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Deeper Commentary

2Sa 2:1 It happened after this, that David inquired of Yahweh saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? Yahweh said to him, Go up. David said, Where shall I go up? He said, To Hebron-
David had been waiting to become king for very many years, if indeed Saul reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21). To the credit of his humility, he didn't immediately gleefully seize power. He asks God whether he should, and where in Israel he should make his base, presumably by using the urim and thummim in the breastplate which was then in his possession. He was then living in Ziklag, which was in Philistine territory and not then considered a city of Judah. 

2Sa 2:2 So David went up there, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail the wife of Nabal the Carmelite-
This notice seems to pave the way for the note in 2 Sam. 3:2-5, that David took at least six other wives in the seven years he reigned in Hebron. We could get the impression that David's spiritual life was in some areas in steady decline from the time he slew Goliath in his youth. And yet he died in faith.

2Sa 2:3 David brought up his men who were with him, every man with his household. They lived in the cities of Hebron-
Six hundred men with their families would have been a major group of people, too large to just settle in the existing city of Hebron itself. It has been estimated that the population of all Israel at the time was only 300,000 at the most, which meant that the 3,000 or so with David would have been the equivalent of a significant town.

2Sa 2:4 The men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah-
It was known that Samuel had anointed David king, nearly 40 years before (Acts 13:21). This was therefore an act of showing that they were in step with God's clear intentions for David, and we at times likewise have to make such demonstrations of being in step with the path God is clearly revealing.

They told David saying, The men of Jabesh Gilead were those who buried Saul-
It could well be that they told him this in disgust or warning, expecting David to take some sanctions against them. But David does the very opposite, and blesses his enemies. For a major theme of these chapters is his enthusiasm to show every grace possible to the supporters and house of Saul, although they were his enemies.

2Sa 2:5 David sent messengers to the men of Jabesh Gilead and said to them, Blessed are you by Yahweh, that you have shown this kindness to your lord, even to Saul, and have buried him-
The people of Jabesh knew there was a civil war going on between the supporters of Saul and those of David. They had consciously buried Saul as a statement of respect, which surely implied loyalty to the house of Saul. For who you officially buried was a major statement in those times. And they receive a message of blessing from David. This was an expression of grace by David which was unheard of in the hard world of those days.

2Sa 2:6 Now may Yahweh show grace and truth to you. I also will reward you for this kindness, because you have done this thing-
David sees himself as showing this grace in tandem with Yahweh. "Grace and truth" often refers to the covenant promises, and David wishes them to receive every blessing of the covenant, and on the basis of that covenant accept him as king. He is giving a spiritual dimension to the kingdom he wished to create, based around a common share in the covenant. And that indeed is the only true basis for unity. David however suggests in :7 that the "reward" he offers them is to come under his kingship. 'Reward' or 'doing' kindness / good is exactly the term David's wife Abigail had used of what God would do to David on Saul's death (1 Sam. 25:30 s.w.). David was influenced by his wife's perceptive words. And as he realizes he had been shown such grace by being made king, he wished to reflect that grace to others, even his political enemies; a principle for us to live by. 

2Sa 2:7 Now therefore let your hands be strong, and be valiant-
"Valiant" definitely refers to soldiers; it could be that David was inviting the men of Jabesh to join his army. This would have seemed a politically dangerous move, to invite his enemies to infiltrate his own military. But he acted according to his persuasion of grace and his desire to honour what he had promised to both Saul and Jonathan; and finally he was blessed for it.

For Saul your lord is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them-
Jabesh was in Gilead not in Judah, but on the basis of grace, David invites these people to as it were become Jews, and come under his rulership. The Lord Jesus, whom David looked forward to, operates likewise.

2Sa 2:8 Now Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s army, had taken Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim-
This was about twenty miles east of Jordan, and hardly the most central place from which to try to rule Israel. We get the impression that Abner was using Ishbosheth for his own ends.

2Sa 2:9 and he made him king over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, over Benjamin and over all Israel-
From Mahanaim, east of Jordan, Ishbosheth could not reign in practice "over all Israel", so we conclude that this was what Abner proclaimed him as, even if it had little meaning in practice.

