The battle between Joab and Abner did not end the controversy between
the two houses of Saul and David, but it is in this chapter working
towards a period. Here is,
I. The gradual advance of David's interest,
2 Samuel 3:1.
II. The building up of his family,
2 Samuel 3:2-5.
III. Abner's quarrel with Ish-bosheth, and his treaty with David,
2 Samuel 3:6-12.
IV. The preliminaries settled,
2 Samuel 3:13-16.
V. Abner's undertaking and attempt to bring Israel over to David,
2 Samuel 3:17-21.
VI. The treacherous murder of Abner by Joab, when he was carrying on
2 Samuel 3:22-27.
VII. David's great concern and trouble for the death of Abner,
2 Samuel 3:28-39.
David's Wives and Children.
B. C. 1048.
1 Now 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.
2 And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn
was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
3 And 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;
4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth,
Shephatiah the son of Abital;
5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were
born to David in Hebron.
6 And 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.
I. The struggle that David had with the house of Saul before his
settlement in the throne was completed,
2 Samuel 3:1.
1. Both sides contested. Saul's house, though beheaded and diminished,
would not fall tamely. It is not strange between them, but one would
wonder it should be a long war, when David's house had right on its
side, and therefore God on its side; but, though truth and equity will
triumph at last, God made for wise and holy ends prolonged the
conflict. The length of this war tried the faith and patience of David,
and made his establishment at last the more welcome to him.
2. David's side got ground. The house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker,
lost places, lost men, sunk in its reputation, grew less considerable,
and was foiled in every engagement. But the house of David grew
stronger and stronger. Many deserted the declining cause of Saul's
house, and prudently came into David's interest, being convinced that
he would certainly win the day. The contest between grace and
corruption in the hearts of believers, who are sanctified but in part,
may fitly be compared to this recorded here. There is a long war
between them, the flesh lusted against the spirit and the spirit
against the flesh; but, as the work of sanctification is carried on,
corruption, like the house of Saul, grows weaker and weaker; while
grace, like the house of David, grows stronger and stronger, till it
come to a perfect man, and judgment be brought forth unto victory.
II. The increase of his own house. Here is an account of six sons he
had by six several wives, in the seven years he reigned in Hebron.
Perhaps this is here mentioned as that which strengthened David's
interest. Every child, whose welfare was embarked in the common safety,
was a fresh security given to the commonwealth for his care of it. He
that has his quiver filled with these arrows shall speak with his
enemy in the gate,
As the death of Saul's sons weakened his interest, so the birth of
David's strengthened his.
1. It was David's fault thus to multiply wives, contrary to the law
and it was a bad example to his successors.
2. It does not appear that in these seven years he had above one son by
each of these wives; some have had as numerous a progeny, and with much
more honour and comfort, by one wife.
3. We read not that any of these sons came to be famous (three of them
were infamous, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah); we have therefore reason
to rejoice with trembling in the building up of our families.
4. His son by Abigail is called Chileab
(2 Samuel 3:3),
(1 Chronicles 3:1)
he is called Daniel. Bishop Patrick mentions the reason which
the Hebrew doctors give for these names, that his first name was
Daniel--God has judged me (namely, against Nabal), but David's
enemies reproached him, and said, "It is Nabal's son, and not David's,"
to confute which calumny Providence so ordered it that, as he grew up,
he became, in his countenance and features, extremely like David, and
resembled him more than any of his children, upon which he gave him the
name of Chileab, which signifies, like his father, or the
5. Absalom's mother is said to be the daughter of Talmai king of
Geshur, a heathen prince. Perhaps David thereby hoped to strengthen
his interest, but the issue of the marriage was one that proved his
grief and shame.
6. The last is called David's wife, which therefore, some think,
was Michal, his first and most rightful wife, called here by another
name; and, though she had no child after she mocked David, she might
have had before.
Thus was David's house strengthened; but it was Abner that made
himself strong for the house of Saul, which is mentioned
(2 Samuel 3:6)
to show that, if he failed them, they would fall of course.
Abner Deserts to David.
B. C. 1048.
7 And 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?
8 Then 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
9 So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath
sworn to David, even so I do to him;
10 To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set
up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even
11 And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he
12 And 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
13 And 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.
14 And 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.
15 And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even
from Phaltiel the son of Laish.
