, but that between the Israelites and Midianites, cannot be thought incredible, for the sake of which the above are produced. This account, according to Josephus (u), was taken the day following.
(q) Diodor. Sic. l. 15. p. 383. (r) De civilate Dei, l. 5. c. 23. (s) Curtius, l. 3. c. 11. (t) Hirtius de Bello African. c. 86. (u) Antiqu. l. 7. c. 1. sect. 3.
so that three hundred and threescore men died; the number of the slain on each side was very unequal.