2 Samuel 2 (NRSV)
David Anointed King of Judah
After this David inquired of the Lord, “Shall I go up (that is, shall I move back) into any of the cities of Judah?”
The Lord said to him, “Go up.”
David said, “To which shall I go up?”
He said, “To Hebron.”
David had fled to Philistine territory to escape Saul’s persecution. He asks God if now is the time for him to return to his homeland. Hebron is the principal city of Judah.
2So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. 4Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah.
David shows himself to be wise politically. Both Jezreel and Carmel are close to Hebron, so David is, through his wives, related to the families of the region. And the gifts that David sent at the close of 1 Samuel to the elders of Judah are paying off, now that they have chosen him to be their king!
When they told David, “It was the people of Jabesh-gilead who buried Saul,” 5David sent messengers to the people of Jabesh-gilead, and said to them, “May you be blessed by the Lord, because you showed this loyalty to Saul your lord, and buried him! 6Now may the Lord show steadfast love and faithfulness to you! And I too will reward you because you have done this thing. 7Therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant; for Saul your lord is dead, and the house of Judah has anointed me king over them.”
David showed appropriate gratitude to the men who risked their lives to honor the memory of Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 31:11-13). These men have the kind of character and courage that David will want among his own men.
David was anointed by Samuel years before, but that was a private affair. Now David is anointed as King of Judah publicly. (Remember, David is of the tribe of Judah, so these people are his family and friends.) It will be several years before David has the support of all the tribes of Israel. Then he became their greatest king.
Years later, when Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, the people hail him as “the son of David.” David as a temporal king points to Jesus, our eternal king.
HERE is “A Song of Love,” written to Jesus, king of my heart. Sung by Rebecca St. James.
Ishbaal King of Israel
8But Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army,
Abner was Saul’s cousin. Remember David taunted Abner the night David stole Saul’s spear and water jug as Abner was sleeping nearby.
had taken Ishbaal son of Saul,
Saul and three of his sons were killed the same day in battle. Until now, a son named “Ishbaal” has not been mentioned. Perhaps he was the son of a concubine? . .
and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9He made him king over Gilead, the Ashurites, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin, and over all Israel. 10Ishbaal, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. 11The time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
Abner made Ishbosheth king, probably so that he could be the real power behind the throne of a weak king.
The Battle of Gibeon
12Abner son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbaal son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13Joab son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon.
Abner (the commander of Saul’s armies for many years) and Joab (David’s chief general) were each tough, mean, military men who were completely devoted to their cause.
One group sat on one side of the pool, while the other sat on the other side of the pool. 14Abner said to Joab, “Let the young men come forward and have a contest before us.”
Joab said, “Let them come forward.”
15So they came forward and were counted as they passed by, twelve for Benjamin and Ishbaal son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. 16Each grasped his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his opponent’s side; so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, (that is, the Field of Sharp Swords) which is at Gibeon.
Saul’s man Abner suggests that 12 men from each side fight each other in hand to hand combat, and David’s man Joab agrees. Unfortunately, all 24 men die.
17The battle was very fierce that day; and Abner and the men of Israel were beaten by the servants of David.
18The three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel.
We learn in 1 Chronicles 2:16 that Zeruiah was David’s sister, so her three sons are David’s nephews. Remember that David was the youngest of 8 sons, so he may have had nephews his own age or older.
Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. 19Asahel pursued Abner, turning neither to the right nor to the left as he followed him. 20Then Abner looked back and said, “Is it you, Asahel?”
He answered, “Yes, it is.”
21Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or to your left, and seize one of the young men, and take his spoil.” But Asahel would not turn away from following him.
22Abner said again to Asahel, “Turn away from following me; why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I show my face to your brother Joab?”
23But he refused to turn away. So Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. He fell there, and died where he lay. And all those who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still.
One of the two men was going to die that day. Abner killed Asahel, who wanted to kill him. Joab will make it his passion to avenge his brother’s death.
24But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. As the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. 25The Benjaminites rallied around Abner and formed a single band; they took their stand on the top of a hill.
26Then Abner called to Joab, “Is the sword to keep devouring forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you order your people to turn from the pursuit of their kinsmen?”
27Joab said, “As God lives, if you had not spoken, the people would have continued to pursue their kinsmen, not stopping until morning.”
28Joab sounded the trumpet and all the people stopped; they no longer pursued Israel or engaged in battle any further.
29Abner and his men traveled all that night through the Arabah; they crossed the Jordan, and, marching the whole forenoon, they came to Mahanaim.
30Joab returned from the pursuit of Abner; and when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing of David’s servants nineteen men besides Asahel. 31But the servants of David had killed of Benjamin three hundred sixty of Abner’s men.
Clearly David’s men are better warriors; they lost 20 men, while Abner (the real power behind Ishbaal) lost 360. But even though David won the battle, a long civil war is ahead until all the tribes recognize him as king.
32They took up Asahel and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was at Bethlehem.
As with many ancient cultures, the Hebrews placed great significance on the dead being buried in the family tomb. To remain unburied, vulnerable to wild animals, was considered a horrible fate.
Joab and his men marched all night, and the day broke upon them at Hebron.
3 There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.