Lesson 1: Chapters 1-3
David Becomes King of Israel

Divine Father,
You called David when he was just a boy to a unique destiny as Your "Messiah," Your anointed representative. Through the experiences of his youth and young manhood, You formed him to be the man who would one day establish Israel as a nation among the other nations of the ancient Near East. With Your guidance, he went from shepherding sheep to shepherding Your people Israel. Throughout the triumphs and tragedies of his reign, David never forgot that You were Israel's divine king and that he was Your servant and owed his loyalty and obedience to You. Give us faithful hearts like David, Lord, as we take up our journeys to fulfill the destinies You have planned for each of us. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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As the fat is set apart from the communion sacrifice, so was David chosen out of the Israelites. He played with lions as though with kids, and with bears as though with lambs. While still a boy, did he not slay the giant and take away the people's shame, by hurling a stone from his sling and cutting short the boasting of Goliath? For he called on the Lord Most High, who gave strength to his right arm to put a mighty warrior to death and assert the strength of his own people. Hence they gave him credit for ten thousand, and praised him while they blessed the Lord, by offering him a crown of glory. For he destroyed the enemies on every front, he annihilated his foes, the Philistines, and crushed their strength for ever. In all his activities he gave thanks to the Holy One Most High in words of glory; he put all his heart into his songs out of love for his Creator. He placed singers before the altar, melodiously to sing; he gave the feasts their splendor, the festivals their solemn pomp, causing the Lord's holy name to be praised and the sanctuary to resound from dawn. The Lord took away his sins, and making his strength even greater; he gave him a royal covenant, and a glorious throne in Israel.
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 47:2-11/13

There is probably no other man in Salvation History other than the "man who is God," Jesus of Nazareth, who had such an intensely personal relationship with Yahweh as the shepherd-warrior-king David of Bethlehem. It is true that Abraham and Moses both had unique relationships with Yahweh, but it is David who writes such profoundly beautiful and deeply spiritual poetry expressing his love and devotion to the God who called him both to suffering and greatness (see the Psalms attributed to David). David's name in Hebrew is dawid, which means "beloved." He may have had another Hebrew name, but he is called "David" from the moment of his anointing by the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 16:12-13), and he is known from that time forward as God's "beloved."

The author of the Book of Samuel is unknown, but as in the case of first part of this book known as 1 Samuel, some scholars have assigned authorship first to the prophet Samuel and after Samuel's death to David's prophet Nathan or possibly the prophet Gad (see 1 Chr 29:29). Some of the material from 2 Samuel seems to have come from a lost ancient book of poetry called the Book of Jasher or Yashar (Hebrew = seper hayyasar, "Book of the Upright or Just" or "Book of the Song." See references to this lost text in 2 Samuel 1:18; Joshua 10:13; and 1 Kings 8:12. For more information of the authorship and dating of the Book of Samuel see the introduction to 1 Samuel.

The second book of Samuel begins immediately after Saul's death when David becomes the king of Judah. The book can be divided into three parts. Part I covers chapters 1:1-11:1 and deals with David's triumphs in driving out the last of Israel's enemies and in consolidating his rule over the twelve tribes of Israel to become Israel's king with Jerusalem as his capital. Part II, in chapters 11:2-20:26, deals with David's struggles and tragedies within his nation and within his family, including his sons' intrigues concerning the succession. The third part is an appendix consisting of several stories from David's outlaw period to his years as Israel's king. The book ends dramatically with David's offer of self-sacrifice to save his people from the wrath of God and with the building Yahweh's holy altar on the height of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem. The building of God's sacrificial altar on Mount Moriah is a prelude to the building of the Jerusalem Temple in 1 Kings by David's son and heir, Solomon. The main theme of the book is David as God's "messiah/anointed one" who is Yahweh's instrument in moving forth His plan for mankind's salvation. In this sense David is the precursor for his descendant, Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1), for it is in David's role as God's anointed that the tradition of royal messianisam begins (see 2 Sam 7:10-17) and which will climax in Jesus' self-sacrifice on a lower elevation of Mount Moriah for the salvation of all humanity.

COVENANT The Sinai Covenant and The Eternal Davidic Covenant
SCRIPTURE 1:1---------6:1----------8:1---------11:1----------12:1-------13:37---------21:1--24:25
Turmoil in David's family Turmoil in
from David's outlaw years to his kingship
TOPIC Blessings = David's obedience Sin =
Divine judgment and redemption
LOCATION David in Hebron capital of Judah David in Jerusalem capital of United Israel Israel
TIME 7 years 33 years c. 43 years


------------UNITED KINGDOM-------------------------------DIVIDED KINGDOMS
                                                                                    of Israel and Judah
c.1047         c. 1010      c.1000          c. 970         c. 930                            722                     587/6                  539            
Saul            death          David          Solomon    death of Solomon             \                       Judah                 Persians
anointed     of Saul        captures       -builds              -Rehoboam             Israel                 destroyed by        defeat
by Samuel                     Jerusalem    God's Temple     alienates                destroyed by      Babylon/              Babylon
1stKing                                                in Jerusalem      Northern Tribes      Assyrians           2 tribes in Exile   \Edict of
                                                                                     Civil War                10 tribes in Exile                             Cyrus allows
                                                                                                                                                                           the return of
                                                                                                                                                                           Judah's citizens

Chapter 1: The Death of Saul and the Defeat of Israel

At the end of the first book of Samuel, the Philistines were launching a campaign for control of northern Israel and the Israelites were preparing to meet the Philistines in battle in the Valley of Jezreel. David had been dismissed by his Philistine overlord, the king of Gath, and therefore David and his men made the three day journey back to their town of Ziklag in the Negeb of Judah (1 Sam 29). Upon arriving at Ziklag, they discovered that the undefended town had been burned to the ground in a raid by the Amalekites who had come up out of the southern Negeb. The Amalekites had captured their wives, children, and animals and had taken them south. David and his men immediately set out in pursuit of the Amalekites, caught up with them, and defeated them in battle. They recovered their wives and children, the captives from other towns in the Judean Negeb, and all the herds and flocks of animals (1 Sam 30).

