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Clarke's Commentary on the Bible
Account of the children born to David in Hebron, 2 Samuel 3:1-5. Abner being accused by Ish-bosheth of familiarities with Rizpah, Saul's concubine, he is enraged; offers his services to David; goes to Hebron, and makes a league with him, vv. 6-22. Joab, through enmity to Abner, pretends to David that he came as a spy, and should not be permitted to return, 2 Samuel 3:23-25. He follows Abner, and treacherously slays him, 2 Samuel 3:26, 2 Samuel 3:27. David hearing of it is greatly incensed against Joab, and pronounces a curse upon him and upon his family, 2 Samuel 3:28, 2 Samuel 3:29. He commands a general mourning for Abner, and himself follows the bier weeping, 2 Samuel 3:30-32. David's lamentation over Abner, 2 Samuel 3:33, 2 Samuel 3:34. The people solicit David to take meat; but he fasts the whole day, and complains to them of the insolence and intrigues of Joab and his brothers: the people are pleased with his conduct, 2 Samuel 3:35-39.
1Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.
There was long war - Frequent battles and skirmishes took place between the followers of David and the followers of Ish-bosheth, after the two years mentioned above, to the end of the fifth year, in which Ish-bosheth was slain by Rechab and Baanah.
2And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3And his second, Chileab, of Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur;
4And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
5And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
6And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.
Abner made himself strong - This strengthening of himself, and going in to the late king's concubine, were most evident proofs that he wished to seize upon the government. See 1 Kings 2:21, 1 Kings 2:22; 1 Kings 12:8; 1 Kings 16:21.
7And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine?
8Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?
Am I a dog's head - Dost thou treat a man with indignity who has been the only prop of thy tottering kingdom, and the only person who could make head against the house of David?
9So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;
Except, as the Lord hath sworn to David - And why did he not do this before, when he knew that God had given the kingdom to David? Was he not now, according to his own concession, fighting against God?
10To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba.
11And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.
He could not answer Abner a word - Miserable is the lot of a king who is governed by the general of his army, who may strip him of his power and dignity whenever he pleases! Witness the fate of poor Charles I. of England and Louis XVI. of France. Military men, above all others, should never be intrusted with any civil power, and should be great only in the field.
12And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.
13And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul's daughter, when thou comest to see my face.
Except thou first bring Michal - David had already six wives at Hebron; and none of them could have such pretensions to legitimacy as Michal, who had been taken away from him and married to Phaltiel. However distressing it was to take her from a husband who loved her most tenderly, (see 2 Samuel 3:16), yet prudence and policy required that he should strengthen his own interest in the kingdom as much as possible; and that he should not leave a princess in the possession of a man who might, in her right, have made pretensions to the throne. Besides, she was his own lawful wife, and he had a right to demand her when he pleased.
14And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth Saul's son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.
Deliver me my wife - It is supposed that he meant to screen Abner; and to prevent that violence which he might have used in carrying off Michal.
15And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.
16And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.
Weeping behind her - If genuine affection did not still subsist between David and Michal, it was a pity to have taken her from Phaltiel, who had her to wife from the conjoint authority of her father and her king.
Nevertheless David had a legal right to her, as she had never been divorced, for she was taken from him by the hand of violence.
17And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:
18Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.
The Lord hath spoken of David - Where is this spoken? Such a promise is not extant. Perhaps it means no more than, "Thus, it may be presumed, God hath determined."
19And Abner also spake in the ears of Benjamin: and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.
20So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him. And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.
21And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a league with thee, and that thou mayest reign over all that thine heart desireth. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.
He went in peace - David dismissed him in good faith, having no sinister design in reference to him.
22And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them: but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace.
23When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace.
24Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?
25Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.
26And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not.
27And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother.
And smote him there - Joab feared that, after having rendered such essential services to David, Abner would be made captain of the host: he therefore determined to prevent it by murdering the man, under pretense of avenging the death of his brother Asahel.
The murder, however, was one of the most unprovoked and wicked: and such was the power and influence of this nefarious general, that the king dared not to bring him to justice for his crime. In the same way he murdered Amasa, a little time afterwards. See 2 Samuel 20:10. Joab was a cool-blooded, finished murderer. "Treason and murder ever keep together, like two yoke-devils."
28And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner:
29Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread.
Let it rest on the head - All these verbs may be rendered in the future tense: it will rest on the head of Joab, etc. This was a prophetic declaration, which sufficiently showed the displeasure of God against this execrable man.
30So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.
31And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier.
David said to Joab - He commanded him to take on him the part of a principal mourner.
32And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.
33And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?
The king lamented over Abner - This lamentation, though short, is very pathetic. It is a high strain of poetry; but the measure cannot be easily ascertained. Our own translation may be measured thus: -
Died Abner as a fool dieth?
Thy hands were not bound,
Nor thy feet put into fetters.
As a man falleth before the wicked.
So hast thou fallen!
Or thus: -
Shall Abner die a death like to a villain's?
Thy hands not bound,
Nor were the fetters to thy feet applied.
Like as one falls before the sons of guilt,
So hast thou fallen!
He was not taken away by the hand of justice, nor in battle, nor by accident: he died the death of a culprit by falling into the hands of a villain.
This song was a heavy reproof to Joab; and must have galled him extremely, being sung by all the people.
34Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him.
35And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David sware, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down.
36And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.
The people took notice - They saw that the king's grief was sincere, and that he had no part nor device in the murder of Abner: see 2 Samuel 3:37.
37For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.
38And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?
39And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.
I am this day weak - Had Abner lived, all the tribes of Israel would have been brought under my government.
Though anointed king - I have little else than the title: first, having only one tribe under my government; and secondly, the sons of Zeruiah, Joab and his brethren, having usurped all the power, and reduced me to the shadow of royalty.
The Lord shall reward the doer of evil - That is, Joab, whom he appears afraid to name.
We talk much of ancient manners, their simplicity and ingenuousness; and say that the former days were better than these. But who says this who is a judge of the times? In those days of celebrated simplicity, etc., there were not so many crimes as at present I:grant: but what they wanted in number they made up in degree: deceit, cruelty, rapine, murder, and wrong of almost every kind, then flourished. We are refined in our vices; they were gross and barbarous in theirs: they had neither so many ways nor so many means of sinning; but the sum of their moral turpitude was greater than ours. We have a sort of decency and good breeding, which lay a certain restraint on our passions, they were boorish and beastly, and their bad passions were ever in full play. Civilization prevents barbarity and atrocity; mental cultivation induces decency of manners: those primitive times were generally without these. Who that knows them would wish such ages to return?