2 Samuel 2
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Samuel 2:1-4. - (ZIGLAG, HEBRON)
David inquired of the Lord (ver. 1). A new chapter in the life of David now opens. By the death of Saul and Jonathan the obstacles to his accession were, in part, removed. The time of patient waiting was gone, and the time for decisive action come. As he had not run before he was sent, so he did not expect, without running, to attain. But he would not take a step without the approval and direction of God. His inquiry pertained to the Divine purpose he was chosen to fulfil, and the Divine guidance he needed for its accomplishment. In this inquiry, as in his subsequent conduct and experience, he was a pattern to us; since there is forevery man a Divine plan and purpose of life, which he should seek to ascertain and strive to realize. Consider Divine guidance (in the way to a crown) as -

I. URGENTLY NEEDED. We are liable (like travellers in a strange country) to go astray from the right path and fall into danger.

1. This liability arises from many erroneous paths presented to our view; their attractive appearance and strong temptations. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).

2. And from the imperfection of our own nature; our ignorance, and our disposition to please ourselves rather than deny ourselves and please God. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself," etc. (Jeremiah 10:23).

3. It is evident from experience of past failures. David had taken many false steps. And there is no man but has reason to feel, in looking back over departed years, that his greatest folly has been to walk in the light of his own wisdom, and his greatest wisdom to depend upon the wisdom of God.

4. The need of it is specially felt by us when about to enter upon a new enterprise, or a course of action to which we are impelled by outward circumstances or inward conviction, but the exact nature of which is uncertain, or which is dependent for its success upon the disposition and cooperation of other persons.

II. DILIGENTLY SOUGHT. Although the Urim and Thummim are gone (see 1 Samuel 14:16-23; 1 Samuel 23:1-12), yet:

1. There are certain means which must be employed for a similar purpose - such as considering our own capacities and condition; listening to the voice of conscience; seeking the advice of good men; observing the ways of Providence; studying "the Scriptures of truth;" and, above all, offering prayer to the Father "in the Name" of Christ.

2. And to their proper employment a right spirit is essential; viz. sincerity, docility, trustfulness, perseverance. Such was the spirit of David, as it appears in his psalms; and therefore, while Saul exclaimed, "God answereth me no more" (1 Samuel 28:15), he could say, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me" (Psalm 34:4).


1. In various ways, in accordance with the means just mentioned, and especially by the Holy Spirit, who prepares the heart, teaches the meaning and application of the written Word, and produces impressions and impulses in harmony therewith. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things" (l John 2:20; John 16:13).

2. Individually, and in a measure fully adequate to the requirements of the case and the capacity of profiting by it.

3. Certainly. As of old, so now. God is as desirous as he is able to lead us in the way wherein we should go, and he has given many faithful promises to this effect. "I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalm 32:8; Psalm 37:23; Psalm 48:14). "Thine ears shall hear a voice behind thee," etc. (Isaiah 30:21; Isaiah 42:16; Proverbs 3:6).

IV. FAITHFULLY FOLLOWED. "And David went up thither" (ver. 2).

1. With humble obedience and entire dependence, as a child relying on the superior wisdom of his father.

2. Without hesitation, questioning, or delay.

3. With cheerfulness, zeal, and energy. It is always given with a practical end in view.

V. GRADUALLY CONFIRMED in the experience of him who obeys. "And his men... and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron" (ver. 3). God went before them and prepared their way, so that they met with a peaceable reception and found "a city of habitation."

1. The operations of Providence concur with the teachings of the Word and the Spirit.

2. A stronger assurance of the Divine leading is possessed. "If any man willeth to do his will," etc. (John 7:17).

3. More light is given for further advancement. "Then shall we know, shall follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is fixed like the morning dawn" (Hosea 6:3); and it will brighten on our path into the radiance of perfect day.

VI. WIDELY BENEFICIAL. More especially it contributes to the good of those who are associated with him, and who, having shared his perplexity and distress, now share his prosperity. Those who are guided by God are thereby enabled and disposed to guide and bless others (Numbers 10:39).

VII. GLORIOUSLY TERMINATING. "They anointed David king" (ver. 4). And all who truly fulfil the Divine plan and purpose as David did (Acts 13:22) are made "kings unto God," and receive exalted honour among men, increased power over them, and at length a crown of life, of righteousness, and of glory. But, alas! how many go stumbling through life without an aim, or only with one which is unworthy, and contrary to the will of God, and then sink into "the blackness of darkness forever"! "The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Proverbs 3:35). - D.

David had now arrived at a very important point in his career. Saul being dead, his way to the throne was cleared; but the next step to take was doubtful. Under these circumstances he adopted the course usual to him when in difficulty. He "inquired of the Lord," sought directions from him as to what he should do. The high priest, Abiathar, was with him with the ephod (1 Samuel 30:7), and by means of the Urim and Thummim could ascertain for him the Divine will. By this method, doubtless, he received directions to go into Judah and settle at Hebron; "and the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." We cannot ask direction from God in the same manner as David, but, using the means available for us, we should imitate him in this respect.


1. It should be a constant practice. Part of our devotions every day should consist of endeavours to ascertain more fully and accurately the will of God concerning us, seeking of him guidance in all our ways, that we may know what the general commands of God mean for us in our position, in the practical details of our individual life.

2. The practice should be made special under special doubts and difficulties.

(1) When like David we have to make a choice on which much depends, and there is difficulty in choosing. When proposing to enter on a new enterprise, to form new connections (especially a lifelong alliance), to change our place of abode, etc. There will be reasons for and against, promises of good, possibilities of evil, in each direction. What shall be done? Inquire of the Lord.

(2) When we meet with perplexities in the inquiry after truth. It is not by mere logical processes that spiritual truth can be ascertained; from first to last we need guidance from above, and should earnestly seek it,


1. By what methods. Where shall we find a Divine oracle to answer our inquiries?

(1) Reason and conscience will often (if we allow them free speech) give a response which at once commends itself as a Divine reply. If one course be morally right and the other morally wrong, one in manifest accordance with the laws of Christ, the other in plain opposition to them, there is no room for further question.

