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King Ishbosheth

INTRODUCTION: Saul, the son of Kish, was the first king over Israel, but the kingdom was never firmly united during his reign. After Saul died, his son Ishbosheth became a token king in northern parts of Israel for about seven years, while David was king in the southern area around Hebron. The division and strife among the tribes was severe, but David continued to wait upon the LORD.

NOTE: Bible passages are from the American KJV.


2 Samuel 2 "1 And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the LORD, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah? And the LORD said to him, Go up. And David said, Where shall I go up? And he said, To Hebron. 2 So David went up thither, and his two wives also, Ahinoam the Jezreelitess, and Abigail Nabal's wife the Carmelite. 3 And his men that were with him did David bring up, every man with his household: and they dwelled in the cities of Hebron. 4 And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. And they told David, saying, That the men of Jabeshgilead were they that buried Saul. 5 And David sent messengers to the men of Jabeshgilead, and said to them, Blessed be you of the LORD, that you have showed this kindness to your lord, even to Saul, and have buried him. 6 And now the LORD show kindness and truth to you: and I also will requite you this kindness, because you have done this thing. 7 Therefore now let your hands be strengthened, and be you valiant: for your master Saul is dead, and also the house of Judah have anointed me king over them."

COMMENTS: David had demonstrated the trust he had in the LORD as Saul had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the first king over Israel. Though David had served King Saul with calming music and with victories over the Philistines; Saul wanted David to be killed because he had been told by Samuel the kingdom was going to be taken from him and given to another man. David had two opportunities to kill Saul while Saul was pursuing him, but he would not allow even any of his men to harm Saul because he placed the decisions of the LORD above those of men. After King Saul and three of his sons had died in battle, David sought guidance from the LORD before he went to Hebron, and he did not declare himself to be king there; but he was anointed as king by men of Judah. He also honored the men of Jabeshgilead, as he sent a message to them with blessings from the LORD and praise for their brave and honoring action for their deceased master Saul. David assured them that he would treat them appropriately with kindness and truth for such bravery and respect for their king.


2 Samuel 2 "8 But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; 9 And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel. 10 Ishbosheth Saul's son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years. But the house of Judah followed David. 11 And the time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months."

COMMENTS: Abner had served as the captain of all of King Saul's warriors, and he was also a close relative as he was the son of Ner, Saul's uncle. He took the initiative to make the only surviving son of Saul, Ishbosheth, at the age of 40, to be king in Israel. But the house of Judah was not under the rule of King Ishbosheth because they had appointed David to be king at Hebron. Even though Ishbosheth was forty years old when he began to reign in his first two years as the son of King Saul, no reason was given why his name was not included in the family list found in 1 Samuel 14:49-51. In the above passage we are given the information that David reigned at Hebron over Judah for seven years and six months, and from passages in the next section, it seems that Ishbosheth continued to reign beyond two years after Abner was killed. Below are two passages which use the compound name Ishbaal for the fourth son of Saul (BAAL is also used as the name of a heathen god). In Hebrew bosheth means shame, so the compound name would be man of shame.

1 chronicles 8 "33 And Ner begat Kish, and Kish begat Saul, and Saul begat Jonathan, and Malchishua, and Abinadab, and Eshbaal."
1 Chronicles 9 "39 And Ner begat Kish; and Kish begat Saul; and Saul begat Jonathan, and Malchishua, and Abinadab, and Eshbaal."


2 Samuel 2 "12 And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ishbosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. 13 And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together by the pool of Gibeon: and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool. 14 And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise. 15 Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Benjamin, which pertained to Ishbosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. 16 And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; so they fell down together: why that place was called Helkathhazzurim, which is in Gibeon. 17 And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David. 18 And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe. 19 And Asahel pursued after Abner; and in going he turned not to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner. 20 Then Abner looked behind him, and said, Are you Asahel? And he answered, I am. 21 And Abner said to him, Turn you aside to your right hand or to your left, and lay you hold on one of the young men, and take you his armor. But Asahel would not turn aside from following of him. 22 And Abner said again to Asahel, Turn you aside from following me: why should I smite you to the ground? how then should I hold up my face to Joab your brother? 23 However, he refused to turn aside: why Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place: and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still. 24 Joab also and Abishai pursued after Abner: and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Ammah, that lies before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon."

COMMENTS: It may be that there was no confrontation between the two kingdoms during the first two years that Ishbosheth reigned; and there is no direct explanation of how the gathering described above developed. While they were assembled across from each other, Abner proposed a challeng to Joab, the leader of David's men. Twelve men from each side engaged with each other and all 24 died. When the general fighting broke out Abner's men were put to flight, and Abner could not convince Asahel to stop pursuing him. Abner finally thrust the butt of his spear into Asahel, and when other troops of Joab's men came to the fallen body, they temporarily stopped.


