The Word Made Fresh
1Some time passed, and David asked the LORD, “Should I visit any of the towns of Judah?”
“Yes,” the LORD answered.
2So, David went to Hebron with his wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3He also brought his men with him and their families. They settled in the villages around Hebron. 4Then the people of Judah gathered, and they anointed David king over the tribe of Judah.
When someone told David that the people of Jabesh-Gilead had buried Saul, 5he sent messengers to them to say to them, “The LORD bless you for showing your loyalty to Saul and giving him a proper burial. 6May the LORD watch over you faithfully, and I, too, will reward you because you did this. 7Be strong and have courage, for Saul your leader is dead, but I have been anointed king over the tribe of Judah.”
8Now Abner son of Ner was the commander of Saul’s army. He had taken Saul’s son Ishbaal to Mahanaim 9and made him king over Gilead, Asher, and Jezreel, and also over the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin; essentially over all of Israel except Judah.
10Ishbaal was forty when he was made king, and he was king for two years. Judah, however, acknowledged David, 11and David was king over Judah in Hebron for seven and a half years.
12Then Abner left Mahanaim and went to Gibeon with Ishbaal’s men. 13They were met at a pool near Gibeon by Joab son of Zeruiah with some of David’s men. They sat down across the pool from each other.
14Then Abner called to Joab and said, “Let’s ask our young men to have a contest between them.” Joab agreed. 15So, they counted off men from each side — twelve from Benjamin representing Ishbaal son of Saul, and twelve representing David. 16They sparred, each grabbing the other by the hair, and they stabbed each other with their swords and fell together. (They named that place near Gibeon “Field of Swords.”) 17Then a fight erupted, and Abner’s men were beaten by David’s men.
18Among David’s men were Zeruiah’s three sons, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Asahel was as fast as a gazelle, 19and he chased after Abner, following him stubbornly at every turn. 20Abner looked back and saw him and called out, “Is that you, Asahel?”
“It’s me!” Asahel responded.
21Abner said, “Turn away. Challenge one of the young men and rob him if you can.” But Asahel wouldn’t stop chasing him. 22Abner warned him again, “Turn back! I don’t want to strike you down! How could I ever show my face again to your brother Joab?” 23But Asahel kept coming, and Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt end of his spear, and it pierced him through. He fell dead on the spot, and as others came on the scene they were stopped in their tracks by the sight.
24Then Joab and Abishai chased Abner, and as the sun was setting they came to Ammah, a hill near Giah on the way to the Gibeon wilderness. 25The Benjaminites rallied around Abner and took a stand on the hill. 26Abner called out to Joab, “Is this killing going to keep on forever? Don’t you see this cannot end well? How long before you tell your men to stop chasing their relatives?”
27Joab called back, “As sure as there is a God, if you’d hadn’t spoken this would have gone on all night.” 28Then Joab blew the trumpet and his men turned aside and gave up the pursuit.
29Abner and his men traveled on all night through the Arabah area, crossed the Jordan, and about mid-day arrived at Mahanaim.
30Joab and his men returned from the encounter, and when they had come together they found that nineteen of their men were missing besides Asahel, 31but they had killed three hundred sixty of Abner’s Benjaminites. 32They picked up Asahel’s body and buried him in his father’s tomb in Bethlehem. Then they marched all night, and at dawn the next day they arrived at Hebron.
1-4: David inquired of God (probably through the priest Abiathar and the sacred vestments, which are variously described in commentaries as a kind of vest with an amulet sewn in) and moved his men from Ziklag, which is in Philistine territory, to Hebron. They settled in the surrounding villages. The people of Judah lost no time in anointing David king over Judah, but he is not yet king of Israel.
4-7: David makes an attempt to expand his influence by courting the favor of Jabesh-Gilead, one of Saul’s strongholds.
8-11: Abner, Saul’s uncle and the commander of the army, having survived the battle with the Philistines, now takes the reins of power and makes Saul’s son Ishbaal king over everything but Judah. (Ishbaal is called Ishbosheth in 1 Chronicles.) Ishbaal is forty years old, which gives us some feel for how much time has passed since Saul was anointed in I Samuel 10. Ishbaal’s reign is only 2 years. David sets up Judah’s capital at Hebron where he reigns as king of the tribe of Judah for 7Â½ years. However, these numbers don’t work unless a few years pass before Ishbaal is crowned, because David’s ascension as king of all Israel comes shortly after Ishbaal is dead (see chapter 4).
12-17: Well, you knew the two-kings situation couldn’t last, didn’t you? Joab, David’s military commander, and Abner meet at Gibeon in the territory of Benjamin. We are not told why Joab is there, but it is significant that David’s soldiers are across the border into Ishbaal’s kingdom. Abner and Joab agree to a contest between the young men which quickly turns bloody and deadly.
18-23: A skirmish results, and Abner and his remaining troops retreat. Joab’s little brother Asahel pursues Abner. Unable to persuade him to desist, Abner kills him.
24-28: Joab continues the pursuit until sundown when he and Abner agree that enough is enough.
29-32: Abner and his men retreat to the northeast, Joab and his men head southwest, burying his brother Asahel in Bethlehem on the way to Hebron. David has lost nineteen men plus Asahel; Abner has lost three hundred sixty! There can be no doubt that the rival kingdoms will not be friendly towards each other; this skirmish is a harbinger of what will come when David’s son Solomon’s reign ends many years later.
Many of the wars fought in the Old Testament (and ever since) are wars of personalities — who’s in charge? Too often the person chosen as king, or leader by whatever title, is someone whose primary qualification is the desire to be important. If you know in your heart that you are beloved of God, you don’t need anyone to bow down to you because you are already as important as you can be.