In the meantime, the Philistines engaged the Israelite army of King Saul in battle at Mount Gilboa at the western end of the Jezreel Valley. Saul and three of his sons, including David's friend Jonathan, were killed on Mount Gilboa and the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines. The Philistines desecrated the bodies of Saul and his sons and hung them on the walls of the captured town of Beth-Shean. The people of the Transjordan (east side of the Jordan River) town Jabesh-Gilead, who owed a debt of gratitude to Saul for rescuing them from the Ammonites twenty years earlier (1 Sam 11:1-11), sent warriors on a mission to recover the bodies. They brought the bodies back to Jabesh and provided an honorable burial for Saul and his sons (1 Sam chapter 31).

2 Samuel 1:1-10 ~ David Learns of Saul's death
1 Saul was dead and David, returning after his victory over the Amalekites, had been at Ziklag for two days. 2 On the third day, a man arrived from Saul's camp with his clothes torn and earth on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. 3 David asked him, "Where have you come from?" "I have escaped from the Israelite camp," he said. 4 David said, "What has happened? Tell me." He replied, "The people fled from the battle, and many of them have fallen and are dead. Saul and his son Jonathan are dead too." 5 Then David asked the young man who brought the news [the youth who was telling him], "How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?" 6 The young man [the youth who was telling him] replied, "I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul, leaning on his spear, with the chariots and the cavalry bearing down on him. 7 Glancing behind him and seeing me, he shouted to me. I replied, Here I am!' 8 He said, Who are you?' I replied, I am an Amalekite.' 9 He then said, Come here and kill me [stand over me and finish me]. My head is swimming, although I still have all my strength [for agony seized me although I still have life].' 10 So I went over to him [stood over him] and killed him [finished him], because I knew that once he fell he could not survive. I then took the crown which he had on his head and the bracelet on his arm, and have brought them here to my lord."
= literal Hebrew translation IBHE, vol. II, page 801-2.

The second half of the Book of Samuel begins in the same way as the Book of Joshua and the Book of Judges by announcing the death of a major figure in salvation history. The Book of Joshua begins by announcing the death of Moses (Josh 1:1) and the Book of Judges begins by announcing the death of Joshua (Josh 1:1).

On the third day after David's victory over the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 31, a young man comes into David's camp with torn clothes and dirt on his head, the conventional signs of mourning (verse 2). The young man wants to make it clear that he regards Saul's death and Israel's defeat as a catastrophic event, but as we shall see he really sees the event as an opportunity. Notice the mention of the "third day;" it is the fourth mention of "three days" since 1 Samuel 30:1, 12, 13. Three is always the symbolic number of some important event, especially an important event in God's divine plan. This is the inspired writer's way of telling us that all these events are directed by God's divine providence.

In verse four Davis says: "What has happened?" He uses the same identical Hebrew words as were spoken in 1 Samuel 4:16 by the priest Eli when he was brought the news of Israel's defeat by the Philistines and the death of his sons. There are several echoes of that scene in this part of the narrative. Notice that the phrase in the Hebrew text: "the youth who was telling him" is repeated three times in verses 5, 6 and 13.

The account of Saul's death in 2 Samuel does not agree with the account in 1 Samuel 31:3-7 where it was recorded that Saul fell on his sword, committing suicide. Although only the manner of Saul's death disagrees with the first account, the other details are in agreement. There are two different ways to explain the apparent discrepancy:

  1. The young man was lying about dispatching Saul at his request to curry favor with David and receive some kind of a reward. He simply came upon Saul's dead body lying on the battlefield.
  2. The young man came upon a dying Saul whose attempt to commit suicide had not been successful. In verse 10 the young man says that "he finished" and not that he killed Saul who was dying. It is possible that when Saul fell on his sword that his armor bearer only thought he was dead.

In verse 8 we learn that the young man is an Amalekite. That is significant because an Amalekite, even one who was a resident alien in Israel, would have no religious reasons to hinder him from doing violence to an Israelite king who is "Yahweh's anointed." Notice the young man never refers respectfully to Saul as Israel's "king." It is also interesting that the Amalekite says that Saul was "leaning on his spear" (verse 7) the symbol of his kingship.

9 He then said, Come here and kill me [stand over me and finish me]. My head is swimming, although I still have all my strength [for agony seized me although I still have life].'
Biblical scholar Robert Alter writes that the sentence construction and vocabulary suggest that Saul knows that he is dying. He writes that the Hebrew noun appears to be related to a root that suggests "confusion" or alternately "weakness," and the construction of the verbal stem suggests that Saul is asking the Amalekite not to kill him but to finish him off before the Philistines can get to him. He also points out that the Hebrew sentence seems to leave off as though the Amalekite was suggesting that Saul was too weak to continue speaking (Ancient Israel, page 426). Since the young man stood "over" Saul to "finish him" in verses 9 and 10 (the more accurate wording in the Hebrew text), Saul was probably on his knees and leaning on his upright spear. It is also unlikely that the young Amalekite came upon Saul as the battle was raging as he suggests in verse 6. It is more likely that he was a battlefield scavenger who happened upon Saul before the Philistines. The young man took Saul's crown and bracelet, signs of Saul's identity, to bring to David as proof that he killed Saul. He probably hoped to curry favor with David by telling him that he had killed David's enemy. Unfortunately, it does not turn out as the young Amalekite planned.

Question: What is ironic about the role of the Amalekite in this narrative as compared to other events concerning Amalekites in the Book of Samuel? See 1 Sam 15:1-9, 13-23; 32-33; 30:20.
Answer: There are two points of irony concerning the young Amalekite and Amalekites, Israel's sworn enemies, in general:

  1. Saul lost his hold on the kingship of Israel when he failed to kill the Amalekites, including their king, and now Saul, according to the young man, has begged an Amalekite to kill him.
  2. David has just returned from a battle in which he and his men killed many Amalekites, and now an Amalekite has admitted to David that he has killed Israel's king.

