Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And when Saul's son heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble, and all the Israelites were troubled.Ch. 2 Samuel 4:1-7. The Murder of Ish-bosheth
1. his hands were feeble] His hands were weakened. His resolution was paralysed: he lost heart. Cp. Ezra 4:4, and the opposite expression in ch. 2 Samuel 2:7.
were troubled] Were dismayed. Ish-bosheth was a mere puppet, and Abner the real stay of the kingdom.
And Saul's son had two men that were captains of bands: the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, the sons of Rimmon a Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin: (for Beeroth also was reckoned to Benjamin:2. captains of bands] Leaders of predatory troops. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 3:22.
of the children of Benjamin] The historian calls special attention to the fact that Ish-bosheth’s murderers belonged to his own tribe.
for Beeroth also, &c.] The object of this parenthesis is to explain how these Beerothites came to be Benjamites. Beeroth was one of the four Gibeonite cities, retained by their original Canaanite inhabitants in virtue of the treaty made with Joshua (Joshua 9:17). It was however reckoned to belong to the tribe of Benjamin (Joshua 18:25), and had been occupied by Benjamites when its original inhabitants deserted it. When and why they did so is unknown, but it has been plausibly conjectured that they fled from Saul’s massacre of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-2).
The site of Beeroth (=wells) is probably marked by the modern village of El-Bireh (=the well), about 9 miles N. of Jerusalem. “It is remarkable as the first halting-place of caravans on the northern road from Jerusalem, and therefore not improbably the scene of the event to which its monastic tradition lays claim—the place where the parents of Jesus sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintance, and when they found him not, turned back again to Jerusalem.” Stanley, Sinai and Pal. p. 213.
And the Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and were sojourners there until this day.)3. Gittaim] A Benjamite town of this name is mentioned in Nehemiah 11:33, but if the reason suggested above for the flight of the Beerothites is the correct one, it can hardly be the same, as they would have chosen a more distant refuge. The name is the dual form of Gath, meaning “two wine-presses,” which suggests that it may possibly have been in Philistia.
And Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.4. And Jonathan, &c.] Before proceeding to narrate the murder of Ish-bosheth, the historian inserts a remark which implies that with his death the cause of Saul’s house would necessarily become hopeless, as its only other legitimate representative was a lame child of twelve years old.
out of Jezreel] Where the Israelite camp was pitched before the fatal battle of Gilboa. See note on 1 Samuel 29:1.
Mephibosheth] Called in 1 Chronicles 8:34; 1 Chronicles 9:40, Merib-baal. Bosheth (=“shame”) has been substituted for the detested name of Baal, as in the name Ish-bosheth for Esh-baal. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:8. Merib-baal means “one who contends with Baal:” Mephibosheth, “exterminator of shame.” For his subsequent history see chaps. 9, 16, 2 Samuel 19:24 ff.
And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ishbosheth, who lay on a bed at noon.5. to the house of Ish-bosheth] At Mahanaim (ch. 2 Samuel 2:8).
who lay on a bed at noon] Or, as he was taking his midday sleep, or siesta, according to the usual custom of hot countries. They chose an hour when Ish-bosheth would be alone and defenceless.
And they came thither into the midst of the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they smote him under the fifth rib: and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped.6. And they came, &c.] An explanation how it was possible for Rechab and Baanah to enter Ish-bosheth’s house unsuspected. They came, as they may have been accustomed to do, to procure wheat for their men from the king’s granary.
The Heb. however may be otherwise rendered, “And hither [some MSS. read “and behold”] there came wheat-fetchers into the midst of the house:” men whose business it was to draw the rations of wheat from the granary. If this is the right rendering, the meaning is that the murderers obtained entrance to the house by going in their company.
2 Samuel 4:7 appears at first sight to be a somewhat awkward repetition of 2 Samuel 4:6. But it is a peculiar feature of Hebrew historical writing to give a general account of a fact first, and then to repeat it with additional details. The murderers’ entrance into the house, their deed, and their escape are first briefly related: then the fact of their entrance is repeated as an introduction to the fuller details of the scene and manner of the murder, and the route by which the assassins escaped. Compare the double mention of Joab’s return to Hebron in ch. 2 Samuel 3:22-23; and of the national assembly at Hebron in ch. 2 Samuel 5:1; 2 Samuel 5:3; and note on ch. 2 Samuel 13:38.
