2 Samuel 2:14
And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.
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(14) Let the young men.—To avoid unnecessary bloodshed between the tribes of a common parentage, and also, perhaps, to prevent the weakening of the nation in the face of their common Philistine foe, Abner proposes that the struggle should be decided by a combat between a few champions chosen on either side, and Joab immediately accepts the proposal. Hervey (Speaker’s Commentary) aptly compares this combat to that of the Horatii and Curiatii, under strikingly similar circumstances and with similar results, as described by Livy (I., 100 10:25).

2 Samuel 2:14. Abner said, Let the young men now arise, and play before us — That is, show their prowess and dexterity in fighting together, or make trial of their courage and strength, that we may see which of us has the braver soldiers. He speaks like a vain-glorious and cruel man, and a soldier of fortune, that esteemed it a sport to see men wounding and killing one another. So this he designed, partly for their mutual recreation, and trial of skill; and partly, that by this occasion they might be engaged in a battle. But he is unworthy the name of a man who is thus prodigal of human blood.2:8-17. The nation in general refused David. By this the Lord trained up his servant for future honour and usefulness; and the tendency of true godliness was shown in his behaviour while passing through various difficulties. David was herein a type of Christ, whom Israel would not submit to, though anointed of the Father to be a Prince and a Saviour to them. Abner meant, Let the young men fight before us, when he said, Let them play before us: fools thus make a mock at sin. But he is unworthy the name of a man, that can thus trifle with human blood.Play - (Compare Judges 16:25; 1 Samuel 18:7). Here, the word is applied to the serious game of war, to be played by twelve combatants on each side, with the two armies for spectators. 14. Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us—Some think that the proposal was only for an exhibition of a little tilting match for diversion. Others suppose that, both parties being reluctant to commence a civil war, Abner proposed to leave the contest to the decision of twelve picked men on either side. This fight by championship instead of terminating the matter, inflamed the fiercest passions of the two rival parties; a general engagement ensued, in which Abner and his forces were defeated and put to flight. Abner trusting to his greater numbers, offers battle.

Play before us, i.e. show their prowess and dexterity in managing their weapons, and fighting together. He speaks like a vain-glorious and cruel man, and a soldier of fortune, that esteemed it a sport to see men wounding and killing one another. So this he designed, partly for their mutual recreation, and trial of skill and valour; and partly that by this occasion they might be engaged in a battle. And Abner said to Joab,.... Perceiving he made no motion towards an engagement with him, his orders from David being only to act on the defensive, and avoid as much as possible the effusion of blood:

let the young men now arise, and play before us; with their swords after the manner of gladiators or duellers; that it might appear who were best skilled in the use of the sword, and who were the bravest, stoutest, and most courageous; and this he proposed in a way of bravado, and in order to bring on a battle, or to decide the quarrel between them; and this bloody barbarous exercise Abner calls play, as if it was a diversion and pastime to see men wounding and killing one another:

and Joab said, let them arise; he accepted the challenge, not caring to be hectored and bullied by Abner.

And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and {h} play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise.

(h) Let us see how they can handle their weapons.

14. Let the young men now arise] “Young men” here means “servants” or “soldiers.” Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 4:12. Desirous to avoid the horrors of a civil war, which would weaken the whole nation in the face of its common enemy the Philistines, perhaps also prompted by friendly relations with Joab, Abner proposes to decide the day by a combat between two bodies of picked men. The combat of the Horatii and Curiatii, which decided the war between Alba and Rome, affords a parallel in classical story. Livy represents the Alban dictator, Mettius Fuffetius, as urging this plan of ending the war, lest both nations, weakened by the losses of a general battle, should fall into the hands of their common enemy the Etruscans. See Livy I. 23–25.