(2) Holy Scripture is to be consulted. Not in the way of bibliomancy, but by study of its revelations and precepts. The New Testament is especially the Christian's vade mecum, from whence he may obtain all needful instruction as to the will of God.

(3) The providence of God. Courses to which we are prompted by the best desires may be seen not to be our duty, because ability and opportunity are wanting to pursue them.

(4) The counsels of wise and good men. Consulting them, our course will often become clear. Yet we may not submit blindly and slavishly to our fellow men.

(5) The commands of superiors. For children at home the will of their parents is the will of God; for servants, the commands of their employers; always supposing in both cases that what is enjoined is not clearly sinful.

(6) Withal and always, prayer for Divine guidance should be resorted to. "Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths" (Psalm 25:4). By direct influence on the minds and hearts of those who seek him, God becomes their Guide. His Spirit leads those who are willing to be led by him.

2. In what spirit. A simple and sincere desire to know and do the will of God. In opposition to pride and self-will, and double-mindedness. Many seek counsel of God as the advice of men is often sought. They virtually make up their minds before they inquire, and "make it a matter of prayer" in order that they may obtain a feeling of the Divine approval of the course they have chosen. Not avowedly, not consciously, is this done. But "the heart is deceitful," and never shows its deceitfulness more than in such cases (comp. Ezekiel 14:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-14).


1. Our ignorance. "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Human affairs are so complex, appearances so deceitful, men often so untrustworthy, our vision so limited, that we may well desire and shall wisely yield ourselves to the guidance of God.

2. The right and power of God to direct us. As supreme Ruler, as perfect in knowledge, wisdom, and goodness.

3. His promises. (See Psalm 25:12, 14; James 1:5.) Especially the great promise of the Holy Spirit to all who ask of God this unspeakably great and precious gift (Luke 11:13).

4. The blessedness of being divinely led. In present wisdom, holiness, and happiness, and in eternal life.

5. The certainty of fatal darkness and stumbling to those who do not inquire of God. (See Jeremiah 13:16; John 12:35.) - G.W.

2 Samuel 2:4. - (HEBRON.)
Course of events:

1. David's message to the men of Jabesh (vers. 5-7).

2. Ishbosheth made King of Israel by Abner (vers. 8-11).

3. Civil war, and the death of Asahel (vers. 12-32).

4. Increasing strength of the house of David (2 Samuel 3:1-5).

5. Dissension between Ishbosheth and Abner.

6. Abner's negotiations with David, restoration of Michal, communication with the tribes, and formal league (2 Samuel 3:12-21).

7. Abner slain by Joab (2 Samuel 3:22-28).

8. Lamented by David (2 Samuel 3:31-39).

9. Ishbosheth murdered (2 Samuel 4:1-8)

10. His assassins executed (2 Samuel 4:9-12). It was a great day in Hebron. The ancient city among the hills of Judah (where the remains of the patriarchs had slumbered for centuries) was stirred by the assembling of the elders for the coronation of David. His presence among them, at the head of his six hundred heroes, had been virtually a "public assertion of his claims to sovereignty" on the ground of his Divine consecration by Samuel. His first anointing was essentially of a private nature. "This second one, performed by the elders of Judah, was his public solemn installation (based on that anointment) into the royal office." Then followed the acclamation of the people (1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 11:15). "Now doth David find the comfort that his extremity sought in the Lord his God; now are the clouds for a time passed over, and the sun breaks forth; David shall reign after his sufferings" (Hall). It has been supposed that he wrote about this time Psalm 27. (inscription, "Before the anointing," LXX.).

"Jehovah is my Light and my Salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Jehovah is the Strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?" It is not likely that David's muse went to sleep when the death of Saul at Gilboa opened his way to the throne, or that it produced nothing but such comparatively secular songs as the lament for Saul and Jonathan. It is rather remarkable, however, that there is not a single psalm of which one can affirm with confidence that it was written during the seven years and a half that David reigned at Hebron over the tribe of Judah (Binnie). Those who took part in his inauguration acted in fulfilment, not only of the Divine purpose concerning him, but also of the Divine predictions concerning themselves; for the pre-eminence of Judah had been long foretold (Genesis 49:8). "In all great questions the men of Judah are the foremost and the strongest. From the time of David's establishment on the throne, the greatness of the tribe follows in some measure that of his family (1 Chronicles 5:2; 38:4)" (Davison). "And as they had the right to choose their own prince, they might reasonably have expected that the other tribes would have followed their example, and, by uniting in David, have quietly submitted to the appointment of God, as they themselves had done" (Chandler). In their conduct we see -

I. AN EXALTED ESTIMATE OF HIS PERSONAL WORTH. One of themselves (Deuteronomy 17:15), "chosen out of the people" (Psalm 89:19), he could understand and sympathize with them. He possessed eminent military abilities and noble moral qualities; and he had rendered invaluable services to his country, and shown special kindness to the elders of his own tribe (1 Samuel 30:26). His previous career was well known to them, and had won their confidence and affection. The character of a people is commonly manifested in that of its chosen ruler. As Saul embodied and reflected the prevailing spirit of Benjamin and Ephraim, so David embodied and reflected what was best in Judah; its independent spirit, lion-like courage, and religious devotion.

II. LOYAL ACCEPTANCE OF HIS DIVINE APPOINTMENT. With that appointment they were familiar. They recognized Jehovah as their King; the Source of authority and of the endowments which were needful for the kingly office. Their condition isolated them in feeling, to some extent, from the other tribes (as afterwards more fully appears); but in acting independently of them they rebelled against no existing and legitimate authority, and they neither aimed at dominion over them nor separation from them. They displayed a truly theocratic spirit. And, in the election of a ruler, a people should always recognize the authority and obey the will of God. "Kings derive their kingly majesty immediately from God, but also mediately from their subjects" (J. Lange).

