Exegetical Notes: 2 Samuel 3:8-31

Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog’s head of Judah? To this day I keep showing steadfast love to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not given you into the hand of David. And yet you charge me today with a fault concerning a woman. God do so to Abner and more also, if I do not accomplish for David what the Lord has sworn to him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba.” 11 And Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner another word, because he feared him.

“Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth” – When the kingdom became divided upon Saul’s death, David was anointed king over Judah (2 Sam. 2:7) and Ish-bosheth became king over Israel. Ish-bosheth was crowned king by none other than Abner, the commander of Saul’s army (2 Sam. 2:8-11). Disagreement and battles followed between the two groups. During this transition and turmoil, David gained power while Ish-bosheth became weaker. However, Abner’s influence in Saul’s government continued to grow. Throughout this civil war, Abner remained loyal to the house of Saul.

The exact source of contention occurred when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of having a physical union with Rizpah, a “concubine”* left by Saul.

*”concubine” – “the exact status of a concubine in Israelite culture is not absolutely certain, but most probably such a woman was a legitimate wife of lower status. These included slaves and women captured during wars. Her standing was therefore less than that of the principal wife or wives, but she should not be thought of as a prostitute, and her status was not temporary. The term is also found in Gen 22:24 and frequently in the book of Judges, as well as in this book. Some languages have had to translate this term as “spouse of second rank” (frcl) or “second-level wife.” Roger L. Omanson and John Ellington, A Handbook on Second Book of Samuel, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 2001), 678.

Behind this overt accusation, lies the thought that Ish-bosheth is accusing Abner of being disloyal to Saul’s crown and trying to increase his political prowess through unions with Saul’s wives. By Abner’s reaction, we can assume the accusation is false and is possibly initiated because Ish-bosheth is worried over David’s increasing power when compared to his own decreasing influence. The fact that Abner is also increasing in influence probably has Ish-bosheth worried about the tenure of his rule.

Abner then takes an about face in his political ambition and vows to help unite all of the kingdom under David’s rule. There can be little doubt that Abner’s position in Saul’s rule allowed him to be privy to the fact that David was to be the next king. He surely was also aware of God’s choosing of David to be Saul’s successor. If nothing else, it seemed somewhat of a common belief among the people. David has enjoyed a long history of praise and accolades from the people of Israel.

We are unaware of Abner’s motives by showing his initial support to Saul’s throne. Perhaps it was genuine loyalty, perhaps it was to bolster his own political career. Perhaps he sought influence to help turn the kingdom toward David all along. Whatever his initial motive, it can be said that fighting against the will of God will prove to be nothing more than an exercise in futility.

12 And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, “To whom does the land belong? Make your covenant with me, and behold, my hand shall be with you to bring over all Israel to you.” 13 And he said, “Good; I will make a covenant with you. But one thing I require of you; that is, you shall not see my face unless you first bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, when you come to see my face.” 14 Then David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, saying, “Give me my wife Michal, for whom I paid the bridal price of a hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” 15 And Ish-bosheth sent and took her from her husband Paltiel the son of Laish. 16 But her husband went with her, weeping after her all the way to Bahurim. Then Abner said to him, “Go, return.” And he returned.

These verses prove to provide some confusing questions. Why does David insist on Michal’s presence, especially when she has been married to another? Why does Ish-bosheth comply? Why was Michal married to another when she had previously been pledged to David?

Abner immediately follows through with his vow and begins to seek peace with David.

David agrees to the covenant, hoping to accomplish through diplomacy, what had not been accomplished through the waring of the two parties.

David’s request for Michal serves several purposes. First, it serves a sign of good faith on behalf of Abner that he intends to follow through with aiding David. Second, it shows David to have some legitimacy to the throne through his marriage to Saul’s daughter. Third, it reminds those loyal to Saul of David’s military prowess and his benevolence. Michal’s hand in marriage was promised to the one who brought back 100 foreskins. David actually presented Saul with an additional 100 as a gift. This story can be read in it’s entirety in 1 Samuel 18:17-30. The events in chapter 18 serve to both separate Saul and David further and establish David in the eyes of Israel as a leader. It may also explain why Saul gave Michal to another while David sought refuge in Gath (1 Samuel 25:44). Fourth, there seems to be a genuine sense of love between David and Michal.

Apparently, Michal proved to be quite a catch, her being placed back in relationship with David did not go well with her adulterous husband. Michal’s relationship with Paltiel was largely illegitimate, due to the fact that she never divorced from David. I personally believe it to be a measure based on spite, which drove Saul to pledge her to another. There may also be a large sense in which David wishes to restore the throne back to a position of righteousness, thus demanding Michal to be returned to him. Nonetheless, both David and Michal seem to desire a reunion, while Paliel plays the part of  heart-broken and love-sick.

In a society where women were largely second-class, Paliel’s actions seem rather strange. Perhaps he enjoyed the prestige of being married to the royal family, perhaps he had genuine care for Michal. The New Testament makes clear that Jesus puts man and women on equal footing before the Lord (Gal 3:28). This is not to say that man and woman do not function within distinct roles in society and the home.

17 And Abner conferred with the elders of Israel, saying, “For some time past you have been seeking David as king over you. 18 Now then bring it about, for the Lord has promised David, saying, ‘By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel from the hand of the Philistines, and from the hand of all their enemies.’” 19 Abner also spoke to Benjamin. And then Abner went to tell David at Hebron all that Israel and the whole house of Benjamin thought good to do. 20 When Abner came with twenty men to David at Hebron, David made a feast for Abner and the men who were with him. 21 And Abner said to David, “I will arise and go and will gather all Israel to my lord the king, that they may make a covenant with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires.” So David sent Abner away, and he went in peace.

Abner’s desire to unite all Israel under the rule of David become solidified in these verses. Apparently, Abner wasn’t the only one who felt insecure under the leadership of Ish-bosheth. After all, being the fourth son of Saul, he would not have received much of the training the older sons would in hoping they would be the next to inherit the throne.  In the verses under consideration, he seems somewhat passive and ill-equipped to rule effectively. A large consensus of the leadership of Israel has requested for some time to unite under the leadership of King David.

General fear of ongoing war with the Philistines probably drove many tribal elders to consider David as king over all Israel. After all, he was Israel’s most decorated military commander and would certainly provide better protection from the Philistines than Ish-bosheth.

Abner not only uses national security as a tool for bringing support to David, he also reminds the elders that this was actually God’s will for David to be king. Verse 18 is most likely a reference to 1 Samuel 9:16 where Samuel was told to anoint David as king.

Two dangers when considering God’s will is to 1) manipulate our circumstances to prove God desires one thing over another, or 2) hesitate even when God’s will seems clear (as is this case).

A special meeting was held with the tribe of Benjamin, due to the fact that they would have to reject one from their own tribe as king over them. Abner shows great political persuasion in his desire to bring about complete unity under the throne of David.