2Sa 2:10 Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and he reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David-
If Saul reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21), Ishbosheth was born at the start of his reign. His name is elsewhere Ish Baal, but here that has been played upon, making a word meaning literally 'man of shame'. This would suggest that Saul was a Baal worshipper at the start of his reign. He had never met Samuel nor attended his sacrifices to Yahweh. It had been God's intention to turn around the heart of this secular Israelite to Himself, through the gift of His Spirit making him "another man" and giving him "another heart". He was clearly not chosen because of any spirituality, but in the hope he would become a parade example of God's transforming grace.

2Sa 2:11 The time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months-
Sometimes the Biblical record is vague, other times exact. This reflects how God is not seeking to cover His back against critics. He is of an altogether higher nature than that. There are times when the Spirit uses very approximate numbers rather than exact ("about the space of four hundred and fifty years", Acts 13:20 cp. 1 Kings 6:1). The reference to "seventy" in Judges 9:56 also doesn't seem exact. Seven and a half years (2 Sam. 2:11) becomes "seven years" (1 Kings 2:11); three months and ten days (2 Chron. 36:9) becomes "three months" (2 Kings 24:8). And 1 Kings 7:23 gives the circumference of the laver as “thirty cubits”, although it was ten cubits broad. Taking ‘pi’ to be 3.14, it is apparent that the circumference would have been 31.4 cubits; but the Spirit says, summing up, “thirty”.

2Sa 2:12 Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon-
Gibeon was exactly half way between Hebron, David's capital, and Mahanaim, the capital of Abner and his puppet Ishbosheth. It's about 26 miles from Gibeon to both the capitals. That Abner "went out" towards the territory of Judah (Gibeon is only six miles from Jerusalem) shows that he felt strong enough to try to engage David's side in conflict.

2Sa 2:13 Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met them by the pool of Gibeon; and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool-
The 'going out' as in :12 was to battle. The pool of Gibeon has been located, and it is in a valley. The two armies would have seen each other from the opposite sides of the valley, hence the suggestion to fight at the pool in the valley.

2Sa 2:14 Abner said to Joab, Please let the young men arise and play before us! Joab said, Let them arise!-
We get the impression from this that Abner really didn't want to see bloodshed within Israel as a result of the civil war he was now initiating; he therefore suggested that as with the battle against Goliath, the issue was resolved by a symbolic number of young men fighting each other in full view of both armies. See on :21.

2Sa 2:15 Then they arose and went over by number: twelve for Benjamin, and for Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David-
The choice of twelve could suggest that both sides saw themselves as the true Israel, and that all Israel, all 12 tribes, should be subservient to them. Abner's 12 men were chosen for their loyalty to their tribe; whereas David's 12 men were simply his servants, their loyalty was to him and not to any tribe. They are therefore described as his servants, rather than men of Judah. See on :17.

2Sa 2:16 They each caught his opponent by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side; so they fell down together-
This is proof for all time that conflict between brethren is only ever a lose-lose situation. 'Falling down together' is the language of Divine judgment (Is. 31:3; Jer. 6:21; 46:12). The conflict between brethren was not blessed by God and was His way of judging them all.

Therefore that place was called Helkath Hazzurim, which is in Gibeon-
"The field of the sharp knives".

2Sa 2:17 The battle was very severe that day: and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David-
As noted on :15, Abner's men are described in terms of their loyalty to their tribal grouping; whereas David's soldiers were simply his servants, their loyalty was to him and not to any tribe. They are therefore described as his servants, rather than men of Judah. And this is the effect which personal loyalty to the Lord Jesus should have upon us. All human labels fade beneath that reality. See on :31.

2Sa 2:18 The three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai and Asahel: and Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle-
This family were from Bethlehem (:32), and would have known David well, as it was but a small village. We can imagine Asahel playing with David as a child. They would soon have been aware that David had been anointed in Bethlehem, and were supportive of him for almost a lifetime.

2Sa 2:19 Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he didn’t turn to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner-
We get the impression that Asahel was enraged and obsessed in slaying Abner.

2Sa 2:20 Then Abner looked behind him and said, Is it you, Asahel? He answered, It is I-
The question was because he didn't want to slay Asahel. As noted on :21, Abner is presented as wanting to minimize bloodshed in that he didn't want to kill Asahel.

2Sa 2:21 Abner said to him, Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and grab one of the young men, and take his armour. But Asahel would not turn aside from following him-
This was an invitation to a duel, with armour; presumably they were running past young men with armour and not running unobserved by others. But Asahel didn't want a fair fight, he wanted to use his advantage of speed to somehow kill Abner by a blow to his back. Abner comes over as far more ethical in the conflict. He didn't want the bloodshed of civil war and instead suggested a duel to resolve it (:14), and he now does the same to Asahel.