III. VOLUNTARY SUBMISSION TO HIS ROYAL AUTHORITY. He was to them "a minister of God." Their obedience to God required their submission to the king of his choice; whose authority, however, great as it was, was not absolute. It is not said, as on a subsequent occasion (ch. 5:3), that "he made a league with them;" but they doubtless submitted to him on the understanding that he would rule according to the Divine will. The efficiency of a ruler depends upon the free submission of his people; and there is not a nobler exercise of freedom than submission to the highest order.

IV. UNBOUNDED CONFIDENCE IN HIS BENEFICENT RULE. They expected, under the government of "the man worthy of the sceptre," deliverance from their enemies, by whom they were now threatened; the establishment of justice, from the want of which they had long suffered; and the attainment of power and prosperity. Nor were they disappointed. The pre-eminence of this tribe was ordained with reference to the advent and exaltation of Christ, the promised Shiloh, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5); and the conduct of the men of Judah may be taken as illustrating the free acceptance of "him whom God hath anointed with his Holy Spirit" on the part of his people; their humble obedience to his rule, and their fervent desire for his universal reign. "Thou art worthy."

"Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
By ancient covenant, ere Nature's birth;
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,

And overpaid its value with thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim thee King; and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love."

(Cowper.) D

2 Samuel 2:4-7. - (HEBRON.)
The first recorded act of David after he became king was of a kingly character. It is not improbable that the persons who informed him of what the men of Jabesh had done supposed that he had little love for the memory of Saul, and was apprehensive of Opposition from his "house" (ver. 8), and wished to excite his jealousy against them; seeking to insinuate themselves into his confidence by detraction from the good name of others. But, instead of yielding to suspicion, he sent a message of peace and good will. His commendation was -

I. WELL DESERVED by men who had performed a noble deed (see 1 Samuel 31:11-13). Their conduct displayed:

1. Gratitude toward their benefactor, whose kindness they returned with kindness.

2. Fidelity toward their king, whose faithfulness they repaid with faithfulness.

3. Reverence toward their God. "To bury the dead with the Jews was always reckoned an instance of humanity and kindness, and, indeed, of piety; an act done in imitation of God, who buried Moses; and so it might be expected the Divine blessing would attend it" (Gill).

II. WORTHILY BESTOWED by a king of royal disposition.

1. Unsuspecting. Others might find reason for suspecting their intentions, but he could see only what was deserving of praise.

2. Generous, with respect to Saul; appreciating and sympathizing with their kindness to their master, even though he had been his enemy. "Use the memory of thy predecessor fairly and tenderly; for if thou dost not, it is a debt will sure be paid when thou art gone" (Bacon).

3. Practical. "David sent messengers," etc.

4. Devout. "Blessed be ye of Jehovah," etc. Recognizing God as the Observer and Rewarder of men, he invoked for them his commendation and blessing - kindness for kindness, faithfulness for faithfulness - as the highest good (Psalm 40:11; Psalm 86:15; Matthew 5:7; Hebrews 6:10).

5. Becoming. "And I also" - as one whose office it becomes to observe and recompense good as well as evil - "requite you this kindness" (send you this message), "because," etc.

6. Encouraging and stimulating. "And now," as heretofore, "let your hands be strong, and be ye valiant" in the new circumstances which have arisen through the death of your master.

7. Candid, considerate, and dignified. "For me have the house of Judah anointed king over them." He indicated delicately, but not obscurely, his claims to their allegiance, and assured them of his protection and help. "To act nobly is always the best policy."

"Where'er a noble deed is wrought,
Where'er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts in glad surprise
To higher levels rise.

The tidal wave of deeper souls
Into our inmost being rolls,
And lifts us unawares
Out of all meaner cares.

Honour to those whose words or deeds
Thus help us in our daily needs;
And by their overflow
Raise us from what is low!"


III. WISELY ADAPTED to effect a laudable end.

1. To confirm good men in a virtuous and praiseworthy course.

2. To win the confidence and support of such men.

3. To secure the benefit of their services to the nation and the kingdom of God.

4. To manifest to all the spirit of a just and generous rule.


1. One good action tends to produce another; in performing it one knows not how far its influence may reach, or what blessings it may bring upon himself.

2. Although we ought not to do good simply for the sake of reward, yet the desire of the approval of the good is a proper motive of action.

3. We should be as ready to give commendation as to receive it.

4. We should desire, above all things, the approbation of God. - D.

David was now king of the tribe of Judah by their own choice, but the rest of the tribes had not declared themselves. Amongst these the tribes beyond the Jordan were of special importance and influence; and David took an opportunity of reminding them of his position and claims. The chief city amongst those tribes was Jabesh-Gilead. Brave men from that city had rescued the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and, after burning them, had buried their bones under the tamarisk tree (Revised Version) at Jabesh. David, being made acquainted with what they had done, sends messengers to assure them of his appreciation of their conduct, and at the same time to hint that, Saul being dead, and he having been appointed king over Judah, the way was clear for them to aid, if so disposed, in promoting his election as king by the other tribes. The message was at once a suitable expression of his gratitude and a politic endeavour to ingratiate himself with them.


1. On what account. Their burial of Saul. He speaks of this as kindness to him. We can show kindness to the dead by suitably interring them. Other ways of doing this would be upholding their reputation, caring for those they leave behind, promoting for their sakes any cause in which they were deeply interested. David could not but highly appreciate the brave deed of these men. His own marvellous courage would impel him to admire theirs. But it was the respect they had thus shown to their departed sovereign which especially moved him to send a message to them. His gratitude for this was quite in accordance with his usual feelings towards Saul, both during his life and after his death.