2 Samuel 2 "25 And the children of Benjamin gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill. 26 Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? know you not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere you bid the people return from following their brothers? 27 And Joab said, As God lives, unless you had spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother. 28 So Joab blew a trumpet, and all the people stood still, and pursued after Israel no more, neither fought they any more. 29 And Abner and his men walked all that night through the plain, and passed over Jordan, and went through all Bithron, and they came to Mahanaim. 30 And Joab returned from following Abner: and when he had gathered all the people together, there lacked of David's servants nineteen men and Asahel. 31 But the servants of David had smitten of Benjamin, and of Abner's men, so that three hundred and three score men died. 32 And they took up Asahel, and buried him in the sepulcher of his father, which was in Bethlehem. And Joab and his men went all night, and they came to Hebron at break of day."

COMMENTS: With the delay in the pursuit because of Asahel's body, Abner's forces had time to assemble and wait at the top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab and said if they continued this violent conflict many brothers in Israel would die resulting in bitterness in the end. Joab responded that if Abner had not spoken in that manner surely many more would have continued to engage. So Joab blew a trumpet to assemble his men, and the fighting broke off. Abner and his men walked all night and returned to Mahanaim after they crossed the Jordan River. Only 20 men of David's servants had died, but 360 of the men with Abner had died. The body of Asahel was taken to Bethlehem, and buried in the tomb of his father. Then Joab and his men went all night, and arrived at Hebron at break of day.


2 Samuel 3 "1 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. 2 And to David were sons born in Hebron: and his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess; 3 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; 4 And the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 And the sixth, Ithream, by Eglah David's wife. These were born to David in Hebron. 6 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. 7 And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ishbosheth said to Abner, Why have you gone in to my father's concubine? 8 Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ishbosheth, and said, Am I a dog's head, which against Judah do show kindness this day to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers, and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hand of David, that you charge me to day with a fault concerning this woman? 9 So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the LORD has sworn to David, even so I do to him; 10 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. 11 And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him."

COMMENTS: While David was in Hebron he had six sons born, and each from a different wife, which was a characteristic of kings of that day. Some of those wives represented a link to another kingdom which could strengthen a king's relationship with leaders of nearby territories. As the war between the divided kingdoms continued with Abner's side growing weaker, a turning point took place when Ishbosheth confronted Abner about having sex with one of Saul's concubines. It was a sign in the kingdoms of the time that the king was being threatened in his position if a concubine of the king's line was violated. However, Ishbosheth was not at all a strong king, and Abner was irritated and decided it was time for him to offer a treaty to King David to bring all tribes together under him. This could put Abner in a secure position to serve King David because it seemed inevitable that David was going to rule over all the tribes in Israel anyway. Abner also stated that this is what the LORD had sworn to David, and Abner was going to see David become king over all Israel from Dan to Beersheba. Ishbosheth could not say another word to Abner because he feared him.


2 Samuel 3 "12 And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make your league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with you, to bring about all Israel to you. 13 And he said, Well; I will make a league with you: but one thing I require of you, that is, You shall not see my face, except you first bring Michal Saul's daughter, when you come to see my face. 14 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. 15 And Ishbosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish. 16 And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner to him, Go, return. And he returned. 17 And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, You sought for David in times past to be king over you: 18 Now then do it: for the LORD has 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. 19 And Abner also spoke 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. 20 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. 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 league with you, and that you may reign over all that your heart desires. And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace."

COMMENTS: Abner sent messengers to David with the proposal to bring the separated tribes to make David king over all of Israel. David agreed to meet, but he required that he must first have Saul's daughter Michal brought to him. David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul's son, to send David's wife Michal because he had espoused her to himself for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines. Ishbosheth took Michal from her husband Phaltiel the son of Laish, and Abner had her delivered to David. Perhaps David considered her second marriage to be invalid because David was still alive. Abner then communicated the advantages of having David to be king over all Israel, and that the LORD had chosen David to deliver Israel out of the hands of the Philistines, and of all of their other enemies. When there was leadership agreement, Abner took a group of twenty men with him and met with David at Hebron. David had a feast for them, and when Abner left in peace he said he would gather all Israel to David and they would make him king over them.


2 Samuel 3 "22 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. 23 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 has sent him away, and he is gone in peace. 24 Then Joab came to the king, and said, What have you done? behold, Abner came to you; why is it that you have sent him away, and he is quite gone? 25 You know Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive you, and to know your going out and your coming in, and to know all that you do. 26 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. 27 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. 28 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: 29 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 has an issue, or that is a leper, or that leans on a staff, or that falls on the sword, or that lacks bread. 30 So Joab, and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle. 31 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. 32 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. 33 And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dies? 34 Your hands were not bound, nor your feet put into fetters: as a man falls before wicked men, so fell you. And all the people wept again over him. 35 And when all the people came to cause David to eat meat while it was yet day, David swore, saying, So do God to me, and more also, if I taste bread, or ought else, till the sun be down. 36 And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them: as whatever the king did pleased all the people. 37 For all the people and all Israel understood that day that it was not of the king to slay Abner the son of Ner. 38 And the king said to his servants, Know you not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? 39 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."

