II Samuel 3

The Word Made Fresh

1A long war followed between David’s followers and Saul’s. David became stronger and stronger while Saul’s followers grew weaker.

2Meanwhile, David’s wives gave birth to sons in Hebron: Amnon was the firstborn. His mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel. 3The second was Kileab, born to Abigail (widow of Nabal of Carmel). The third was Absalom, born to Maacah, who was the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur. 4The fourth was Adonijah, born to Haggith. The fifth was Shephatiah, born to Abital. 5The sixth was Ithream, born to David’s wife Eglah. All these were born in Hebron.

6During the war between David and the followers of Saul, Abner was strengthening his position with Saul’s followers. 7Saul had taken a concubine, Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, and Ishbaal accused Abner of sleeping with her. 8Abner was enraged. “Am I a dog for Judah? To this day I have been loyal to your father Saul’s family and friends, and have kept you out of David’s hands, and you dare to accuse me of a crime with this woman? 9May God punish me severely if I do not help David accomplish what the LORD has promised — 10that the kingdom pass from the family of Saul and David be established on the throne and rule over Israel and Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” 11After that, Ishbaal was afraid to say another word to him.

12Then Abner sent messengers to David to tell him, “To whom does the land belong? Join with me and I will help bring all of Israel over to you.”

13David sent this reply: “That is good. I’ll make an agreement with you, but I insist on one thing. Do not come to me without bringing Saul’s daughter Michal with you.” 14And then David sent messengers to Saul’s son, Ishbosheth, to tell him, “Return my wife Michal to me. Saul gave her to me for the price of one hundred Philistine foreskins.” 15Ishbaal then took Michal from her husband Paltiel, son of Laish. 16Paltiel followed behind her, weeping all the way to Bahurim, where Abner told him to go back home, and he did.

17Abner summoned Israel’s elders and told them, “You’ve been wanting David to be your king for a while, now, 18so it is time to act. The LORD promised David that through him the people of Israel would be freed from the Philistines and all their enemies.” 19He also met in person with the leaders of Benjamin, and then he went to Hebron to tell David that all Israel, including Benjamin, were ready to come over to him.

20Abner came to David at Hebron, accompanied by twenty of his men, and David prepared a feast for them. 21Then Abner said to him, “Give me leave, and I will gather all of Israel to you so that you can make an agreement with them, and then you can rule over everything you desire.” David dismissed him, and Abner left peacefully.

22Joab returned with David’s men, bringing plunder from a successful raid they had made on an enemy. David had just sent Abner away in peace, 23and when Joab and his men learned that Abner had been there, 24he said to David, “What were you thinking? Abner was in your hands and you let him go? 25Don’t you realize that he came to spy on you to find out all your plans?”

26Joab left, then, and without telling David he sent messengers after Abner, and they caught up with him at the well of Sirah and brought him back to Hebron. 27Joab met him at the gate and took him aside as if to speak privately with him, then stabbed him in the stomach and killed him, taking vengeance on him for killing his brother Asahel.

28When David learned of it, he said, “I am guiltless, and my people are guiltless for the murder of Abner son of Ner. 29Joab is entirely to blame, and because of this his house will never be without someone who has oozing wounds, or leprosy, or walks with a cane, or falls by the sword, or goes hungry.”

30Joab and his brother Abishai killed Abner because he had killed their brother Asahel in the battle of Gibeon.   

31Then David ordered Joab and his family, “Tear your clothing apart and wear sackcloth, and walk in front of Abner’s coffin and be in mourning for him.” David himself walked behind the coffin. 32They buried Abner in Hebron. The king wept aloud for him and all the people did as well.

33Then the king sang this lament for Abner:

“Should Abner have died like a criminal?
34Your hands were not tied; your feet were not shackled.
Your death was as one who died before wicked men.”

All the people wept again.

35They tried to get David to eat something before the day was over, but he refused, saying, “May God punish me severely if I so much as take a bite of bread, or put anything else in my mouth before the sun goes down.” 36Word got around to all the people, and it pleased them. Everything the king did pleased them.

37Everyone understood, then, that the king had nothing to do with Abner’s death. 38The king told his people, “Don’t you understand that a royal prince has been murdered in Israel? 39I am the king, but I apparently have no authority over these sons of Zeruiah. May the LORD give the wicked what they deserve!”


1: The chapter begins with a note that David is growing stronger while “the house of Saul” (Ishbaal has become such a nobody that his name isn’t even given) is growing weaker.

2-5: Here is a list of sons born to David in Hebron, each one by a different wife. We will see that the accumulation of wives often results in palace intrigues that weaken the country. According to custom, Amnon would be heir to the throne, but Amnon will be undone by the same kind of lust that will get the best of his father David as well.

6-11: Abner, commander of the armies of Israel (the northern tribes that still identify with the house of Saul) has a confrontation with king Ishbaal. The king accuses Abner of having sex with one of his father Saul’s concubines, obviously seeing that as a threat to his authority. Abner denies the charge and in anger declares that he will go over to David. Ishbaal is so afraid of Abner that he backs down.

12-16: Abner conducts secret negotiations with David. David, ever the politician, sees that claiming his right to Saul’s daughter Michal will help him win over the northern tribes, and demands her as a condition of accepting Abner’s defection. The story here is not complete: it appears that David and Abner make an arrangement whereby David will assert his legal right to marry Michal and demand that Ishbaal hand her over. Ishbaal does so, and thus demonstrates why he doesn’t have what it takes to be king.

17-19: Abner makes secret arrangements with the tribal leaders to depose Ishbaal and accept David as their king, paying special attention to the leaders of Benjamin, because Benjamin is Saul’s tribal family.

20-21: Abner visits David’s camp, secures David’s agreement, and departs peacefully, presumably to begin the work of discarding Ishbaal.

22-25: Ah, but don’t forget about Joab, who is David’s commander-in-chief, and as such is Abner’s main rival. When Joab returns to the camp and hears that David has met with Abner and sent him away peacefully, he complains to David. David’s response is not recorded, but apparently is ambiguous enough that Joab thinks he can deal as he wishes with Abner.

26-30: Joab sends for Abner, who returns to Hebron unbeknownst to David (or maybe not?), and takes him aside and kills him, thus avenging the death of his brother Asahel.

31-39: Joab’s actions could have spelled disaster for David’s greater ambitions, but David turns the event to his own advantage. He publicly mourns Abner and praises him highly, while denouncing Joab (the “son of Zeruiah”). Nevertheless, he stops short of punishing Joab, turning that job over to God — “May the LORD give the wicked what they deserve!” When word of this public posturing reaches the other tribes, they are pleased, and convinced that David has nothing to do with Abner’s death.


If kings had been elected by a popular vote, David would have won hands down. Just about everything he does is done with an eye towards securing as broad a level of support and agreement as possible. You may have noticed that, although God’s name is called on here and there, God has not been actively present and on the scene so far in 2 Samuel.