David becomes the king of Judah
v1 After this, David asked the *Lord, ‘Shall I go to a town in *Judah?’
The *Lord said, ‘Yes.’
David asked, ‘Which town shall I go to?’
The *Lord said, ‘Go to Hebron.’
v2 David had two wives. One wife was Ahinoam who came from the town of Jezreel. His other wife was Abigail. She was the widow of Nabal who came from the town of Carmel. David and his two wives went to Hebron. v3 David’s men and their families went to live in the towns round Hebron. v4 Then the men from *Judah came to Hebron. They *anointed David as king of the *tribe of *Judah.
Some men from the town of Jabesh Gilead buried Saul. The men from *Judah told David about this. v5 David sent a message to the men in Jabesh Gilead. He said, ‘I ask that the *Lord will *bless you. You were kind to Saul, your master, because you buried him. v6 I ask that the *Lord will be kind and loyal to you. And I also will be good to you because of what you have done. v7 Be strong and brave. Saul, your master, is dead. The people from *Judah have *anointed me as their king.’
After Saul’s death, David wanted to leave the *Philistines’ country. David came from the *tribe of *Judah. Many people from *Judah had been loyal to David while Saul had been chasing him. David wanted to return to his own country. But he did not make his own decision. He asked the *Lord. In 1 Samuel 23:9-12, David wanted to know the *Lord’s decision. So David called for Abiathar, the priest, and for the *ephod. David probably called for Abiathar this time too.
The town called Hebron was about 43 kilometres (27 miles) north east of Ziklag. In Genesis chapter 23, Sarah, who was Abraham’s wife, died at Hebron. Abraham bought some land so that he could bury Sarah there. Later, Abraham’s sons buried him there too (Genesis 25:7-10). So, Hebron was an old town. In 1 Samuel chapter 30, David attacked the people called *Amalekites. David defeated them. He took all their animals and other possessions. Then he sent some of these things to the towns where leaders had helped him. Hebron was one of those towns. So, David knew Hebron and it became his home for 7 years and 6 months (verse 11). He moved his family there. He also moved all his men and their families. There were many villages round the town. So there was plenty of room for all David’s men, their families and their animals.
Saul was dead. His son Jonathan was also dead. The *Philistines had defeated the *Israelites. So now the *Israelites had no king. This was a dangerous time for the nation of *Israel. The leaders of the *tribes and towns had to choose a new king. The men from the *tribe of *Judah knew David and his army. David’s army had helped and protected *Judah. David was a good soldier. The men from *Judah trusted him. So they *anointed David as their king. Samuel had *anointed David as king of *Israel many years before (1 Samuel 16:1-13). We do not know whether the people of *Judah knew about this. But they chose the man that God had already chosen. David became king of just one *tribe at this time. He did not become king of the whole of *Israel until chapter 5.
The town called Jabesh Gilead was 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of Hebron. It was on the east side of the river Jordan. This town had a strong connection with Saul (1 Samuel chapter 11; 1 Samuel 31:11-13). David was grateful that the men from Jabesh Gilead had buried Saul and his sons (1 Samuel 31:12-13). This included David’s friend Jonathan. The men from Jabesh had been brave and kind. And they had shown honour to the king. So, David sent them a message. He asked God to *bless them. But in verse 6, David also said that he would be good to them. So perhaps David realised that he would soon be their king. In verse 7, David reminded them that their king was dead. He said that he was now king of *Judah. Perhaps David hoped that the rest of *Israel would choose him as their king too. So, he tried to make friends with as many people as possible.
War between *Israel and *Judah
v8 Abner was the leader of Saul’s army. Abner was the son of Ner. Abner had gone across the river Jordan with Ish-Bosheth, who was Saul’s son. They went to the region called Mahanaim. v9 Abner made Ish-Bosheth king over the regions of Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel. And he made him king of the *tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin and all the land of *Israel.
v10 Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth was 40 years old when he became king of *Israel. He ruled for two years. But the people from the *tribe of *Judah were loyal to David. v11 David lived in Hebron. He ruled the people of *Judah for 7 years and 6 months.
v12 Abner, the son of Ner, left Mahanaim. He went to the town of Gibeon with some of Ish-Bosheth’s servants. v13 Joab, the son of Zeruiah, went to Gibeon with some of David’s servants. They met by the pool at Gibeon. One group sat by one side of the pool. The other group sat by the opposite side of the pool.
v14 Abner said to Joab, ‘Let some of the young men from each side fight each other here.’