2. How he expresses his gratitude.

(1) By sending the messengers and message. "I also will requite," etc., should be (according to Otto Thenius and the 'Speaker's Commentary') "I also show you this goodness," viz. sending the messengers with a kind message. They would value David's message as soldiers distinguishing themselves in the field value a message from the queen.

(2) By the terms of the message. In which he invokes upon them the blessing of God, his "kindness and truth," his true, faithful, constant kindness. A phrase common in the Old Testament (Psalm 25:10; Psalm 40:11, etc.; Genesis 24:49; Genesis 47:29, etc.), and reproduced in the New with some additional meaning (John 1:14). To pray for God's blessing on those to whom we feel grateful is always suitable. When we can do nothing else, we can do this; and when we can show gratitude in other ways, we do well to show it thus also. For God's blessing far surpasses ours, and will render ours more valuable and effectual. Only we should be careful not to substitute prayers for deeds when these are possible. But in some way or other we ought to express as well as cherish gratitude and other kindly feelings to others. It is good for ourselves and good for others. It encourages good and noble deeds. It tends to bind men together in the best bonds. It promotes happiness of a high order. We may enlarge the thought. We are required to confess God and our Saviour, as in other ways so by thanksgiving and praise. It is meet and right so to do. It promotes our own spiritual good and that of others. It glorifies God.

II. DAVID'S POLICY. He intended by this message not only to give to brave men their due, but to win their favour towards himself. He justly thought that those who had at such hazards honoured their deceased king would be fitting helpers of himself, and likely to become loyal subjects. There was nothing unworthy in the course he took, for there was no flattery in his expressed appreciation of their conduct, and his endeavour to gain their cooperation was not an act of mere selfishness or ambition, but of regard to the will of God who had chosen him to be King of Israel, and to the welfare of the people, which was bound up with his speedy and peaceful recognition as king. We have here an illustration of mixed motives; and we learn that:

1. We should not hesitate to do what is right because tee see that it will also be beneficial to ourselves. All piety, rectitude, and benevolence tend, and are usually seen to tend, to the good of those who practise them. The promises of God are promises of blessing to those who serve him and their brethren, and are to be received as encouragements in doing so.

2. We may even in some cases aim to do good to ourselves by doing what is right. Only we must place first that which is first, or our good deeds will cease to be good, and become only another form of selfishness. Where motives are mixed, we need carefully to guard our hearts lest the lower predominate.

3. We should be glad of opportunities of showing pure, disinterested kindness. We thus most closely resemble our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and secure the best evidence of our being the children of God (Luke 6:32-36; John 13:34, 35; Ephesians 5:1, 2).

4. We ought not, without clearest evidence, to suspect of selfish motives those who in doing good secure for themselves present reward. It is to be hoped that only few are like the contributor to some charity who, being asked whether he wished his gift to be published, replied, "Why do you suppose I gave it to you?" And when the motives are not clearly revealed, it is often as just as it is charitable to give credit for the best. - G.W.

2 Samuel 2:8-12. - (MAHANAIM.)
The purpose of God, to make David king over his people, was as yet only in part accomplished; and its fulfilment was opposed by Abner (1 Samuel 14:50; 1 Samuel 17:55; 1 Samuel 20:25; 1 Samuel 26:5) on behalf of "the house of Saul." Having escaped from the battle of Gilboa, he "took Ishbosheth, the son of Saul" (a man of feeble character, and fitted to become a tool in his hands), "and brought him over to Mahanaim, and made him king over Gilead," etc. After five years of great exertions (while David reigned peacefully at Hebron) he drove the Philistines out of the country, openly proclaimed Ishbosheth (now forty years old) "king over all Israel," and "went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon" with the view of subjecting Judah to his sway. His principal motive was the desire of maintaining and increasing his own power. "He was angry that this tribe had set up David for their king" (Josephus). His conduct was "not only a continuation of the hostility of Saul towards David, but also an open act of rebellion against Jehovah" (Keil), whose purpose, as well as the wish of the elders of Israel, he well knew, as he afterwards acknowledged (2 Samuel 3:17, 18). His opposition represents and illustrates that of men to the purposes of God generally, and more especially to his purpose, that Christ shall reign over them and all mankind; of which observe that -

I. IT IS PLAINLY REVEALED. By the testimony of:

1. The Divine Word (1 Samuel 16:1). "To him give all the prophets witness," etc. (Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:11).

2. Significant events, in confirmation of the Word; the overthrow of adversaries, the exaltation of "his Chosen," the growth of his power (Acts 2:22-24).

3. The irresistible convictions of reason and conscience, and the confessions which even opponents have been constrained to make. Abner was present when Saul said, "Thou shalt both do great things and shalt also still prevail" (1 Samuel 26:25). His opposition was therefore inexcusable. "While men go on in their sins, apparently without concern, they are often conscious that they are fighting against God" (Scott).

II. IT MAY BE WICKEDLY OPPOSED (in virtue of the freedom which, within certain limits, men possess) because of:

1. The delusions of unbelief. The tempter whispers as of old, "Yea, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1); they "wilfully forget" what has taken place (2 Peter 3:5); "neither will they be persuaded" of the truth and obligation of the Word of God (Luke 16:31).

2. The plea of present expediency, and the expectation that, if they must submit, there will come a "more convenient season" for doing so. Abner thought "that he might be able, upon better terms, to make his peace with David when the time should come that the Lord was to advance him to be ruler over all Israel" (Chandler).

3. Selfishness, pride, and ambition; the love of pleasure and power, the habit of self-will, the self-confidence engendered by success, "the mind of the flesh," which "is enmity against God. Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost" (Acts 7:51).

III. IT CANNOT BE EFFECTUALLY DEFEATED. "He must reign," in fulfilment of the Divine decree (Psalm 2:7; Psalm 110:1), which:

1. Changes not. "The Strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent" (1 Samuel 15:29).

2. Is effected by infinite wisdom and might, against which the skill and strength of men contend in vain.

3. Comes to pass either with or without their will, in mercy or in judgment, in the salvation of the penitent or the destruction of the persistently rebellious "These mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them bring hither and slay them before me" (Luke 19:27). - D.