and play before us] The word “play” is used euphemistically in reference to fighting. There is no indication that a bloodless tournament was intended. Livy calls the combat above referred to “minime gratum spectaculum,” “an exhibition which was by no means an amusement.”Verse 14. - Let the young men now arise. "Now" is not an adverb of time, but is hortative, and therefore rightly translated in the Revised Version, "I pray thee." It is by no means certain that Abner meant that this single combat should decide the war; for similar preludes before a battle are not uncommon among the Arabians, and serve, as this did, to put an end to the mutual unwillingness to begin the onslaught. So, too, games often preceded outbreaks of Scandinavian blood feuds. And this was probably Abner's object. He was the assailant, but now found that his men shrank from mortal combat with their brethren. There is thus no comparison between this combat and that of the Curiatii and Horatii described in Livy, 1. 10:25. Let them play. The word is grim enough, though intended to gloss over the cruel reality. On each side twelve of the most skilful champions were to be selected, who were to fight in stern earnest with one another, while the rest gazed upon the fierce spectacle. The sight of the conflict would whet their appetite for blood, and their reluctance would give place to thirst for revenge. The request was too thoroughly in accordance with Joab's temper for him to refuse, and his immediate answer was, Let them arise. Promotion of Ishbosheth to be king over Israel. - The account of this is attached to the foregoing in the form of an antithesis: "But Abner, the chief captain of Saul (see at 1 Samuel 14:50), had taken Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and led him over to Mahanaim." Ishbosheth had probably been in the battle at Gilboa, and fled with Abner across the Jordan after the battle had been lost. Ishbosheth (i.e., man of shame) was the fourth son of Saul (according to 1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39): his proper name was Esh-baal (i.e., fire of Baal, probably equivalent to destroyer of Baal). This name was afterwards changed into Ishbosheth, just as the name of the god Baal was also translated into Bosheth ("shame," Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 3:24, etc.), and Jerubbaal changed into Jerubbosheth (see at Judges 8:35). Ewald's supposition, that bosheth was originally employed in a good sense as well, like αἰδως and פּחד (Genesis 31:53), cannot be sustained. Mahanaim was on the eastern side of the Jordan, not far from the ford of Jabbok, and was an important place for the execution of Abner's plans, partly from its historical associations (Genesis 32:2-3), and partly also from its situation. There he made Ishbosheth king "for Gilead," i.e., the whole of the land to the east of the Jordan (as in Numbers 32:29; Joshua 22:9, etc.). "For the Ashurites:" this reading is decidedly faulty, since we can no more suppose it to refer to Assyria (Asshur) than to the Arabian tribe of the Assurim (Genesis 25:3); but the true name cannot be discovered.

(Note: In the Septuagint we find Θασιρὶ or Θασούρ, an equally mistaken form. The Chaldee has "over the tribe of Asher," which is also unsuitable, unless we include the whole of the northern portion of Canaan, including the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. But there is no proof that the name Asher was ever extended to the territory of the three northern tribes. We should be rather disposed to agree with Bachienne, who supposes it to refer to the city of Asher (Joshua 17:7) and its territory, as this city was in the south-east of Jezreel, and Abner may possibly have conquered this district for Ishbosheth with Gilead as a base, before he ventured to dispute the government of Israel with the Philistines, if only we could discover any reason why the inhabitants ("the Ashurites") should be mentioned instead of the city Asher, or if it were at all likely that one city should be introduced in the midst of a number of large districts. The Syriac and Vulgate have Geshuri, and therefore seem to have read or conjectured הגּשׁוּרי; and Thenius decides in favour of this, understanding the name Geshur to refer to the most northerly portion of the land on both sides of the Jordan, from Mount Hermon to the Lake of Gennesareth (as in Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:13; 1 Chronicles 2:23). But no such usage of speech can be deduced from any of these passages, as Geshuri is used there to denote the land of the Geshurites, on the north-east of Bashan, which had a king of its own in the time of David (see at 2 Samuel 3:3), and which Abner would certainly never have thought of conquering.)

"And for Jezreel," i.e., not merely the city of that name, but the plain that was named after it (as in 1 Samuel 29:1). "And for Ephraim, and Benjamin, and all (the rest of) Israel," of course not including Judah, where David had already been acknowledged as king.

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