2Sa 2:22 Abner said again to Asahel, Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then should I hold up my face to Joab your brother?-
Again, Abner really doesn't want to kill Asahel. He is warning him, effectively, that he can just stop dead in his tracks and let Asahel run into his spear he is holding, with its point facing towards Asahel. The manner of death was really Asahel running into his own death rather than Abner consciously slaying him. Abner knows that Joab will then want to revenge Asahel's blood, and the city of refuge system was clearly not operative. And it seems Abner and Joab knew each other, and Abner wanted to forge a new relationship, face to face, with Joab; for this is how 'seeing the face' is used in 2 Sam. 3:13. Abner accepted defeat, and wanted to now move on in relationship. But Asahel was obsessed with settling some old scores.

2Sa 2:23 However he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner with the back end of the spear struck him in the body, so that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place. It happened, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still-
Abner has just warned Asahel in :22 that he can just stop dead in his tracks and let Asahel run into his spear he is holding, with its point facing towards Asahel. This was how close Asahel was to Abner, and was about to strike him to death with a blow to the back. The manner of death was really Asahel running into his own death rather than Abner consciously slaying him. He "refused to turn aside", implying his death was largely his own fault. 

2Sa 2:24 But Joab and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they had come to the hill of Ammah, that lies before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon-
The detail given is very detailed. There must have been some significance in it which is not apparent to us today; a reminder that the Biblical record was primarily written for its first audience and not for us. This means that there will be parts of it which appear hard to understand, or of less relevance to us than to the primary audience.

2Sa 2:25 The children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner and became one band, and stood on the top of a hill-
This could have been an invitation to come and fight them. They were prepared to make one last stand on the hill top. I suggest Abner did this because he sensed Joab would not take up the challenge, and it corroborates the impression we have that he wanted the least bloodshed as possible. By offering to make a last stand, and fight to the death with no way of escape [as they were on a hilltop], he was really forcing Joab to either accept peace or more bloodshed.

2Sa 2:26 Then Abner called to Joab and said, Shall the sword devour forever? Don’t you know that it will be bitterness in the latter end? How long shall it be then, before you ask the people to return from following their brothers?-
Again, Abner comes over as urging as little bloodshed as possible, and reminds Joab that they are brothers. "Return" is the word usually used for repentance. Although Abner had initiated the conflict, he seems genuinely regretful of the bloodshed it had caused.

2Sa 2:27 Joab said, As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely then in the morning the people would have gone away, rather than each following after his brother-
Joab agrees that brother fighting brother is wrong. He agrees, but seems to want to save face by saying that he would have called an end to the bloodshed the next morning. Again, to save face, he may also be implying that if they had continued fighting, he would have slain all Abner's men by the next morning.

2Sa 2:28 So Joab blew the trumpet; and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more-
That is, at that time (cp. 2 Sam. 3:1). In reading the Bible we must be aware that Semitic writing presents things as they are true at the immediate time, rather than in terms of what is true globally or in the future.

2Sa 2:29 Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah; and they passed over the Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and came to Mahanaim-
Abner and his men walked all night along the Jordan valley, northwards towards Mahanaim; because they obviously distrusted the peace deal with Joab, and feared he would again attack them. All the way through, Abner is presented as having more integrity than Joab, leading up to the tragedy of Joab murdering Abner by dishonest means.

2Sa 2:30 Joab returned from following Abner: and when he had gathered all the people together, there lacked of David’s servants nineteen men and Asahel-
We note the continued reference to David's soldiers as his personal servants, rather than "men of Judah"; see on :17,31.

2Sa 2:31 But the servants of David had struck of Benjamin, and of Abner’s men, so that three hundred and sixty men died-
Again we note the contrast between "Benjamin", who were loyal to their tribe, and "the servants of David", who did not consider tribal labels as important as being servants of their king. See on :15,17. The 360 men may be a general figure, as it was the number of days in a Hebrew year.

2Sa 2:32 They took up Asahel, and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was in Bethlehem-
Zeruiah was a woman; the father is not named. She is mentioned so often that we assume she had a large part to play in forming the rather unpleasant characters of her sons.

Joab and his men went all night, and the day broke on them at Hebron-
The two sides are presented as both marching all night back to their respective capitals. They were brethren, living in parallel lives, but fighting each other. And this is true of all the divisions amongst God's people.