2 Samuel 2:13-17. - (GIBSON.)
And that place was called Helkath-Hazzurim (ver. 16). The hostile attitude assumed by Abner appeared to David to render necessary active measures in self-defence. It is not said that he inquired of the Lord. If he had done so the conflict which ensued between brethren might possibly have been averted. As it was, he sent an army of observation under the command of Joab, who (although not mentioned before) had doubtless accompanied him in his exile (1 Samuel 22:1), and was now general of his forces. And Joab and "the servants of David" marched to Gibeon and encamped opposite Abner "and the servants of Ishbosheth" (ver. 13). At length Abner, impatient of delay, challenged a conflict between certain picked men on each side, not merely "to see which were best" (Josephus), but either to decide the day by the issue or to draw on a general engagement. Joab readily accepted the challenge, and the conflict commenced. It was -

I. BEGUN RECKLESSLY. "Let the young men arise and play [fight] before us." "Let them arise" (ver. 14).

1. Self-interest, ambition, and envy often quench the love of brethren (vers. 26, 27), and indispose them to seek reconciliation with each other.

2. The indulgence of evil passion blinds men to the consequences of their words and actions.

3. Familiarity with scenes of strife and war tends to produce insensibility to human suffering and slaughter. That a deadly struggle could be spoken of as a pastime shows how lightly life was estimated and how heartlessly it was sacrificed. "Ambitious and bloody men often consider the dire trade of war and the slaughter of their fellow creatures as a mere diversion" (Scott).

"Some seek diversion in the tented field,
And make the sorrows of mankind their sport.
But war's a game which, were their subjects wise,
Kings should not play at."


II. WAGED FEROCIOUSLY. "And they caught each other by the head," etc. (ver. 16).

1. When the love which should prevail among brethren gives place to wrath, that wrath is generally most intense and cruel. Civil wars are proverbially more bitter than any other.

2. Men are sometimes so intent upon injuring their opponents as to forget to defend themselves, and rush upon their own destruction.

3. The attempt to end strife by means of strife is commonly vain; "it is rather a spur to further effusion of blood than a bridle to hinder the same." "What can war but endless war still breed?"

4. The issue of the conflict does not necessarily prove the justice of the cause.

5. Mutual strife tends to mutual extermination. "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). The "field of sharp blades" was a lasting memorial of destructiveness rather than of courage; a warning rather than a pattern.

III. EXTENDED RAPIDLY. "And there was a very sore battle that day," etc. (ver. 17).

1. The strife of a few excites the wrathful passions of many, by whom it is witnessed.

2. Every injurious word and act furnishes an additional impulse to wrath and retaliation; and the conflict goes on increasing.

3. That which at first may be easily checked passes entirely beyond control. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water," etc. (Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 26:21).

IV. ENDED LAMENTABLY. "Abner was beaten," and three hundred and sixty of his men died; Joab's brother Asahel was slain, with nineteen of David's servants. "In war God punishes the sins of both parties."

1. He who gave the challenge and commenced the conflict was the first to complain of the result (ver. 26), and was bitterly reproached as the cause thereof (ver. 27).

2. He who accepted the challenge was filled with grief and revenge.

3. Both sides experienced heavy loss and sorrow.

4. Even David could not but regret the weakening of the nation in presence of the common foe; or fail to see in the strife of brethren the consequences of his own faithlessness (1 Samuel 27:1, 10, 11). If he had not taken up his abode with the Philistines the conflict would probably never have occurred.


1. When men commence a quarrel they little know where it will end.

2. Strife should be diligently checked at the beginning.

3. "Let us fight that good fight only whereof the apostle speaks, which is between the flesh and the spirit, which only hath the profitable end, the glorious theatre, the godly armour, and the blessed reward of assured triumph" (Guild) - D.

2 Samuel 2:18-23. - (GIBEON.)
Asahel was the youngest of three brothers; the others being Joab and Abishai. They were the sons of Zeruiah (half-sister of David) and a Bethlehemite (ver. 32) whose name has not been recorded; and they had much in common. When Asahel fled to David at the cave of Adullam (some ten or twelve years before the events here mentioned) he was probably a mere lad; he shared his uncle's hardships and participated in his exaltation. He was one of the famous thirty (2 Samuel 23:24), "valiant men of the armies" (1 Chronicles 11:26); accompanied Joab and Abishai in their march to Gibeon, and took part in the battle with Abner and "the servants [soldiers] of Ishbosheth." He was: I. Possessed of eminent gifts. "Asahel was as light of foot as a gazelle" (ver. 18); like "swift-footed Achilles," and like Harold I. (son of Canute), surnamed Hare-foot, "because he was light and swift of foot (Rapin). He was also distinguished by enterprise, courage, perseverance, and other admirable qualities. Mental endowments are incomparably superior to physical; but both are gifts of God, and should be recognized as such; they enable those who possess them to render valuable service to his people; and they should be employed in humble obedience to his will. Yet not unfrequently they become an occasion of vain glory, and are perverted from their proper exercise and end.

2. Actuated by an unwise ambition. "And Asahel pursued after Abner," etc. (ver. 19). He sought to take him prisoner or put him to death, and so end the conflict; and doubtless, also, to display his own superior speed and strength, and obtain the glory of the achievement. He was on the right side, and, considering the circumstances of the case, there was something laudable in his attempt. But it is possible, even in connection with the kingdom of God, to entertain an improper desire of worldly honour and power (Matthew 20:20-23). Those who do so generally set an inordinate value upon the object at which they aim, exhibit an undue confidence in their own abilities, depreciate the difficulties of its attainment, and expose themselves to great risk and peril (Titus 2:6; 1 Timothy 6:9).

"Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar?"