16 And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to
Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.
17 And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel,
saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:
18 Now 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
19 And 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.
20 So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him.
And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.
21 And 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.
I. Abner breaks with Ish-bosheth, and deserts his interest, upon a
little provocation which Ish-bosheth unadvisedly gave him. God can
serve his own purposes by the sins and follies of men.
1. Ish-bosheth accused Abner of no less a crime than debauching one of
his father's concubines,
2 Samuel 3:7.
Whether it was so or no does not appear, nor what ground he had for the
suspicion: but, however it was, it would have been Ish-bosheth's
prudence to be silent, considering how much it was his interest not to
disoblige Abner. If the thing was false, and his jealousy groundless,
it was very disingenuous and ungrateful to entertain unjust surmises of
one who had ventured his all for him, and was certainly the best friend
he had in the world.
2. Abner resented the charge very strongly. Whether he was guilty of
the fault concerning this woman or no he does not say
(2 Samuel 3:8),
but we suspect he was guilty, for he does not expressly deny it; and,
though he was, he lets Ish-bosheth know,
(1.) That he scorned to be reproached with it by him, and would not
take reproof at his hands. "What!" says Abner, "Am I a dog's
head, a vile and contemptible animal, that thou exposest me thus?
2 Samuel 3:8.
Is this my recompence for the kindness I have shown to thee and thy
father's house, and the good services I have done you?" He magnifies
the service with this, that it was against Judah, the tribe on which
the crown was settled, and which would certainly have it at last, so
that, in supporting the house of Saul, he acted both against his
conscience and against his interest, for which he deserved a better
requital than this: and yet, perhaps, he would not have been so zealous
for the house of Saul if he had not thereby gratified his own ambition
and hoped to find his own account in it. Note, Proud men will not bear
to be reproved, especially by those whom they think they have obliged.
(2.) That he would certainly be revenged on him,
2 Samuel 3:9,10.
With the utmost degree of arrogance and insolence he lets him know
that, as he had raised him up, so he could pull him down again and
would do it. He knew that God had sworn to David to give him the
kingdom, and yet opposed it with all his might from a principle of
ambition; but now he complies with it from a principle of revenge,
under colour of some regard to the will of God, which was but a
pretence. Those that are slaves to their lusts have many masters, which
drive, some one way and some another, and, according as they make head,
men are violently hurried into self-contradictions. Abner's ambition
made him zealous for Ish-bosheth, and now his revenge made him as
zealous for David. If he had sincerely regarded God's promise to David,
and acted with an eye to that, he would have been steady and uniform in
his counsels, and acted in consistency with himself. But, while Abner
serves his own lusts, God by him serves his own purposes, makes even
his wrath and revenge to praise him, and ordains strength to David by
it. Lastly, See how Ish-bosheth was thunder-struck by Abner's
insolence: He could not answer him again,
2 Samuel 3:11.
If Ish-bosheth had had the spirit of a man, especially of a prince, he
might have answered him that his merits were the aggravation of his
crimes, that he would not be served by so base a man, and doubted not
but to do well enough without him. But he was conscious to himself of
his own weakness, and therefore said not a word, lest he should make
bad worse. His heart failed him, and he now became, as David had
foretold concerning his enemies, like a bowing wall and a tottering
II. Abner treats with David. We must suppose that he began to grow
weary of Ish-bosheth's cause, and sought an opportunity to desert it,
or else, however he might threaten Ish-bosheth with it, for the
quashing of the charge against himself, he would not have made good his
angry words so soon as he did,
2 Samuel 3:12.
He sent messengers to David, to tell him that he was at his
service. "Whose is the land? Is it not thine? For thou hast the
best title to the government and the best interest in the people's
affections." Note, God can find out ways to make those serviceable to
the kingdom of Christ who yet have no sincere affection for it and who
have vigorously set themselves against it. Enemies are sometimes made a
footstool, not only to be trodden upon, but to ascend by. The earth
helped the woman.
III. David enters into a treaty with Abner, but upon condition that he
shall procure him the restitution of Michal his wife,
2 Samuel 3:13.
1. David showed the sincerity of his conjugal affection to his first
and most rightful wife; neither her marrying another, nor his, had
alienated him from her. Many waters could not quench that love.
