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.
Verse 1. - There was long war. As Ishbosheth reigned only two years, and as "the house of Saul" is the phrase used, it seems probable that after Ishbosheth's murder, during the five years before David's election to the throne of all Israel, the house of Saul had some puppet representative at Mahanaim, and some commander in Abner's place. But after the death of this able man matters would go from bad to worse, and, though David probably remained on the defensive, yet the contrast between the peace and good government of Judah and the misery in Israel made all the tribes wish to put an end to a harassing civil war. It is plain, too, that the Philistines, repelled at first by Abner's skill, had again gained the ascendant, and regarded themselves so completely as the rulers of the country, that they resented immediately with summary violence the bold act of the northern tribes in choosing David to be their common king.
And unto David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess;
Verse 2. - Unto David were sons born. This increase of his wives is mentioned as a proof of David's prosperity. For though contrary to the Law (Deuteronomy 17:17), it was yet looked upon as part of the state of a king, and as such had been practised by Gideon (Judges 8:30), who approached more nearly to the royal dignity than any other of the judges. But it is the rule of the Books of Samuel that they generally abstain alike from praise and 'blame, and allow facts to speak for themselves. But never did a history more clearly deserve the title of 'A Vindication of the Justice of God.' Alike in Eli, in Saul, and in David, their sufferings were the result of their sins, and to the polygamy and lust of the last are due both the crimes which stained his character and the distress of the last twenty years of his life. (For Amnon, his first born, see ch. 13.)
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;
Verses 3-5. - Chileab. The Midrash explains Chileab as meaning "Quite like the father." He is called Daniel in the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:1, and this was probably his real name, and Chileab a name of affection. He must have died young, for Adonijah appears as David's eldest son after the death of Amnon and Absalom; and it is thus natural that he should still be known by the name he bore as a child. Geshur. The word signifies "Bridgeland," and is the name of two districts, one of which formed the northern part of the tribe of Manasseh, and extended on both sides of the Jordan, from the little Hermon to the sea of Gennesareth (Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:13). The other was in Syria (2 Samuel 15:8), and probably was situated upon some river, though its exact position is not yet known. Talmai, its king, now gave his daughter to be one of David's wives, and though he was probably only a petty prince, still it is a proof of David's growing power that a potentate living at so great a distance was willing to make an alliance with him. Of the other wives and their sons nothing is known except of Adonijah, who inherited, on the death of Absalom, the dangerous position of firstborn; and who, after trying to make his rights good, was put to death by Solomon (1 Kings 2:25). As Eglah is especially called David's wife, the Jewish interpreters hold that she was the highest in rank in his household, and therefore identical with Michal, who was restored to David while at Hebron. But she was childless; and more probably the words are to be taken as simply closing the narrative, and as belonging, therefore, equally to each of the six.
And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital;
And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
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.
Verse 6. - Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul. The Hebrew really means that until this miserable quarrel about Rizpah, Abner had been the mainstay of Ishbosheth's throne and dynasty. She is proved to have been a noble woman, with a warm and devoted heart, by the narrative in 2 Samuel 21:8-11. But the harem of a deceased king was looked upon as the special inheritance of his successor; and Absalom, by taking David's concubines (2 Samuel 16:21, 22), treated his father as a dead man, and committed so overt an act of treason as made reconciliation impossible. So Solomon put his brother Adonijah to death for asking Abishag to wife (1 Kings 2:23-25). Still, as Bathsheba there saw no impropriety in Adonijah's request, and as Solomon deposed Abiathar and put Joab to death for complicity, as we must conclude, in Adonijah's request, it was probably part of some scheme of conspiracy, and that, if granted, it would have been used by Adonijah as a proof that the kingdom really was his. Here there was no plot, and as Rizpah had probably always lived apart from Ishbosheth, Abner may have expected that the king would see no difficulty in the matter.
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?
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 woman?