The Sept. however has the following entirely different reading, which is found also in some MSS. of the Vulgate in addition to the rendering of the present Heb. text, but apparently was not retained by Jerome himself. “And behold the portress of the house was cleaning wheat, and she slumbered and slept; and the brothers Rechab and Baanah came unobserved into the house. Now Ish-bosheth was sleeping on the bed in his chamber: and they smote him,” &c. This also explains how the murderers entered unobserved. The female slave who watched the door (ἡ θυρωρός, cp. John 18:16, Acts 12:13) had fallen asleep over her task of sifting or picking the wheat, and there was no one to give the alarm. This reading gives a clear straightforward narrative, and certainly seems preferable to the repetitions of the present Hebrew text.
 Cp. Amos 9:9. An illustration of a Bethlehem woman sifting wheat is given in Neil’s Palestine Explored, p. 246. He says that it is a process constantly going on and forming a marked feature of Palestine life.
under the fifth rib] In the belly. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:23.
For when they came into the house, he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, and they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and gat them away through the plain all night.7. through the plain] By the way of the Arabah. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:29. From Mahanaim to Hebron was a distance of about 80 or 90 miles.
And they brought the head of Ishbosheth unto David to Hebron, and said to the king, Behold the head of Ishbosheth the son of Saul thine enemy, which sought thy life; and the LORD hath avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed.8–12. The Punishment of the Murderers by David
8. to the king] Observe that Ish-bosheth is never honoured with the title of king.
thine enemy, which sought thy life] These words are to be referred to Saul not to Ish-bosheth. Cp. 1 Samuel 24:4; 1 Samuel 25:29.
the Lord hath avenged] The murderers profanely represented themselves as the instruments of Providence. “They pretended piety and loyalty, but they regarded nothing except their own interest.” Wordsworth.
And David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said unto them, As the LORD liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity,9. who hath redeemed, &c.] Compare the same oath in David’s mouth in 1 Kings 1:29. In this connexion it implies that one who was under God’s protection had no need to commit crimes for his own defence.
When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings:10. when one told me, &c.] The Amalekite who pretended to have slain Saul (ch. 2 Samuel 1:2 ff.).
slew him … who thought that I would have given him] Or, slew him … to give him a reward, &c. In this case the expression is bitterly ironical. ‘He expected a reward, and I gave it him; but it was the reward of death.’
How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed? shall I not therefore now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth?11. a righteous person] “A man who had done no one any harm,” as Josephus says. His merits seem to have been negative rather than positive.
require his blood] Demand satisfaction for his murder. God is said to “require blood,” i.e. to avenge murder (Genesis 9:5; Psalm 9:12), and in punishing the murderers David acted as His representative.
take you away from the earth] Rather, put you away out of the land. The word is one specially used of removing evil or the guilt of evil from the land (Deuteronomy 19:13; Deuteronomy 19:19, &c.). The guilt of murder defiled the land until expiated by the execution of the murderer (Numbers 35:33).
And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron.12. And David commanded, &c.] Kitto compares the conduct of David towards the murderers of his rival with that of Alexander the Great towards Bessus, who murdered Darius, and of Caesar towards the murderers of Pompey. It may be questioned whether they were actuated by higher motives than “the traditional policy of rulers, who thus provide that they shall be protected for the present, and afterwards avenged” (Tac. Hist. I. 44), but David’s indignation was doubtless sincere.
cut off their hands and their feet] The hands which had been stretched out against their master, the feet which had been “swift to shed blood” and to seek reward, were exposed to view in the most public and frequented spot in Hebron, for a spectacle and a warning. Cp. Deuteronomy 21:22. We may compare the practice, formerly in vogue in this country, of exposing the heads and limbs of traitors on the city gates.
over the pool] Possibly one of the two great reservoirs, “doubtless of high antiquity,” which are still to be seen at Hebron. See Robinson’s Bibl. Res. II. 74.