2. He testified his respect to the house of Saul. So far was he from
trampling upon it, now that it was fallen, that even in his elevation
he valued himself not a little on his relation to it. He cannot be
pleased with the honours of the throne unless he have Michal, Saul's
daughter, to share with him in them, so far is he from bearing any
malice to the family of his enemy. Abner sent him word that he must
apply to Ish-bosheth, which he did
(2 Samuel 3:14),
pleading that he had purchased her at a dear rate, and she was
wrongfully taken from him. Ish-bosheth durst not deny his demand, now
that he had not Abner to stand by him, but took her from Phaltiel, to
whom Saul had married her
(2 Samuel 3:15),
and Abner conducted her to David, not doubting but that then he should
be doubly welcome when he brought him a wife in one hand and a crown in
the other. Her latter husband was loth to part with her, and followed
(2 Samuel 3:16),
but there was no remedy: he must thank himself; for when he took her he
knew that another had a right to her. Usurpers must expect to resign.
Let no man therefore set his heart on that to which he is not entitled.
If any disagreement has separated husband and wife, as they expect the
blessing of God let them be reconciled, and come together again; let
all former quarrels be forgotten, and let them live together in love,
according to God's holy ordinance.
IV. Abner uses his interest with the elders of Israel to bring them
over to David, knowing that whichever way they went the common people
would follow of course. Now that it serves his own turn he can plead in
David's behalf that he was,
1. Israel's choice
(2 Samuel 3:17):
"You sought for him in times past to be king over you, when he
had signalized himself in so many engagements with the Philistines and
done you so much good service; no man can pretend to greater personal
merit than David nor to less than Ish-bosheth. You have tried them
both, Detur digniori--Give the crown to him that best deserves
it. Let David be your king."
2. God's choice
(2 Samuel 3:18):
"The Lord hath spoken of David. Compare
2 Samuel 3:9.
When God appointed Samuel to anoint him he did, in effect, promise that
by his hand he would save Israel; for for that end he was made king.
God having promised, by David's hand, to save Israel, it is both your
duty, in compliance with God's will, and your interest, in order to
your victories over your enemies, to submit to him; and it is the
greatest folly in the world to oppose him." Who would have expected
such reasonings as these out of Abner's mouth? But thus God will make
the enemies of his people to know and own that he has loved
He particularly applied to the men of Benjamin, those of his own tribe,
on whom he had the greatest influence, and whom he had drawn in to
appear for the house of Saul. He was the man that had deceived them,
and therefore he was concerned to undeceive them. Thus the multitude
are as they are managed.
V. David concludes the treaty with Abner; and he did wisely and well
therein; for, whatever induced Abner to it, it was a good work to put
an end to the war, and to settle the Lord's anointed on the throne; and
it was as lawful for David to make use of his agency as it is for a
poor man to receive alms from a Pharisee, who gives it in pride and
hypocrisy. Abner reported to David the sense of the people and the
success of his communications with them,
2 Samuel 3:19.
He came now, not as at first privately, but with a retinue of twenty
men, and David entertained them with a feast
(2 Samuel 3:20)
in token of reconciliation and joy and as a pledge of the agreement
between them: it was a feast upon a covenant, like that,
If thy enemy hunger, feed him; but, if he submit, feast him.
Abner, pleased with his entertainment, the prevention of his fall with
Saul's house (which would have been inevitable if he had not taken this
course), and much more with the prospect he had of preferment under
David, undertakes in a little time to perfect the revolution, and to
bring all Israel into obedience to David,
2 Samuel 3:21.
He tells David he shall reign over all that his heart desired.
He knew David's elevation took rise from God's appointment, yet he
insinuates that it sprang from his own ambition and desire of rule;
thus (as bad men often do) he measured that good man by himself.
However, David and he parted very good friends, and the affair between
them was well settled. Thus it behoves all who fear God and keep his
commandments to avoid strife, even with the wicked, to live at peace
with all men, and to show the world that they are children of the
Joab Murders Abner; David's Reflections on Abner's Murder.
B. C. 1048.
22 And, 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.
23 When 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.
24 Then 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?
25 Thou 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.
26 And 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.
27 And 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
28 And 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:
29 Let 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.
30 So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had
slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.
31 And 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.
32 And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his
voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.