2 Samuel 1:11-16 ~ David's Reaction to the News of Saul's death
11 David then took hold of his clothes and tore them, and all the men with him did the same. 12 They mourned and wept and fasted until the evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, for the people of Yahweh and for the House of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13 David said to the young man who had brought the news [the youth who was telling him], "where are you from?' He replied, "I am the son of a resident foreigner, an Amalekite." 14 David said, "How was it that you were not afraid to destroy Yahweh's anointed?" 15 Then David called one of the young men. "Come here, he said, "strike him down." The man struck him and he died. 16 David said, "Your blood be on your own head. You convicted yourself out of your own mouth by saying, I killed Yahweh's anointed.'" [..] = literal Hebrew translation IBHE, vol. II, page 802.

David displays the tradition expression of grief by tearing his clothing and his men follow his example. They also weep and fast until evening (the beginning of the next day was at sundown).
Question: For whom do they weep?
Answer: They weep:

Question: What order does David give concerning the young Amalekite and why?
Answer: David orders his execution for taking the life of God's anointed.

2 Samuel 1:17-27 ~ David's Elegy for Saul and Jonathan
17 David sang the following lament over Saul and his son Jonathan 18 (it is for teaching archery to the children of Judah; it is written in the Book of the Just [seper hayyasar]):
19 Does the splendor of Israel lie dead on your heights?
How did the heroes fall?
20 Do not speak of it in Gath, nor broadcast it in the streets of Ashkelon,
for fear the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
for fear the daughters of the uncircumcised gloat.
21 You mountains of Gilboa, no dew, no rain fall on you,
O treacherous fields where the heroes shield lies dishonored!
Not greased [anointed] with oil, the shield of Saul,
22 but with the blood of wounded men the fat of warriors!
The bow of Jonathan never turned back,
the sword of Saul never came home unsated!
23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and handsome,
were divided neither in life, nor in death.
Swifter than eagles were they, stronger than lions.
24 O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul
who gave you scarlet and fine linen to wear,
who pinned golden jewelry on your dresses!
25 How did the heroes fall in the thick of battle?
Jonathan, by your dying I too am stricken,
26 I am desolate for you, Jonathan my brother.
Very dear you were to me,
your love more wonderful to me than the love of a woman.
27 How did the heroes fall and the weapons of war succumb!

The inspired writer has told us that David was a skilled musician (1 Sam 16:19-23; 18:10), but this is the first time one of David's original compositions has been recorded in the Book of Samuel. According to the titles of the Psalms, David authored 73 of the 150 Psalms. David expresses his grief over Saul and Jonathan's deaths and Israel's defeat by composing a lament for the fallen, a common practice in the ancient Near East.(3)

After stating the intended use of the song in the future (verse 18), the lament can be divided into six parts:

  1. David begins his lament by addressing the hill where the tragedy occurred (verse 19).
  2. Next, he implores for Israel at large not to inform the citizens of the Philistine city of Gath of their deaths so their daughters will not gloat (verse 20).
  3. He speaks to the hill of Gilboa (verse 21).
  4. He addresses Saul and Jonathan (verses 22-23).
  5. Then David addresses the daughters of Israel (verse 24).
  6. Finally David speaks to Jonathan alone (verses 25-26). It is a section of the lament that is bracketed by two rhetorical questions: "How did the heroes fall in the thick of the battle?" and "How did the heroes fall and the weapons of war succumb!"

18 (it is for teaching archery to the children of Judah; it is written in the Book of the Just [seper hayyasar = Book of Yasar/Jashar])...
Verse 18a states the use of the lament in the future. It is a sentence difficult to translate but may refer to teaching young Israelites to sing the lament as they are trained in the skills of the bow, since Jonathan was an accomplished archer. The inspired writer states that the lament is recorded in the Book of Jashar (yasar in Hebrew) which may mean the "Book of the Just" or "Book of the Righteous," or if yasar is used as a verb, it could be translated "Book of Song." It is apparently an anthology of poetry that unfortunately has been lost to time. The book probably contained an early account of Israel's wars and other historical events written in poetic form. The book is also mentioned in Joshua 10:13 in a reference to the miracle of the sun and moon halting in the sky: Is this not written in the Book of the Just? The sun stood still in the middle of the sky and delayed its setting for almost a whole day. It is also mentioned in the Greek Septuagint in association with King Solomon's poem for the dedication ceremony of the Jerusalem Temple. The LXX (Septuagint Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) records that the full poem was recorded in "the Book of Song" in LXX III Kng 8:53. There are only two lines of the poem from the Book of Jasher in 1 Kings 8:12-13: Yahweh has chosen to dwell in thick cloud. I have guilt you a princely dwelling, a residence for you forever.

19 Does the splendor of Israel lie dead on your heights? How did the heroes fall?
David begins his lament by addressing Mount Gilboa where the heroes of Israel fell in battle and he asks the rhetorical question: "How did the heroes fall?" In his question he may be asking "what is the true account of how they died" or "how did this tragedy happen?"

20 Do not speak of it in Gath, nor broadcast it in the streets of Ashkelon, for fear the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, for fear the daughters of the uncircumcised gloat.
The mention of the Philistine city of Gath recalls David's service to the king of that city. He does not want the people of Gath who knew him and of his estrangement from Saul to gloat over Saul's death and Israel's defeat (1 Sam 27:2-3). It was usually the women and young girls of towns who danced and sang in victory processions (see 1 Sam 18:6-7).

21-22 You mountains of Gilboa, no dew, no rain fall on you, O treacherous fields where the heroes shield lies dishonored! Not greased [anointed] with oil, the shield of Saul, 22 but with the blood of wounded men the fat of warriors!
David asks that the very earth were they fell be punished for their deaths. Then he speaks of Saul's shield. Israelite shields were made of a wood frame covered in leather. To keep the leather from cracking, the shields were greased with animal fat regularly. The animal fat also probably made a slippery surface that helped to deflect an enemy's weapon. In his poem, David speaks of the irony of Saul's shield not being greased with oil but with the blood of the men Saul killed on the battlefield.