Verse 8. - Then was Abner very wroth. This extreme indignation on Abner's part is not easy to understand; for he could scarcely have expected Ishbosheth to endure quietly what at least was a great insult. But probably the question, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine? does not mean a mild expostulation on the king's part, but the purpose to degrade Abner and strip him of his office. Probably after the defeat by Joab at Gibeon, the army was less satisfied with its leader, and his detractors may gladly have encouraged the king to use this opportunity for bringing Abner down to his proper place. Weak kings often try to play the strong man; but the attempt here only drove the imperious soldier to put the matter to the proof, and show that the strength was his. We know that David groaned all his life through under Joab's iron will, and, though he tried, yet that he never succeeded in throwing off the yoke. But Joab never behaved unfaithfully to his sovereign as Abner did here, and his crimes were deeds of violence committed in David's cause. Am I a dog's head, which against Judah, etc.? The words literally are, Am I a dog's head that is for Judah? and are rightly rendered in the Revised Version, Am I a dog's head that belongeth to Judah? Am I at once worthless and a traitor, a thing of no account, and on the side of thy enemies? In the words that follow he protests, not so much his innocence as his great deserts. This day - that is, at this very time - I am showing kindness unto the house of Saul... and this day thou wouldest visit upon me - that is, punish me for - the fault about this woman. I make and maintain thee as king, and thou wouldst play the king upon me, the kingmaker!
So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;
Verse 9. - As the Lord hath sworn to David. This not only shows that the prophetic promise of the kingdom to David was generally known (see note on 2 Samuel 1:2), but that Abner regarded it as solemnly ratified. There is no express mention of any such oath, but Abner was a man of strong words, and possibly only meant that Jehovah's purpose was becoming evident by the course of events.
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 to Beersheba.
And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.
Verse 11. - He could not answer Abner. Though the reply was one of open treason, and was spoken with violence, yet Ishbosheth did not venture to bring the matter to an issue. Perhaps he looked round upon his officers to see if any would take his side, and, when all were silent, he was too feeble to dare to order the arrest and trial of his too powerful captain.
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 unto thee.
Verse 12. - Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf; Hebrew, under him. The Revised Version renders this "where he was;" but the phrase really means "immediately" (see note on ch. 2:23). And this agrees with the haughty temper of Abner. Without waiting for advice, or allowing his anger to cool, he at once sent trusty envoys to open negotiations with David. Whose is the land? Abner's meaning in these words is plain. You, David, he seems to say, will answer that the land is mine; for Jehovah has promised it to me. But, as a matter of fact, much of the land is mine (Abner's), or at least belongs to the house of Saul, whose prime minister I am. Yours is an abstract right; mine is actual possession. Come, let us make the two agree. Give me fitting assurances of safety and reward, and I will make your claim a reality.
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.
Verse 13. - Except thou first bring Michal. Besides David's affection for Michal, there were political reasons for demanding her restoration. Saul's despotic act in giving her in marriage to another man (1 Samuel 25:44) had been a public disavowal of David as the son-in-law of the royal house, and equivalent to a proclamation of outlawry. David's rights were all declared null by such an act. But now Ishbosheth must with equal publicity reverse his father's deed, and restore to David his lost position. It must have been a most painful humiliation to him to be driven thus to cancel his father's decree, and declare thereby to all Israel that he was unable to refuse hie assent to whatever his rival demanded. And for this reason David sent his messengers directly to Ishbosheth, because the importance of Michal's surrender to him lay in its being a public act of the state. For Michal, in 2 Samuel 21:8, we ought to read Merab (see note there).
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.
Verse 14. - A hundred foreskins. This was the number which Saul had required (1 Samuel 18:25), and David acted rightly in not boasting that he had really given twice as many (1 Samuel 18:27). As he had paid her father the stipulated price, Michal, by Oriental law, was David's property.
And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.