33 And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a
34 Thy 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.
35 And 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.
36 And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them:
as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.
37 For all the people and all Israel understood that day that
it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.
38 And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there
is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?
39 And 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.
We have here an account of the murder of Abner by Joab, and David's
deep resentment of it.
I. Joab very insolently fell foul upon David for treating with Abner.
He happened to be abroad upon service when Abner was with David,
pursuing a troop, either of Philistines or of Saul's party; but, upon
his return, he was informed that Abner was just gone
(2 Samuel 3:22,23),
and that a great many kind things had passed between David and him. He
had all the reason in the world to be satisfied of David's prudence and
to acquiesce in the measures he took, knowing him to be a wise and good
man himself and under a divine conduct in all his affairs; and yet, as
if he had the same sway in David's cause that Abner had in
Ish-bosheth's, he chides David, and reproaches him to his face as
(2 Samuel 3:24,25):
What hast thou done? As if David were accountable to him for
what he did: "Why hast thou sent him away, when thou mightest
have made him a prisoner? He came as a spy, and will certainly betray
thee." I know not whether to wonder more that Joab had impudence enough
to give such an affront to his prince or that David had patience enough
to take it. He does, in effect, call David a fool when he tells
him he knew Abner came to deceive him and yet he trusted him. We find
no answer that David gave him, not because he feared him, as
Ish-bosheth did Abner
(2 Samuel 3:11),
but because he despised him, or because Joab had not so much good
manners as to stay for an answer.
II. He very treacherously sent for Abner back, and, under colour of a
private conference with him, barbarously killed him with his own hand.
That he made use of David's name, under pretence of giving him some
further instructions, is intimated in that, but David knew it
2 Samuel 3:26.
Abner, designing no harm, feared none, but very innocently returned to
Hebron, and, when he found Joab waiting for him at the gate, turned
aside with him to speak with him privately, forgetting what he himself
had said when he slew Asahel, How shall I hold up my face to Joab
(2 Samuel 2:22),
and there Joab murdered him
(2 Samuel 3:27),
and it is intimated
(2 Samuel 3:30)
that Abishai was privy to the design, and was aiding and abetting, and
would have come in to his brother's assistance if there had been
occasion; he is therefore charged as an accessary: Joab and Abishai
slew Abner, though perhaps he only knew it who is privy to the
thoughts and intents of men's hearts. Now in this,
1. It is certain that the Lord was righteous. Abner had maliciously,
and against the convictions of his conscience, opposed David. He had
now basely deserted Ish-bosheth, and betrayed him, under pretence of
regard to God and Israel, but really from a principle of pride, and
revenge, and impatience of control. God will not therefore use so bad a
man, though David might, in so good a work as the uniting of Israel.
Judgments are prepared for such scorners as Abner was. But,
2. It is as certain that Joab was unrighteous, and, in what he did, did
wickedly. David was a man after God's own heart, but could not have
those about him, no, not in places of the greatest trust, after his own
heart. Many a good prince, and a good master, has been forced to employ
(1.) Even the pretence for doing this was very unjust. Abner had indeed
slain his brother Asahel, and Joab and Abishai pretended herein to be
the avengers of his blood
(2 Samuel 3:27,30);
but Abner slew Asahel in an open war, wherein Abner indeed had given
the challenge, but Joab himself had accepted it and had slain many of
Abner's friends. He did it likewise in his own defence, and not till he
had given him fair warning (which he would not take), and he did it
with reluctancy; but Joab here shed the blood of war in peace,
1 Kings 2:5.
(2.) That which we have reason to think was at the bottom of Joab's
enmity to Abner made it much worse. Joab was now general of David's
forces; but, if Abner should come into his interest, he would possibly
be preferred before him, being a senior officer, and more experienced
in the art of war. This Joab was jealous of, and could better bear the
guilt of blood than the thoughts of a rival.
(3.) He did it treacherously, and under pretence of speaking peaceably
Had he challenged him, he would have done like a soldier; but to
assassinate him was done villainously and like a coward. His words
were softer than oil, yet were they drawn swords,
Thus he basely slew Amasa,
2 Samuel 20:9.
(4.) The doing of it was a great affront and injury to David, who was
now in treaty with Abner, as Joab knew. Abner was now actually in his
master's service, so that, through his side, he struck at David
(5.) It was a great aggravation of the murder that he did it in the
gate, openly and avowedly, as one that was not ashamed, nor could
blush. The gate was the place of judgment and the place of concourse,
to that he did it in defiance of justice, both the just sentence of the
magistrates and the just resentment of the crowd, as one that neither
feared God nor regarded men, but thought himself above all control: and
Hebron was a Levites' city and a city of refuge.