Describing Saul's shield as not greased with oil, which literally means "not anointed with oil," may be a pun on Saul's condition as the "unanointed" or "messiah-less" since Saul, although still God's anointed, is no longer God's chosen "anointed/messiah" (Ancient Israel, page 429).

22b The bow of Jonathan never turned back, the sword of Saul never came home unsated! 23 Saul and Jonathan, beloved and handsome, were divided neither in life, nor in death. Swifter than eagles were they, stronger than lions.
After the image of the defensive shield, David turns to the offensive weapons of the bow and sword. David addresses Jonathan and Saul, praising their skills as warriors and their family unity.
Question: Verse 23 is an idealized version of Saul and Jonathan's relationship. How is David's praise of the father and son in verse 23 is not entirely accurate? See 1 Sam 14:44-45 and 20:33.
Answer: Jonathan was beloved but not necessarily Saul whose mental illness made his behavior unpredictable and he could behave ruthlessly against his own people, including David. Also, the father and son were not united in life; they were estranged. Twice Saul tried to kill Jonathan and they argued bitterly over David.

24 O daughters of Israel, weep for Saul who gave you scarlet and fine linen to wear, who pinned golden jewelry on your dresses!
David reminds the women that they should weep for Saul because he made Israel prosperous; it was a prosperity from which they benefited in their jewelry and dresses (scarlet cloth was expensive and a sign of status).

25 How did the heroes fall in the thick of battle? Jonathan, by your dying I too am stricken,
26 I am desolate for you, Jonathan my brother. Very dear you were to me, your love more wonderful to me than the love of a woman. 27 How did the heroes fall and the weapons of war succumb!
The final section of David's lament is addressed to Jonathan and is bracketed by two rhetorical questions. There is nothing unseemly in David's expression of brotherly love for Jonathan. In warrior societies it was common for very close brotherly ties of loyalty and affection among the warriors in the ancient world and in professional combat arms units today. The terrible events of battle that they witness and take part in cannot be shared with their wives or family members, and the emotional toile such violent experiences take on them can only be shared with a fellow warrior who has experienced those same horrific experiences.

27 How did the heroes fall and the weapons of war succumb!
The rhetorical question at the end of the lament is an image of the shield, the sword and the bow mentioned earlier that is abandoned on the battlefield like the bodies of Saul and Jonathan.

Chapter 2: David Becomes King of Judah

2 Samuel 2:1-4 ~ David is Consecrated King of Judah at Hebron
1 After this David consulted Yahweh, asking, "Shall I go up to one of the towns of Judah?" Yahweh replied, "Go up!" "Which one shall I go to?" David asked. "To Hebron," was the reply. 2 So David went up, with his two wives Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3 In addition David brought up the men who were with him, each with his family, and they settled in the towns of Hebron. 4 The men of Judah came, and there they anointed David as king of the House of Judah.

David never makes an important decision without consulting Yahweh and seeking His counsel. In this case he asks God if he should leave Ziklag in Philistine territory and move his headquarters, his family and the families of his men to one of the towns in Judah. God tells him to go to Hebron, the capital city of the tribe of Judah. In Hebrew Hebron means "confederacy" and is situated on a hill about nineteen miles south southwest of Jerusalem. According to Numbers 13:22, the city of Hebron was built seven years before the important Egyptian city of Zoan (also called Avaris or Tanis in Greek) in about 1735 BC. However, excavations at Hebron have discovered human occupation dating back a millennium and a half earlier so the Biblical account of the cities age may refer to when it was rebuilt as capital of Egypt during the Hyksos period. The ancient name of the city was Kiriath Abra when Abraham lived there, built an altar there (Gen 13:18), and purchased a field and burial cave there (Gen 23:2, 17).

In 2 Samuel 2:4 the men of Judah publicly anoint David as their king. The rest of Israel, however, will not accept David's kingship for 7 1/2 years.

2 Samuel 2:5-7 ~ David's Message to the People of Jabesh
5 They told David that the people of Jabesh in Gilead had given Saul burial, so David sent messengers to the people of Jabesh in Gilead. "May you be blessed by Yahweh," he said "for showing this faithful love [hesed] to Saul your lord, and for burying him. 6 And now may Yahweh show faithful love [hesed] and constancy towards you! I too shall treat you well because you have done this. 7 And now take courage and be men of valor. Saul our lord is dead, but the House of Judah has anointed me to be their king."

Question: What was David's first royal act as king of Judah?
Answer: He sent a message to the people of Jabesh-Gilead thanking them for rescuing the body of Saul and his sons and giving them an honorable burial and promises them his good will.

In verse 6 David subtly invites the people of Jabesh in the Transjordan to acknowledge him as their king, but they are not in a position to accept his invitation at this time. Those who support Ishbaal's kingship include the tribes of Asher, Ephraim, Manasseh in the Jezreel Valley, Saul's tribe of Benjamin and most of tribes of Israel on both sides of the Jordan River with the exception of Judah. Judah's refusal to acknowledge Ishbaal's kingship and their anointing of David as their king is a division in Israel and grounds for war. It probably took several years (perhaps as many as five years) for Abner to get the majority of the tribes to recognize Ishbaal's kingship.

2 Samuel 2:8-11 ~ Abner Installs Saul's son Ishbaal as King of Israel
8 Abner son of Ner, Saul's army commander, had taken Ishbaal son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. 9 He had made him king of Gilead, of the Asherites, of Jezreel, of Ephraim, of Benjamin and indeed of all Israel. 10 Ishbaal son of Saul was forty years old when he became king of Israel, and he reigned for two years. 11 Only the House of Judah supported David. The length of David's reign over Judah in Hebron was seven years and six months.