3. Heedless of salutary warning. "And Abner looked behind him, and said" etc. (vers. 20-23). "Turn thee aside," etc. "Slay one of the common soldiers and take his accoutrements as booty, if thou art seeking for that kind of fame" (Keil). He eared little about the safety of his men, and was chiefly concerned about his own; but his advice was considerate, wise, and once and again repeated. Asahel, though swifter of foot, was not his equal in experience and skill; and (like many other young men) he despised the warning of the old warrior, was headstrong and over confident of success, and rushed rashly and blindly upon his fate. "Heat of zeal sometimes, in the indiscreet pursuit of a just adversary, proves mortal to the agent, prejudicial to the service" (Hall).

4. Struck down in youthful prime. "And Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him," etc.; suddenly, unexpectedly, and when he seemed on the point of accomplishing his purpose. With one blow his life was cut short, his hope disappointed, his promise of a brilliant future extinguished. "Often do men fancy themselves about to seize upon happiness, when death stops their career and lays them in the dust. And if they will rush forward in the road to destruction, though plainly warned of their danger, they can blame none but themselves" (Scott).

"Fame is the spur that the clear spirit cloth raise (That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life."

(Milton, 'Lycidas.')

5. Regarded with mournful pity. "As many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still" (see 2 Samuel 20:12), overcome with surprise, compassion, and grief; "and they took up Asahel, and buried him," etc. (ver. 32).

6. Remembered with mischievous resentment. (2 Samuel 3:30.) He left behind him a legacy, not of peace and good will, but of wrath and revenge. Pause at his tomb in Bethlehem, and lay to heart the lessons taught by his untimely, fate (Jeremiah 9:23). Let your ambition be different from his; to overcome carnal and selfish ambition in your own heart, to save life rather than to destroy it, to follow in the steps of him who was servant of all (Matthew 20:28). Here is scope for your noblest aspirations and most strenuous efforts. And your hope wilt not be destroyed, but crowned by death.

"Fool not; for all may have,
If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave."

(Herbert.) D.

2 Samuel 2:24-29. - (GIBEON)
Shall the sword devour forever? (ver. 26; 2 Samuel 11:25). The sword is more destructive than ravenous beasts, famine, pestilence (2 Samuel 24:13; Leviticus 26:26), earthquake, tempest, or fire. The history of its ravages constitutes a considerable portion of the history of mankind. Of these we have here a slight but noteworthy instance. Twenty-four brave men of the same nation (half of them chosen from each of the opposing forces) fell, pierced by each other's weapons. In the succeeding battle and flight several hundreds were slain (ver. 31). At sunset the defeated general rallied his scattered troops on the hill of Ammah, and appealed to the commander of the pursuing forces to withdraw them and avert the bitter consequences that would otherwise ensue. "Now the battle is going against him he complains of the devouring sword; and, though it had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him - a sort of eternity" (Gill). Joab answered that but for his challenge in the morning there would have been no conflict at all; but (probably as yet unacquainted with the death of his brother Asahel) he sounded a retreat (ver. 28); and Abner and his men forthwith departed, not to Gibeon, but across the Jordan to Mahanaim (ver. 29). Regarding the question not merely as the utterance of Abner, nor from an Old Testament point of view, we may take it as expressive of ?

I. A CONVICTION OF THE EVILS OF WAR. "Shall the sword devour forever?" By it:

1. Numberless lives are consumed. The immediate and avowed object of war is the destruction of men's lives; and its most effective instruments (to the Construction of which the utmost ingenuity is devoted) are those that destroy the greatest number in the shortest possible time. "War is the work, the element, or rather the sport and triumph of death, who glories not only in the extent of his conquest, but in the richness of his spoil" (R. Hall, 'Reflections on War'). Since its ravages began many times more than the whole number of the present population of the globe have probably been its victims.

2. Incalculable snfferings are inflicted; on those who are left to die on the field, or are borne to hospitals and linger out a miserable existence; on the non-combatant population among whom the devourer pursues his way; on whole nations and multitudes of desolate and sorrowing homes far distant from the scene of strife.

3. Enormous cost is incurred; in the maintenance of armies and the provision of materiel, besides the withdrawal of great numbers from the operations of productive industry and serious interference with commerce; immense national debts are accumulated and burdensome taxes imposed on present and succeeding generations. There are nearly thirteen millions of men in Europe who have been trained for arms, and between four and five millions actually under arms, costing in all ways about five hundred millions sterling a year. The sum total of the national debts of the European nations amounts to nearly five thousand millions of pounds ('Statesman's Year-Book').

4. A pernicious influence is exerted, with respect to morality and religion. "War does more harm to the morals of men than even their property and their persons" (Erasmus). It has its origin in unregulated desire (James 4:1; 1 John 2:16), which it excites, manifests, and intensifies. "The causes of all wars may be reduced to five heads: ambition, avarice, revenge, providence (precaution), and defence" (Owen Feltham, 'Resolves'). "If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses, with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which almost all the virtues are excluded and on which nearly all the vices are incorporated" (R. Hall). What angry feelings does it stir up between nations whom "God hath made of one blood"! What infuriated passions does it arouse in contending armies! What cruel deeds does it commend! What iniquitous courses of conduct does it induce! What false views of glory does it inculcate! What bitter and lasting enmities does it leave behind!

"One murder makes a villain,
Millions a hero! Princes were privileged to kill,
And numbers sanctified the crime!
Ah! why will kings forget that they are men,
And men that they are brethren? Why delight;
In human sacrifice? Why burst the ties
Of nature, that should knit their souls together
In one soft bond of amity and love?"

(Bishop Porteus.) Is war, then, under all circumstances, inexpedient and wrong? It is maintained that:

(1) The state, like the individual, has a natural right of self-defence, and is bound (in fulfilment of the purpose for which it exists) to protect its citizens by repelling external invasion as well as repressing internal violence (Whewell, 'Elements of Morality;' Paley; Gisborne; Mozley, 'University Sermons').