III. David laid deeply to heart and in many ways expressed his
detestation of this execrable villany.
1. He washed his hands from the guilt of Abner's blood. Lest any should
suspect that Joab had some secret intimation from David to do as he did
(and the rather because he went so long unpunished), he here solemnly
appeals to God concerning his innocency: I and my kingdom are
guiltless (and my kingdom is so because I am so) before the Lord
2 Samuel 3:28.
It is a comfort to be able to say, when any bad thing is done, that we
had no hand in it. We have not shed this blood,
However we may be censured or suspected, our hearts shall not
2. He entailed the curse for it upon Joab and his family
(2 Samuel 3:29):
"Let it rest on the head of Joab. Let the blood cry against him,
and let divine vengeance follow him. Let the iniquity be visited upon
his children and children's children, in some hereditary disease or
other. The longer the punishment is delayed, the longer let it last
when it shall come. Let his posterity be stigmatized, blemished with an
issue or a leprosy, which will shut them out from society; let them be
beggars, or cripples, or come to some untimely end, that it may be
said, He is one of Joab's race." This intimates that the guilt of blood
brings a curse upon families; if men do not avenge it, God will, and
will lay up the iniquity for the children. But methinks a resolute
punishment of the murderer himself would better have become David than
this passionate imprecation of God's judgments upon his posterity.
3. He called upon all about him, even Joab himself, to lament the death
(2 Samuel 3:31):
Rend your clothes and mourn before Abner, that is, before the
hearse of Abner, as Abraham is said to mourn before his dead
and he gives a reason why they should attend his funeral with sincere
and solemn mourning
(2 Samuel 3:38),
because there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in
Israel. His alliance to Saul, his place as general, his interest,
and the great services he had formerly done, were enough to denominate
him a prince and a great man. When he could not call him a saint
or a good man, he said nothing of that, but what was true he gave him
the praise of, though he had been his enemy, that he was a prince
and a great man. "Such a man has fallen in Israel, and fallen
this day, just when he was doing the best deed he ever did in
his life, this day, when he was likely to be so serviceable to
the public peace and welfare and could so ill be spared."
(1.) Let them all lament it. The humbling change death puts all men
under is to be lamented, especially as affecting princes and great men.
Alas! alas! (see
how mean, how little, are those made by death who made themselves the
terror of the mighty in the land of the living! But we are especially
obliged to lament the fall of useful men in the midst of their
usefulness and when there is most need of them. A public loss must be
every man's grief, for every man shares in it. Thus David took care
that honour should be done to the memory of a man of merit, to animate
(2.) Let Joab, in a particular manner, lament it, which he has less
heart but more reason to do than any of them. If he could be brought to
do it sincerely, it would be an expression of repentance for his sin in
slaying him. If he did it in show only, as it is likely he did, yet it
was a sort of penance imposed upon him, and a present commutation of
the punishment. If he do not as yet expiate the murder with his blood,
let him do something towards it with tears. This, perhaps, Joab
submitted to with no great reluctancy, now he had gained his point. Now
that he is on the bier, no matter in what pomp he lies. Sit divus,
modo non sit vivus--Let him be canonized, so that he be but
4. David himself followed the corpse as chief mourner, and made a
funeral oration at the grave. He attended the bier
(2 Samuel 3:31)
and wept at the grave,
2 Samuel 3:32.
Though Abner had been his enemy, and might possibly have proved no very
firm friend, yet because he had been a man of bravery in the field, and
might have done great service in the public counsels at this critical
juncture, all former quarrels are forgotten and David is a true mourner
for his fall. What he said over the grave fetched fresh floods of tears
from the eyes of all that were present, when they thought they had
already paid the debt in full
(2 Samuel 3:33,34):
Died Abner as a fool dieth?