After the Battle of Gilboa, the victorious Philistines control most of central and northern Israel. Abner, Saul's cousin and commanding general, has withdrawn with the surviving Israelite army across the Jordan River into the Transjordan where the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh lived. They made their headquarters at Mahanaim, a city in the mountainous region of the Gilead in the tribal territory of Gad (Josh 13:26) near its border with the tribe of Manasseh. The town is strategically situated near the confluence of the Jordan and Jabbok rivers and was known as a place of refuge. It is where Jacob stayed before his meeting with Esau and when the "messengers of God" met him, prompting Jacob to say: "This is the (military) camp [Hebrew = mahaneh] of God" (Gen 32:10). It is from Jacob's statement that it was the "camp" of God that the city took its name. It is also a Levitical city assigned to the Levite clan of Merari (see Josh 21:38; 2 Sam 17:24 and 1 Chr 6:80).

2 Samuel 2:12-17 ~ Civil War
12 Abner son of Ner, with the retainers of Ishbaal son of Saul, marched out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13 Joab son of Zeruiah, with David's retainers, also took the field, encountering them at the pool of Gibeon. There they halted, one party on one side of the pool, and the other opposite. 14 Abner then said to Joab, "Let the men come forward." 15 So they came forward and were numbered off, twelve from Benjamin for Ishbaal son of Saul, and twelve of David's retainers. 16 Each caught his opponent by the head and drove his sword into his side; thus they all fell together. Hence the place was called the Field of Sides; it is at Gibeon. 17 That day a very fierce battle took place, and Abner and the men of Israel were beaten by David's retainers.

The archaeological site identified as the Biblical pool of Gibeon is on the west side of the Jordan River about six miles northwest of Jerusalem. It is a large cistern cut into solid rock that is eighty-two feet deep and thirty-seven feet wide. A tunnel connects the cistern to another chamber at ground water level. Water is accessible by descending steps along the circumference of the cistern and then following a tunnel to a chamber fed by a spring outside the city wall. Constructed in the 11th century BC, the pool had been used for over 100 years by the time this encounter took place. The pool is also mentioned in Jeremiah 41:12 in the 6th century BC.

David's men from the tribe of Judah led by Joab and Abner's Benjaminite warriors (2:25, 30) end up opposite each other by the pool of Gibeon. Abner suggests that a select group of warriors from David's Judahite warriors and Abner's Benjaminite warriors fight to determine the victor to lessen loss of life with Israelite fighting Israelite. The victorious group would then claim victory for the battle.

Question: Who is Joab? See 1 Sam 26:6; 1 Chr 2:13-16; 18:15.
Answer: He is the son of David's elder sister Zeruiah and the brother of Abishai and Asahel. He is the commander of David's army.

Question: What was the result of the individual combat between the Judahites and Benjaminites? Remember that every warrior is an Israelite.
Answer: Unfortunately, being Israelites trained in the same fighting tactics, each soldier seized his opponent by the head and thrust his sword into his opponent's side; they all died.

It is interesting that there were twelve men selected on each side. Twelve is the number symbolizing Israel (the twelve sons of Jacob-Israel were the physical fathers of the twelve tribes), and each side claimed to represent the true Israel. Since the group combat did not determine a victor, a battle ensued and Abner's forces were beaten by David's men.(1)

2 Samuel 2:18-23 ~ The Tragic Death of Asahel
18 The three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel could run like a wild gazelle. 19 Asahel chased Abner, not swerving to the right nor left from pursuing him. 20 Abner turned and said, "Asahel, is that you?" He replied, "It is." 21 Abner said, "Turn to your right or your left, catch one of the men and take his spoil!" But Asahel would not break off the pursuit. 22 Again Abner spoke to Asahel, "Stop following me, unless you want me to strike you to the ground; and then how could I look your brother Joab in the face?" 23 But he refused to be diverted, so Abner struck him in the belly with the butt of his spear so that the shaft came out through his back; and he fell at his feet and died on the spot. On coming to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, everyone halted.

Near the end of the battle, Abner attempted to retreat but was followed by Asahel. The younger man could run faster and was catching up with Abner. Abner did not want to kill Asahel. He knew his family and had a relationship with Joab from the time when both David and Joab served under his command in Saul's army. He also knew that killing Asahel would likely cause a blood feud with Asahel's family.
Question: After twice trying to convince Asahel to break off his pursuit, what does Abner do?
Answer: He strikes Asahel in the stomach with the butt end of his spear.

Abner may have been trying to avoid killing Asahel by striking him not with the lance end of his spear but with the butt end in a backward thrust as he was running forward. Unfortunately, Asahel's forward momentum and the vulnerable place the butt end struck was enough to drive the end of the spear through his body and kill the young warrior. It is also possible that the butt end of Abner's spear had a metal blade or fork attached to it so that it could be stuck in the ground and stand upright (1 Sam 26:7), making the strike lethal.

2 Samuel 2:24-28 ~ Abner Appeals to Joab
24 Joab and Abishai took up the pursuit of Abner and at sunset reached the Hill of Ammah, which is to the east of Giah on the road through the desert of Gibeon. 25 The Benjaminites gathered in close formation behind Abner and halted on the top of a hill. 26 Abner called out to Joab, "Is the sword to go on devouring forever? Surely you see that this can only end in bitterness? How long will it be before you order those people to stop pursuing their brothers?" 27 Joab replied, "As Yahweh lives, if you had not spoken, these men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until morning." 28 Joab then sounded the trumpet and all the troops halted; they pursued Israel no further and fought no more.

Joab, Abishai and their fellow Judahites pursued Abner and the Benjaminites as they retreat to the east, trying to reach the Jordan River; they finally paused when they reached the Hill of Ammah at sunset. To avoid further bloodshed, Abner appeals to Joab to stop the pursuit of their "brothers," meaning their Israelite kinsmen and calls out, "Is the sword to go on devouring forever? Abner uses a familiar metaphor that is found elsewhere in Scripture (see Dt 32:42; 2 Sam 18:8; etc). It was probably only because his men were exhausted and they needed to bury their dead that Joab sounded the ram's horn trumpet to signal cessation of the pursuit.

