2 Samuel 1–4: Civil War & David’s Character

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 17: Tuesday

And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
2 Samuel 2:11 LSB

Tuesday’s Bible reading of 2 Samuel 1–4, tells of the events following Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths in battle. It is a gruesome record of a civil war that raged in Israel between Ish-bosheth, another of Saul’s sons, and Saul’s men, and David’s men. It’s a story of ven­geance, deception, and murder. Above it all, we see David, waiting on God as he refrained from seizing power in the aftermath of turmoil of the death of Saul.

2 Samuel opens with David hearing of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan from the Amelkite who had killed Saul. David’s reaction was not what he’d been expecting.

Then David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to send forth your hand to destroy the anointed of Yahweh?”
And David called one of the young men and said, “Approach and fall upon him.” So he struck him and he died.
And David said to him, “Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has answered against you, saying, ‘I have put the anointed of Yahweh to death.’”
2 Samuel 1:14–16 LSB

Joyce Baldwin comments on the Amalekite and David’s reaction:

“Surely he would have known that David had studiously avoided putting Saul to death, on the grounds that he was the Lord’s anointed and therefore sacrosanct. The death of the Amalekite would be accepted as just by Israelites generally; even if he had fabricated his killing of Saul, the man was condemned by his own mouth, and David would be cleared of possible suspicion of having rejoiced at the death of Saul. Such a magnanious attitude on the part of one who had suffered so much at Saul’s hand is incomprehensible apart from a deep commitment to the Lord, whose covenant made costly demands, but who undertook to save those who trusted him. David had already learnt to live by faith in this God before ever he was anointed by Samuel (1 Sa. 17:36, 46–47), and he was not going back on it now.

“David’s motive in sparing Saul had been reverence for the one whom the Lord had chosen and anointed; neither he nor any other human being had the right to end the life of the anointed of the Lord, and so force the Lord’s hand.”1

David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan is in 1 Samuel 1. Baldwin writes,

“Interestingly, David had assumed the role of interpreter of events to his people. His gifts were such that he could not suppress the urge to write, and no doubt he knew within himself that he would mould the thinking of Israel through his poetry as well as by his politial skill as king. Above all, it is his spiritual perception which will give authority to his leadership, yet in the lament this is nowhere expressed. He does not even mention the name of God, nor does he suggest that God’s providence has had any part in the events he commemorates. That would in the circumstances be in appropriate, but his silences are as eloquent as his words, and a suitable time will one day enable him to express with full conviction his assurance of God’s faithfulness in guiding him throughout his life (e.g. 2 Sa. 22:31–31; 23:5).

“The lament brings to an end the account of Saul’s reign, but at the same time marks the beginning of the reign of David.”2

At the beginning of chapter 2, David asks God if he should go to one of the cities of Judah, his tribe, and God tells him to go to Hebron, some 19 miles south of Jerusalem.

And David brought up his men who were with him, each with his household; and they lived in the cities of Hebron. Then the men of Judah came and there anointed David king over the house of Judah.
And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.
2 Samuel 2:3–4a, 11 LSB

There he remains with his wives and children, justly punishing, even his own men, those who take revenge into their own hands, and those who murder for gain. David’s fear of God and trust in His providence is evident in his actions.

In 2 Samuel 2, Abner, the commander of Saul’s army takes Ish-bosheth, and makes him king over all Israel except for Judah. Ish-bosheth will be king for only two years during the fighting between his men and David’s men.

Now the war between the house of Saul and the house of David was long; and David grew steadily stronger, but the house of Saul grew weaker continually.
2 Samuel 3:1 LSB

In chapter 3, Abner is killed by Joab who set Abner up so he could take vengeance on Abner for killing his brother, Asahel. When David hears of this, he forces Joab and those who had been with him, to officially mourn Abner. David laments for Abner and fasts in mourning.

So all the people and all Israel knew that day that it had not been the will of the king to put Abner the son of Ner to death.
2 Samuel 3:1 LSB

As David walks behind Abner’s bier, for the first time he is referred to as King David (2 Samuel 3:31).

Baldwin comments,

“Once Abner was dead, the end of resistance to David’s rule came swiftly, and to that extent Joab’s initiative had benefited David. Ishbosheth had depended, albeit unwillingly, on Abner’s ability, and without him found he could not maintain his position as king…

“The death of Abner was a turning-point, not only for Ishbosheth, but also for Israel as a whole. There was nothing to stop ruthless men taking advantage of the power vacuum, and asserting their own self-assigned authority. In this connection we are introduced to two soldiers in the employ of the Israelite king: Baanah and Rechab, experienced leaders of guerrilla bands, and, as Benjamites, trusted supporters.”3

Baanah and Rechab go into Ish-bosheth’s bedroom while he is resting, kill him, behead him, and bring his head to David.

And David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As Yahweh lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, when one told me, saying, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood from your hand and purge you from the earth?”
Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron.
2 Samuel 4:9–12 LSB

Baldwin writes,

“They had completely misread the policy of David, who immediately disowned them. His opening words, As the Lord lives, assert not only his commitment to the Lord but also his faith in the Lord’s direct involvement in the outcome of daily events. David implicitly rejects the hypocrisy of Rechab and Baanah in claiming to be the Lord’s executioners; he testifies that the Lord has redeemed [his] life out of every adversity, for David had not taken the initiative to rid himself of Saul, and he had not permitted others to do so. If these two were after a reward, they should know that David rewarded with death the one who carried the news that Saul was dead, and their cold-blooded murder deserved at least the same sentence. Ishbosheth he describes as a righteous man, for though he was Saul’s son he was not personally involved in his father’s guilt, and had done nothing to deserve death. The two men were punished by death, mutilation, and public exposure as warnings to others. The head of Ishbosheth is given a suitable burial in the grave of his general, Abner.

“The murder of Ishbosheth is a further example of the interference of opportunists, who prevented David from pursuing to the end the policy on which he had set his heart. Yet the outcome was to make possible the extension of David’s kingdom to Israel. Evidently David was cleared of any suspicion in connection with the death of Ishbosheth and, in the absence of any suitable survivor of the house of Saul, David was the obvious choice for king.”4

David’s character was the primary factor in enabling him to become king over the entire nation without beginning his reign with people smoldering in bitter enmity against him. In the aftermath of Saul’s death, he did not seize the throne nor take revenge against Saul’s house. In the face of the lure of power, he remained steadfast in his character before God, and his trust in Him.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Hebron Mountains, Palestine: Aseel zm. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
1,2,3,4Joyce Baldwin,  1 and 2 Samuel (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1988) 177–178, 182–183, 192, 193–194.

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2021–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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