(2) By means of war national subjection is sometimes prevented, national grievances are redressed, national honour is upheld, aggression checked, pride abased, liberty, peace, and prosperity secured, patriotism kindled, powerful energies and heroic virtues developed.

(3) It has often received the Divine sanction (Exodus 17:14; Joshua 8:1; 1 Samuel 11:6). "Perpetual peace is a dream, and it is not even a beautiful dream. War is an element in the order of the world ordained by God. In it the noblest virtues of mankind are developed - courage and the abnegation of self, faithfulness to duty, and the spirit of sacrifice; the soldier gives his life. Without war the world would stagnate and lose itself in materialism" (Von Moltke). But this is the view of one who has been "a man of war from his youth" and "shed much blood" (1 Chronicles 22:8). And it may be said that:

(1) War is not ordained by God like tempests and earthquakes or even pestilence, but is directly due to the wickedness of men. That which is in itself evil, however, often becomes an occasion of good.

(2) "There is at least equal scope for courage and magnanimity in blessing as in destroying mankind. The condition of the human race offers inexhaustible objects for enterprise and fortitude and magnanimity. In relieving the countless wants and sorrows of the world, in exploring unknown regions, in carrying the arts and virtues of civilization to unimproved communities, in extending the bounds of knowledge, in diffusing the spirit of freedom, and especially in spreading the light and influence of Christianity, how much may be dared, how much endured!" (Channing).

(3) The right of resistance to evil is limited, and does not justify the taking away of life (Wayland, 'Elements of Moral Science;' Dymond, 'Essays').

(4) No advantages gained by war are an adequate compensation for the miseries inflicted by it; less suffering is experienced and higher honour acquired by enduring wrong than avenging it; the exercise of justice, forbearance, and active benevolence is the most effectual means of averting injury and securing safety and happiness.

(5) The Divine sanction given to specific wars in the Old Testament was not given to war in general, and it does not justify the wars which are waged, without the like authority, at the present time.

(6) War is virtually forbidden by numerous precepts and the whole spirit of the New Testament (Matthew 5:9, 39, 44; Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9-13). The most that can be said is that "any principles upon which the Christian casuist would justify war in certain circumstances would not justify perhaps one in ten of the wars that have been waged" (J. Foster, 'Lectures,' vol. 2.).

II. AN APPEAL FOB THE CESSATION OF STRIPE. "Shall the sword devour forever?" Its ravages may be stayed; and means must be employed for that end, such as:

1. The consideration of the real nature and terrible consequences of war; and the education of the people, especially the young, so that they may cease to admire military glory and to be beguiled by "the pomp and circumstance of war" - may feel an intense aversion to it, and seek in other ways their common interest and true elevation.

2. The adoption of political measures for the settlement of international disputes and the removal of causes of strife; viE. arbitration by friendly powers, the reduction and disbandment of standing armies, etc.

3. The repression of evil passions in ourselves and others.

4. The practice and diffusion of Christian principles; which indispose all in whom they dwell to break the peace themselves, and dispose them to make peace among others. "The sons of peace are the sons of God."

III. AN ANTICIPATION OF TEE PREVALENCE or PEACE, "Shall the sword devour forever?" Surely not. The hope of universal peace is warranted from:

1. The advancing intelligence of men, the growth of popular government (making war less dependent than heretofore on the arbitrary will of rulers), the possession of "nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws."

2. The better understanding and more perfect realization of the spirit of Christianity.

3. The overruling Providence and quickening Spirit of "the God of peace."

4. The express predictions of his Word concerning the effects of the reign of "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:7; Micah 4:3; Micah 5:2, 5; Psalm 72:7). "It is in war that the power of the beast culminates in the history of the world. This beast will then be destroyed. The true humanity which sin has choked up will gain the mastery, and the world's history will keep sabbath. What the prophetic words affirm is a moral postulate, the goal of sacred history, the predicted counsel of God" (Delitzsch, on Isaiah 2:4).

"O scenes surpassing fable and yet true;
Scenes of accomplished bliss; which who can see (Though but in distant prospect) and not feel
His soul refreshed with foretaste and with joy?"

(Cowper.) D.

Shall the sword devour forever? This exclamation of Abner respecting the pursuit of his discomfited troops by the conquering troops of Joab, has often been uttered in respect to war in general. As so employed it expresses horror of war, and impatient longing for its final termination.

I. THE QUESTION. The feelings which it indicates are excited in view of:

1. The nature of war. The mutual slaughter of each other by those who are "brethren." This aspect of the slaughter of one part of the chosen people by another presented itself to Abner. But in the light of Christianity all men are brothers, and war is a species of fratricide. They are all children of God, brethren of Christ, redeemed by his blood, and capable of sharing his eternal glory and blessedness. In this view of war, not only the actual conflicts, but all the elaborate preparations made for them, appear very dreadful

2. Its causes. "Whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts?" (James 4:1). The evil passions of men are their cause - lust of territory, of dominion, of glory, of money; the spirit of revenge and retaliation; even the love of excitement and adventure. Not less, but if possible more hideous, is the cool, calculating policy of rulers, which sets armies in motion with no regard to the lives which it sacrifices or the misery it occasions; or, again, the desire for active service, with its opportunities of distinction, promotion, and other rewards, which springs up amongst the officers, if not the rank and file, of standing armies, and which takes no thought of the dreadful evil which "active service" inflicts.

3. Its effects. "Shall the sword devour forever?" War is like a huge wild beast which "devours." It eats up human beings by thousands or tens of thousands at a time. It was a small consumption of men which took place in the battle and pursuit of which this question was first used. Only twenty men had fallen on the one side, and three hundred and sixty on the other. Modern wars "devour" on a far greater scale, partly in actual battle, more from wounds received in battle, and from the diseases which the hardships of war produce. War not only devours men in vast numbers, and thus occasions incalculable sorrow and misery; it consumes the substance of nations, the creation of peaceful industry; it wastes their mental and physical energies. And still more sad to contemplate are the moral effects both on the actual combatants and on those who employ them; the hateful passions excited and strengthened, the deterioration of national character produced.