2 Samuel 2:29-32-3:1 ~ Abner and his men escape
29 All that night Abner and his men made their way through the Arabah; they crossed the Jordan and, marching throughout the morning [or through the ravine?], came to Mahanaim. 30 Joab, having stopped pursuing Abner, mustered the whole contingent; David's retainers had lost nineteen men in addition to Asahel, 31 but had killed three hundred and sixty of Benjamin, Abner's men. 32 They took up Asahel and buried him in his father's tomb, which is at Bethlehem. Joab and his men then marched throughout the night, reaching Hebron at daybreak. 3:1 So the war dragged on between the House of Saul and the House of David, but David grew steadily stronger and the House of Saul steadily weaker.
[..] =
Hebrew translation, Robert Alter, Ancient Israel, page 436.

The Ababah is a north-south depression running from the Sea of Galilee in the north all the way to the Gulf of Aqabah in the south. Scholar Robert Alter writes that the proposal that the Hebrew term bitron, whose root means to cleave or split, which is sometimes translated as "middle of the morning or throughout the morning," "has no warrant in ancient Hebrew usage." Alter renders the translation: "went all the way through the ravine," a reference to the Arabah, in order to come to Mahanaim (Ancient Israel, page 436).

Abner's losses are far greater than Joab's losses. David's men are seasoned warriors who have been continually honing their skills for many years. They immediately see to burying their dead, as is their custom (and still is today among the Jews). Lying unburied on the battlefield and being prey for wild animals was the greatest horror that a warrior could face (1 Sam 17:44, 46); therefore, they probably also buried the Benjaminite dead. To be buried in one's father's tomb was the hope of every warrior (verse 32; 19:38; 21:14).

32 They took up Asahel and buried him in his father's tomb, which is at Bethlehem. Joab and his men then marched throughout the night, reaching Hebron at daybreak.
Joab may have buried his brother not at their father's tomb but at the family tomb of their grandfather, Jesse. Joab probably led a forced march through the night to Hebron because he did not want to be caught so close to Benjaminite territory. Bethlehem is on the border between Judahite tribal territory and Benjaminite territory that begins five miles north at Jerusalem. Hebron is about 15 miles south of Bethlehem.

Chapter 3: The Rift Between Abner and Ishbaal and
the Blood Feud Between Abner and Joab

2 Samuel 3:2-5 ~ David's Family
2 The sons born to David at Hebron were: his first-born Ammon, by Ahinoam of Jezreel; 3 his second Chileab, by Abigail widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third Absalom son of Maacah, daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; 4 the fourth Adonijah son of Haggith; the fifth Shephatiah son of Abital; 5 the sixth Ithream, by David's wife, Eglah. These were born to David at Hebron.

There is a more extensive list of David's wives and children in 1 Chronicles 3:1-9.
Question: Among the commands God gave the Israelites concerning the rule of a human king in Deuteronomy 17:14-20, which of these commands has David now broken? Answer: He has broken the command concerning acquiring many wives.

This is David's first misstep; he has a weakness for pretty women. Later we will see how this character flaw will lead to David's first relationship break with Yahweh. His marriage to Talmai, however, is probably a political marriage involving a convent treaty with her father who is the king of Geshur. This association shows that David is extending his influence to the north. Geshur is a small kingdom whose territory formed part of southern Golan, east of the Sea of Galilee (Josh 12:5; 13:11, 13). It was not conquered during the first phase of the conquest of Canaan and remained an independent Aramean kingdom at this time.(2) Notice that David's "house"/family continues to grow while Saul's "house"/family is continually diminished.

2 Samuel 3:6-11 ~ Ishbaal Offends Abner
6 This is what took place during the war between the House of Saul and the House of David. Abner took complete control in the House of Saul. 7 Now, there was a concubine of Saul's called Rizpah daughter of Aiah, and Abner took her. Ishbaal said to Abner, "Why have you slept with my father's concubine?" 8 At these words of Ishbaal, Abner flew into a rage. "Am I a dog's head [belonging to Judah]?" he shouted. "Here am I, full of faithful love [hesed] towards the House of Saul your father, his brothers and his friends, not leaving you to the hands of David, and now you find fault with me over a woman! 9 May God bring unnamable ills on Abner, and worse ones too, if I do not bring about what Yahweh has sworn to David: 10 to take the sovereignty from the House of Saul, and establish David's throne over Israel as well as Judah, from Dan to Beersheba!" 11 Ishbaal dared not say a single word to Abner in reply, as he was afraid of him.
[..] "attached to Judah" or "belonging to Judah" is not in the Greek text but is in the Hebrew text.

Abner had always been fond of David ever since he slew Goliath and entered Saul's service (1 Sam 17:55-56; 18:5). He must have felt conflicted knowing that David was God's anointed and yet having the obligations of his kinship attachment to the House of Saul (he was Saul's cousin and closest friend). It was his blood tie and affection for Saul that caused him to place Saul's remaining son on the throne, even though that son was a weak and feckless man.

7 Now, there was a concubine of Saul's called Rizpah daughter of Aiah, and Abner took her. Ishbaal said to Abner, "Why have you slept with my father's concubine?"
Question: For what reason does Ishbaal demand to know why Abner has taken Saul's concubine as his woman?
Answer: Ishbaal may be suspicious that Abner has designs on the throne and taking King Saul's concubine is the first step.

Ishbaal's veiled accusation is not unreasonable. Marriage to or possession of the former wives, daughters or concubines of a king was seen as a legitimate claim to that man's throne. However, if Abner had designs on Saul's throne, as a member of the royal family he could have killed Ishbaal and taken the throne earlier. Perhaps he really loved the woman and Ishbaal may have been suggesting that he desires her for himself. It was the custom of new kings to assume the harem of their predecessors.(4)

8 At these words of Ishbaal, Abner flew into a rage. "Am I a dog's head belonging to Judah?" he shouted. "Here am I, full of faithful love [hesed] towards the House of Saul your father, his brothers and his friends, not leaving you to the hands of David, and now you find fault with me over a woman!
The comparison to a dog in the Biblical idiom regularly figures as a contemptible image. Dogs were considered scavengers. The phrase "attached/belonging to Judah" means that Abner is taking Ishbaal's words to suggest he is a traitor to his tribe of Benjamin in favor of David and the tribe of Judah. Perhaps this is the last of many insults Abner has patiently born. Abner understands the accusation and is insulted that he would be accused of such a treachery after all he has done to secure Ishbaal's throne. The result of this last insult is that Ishbaal has alienated the one man who could protect him. Abner's anger with Ishbaal, his fondness for David, his conviction that David is Yahweh's chosen, and perhaps his love for Saul's concubine, Rizpah, has now overcome his feelings of loyalty to the House of Saul. Remember the name of Saul's concubine. Both Abner and Rizpah are tragic figures in salvation history.