Verse 15. - Phaltiel the son of Laish. In 1 Samuel 25:44 he is called Phalti. This word, in Hebrew lexicons, is usually regarded as a contraction for Phaltiyah, "Jehovah is deliverance," while Phaltiel means "El is deliverance." The substitution of El for Yah is one of those changes which arose out of the superstitious reverence for the sacred name which to this day causes the word LORD to be read in our Bibles where in the Hebrew are the four consonants Y, H, V, H, which, by attaching to them the vowels belonging to the Hebrew word edonay (or, adonay, lord) we make into "Jehovah" (Yehovah).
And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return. And he returned.
Verse 16. - Her husband went with her along weeping behind her. "Along weeping" is a very awkward rendering of the Hebrew phrase, "going and weeping." The Revised Version is far better, "weeping as he went and followed her." Phaltiel had been Michal's husband for eight or nine years, and his sorrow at losing her excites sympathy for them both. They had evidently loved one another, and she was now going to be but one of many wives; and though David may have desired her restoration because he valued her and cherished the remembrance of their youthful affection, yet there was a large admixture of political motive in his conduct. At Gallim she had been Phaltiel's one jewel, and had been loved for her own sake; at Hebron she would have many rivals. But women of royal rank have often to pay the price of sacrificed affections for the ends of statecraft. Near Bahurim, on the road from Jerusalem to Gilgal, in the valley of the Jordan, the convoy approached the borders of Judah, and Abner will not allow the weeping husband to enter David's dominions. Painful as was his fate, he had himself done wrong in marrying another man's wife; and if he was weeping now, we may well believe that David had felt equal anguish when Michal was torn from him and sold to another, - for fathers in those days received instead of giving a dowry upon the marriage of their daughters. Saul in this matter was most to blame, and if he had not committed this wrong, David might never have sought an evil solace in multiplying to himself other wives
And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:
Verse 17. - And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel. Most probably this had taken place before Abner escorted Michal to Hebron, and that he paid David but one visit - that recorded in ver. 20. He would probably not take so decided a step as the surrender of Michal without sounding the elders, that is, the local sheikhs, and finding out how far they were inclined to support David as king of all Israel. When everything was ready he would take Michal to Hebron, and so have the opportunity of arranging with David for future action; and though Ishbosheth would dislike the matter and suspect Abner of ulterior purposes, yet he could not refuse so specious a plea as the escorting of his sister. His previous failure, too, had taught him that Abner was master. We may further be sure that David had everywhere many adherents. All Israel knew that he was marked out by prophecy to be their king, and, moreover, "all Israel and Judah loved him" (1 Samuel 18:16). But when Abner says, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you, he makes it probable that, at some time after the defeat at Gilboa, the attempt had even been made to elect David king. But Abner had then opposed it, and his success in resisting the Philistines, and David's unfortunate entanglement with those inveterate enemies of Israel, had made the attempt fail. And now Abner's attempt was to be equally unsuccessful.
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 enemies.
Verse 18. - The Lord hath spoken. Here again Abner's statements go far beyond the text of anything recorded in Holy Scripture, but probably they give the popular interpretation of the prophecies respecting David. It will be noticed also that Abner endeavours to meet the general prejudice against David by asserting that he was Israel's destined deliverer from Philistine oppression. As Abner's speech is virtually an acknowledgment of failure, we may also be sure that he had found himself unable any longer to make head against the Philistines on the western side of the Jordan, and that Judah was the only tribe there that enjoyed tranquillity. Everywhere else they had once again established their supremacy. Though a brave soldier, Abner was inferior, not only to David, but also to Joab, both as statesman and general; and the weak Ishbosheth was no help to him, but the contrary.
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.
Verse 19. - In the ears of Benjamin. This tribe alone, probably, was really loyal to the house of Saul, their kinsman. But since the withdrawal of the court to Mahanaim, they got but little good from it, and were left to resist the predatory bands of the Philistines as best they could. So warlike a tribe too would despise Ishbosheth, and long for a braver man to aid them in fighting their enemies.
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.