COMMENTS: Joab and his men returned to Hebron with the spoils of successfully defeating a troop of enemies, just shortly after Abner had left. When Joab was told that Abner had been with David, and he left the city in peace, he approached David in anger. He told David that Abner was trying to find some weakness so he could attack, but David and Joab had no discussion about that accusation. So, without David's knowledge, Joab left David and sent someone to have Abner return to the city. Joab took Abner aside to speak with him quietly, but then Joab stabbed him under the fifth rib to avenge his brother Asahel, and Abner died.
Afterward when David heard it, he said that he and his kingdom was guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner: and that guilt should rest on Joab, and on all his father's house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that has an issue, or that is a leper, or that leans on a staff, or that falls on the sword, or that lacks bread. That was quite a strong pronouncement by David. Then David told Joab and all the people there to tear their clothing, put on sackcloth, and mourn for Abner. And King David himself followed until the corpse was carried to the tomb and buried in Hebron. David wept at the grave site, spoke a lament over Abner, and had nothing to eat until evening. It was clear to the people, from all these things, that David had nothing to do with the death of Abner. David told his servants that even though he was anointed king, he was weak because of the sons of Zeruiah: and the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness.


2 Samuel 4 "1 And when Saul's son heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble, and all the Israelites were troubled. 2 And Saul's son had two men that were captains of bands: the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, the sons of Rimmon a Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin: (for Beeroth also was reckoned to Benjamin. 3 And the Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and were sojourners there until this day.) 4 And Jonathan, Saul's son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth. 5 And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ishbosheth, who lay on a bed at noon. 6 And they came thither into the middle of the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they smote him under the fifth rib: and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. 7 For when they came into the house, he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, and they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and got them away through the plain all night. 8 And they brought the head of Ishbosheth to David to Hebron, and said to the king, Behold the head of Ishbosheth the son of Saul your enemy, which sought your life; and the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed. 9 And David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my soul out of all adversity, 10 When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings: 11 How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house on his bed? shall I not therefore now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth? 12 And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulcher of Abner in Hebron."

COMMENTS: When Saul's son Ishbosheth heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble, and all the Israelites were troubled apparently because they did not understand how David had reacted to this death. Ishbosheth had two men that were captains of bands: Baanah, and Rechab, the sons of Rimmon a Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin. Before the act of the two captains is described, there is a detail about a surviving son of Jonathan who was only five years old when his father died in battle. Upon hearing of the death, his nurse fearfully took him up and hastily fled, and Mephibosheth fell and became lame in both feet. Since Mephibosheth is mentioned at this point, it is probable that few people knew he was another descendent of King Saul. There is no detail given as to his location when the next event took place. The two captains killed Ishbosheth who was asleep in the heat of the day, and they took his head to King David thinking they would be rewarded. The two men traveled all night and then presented the head to King David, saying that on this day the LORD has avenged David of Saul and of his seed. David let them know it was the LORD who had redeemed his soul out of all adversity. They instead had killed a righteous man on his own bed, and they would be rewarded for their wicked deed. David had his young men kill the two captains and hang their bodies over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the tomb of Abner in Hebron.


2 Samuel 5 "1 Then came all the tribes of Israel to David to Hebron, and spoke, saying, Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. "2 Also in time past, when Saul was king over us, you were he that led out and brought in Israel: and the LORD said to you, You shall feed my people Israel, and you shall be a captain over Israel. 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the LORD: and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah."

COMMENTS: After King David had responded with burial honors after the murder of Ishbosheth, and given death to the two murderers; all the tribes of Israel united to make David their king. They told David they were all of the same descent, and David had also brought many victories to Israel while Saul was king. The LORD had said to David that he would feed the LORD's people Israel, and he would be a captain over Israel. So all the elders of Israel came to David at Hebron and with agreement before the LORD, they anointed David as king over all Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years: in Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah.


Thank you Lord, for the record in Scripture that reveals the motivations within the hearts of men, and the contrast that exists only within a few who place their trust in the only true God. Ishbosheth may have been appropriately given a name that meant man of shame even before his reign as a king: as it was Abner who made him king, and Abner did it for his own gain. This seven year period while David was king over Judah at Hebron, followed many years of threats from King Saul while waiting for him to be removed in your timing Lord. Since Ishbosheth was a rightful heir to King Saul's throne, David continued to wait upon you, LORD, for whatever was to happen. David rightfully put to death those who killed Ishbosheth to gain favor in his sight, and this brought leadership from all the tribes to make David king over all of Israel. This was a sad ending for the extended reign of King Saul, but it marked the beginning for King David. And the son of David came into the world centuries later, and this is the Son of God who brings salvation to all who will receive that grace by faith. Hallelujah, amen!

Published 31 July 2020