Question: What oath does Abner swear in the name of Yahweh?
Answer: He swears a self-curse in the name of Yahweh if he does not transfer his covenant loyalty to David.

2 Samuel 3:12-16 ~ Abner and David Reconcile
12 Abner sent messengers on his own behalf to say to David, "... [words lost from the text] and furthermore, come to an agreement with me and I will give you my support to win all Israel over to you." 13 "Very well," David said, "I will come to an agreement with you. I impose one condition however; you will not be admitted to my presence unless you bring me Michal, Saul's daughter, when you come to see me." 14 David then sent messengers to say to Ishbaal son of Saul, "Give me back my wife Michal, whom I acquired for a hundred foreskins of the Philistines." 15 So Ishbaal sent for her to be taken from her husband Paltiel son of Laish. 16 Her husband set off with her and followed her, weeping as he went, as far as Bahurim; but Abner said to him, "Go back!" and he went.

Abner sends a message to David, pledging his political support and the promise to convince the other tribes who recognize Ishbaal's kingship to abandon the House of Saul and acknowledge David as king of a united Israel. The conditions Abner requests for his support are lost to the text. Did he ask for Rizpah? David will make a similar request.
Question: What condition does David demand from Abner? See 1 Sam 18:20-27.
Answer: David requires that Abner use his influence with Ishbaal to have Saul's daughter Michal returned to David. David's marriage to Saul's daughter gave him a legitimate, political claim to the throne.

Question: What is the significance of the one hundred Philistine foreskins that David mentions in verse 14? See 1 Sam 18:25.
Answer: That was the "bride price" Saul demanded from David to marry his daughter. In other words, the marriage was legal and binding because Saul accepted David's "bride price."

When David had to flee from Saul's court to save his life, Saul gave Michal in marriage to another man (1 Sam 25:44). Tragically, Michal's second husband seems to have truly loved her as Michal once loved David even to the point of risking her own life to save David from her father (1 Sam 19:11-17). Now she had been torn from a husband who loves her to be returned to a man who probably never loved her and only sees her as a political advantage.

2 Samuel 3:17-21 ~ Abner Negotiates with the Elders of Israel on David's Behalf
17 Now Abner conferred with the elders of Israel. "For a long time now," he said, "you have wanted David as your king. 18 Now you must take action, since Yahweh has said of David, By the hand of my servant David I shall deliver my people Israel from the clutches of the Philistines and all their enemies.'" 19 Abner also spoke to the men of Benjamin and then went to Hebron to tell David everything that had been agreed by Israel and the House of Benjamin. 20 Abner, accompanied by twenty men, came to David at Hebron, and David held a feast for Abner and the men who were with hm. 21 Abner then said to David, "I must get up and go. I am going to rally all Israel to my lord the king, so that they will make an alliance with you, and you will reign over all that you desire." So David allowed Abner to go, and he went unmolested.

Abner uses his considerable influence to convince the elders of Israel to transfer their support from Ishbaal to David. He has singlehandedly brought over the eleven tribes of Israel into David's camp, including his own and Ishbaal's tribe of Benjamin. Abner was Saul's commanding general for twenty years and the elders of Israel trust him. After a victory dinner, Abner is anxious make the arrangements to call a national assembly of all the tribes of Israel to announce their acceptance of David as their king. Abner has handed David his kingdom without a civil war between the tribes.

2 Samuel 3:22-27 ~ Joab Kills Abner
22 David's retainers were just then coming back with Joab from a raid, bringing a great quantity of booty with them. Abner was no longer with David at Hebron, since David had allowed him to go, and he had gone unmolested. 23 When Joab and the whole company with him had arrived, Joab was told, "Abner son of Ner has been to the king, and the king has allowed Abner to go away unmolested." 24 Joab then went to the king and said, "What have you done? Abner comes to you and you let him go away and now he has gone; why? 25 You know Abner son of Ner! He came to trick you, to discover your every move, to find out what you are doing." 26 Joab left David's presence and sent messengers after Abner and these, unknown to David, brought him back from the storage well at Sirah. 27 When Abner reached Hebron, Joab took him aside in the town gate, as if too have a quiet word with him, and there struck him a mortal blow in the belly to avenge the blood of his brother Asahel.

Knowing Joab's enmity against Abner, David may have sent him on the raid to avoid having a confrontation between the two men at the banquet. When Joab discovers Abner has been to Hebron he is outraged that David let him go.
Question: What two accusations does Joab make?
Answer: He accuses David that he let an enemy go and he accuses Abner of only coming to spy on David.

He sends messenger to call Abner back to Hebron, probably telling him David needs to confer with him again. When Abner returns, Joab assassinates him by stabbing him in the belly; it is the same mortal wound that killed his brother. Abner killed Joab's brother in self-defense on the battlefield, but Joab has murdered Abner.
Question: In addition to wanting revenge for the death of his brother, what other two reasons might have contributed to Joab's motive for murdering Abner? Hint: Years later, in a similar situation, Joab will kill his cousin Amasa after David reconciles with his formerly traitorous nephew and appoints Amasa his chief military commander to replace Joab (2 Sam 19:13-15; 20:8-13).
Answer: Joab is fiercely loyal to David but he is also both ambitious and ruthless:

  1. He said he believed Abner was going to betray David.
  2. He feared Abner might be given command of David's army; it was a position he has held for over seven years.