Verse 20. - Twenty men with him. These, we may feel sure, were not common soldiers, but chieftains selected from those elders who were on David's side; and, though the honourable escort of Michal was the pretext, yet Ishbosheth must have felt sure that more was intended. Most of them, however, would join Abner on the road, especially those who represented Benjamin and the western tribes. On arriving at Hebron they were honourably received, and, after a feast, they settled the conditions on which David was to be made king of all Israel; and Abner then departed in peace, after giving the assurance that all the tribes would now gladly assemble, and by solemn compact and covenant make David their king. The terms of the league, and the conditions agreed upon for Ishbosheth, are not mentioned, because upon Abner's death the whole plan fell to the ground, and David had to wait for many years before his hopes were fulfilled. But we gather from this covenant and 2 Samuel 5:3 (where see note) that the early kings of Israel were not absolute monarchs.
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.
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.
Verse 22. - From pursuing a troop. This gives a wrong idea, as though Joab had been repelling an attack. The Revised Version is right in rendering "came from a foray," the troop being a company of men sent out on a predatory excursion. It is not unlikely that David had arranged this expedition in order that his interview with Abner might take place in Joab's absence; and as he returned with "great spoil," he had probably been away for some nine or ten days, during which he had penetrated far into the country of the Amalekites. Had David acted frankly and honourably, Joab would not have stood in the way of his master's exaltation, and the blood feud between him and Abner might have been arranged. But it is evident that David secretly disliked and chafed under the control of his strong-willed and too-able nephew.
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.
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?
Verses 24, 25. - What hast thou done? David's secret dealing makes Joab see a personal wrong to himself in the negotiation with Abner. There could be no room, he feels, for both of them in David's army, and David meant, he supposes, to sacrifice himself. In hot haste, therefore, he rushes into the king's presence, and reproaches him for what he has done, but covers his personal feelings with professed zeal for his master's interests. Abner is a mere spy, who has come on a false pretext, and with the real intention of learning David's going out and coming in, that is, his present manner of life and undertakings. All that thou doest; literally, all that thou art doing; all that is now going on, and thy plans and purposes. Abner would not only judge by what he saw, but in his interview with David would lead him on to talk of his hopes and prospects. David had little time to explain the real object of Abner's coming, nor was Joab in a mood to listen to anything he said. He had detected his master in secret negotiations, and would regard his excuses as tainted with deceit. And after giving vent to his auger in reproaches, he hurried away to thwart David's plans by a deed of most base villainy. Had David acted openly, all would have been done with Joab's consent and approval.
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.
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.
Verse 26. - The well - Hebrew, cistern - of Sirah. Josephus ('Ant.,' 8.1. 5) says that this cistern was situated about two miles and a half north of Hebron. There was probably a caravanserai there, at which Abner halted, intending to continue his march homewards as soon as the coolness of evening set in. Here Joab's messengers overtook him, and, speaking in David's name - for otherwise Abner would not have fallen into the trap - asked him to return for further conference, mentioning, perhaps, Joab's arrival as the reason. In this way Abner's suspicions would be set at rest, and it would seem quite natural for him to find Joab waiting for him at the gate.
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 brother.
Verse 27. - Joab took him aside in the gate. As we read in 2 Samuel 18:24 of David sitting "between the two gates," and of "the roof over the gate," and in ver. 33 of "the chamber over the gate," Ewald's idea of there being a roofed inner space, with a guard room over it, as in the mediaeval gate towers in German towns, is probably right. As the "two gates" would make the space between them gloomy, the spot would just suit Joab's purpose. He meets Abner, therefore, in a friendly manner, and drawing him aside, as if to converse with him apart from the people going in and out, there assassinates him. The place was so public that the deed must have been witnessed by multitudes, though the gloom, felt the more by them from the contrast with the bright glare of sunshine outside, had given Joab the opportunity of drawing his sword without Abner's observing it. For the blood of Asahel his brother. Joab's act was in accordance with Oriental feeling; and the duties of the avenger of blood might with some straining be made to cover his retaliation for an act done by Abner in self-defence (Numbers 35:26, 27). It is remarkable that Hebron was itself a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7), and this may have led Joab to murder him in the gate, before he had actually entered. Still, Abner did not expect any such retribution, and supposing that Joab knew of the purpose that had brought him to Hebron, he could not suppose that he would be so indifferent to his master's interests as to put a summary stop to the negotiations for uniting the tribes under David. As it was, this deed brought upon David an evil name, and four or five years had to elapse before the tribes could be induced to take him for their king. Even then his hold over them was far less than it would otherwise have been; for though the shock was gradually got over, yet the suspicion still dung to him. And if the deed was Joab's own act, still David had contributed to it by underhand dealings. His very fear of Joab had caused him to wrong his able general, and given him just cause for resentment.