4. Its universal prevalence. Among peoples in every part of the world, in every stage of civilization, and down through every age. However men differ in other respects, they are alike in this practice. Whatever changes take place, this survives. The progress of science and art, of discovery and invention, and of mechanical skill, seems to have no other effect in regard to war than to increase the power of mutual destruction. War lays them all under tribute to enlarge its ability to "devour" and destroy more easily and rapidly, and on a larger scale. In view of all these considerations good men may well sigh and cry, "Shall the sword devour forever?" There have doubtless been wars on which, in spite of all the evils they occasion, lovers of their kind could look with sympathy and satisfaction so far as one party was concerned. Such are wars of defence against unjust aggression, wars undertaken by a people to obtain liberty as against some crushing tyranny, wars against hordes of barbarians who threaten devastation and destruction to hearths and homes, and all that civilized men value. But even in such cases we may well ask - Will it ever be necessary to use so dreadful an instrument as war in the endeavour to obtain rights or abolish wrongs? Will men never be amenable to reason? Must there ever be retained the power to resort to the violent methods of war?

"The cause of truth and human weal,
O God above!
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love."


II. THE REPLY WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THIS QUESTION. No. The sword shall not devour forever. Wars will at length come to a final end.

1. Divine prophecy assures us of this. (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3, 4; see also Psalm 72:3, 7; Zechariah 9:10.) Not only shall wars cease, but there shall be such a feeling of universal security that the arts of war shall cease to be learnt.

2. An adequate power for effecting this change is in the world. Christianity - the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the accompanying might of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of God in Christ, especially of the relation of God to all men and his love to all; the redemption effected for all; the precepts of the gospel, inculcating love even to enemies, and the doing good to all; the example of him who was Love Incarnate; the dignity and worth of men, and their relation to each other, as seen in the light of the gospel; the sacred brotherhood into which faith in Christ brings men of all lands; the prospect of a heaven where all Christians will be united in service and blessedness; - these truths go to the root of the evil in the hearts of men. They cannot be truly received without subduing the passions which lead to war, and implanting the affections which insure peace.

3. Experience justifies the hope that this peace-producing power will at length be triumphant. That it will be in operation everywhere, and everywhere effectual. So far as it has been experienced, it has made its subjects gentle, loving, peaceful, more willing to suffer than to inflict suffering. Multitudes exist in the world so ruled by the gospel and the Spirit of Christ, that it is simply impossible they should on any account take to killing each other. What has transformed them can transform others. Let vital Christianity become universal, and peace must be universal too. It is on the way to become universal, though its advance is slow to our view. The effect of Christianity, so far as it has prevailed, on war itself encourages hope. It has become humane in comparison with wars recorded in this Book and in the pages of general history. And amongst civilized nations there is a growing indisposition to resort to war, an increasing willingness to settle their differences by peaceful methods. This is doubtless partly the result of the tremendous costliness and destructiveness of modern warfare, but partly also of the growth of a spirit of reasonableness, equity, and humanity. In conclusion:

1. Cherish the spirit and principles of peace, i.e. of Christ and Christianity.

2. Endeavour to diffuse them. And do this earnestly and hopefully, with the assurance of a final success in which you will participate joyfully.

3. Use your influence as citizens to discourage war. "And the God of peace shall be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11). - G.W.

2 Samuel 2:30-32. - (GIBEON, BETHLEHEM, HEBRON.)
What a glorious thing must be a victory, sir! it was remarked to the Duke of Wellington. "The greatest tragedy in the world," he replied, "except a defeat" ('Recollections,' by S. Rogers). The rejoicing by which it is attended, is usually mingled with weeping and sometimes swallowed up of grief. Various persons are thus affected for various reasons. Think of the sorrows endured:

1. At the fall of fellow soldiers. "Nineteen men and Asahel" (vers. 23, 30) who come not to the muster after sunset (vers. 24, 30), nor answer to the roll call, but lie in the chill embrace of death. "Alas! fallen are the heroes."

2. In the burial of the dead. (Ver. 32.) No opportunity is afforded for seeking out and burying all the slain; but the remains of Asahel are carried across the hills by night (ver. 29) and laid in the tomb of his father in Bethlehem, where the sorrow of the preceding day is renewed. It reminds us of a pathetic scene of recent times described in the familiar lines —

"We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sod with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light,
And our lanterns dimly burning."


3. When the news is conveyed to their homes. "They came to Hebron at break of day;" a day of bitter grief to many bereaved hearts. "By the slaughter of a war there are thousands who weep in unpitied and unnoticed secrecy whom the world does not see; and thousands who retire in silence to hopeless poverty for whom the world does not care" (Dymond).

4. For the miseries of fellow sufferers; the enemy - defeated, bereaved, and mourning - for they too are "brethren," and cannot but be remembered with sympathy and pity.

5. Concerning the state of the departed. A soldier's life is not favourable to piety and preparation for heaven, and the passions by which he is commonly swayed when his earthly probation is suddenly terminated are such that we can seldom contemplate his entrance into the eternal world with feelings of cheerfulness and hope. "After death the judgment."

6. On account of the animosities of the living, which are increased by conflict and victory, and are certain to be a source of future trouble (2 Samuel 3:1, 30, 33).

7. Because of the dishonour done to the cause of the Lord's Anointed. Religion suffers, the progress of the kingdom is hindered, and the King himself is "grieved for the misery of Israel." "The victory that day was turned into mourning" (2 Samuel 19:2). So is every victory gained by "the devouring sword." But there are victories which are bloodless and tearless, sources of unmingled joy; spiritual victories over ignorance and sin won by and through the might of him at whose birth the angels sang upon those hills of Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." - D.

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