2 Samuel 3:28-39 ~ David's Reaction to Abner's Murder
28 Afterwards, when David heard of this, he said, "I and my kingdom are forever innocent before Yahweh of the blood of Abner son of Ner; 29 may it [the blood guilt] fall on the head of Joab and on all his family! May the House of Joab never be free of men afflicted with hemorrhage [a discharge from his member] or a virulent skin-disease [and running sores on his skin], whose strength is in the distaff, who fall by the sword, who lack food." 30 (Joab and his brother Abishai had murdered Abner because he killed their brother Asahel at the battle of Gibeon). 31 David then said to Joab and the whole company with him, "Tear your clothes, put on sackcloth, and mourn over Abner," and King David walked behind the bier. 32 They buried Abner at Hebron, and the king wept aloud on his grave, and the people all wept too. 33 The king made this lament over Abner: "Should Abner have died as a brute dies? 34 Your hands were not tied, your feet not chained; you fell as a man falls at the hands of criminals." All the people wept for him louder than ever. 35 The people then all tried to persuade David to have some food while it was still daylight, but David swore this oath, "May God bring unnamable ills on me, and worse ills too, if I taste bread or anything whatever until the sun is down!" 36 All the people took note of this and it pleased them; indeed, everything the king did pleased the people. 37 That day, all the people and all Israel understood that the king had had no part in the murder of Abner son of Ner. 38 The kings said to his retainers, "do you not realize that a prince, a great man has fallen in Israel today? 39 I, though anointed king, am weak at present, and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too strong for me. May Yahweh repay the criminal as his crime deserves!"
[..] =
literal translation IBHE, vol. II, pages 810-11.

Question: Why is it necessary for David to immediately declare his innocence concerning the death of Abner? In what precarious position has Abner's death placed David?
Answer: Abner was highly esteemed by the tribes of Israel. If the other tribes believed that David had committed such a treacherous act as killing Abner after his efforts to bring the other eleven tribes to acknowledge David as their king, David would lose all the support Abner had won for him.

Question: What measures does David take to assure the tribes of Israel that he is innocent and did not order Abner's death?

  1. He swears by God's divine name that he is innocent of Abner's death.
  2. He curses his own kinsmen who are responsible for Abner's death.
  3. He orders the people, including Joab and Abishai, to publically mourn Abner's death.
  4. He leads the burial procession behind Abner's brier and buries Abner in his capital city.
  5. He composes and sings a public lament for Abner.
  6. He pronounces Abner's death unjustified.
  7. He fasts and utters a self-curse against himself if he breaks the fast before sundown.

Question: What was the force of the curse David uttered against Joab's family in verse 29? See Lev 13:1-8, 45-46; 15:1-3, 31. Hint: a distaff is a tool used in spinning.

33 The king made this lament over Abner: "Should Abner have died as a brute dies? 34 Your hands were not tied, your feet not chained; you fell as a man falls at the hands of criminals."
The Hebrew word translated as "brute" is nabal/nabval. It is the same word as the exalanation for the name of Nabal, Abigail's foolish husband in 1 Samuel 25. A nabal is someone who perpetrates contemptible or scandalous acts. David says it is an outrage that a noble and valiant person such as Abner should have been murdered in the same way as some scoundrel might die at the hands of hired assassins.

39 I, though anointed king, am weak at present, and these men, the sons of Zeruiah, are too strong for me. May Yahweh repay the criminal as his crime deserves!"
Question: What is David's excuse for not prosecuting Joab for the death of Abner at this time? See verse 39. What is the contrast David makes between himself and his nephews?
Answer: The contrast David makes is between his weakness and the strength of his nephews.
He states that even though he is God's anointed king, he is not politically strong enough to take on Joab and his family. Therefore, he commits their punishment for the death of Abner to God, the divine judge from whom no one can escape.

It is hard to accept as credible David's claim that he is too weak to punish Joab. David loves his nephews who have been unfailingly faithful in serving him. They were among the first to join him in his exile when he was completely alone (1 Sam 22:1). The lack of will to inflict harsh punishment on members of his family is a weakness for which David will pay a heavy price. As you may recall, God judged the High Priest Eli for his failure to punish his sons when they sinned (1 Sam 2:12-13a, 17; 29-33). At the end of his life, David is still troubled by the failure of justice concerning holding Joab accountable for Abner's death. On his deathbed, David bequeaths the task of seeking justice for the innocent blood of Abner by prosecuting Joab to his son Solomon (1 Kng 2:5-6).

Question for reflection or group discussion:
What are our responsibilities concerning members of our families who are in sin either through ignorance or willful disregard for the laws of God and Mother Church? Through our Christian baptism we are also, like David, God's "anointed" representatives. On a parent's duty to children see CCC 2221-26, 2230; also see CCC 1868 on the responsibility of one who cooperates in the sins of others.


1. A tenth-century AD relief from the palace of Kapara at Tell Halaf (Biblical Gozan) illustrates the combat technique in 2 Sam 2:16 where each man seized the head of his opponent and thrust his sword into his opponent's side (Archaeology of the Old Testament, page 265).

2. Geshur is also a region in the Negeb that was conquered by David while he was still with the Philistines (1 Sam 27:8-11). They may have been colonists from Geshur.

3. For example, the prophet Jeremiah composed a national lament for the death of David's descendant King Josiah (2 Chr 35:24), and the entire Book of Lamentations is a series of laments for Jerusalem which was destroyed in 587/6 BC by the Babylonians.

4. See 2 Sam 16:20-22 where David's son Absalom leads a revolt against his father and where, when he assumes David throne in Jerusalem, he takes David's harem as his own.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references for this lesson (* indicates Scripture is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

Violence as a consequence of sin: CCC 1869, 2534
Gravity of violence: CCC 158
Promoting violence: CCC 2316
The sin of murder: CCC 1447
Murder, a sin that cries to heaven: CCC1867
Unintentional killing and self-defense: CCC 2263-65, 2269