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:
Verse 28. - I and my kingdom are guiltless. By this David means, not his royal house, but the people generally, who too often have to pay the penalty for the sins of their rulers (see 2 Samuel 21:1). Necessarily this is the case, wherever the crime is a state crime; but David protests that Abner's murder was a private crime, for which Joab and Abishai alone ought to suffer.
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.
Verse 29. - Let it rest on the head of Joab. The Hebrew word is very strong, "Let it roll itself," or throw itself upon Joab's head. The force of the expression thus indicates the great excitement under which David was labouring; yet even so it was no slight matter to utter so bitter a curse upon a man so powerful, and whose military skill was so essential to the maintenance of his throne. To a man of David's strong sense of justice, it was a small matter that by Abner's murder the kingdom of the ten tribes was lost perhaps forever; what he hated was the wickedness of this mean act of personal revenge. And thus his imprecations are all such as would be humiliating to a family so distinguished for great physical as well as mental gifts, as the house of Zeruiah. Nor was David content with this; for we gather from 1 Chronicles 11:6 that during the intervening years Joab was deprived of his office, and that he regained it only by an act of daring bravery. (For the miserable condition of one suffering with an issue, see Leviticus 15:2, etc.; and for that of a leper, Leviticus 13, 14.) Instead of one that leaneth on a staff, some translate "a distaff holder," that is, a poor effeminate creature, fit only for woman's work. The true sense is probably a cripple - one who needs a crutch. That falleth on the sword; more correctly the Revised Version, that falleth by the sword. The two last imprecations mean that if any of the race of Joab and Abishai escape these personal blemishes, yet that his fate shall be, in war an inglorious death, and in peace a life of poverty. This curse of David is regarded in the Talmud ('Sanhedr.,' 48.2) as very sinful. Undeniably it was uttered in violent anger, and while Joab's act was utterly base and perfidious, yet he had the excuse for it of Asahel's death and David's double-dealing. The latter made him conclude that the man who had killed his brother was also to usurp his place. Possibly this suspicion was not without reason. As David was strong enough to deprive Joab of his command, it is plain that he had nothing to fear from telling him his plans. Joab would have assented, the blood feud have been appeased by a money payment, and all gone well. But David, it seems, wished to hold Joab in check by giving at least a share in the command to the veteran Abner.
So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.
Verse 30. - Joab and Abishai his brother. Nothing is said of Abishai having taken part in the murder, but the words suggest that it was a premeditated act, and that Abishai was privy to it.
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.
Verse 31. - David said to Joab. The excuse of the blood feud made it impossible for David to punish Joab further than by depriving him of his command; but he made him condemn his own deed by taking part in the public mourning for the man he had murdered. This mourning consisted in going in solemn procession, clad in sackcloth, before Abner's body, carried on a bier to the grave, while David followed as chief mourner; and the emphatic way in which he is called King David suggests the thought that he went in royal state, so as to give all possible dignity to the funeral. His tears and lamentations with uplifted voice were so genuine and hearty as to move the people to a similar outburst of grief. But while all those at Hebron had proof that David was innocent, the people generally would know only that, when Abner was escorting the king's wife back to him, and arranging for his election to rule over all Israel, he was treacherously murdered at the gate of Hebron by one who was chief over David's army and also his nephew.
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.
And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth?