(1.) He speaks as one vexed that Abner was fooled out of his life, that
so great a man as he, so famed for conduct and courage, should be
imposed upon by a colour of friendship, slain by surprise, and so die
as a fool dies. The wisest and stoutest of men have no fence against
treachery. To see Abner, who thought himself the main hinge on which
the great affairs of Israel turned, so considerable as himself to be
able to turn the scale of a trembling government, his head full of
great projects and great prospects, to see him made a fool of by a base
rival, and falling on a sudden a sacrifice to his ambition and
jealousy--this stains the pride of all glory, and should put one out of
conceit with worldly grandeur. Put not your trust in princes,
And let us therefore make that sure which we cannot be fooled out of. A
man may have his life, and all that is dear to him, taken from him, and
not be able to prevent it with all his wisdom, care, and integrity; but
there is that which no thief can break through to steal. See here how
much more we are beholden to God's providence than to our own prudence
for the continuance of our lives and comforts. Were it not for the
hold God has of the consciences of bad men, how soon would the weak and
innocent become an easy prey to the strong and merciless and the wisest
die as fools! Or,
(2.) He speaks as one boasting that Abner did not fool himself out of
his life: "Died Abner as a fool dies? No, he did not, not as a
criminal, a traitor or felon, that forfeits his life into the hands of
public justice; his hands were not pinioned, nor his feet fettered, as
those of malefactors are: Abner falls not before just men, by a
judicial sentence; but as a man, an innocent man, falleth before
wicked men, thieves and robbers, so fellest thou." Died Abner as
Nabal died? so the LXX. reads it. Nabal died as he lived, like
himself, like a sot; but Abner's fate was such as might have been the
fate of the wisest and best man in the world. Abner did not throw away
his life as Asahel did, who wilfully ran upon the spear, after fair
warning, but he was struck by surprise. Note, It is a sad thing to die
like a fool, as those do that in any way shorten their own days, and
much more those that make no provision for another world.
5. He fasted all that day, and would by no means be persuaded to eat
any thing till night,
2 Samuel 3:35.
It was then the custom of great mourners to refrain for the time from
bodily refreshments, as
2 Samuel 1:12,1Sa+31:13.
How incongruous is it then to turn the house of mourning into a house
of feasting! This respect which David paid to Abner was very pleasing
to the people and satisfied them that he was not, in the least,
accessory to the murder
(2 Samuel 3:36,37),
of which he was solicitous to avoid the suspicion, lest Joab's villany
should make him odious, as that of Simeon and Levi did Jacob,
On this occasion it is said, Whatever the king did pleased all the
people. This intimates,
(1.) His good affection to them. He studied to please them in every
thing and carefully avoided what might be disobliging.
(2.) Their good opinion of him. They thought every thing he did well
done. Such a mutual willingness to please, and easiness to be pleased,
will make every relation comfortable.
6. He bewailed it that he could not with safety do justice on the
2 Samuel 3:30.
He was weak, his kingdom was newly planted, and a little shake would
overthrow it. Joab's family had a great interest, were bold and daring,
and to make them his enemies now might be of bad consequence. These
sons of Zeruiah were too hard for him, too big for the law to take hold
of; and therefore, though by man, by the magistrate, the blood of a
murderer should be shed
David bears the sword in vain, and contents himself, as a private
person, to leave them to the judgment of God: The Lord shall reward
the doer of evil according to his wickedness. Now this is a
(1.) To David's greatness. He is anointed king, and yet is kept in awe
by his own subjects, and some of them are too hard for him. Who would
be fond of power when a man may have the name of it, and must be
accountable for it, and yet be hampered in the use of it?
(2.) To David's goodness. He ought to have done his duty, and trusted
God with the issue. Fiat justitia, ruat coelum--Let justice
be done, though the heavens should fall asunder. If the law had had
its course against Joab, perhaps the murder of Ishbosheth, Amnon, and
others, would have been prevented. It was carnal policy and cruel pity
that spared Joab. Righteousness supports the throne and will never
shake it. Yet it was only a reprieve that David gave to Joab; on his
death-bed he left it to Solomon (who could the better wield the sword
of justice because he had no occasion to draw the sword of war) to
avenge the blood of Abner. Evil pursues sinners, and will overtake them
at last. David preferred Abner's son Jaasiel,
1 Chronicles 27:21.
Matthew Henry "Verse by Verse Commentary for '2 Samuel' Matthew Henry Bible Commentary".