Verse 33. - The king lamented. The word is the same as that used in ch. 1:17. The word rendered "fool" is nabal (for which see 1 Samuel 25:25). The idea contained in the word is not that of mere silliness, but of worthlessness also; and thus in Psalm 14:1 we find that the nabal is also an atheist.
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.
Verse 34. - Thy hands were not bound. Abner had been put to death by Joab for killing Asahel. But there had been no legal process. He had not been brought in fetters before a judge to be tried for the crime alleged, but murdered for private ends. And thus, "As a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so had he fallen," that is, by crime, and not by law. These words s re probably the refrain of the dirge, like those in 2 Samuel 1:19, 25, 27, and were followed by the celebration of Abner's bravery, but they alone are recorded, because they contain the main point. Abner's death was not, like the sentence upon Baanah and Rechab, an act of justice, but one of lawless revenge; and by this poem David proclaimed, not only his innocence, but also his abhorrence of the crime.
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.
Verse 35. - The people came to cause David to eat meat. The Jewish commentators, Philippson, Cahen, etc., consider that the occasion for this was given by the custom of taking food after a funeral (Jeremiah 16:7; Ezekiel 24:17), which in time degenerated into the giving of a costly banquet (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2:01). To this day, at a Jewish funeral in Germany, the bearers are regaled with eggs, broad, and wine. While, then, others were partaking of the food that had been provided, David remained apart, and when urged by the assembled multitude to join them in their meal, he protested that he would continue fasting until sunset. He thus proved that his sorrow was genuine, and the people were convinced of his innocence, and pleased at the honour which he thus did to the fallen soldier.
And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatsoever the king did pleased all the people.
Verse 36. - Whatsoever the king did pleased all the people. This is a tribute to the king's conduct generally. The people would have been grieved and astonished if David had been guilty of this mean murder; but his indignant disavowal of it was in accordance with his usual justice and uprightness, and so it confirmed their high opinion of him. Thus while the more distant tribes condemned David, those who had the best opportunity for forming a judgment gave their verdict in his favour.
For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner.
Verse 37. - All Israel understood. The twenty men who had accompanied Abner would be witnesses of all that David did, and would carry their report of it home, and of the high estimation in which his character was held at Hebron. And this gradually would be told throughout the tribes, and the final verdict of all well-disposed people would be in David's favour.
And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel?
Verse 38. - A prince and a great man. David pronounces this high estimate of Abner's worth to his servants, that is, to his officers, and especially to the six hundred mighty men. His conduct is bold and open, and must have greatly humiliated Joab and Abishai. But though the six hundred approved of David's conduct, and respected him for it, yet probably, as Abner had killed Asahel, they would not have consented to any further punishment than the disgrace inflicted on Joab by his being deprived of the command of David's warriors.
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.
Verse 39. - I am this clay weak...the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me. David would gladly have had Abner as a counterpoise to Joab's too-great power. As it was, though an anointed king, he had but one tribe loyal to him; the rest were the subjects of a rival; and the Philistines were oppressing all alike. Had Abner's enterprise been carried out, all the tribes would have been united under his sway. He could thus have made head against the Philistines, and Abner, in command of the Benjamites and other tribes, would have curbed the fierce self-will of Joab. As it was, the sons of Zeruiah might be reprimanded, and could not treat David as Abner had treated Ishbosheth; but they were indispensable. David had a strange set of men around him in those outlaws (1 Samuel 22:2); and Joab, brave, skilful, and unscrupulous, was a man after their own heart. They had just returned with great booty from a foray under his command; and it was a brave and manly thing in David to reprove him so openly, and dismiss him from his command. Had he attempted more, and Joab had stood upon the defence, there were plenty of "men of Belial" (1 Samuel 30:22) to side with him, and David might have met with the fate threatened him at Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:6). As it was, he proved himself to be king, and Joab, in spite of everything, remained a most faithful officer, and the right hand man in his kingdom, and one even trusted with perilous and disgraceful secrets (2 Samuel 11:14).