Joab said, ‘Yes, let them do that.’
v15 So the young men stood up. Someone chose 12 men from the *tribe of Benjamin to fight for Ish-Bosheth. And they chose 12 of David’s men to fight against them.
v16 Each man seized the head of man opposite to him. And each man pushed his sword into the opposite man. The 24 men fell onto the ground dead at the same time. Ever since that time, people have called that place in Gibeon ‘the field of swords’.
Saul had 4 sons (1 Chronicles 8:33). Three of Saul’s sons died with him in the battle (1 Samuel 31:2). His youngest son was Ish-Bosheth. Abner was Saul’s cousin (1 Samuel 14:50-51). After Saul’s death, Abner and Ish-Bosheth went to Mahanaim (verse 12). This was about 21 kilometres (13 miles) to the south of Jabesh Gilead. When a king died, his son usually became the new king. So, Abner appointed Ish-Bosheth to be the new king. This was against what the *Lord had said in 1 Samuel 15:28. And it was also against what Saul had said in 1 Samuel 24:20-21. The Bible does not say whether the people of *Israel wanted Ish-Bosheth as their king. Abner probably took Ish-Bosheth round *Israel. They may have had many ceremonies to make him king in each region or *tribe. Verses 10-11 suggest that this took about 5 years and 6 months. At last, Abner had made Ish-Bosheth king over all the nation of *Israel, except over the *tribe of *Judah.
The nation of *Israel now had two kings. The captains of each army wanted their king to rule the whole nation. Gibeon was Saul’s home town. It was near to the land of *Judah and about 40 kilometres (25 miles) north of Hebron. Each captain took a group of soldiers with him to Gibeon. But neither of the kings went. The two captains may have gone there to try to make a settlement without a war. They chose 12 men from each group to have a fight. *Israel had 12 *tribes. So perhaps the 12 men acted on behalf of the whole nation. Then whichever group won the fight, their king would rule all 12 *tribes. This is similar to what happened with David and Goliath in 1 Samuel chapter 17 (see verses 8-9). The plan did not work at Gibeon. All the men died.
Abner kills Asahel
v17 The battle was very fierce that day. David’s men defeated Abner and the men from *Israel.
v18 Joab, Abishai and Asahel were the sons of Zeruiah. They were at the battle that day. Asahel could run as fast as a wild deer (an animal like a small horse). v19 Asahel chased Abner and he watched him all the time. v20 Abner looked behind him and said, ‘Are you Asahel?’
Asahel answered, ‘Yes I am.’
v21 Then Abner said to Asahel, ‘Go away! Fight one of the young men who are near you. Then you can kill him and take his *weapons.’ But Asahel would not stop chasing Abner.
v22 Abner warned Asahel again. Abner said, ‘Stop chasing me. I do not want to kill you. If I kill you, it would be hard for me to meet your brother Joab again.’
v23 But Asahel refused to stop chasing Abner. So Abner pushed the back end of his *spear into Asahel’s stomach. The *spear went into him and it came out of his back. Asahel died immediately. Everyone stopped when they came to Asahel’s body.
v24 But Joab and Abishai continued to chase Abner. They came to the hill called Ammah as the sun set. This hill was near Giah, which was along the road to the desert called Gibeon. v25 The men from the *tribe of Benjamin came to Abner. They stood together as a group at the top of the hill.
v26 Abner shouted to Joab, ‘We do not need to continue to fight. In the end, we will be sad and we will hate each other. Quickly tell your men to stop chasing their *Israelite brothers.’
v27 Then Joab said, ‘We would have continued if you had not spoken. God knows that we would have chased you all until the morning.’
v28 So Joab blew his *trumpet. All his men stopped chasing the men from *Israel. They did not continue to fight them.
v29 Abner and his men marched all night long. They went along the valley of the river Jordan. They crossed the river. Then they marched all the morning until they arrived back in Mahanaim.
v30 Joab and his men also returned. Joab gathered his men. He discovered that Asahel and 19 of David’s men were missing. v31 But David’s men had killed 360 of Abner’s men who came from the *tribe of Benjamin. v32 David’s men took the body of Asahel to the town of Bethlehem. They buried Asahel in his father’s grave. Then Joab and his men marched all night long. They returned to Hebron. The sun was rising as they arrived there.
In verse 18, Zeruiah was David’s sister (1 Chronicles 2:12-16). Joab, Abishai and Asahel were David’s nephews. They became the leaders of David’s army.
Abner had tried to avoid a battle. But when the 24 men were dead, all the other soldiers started to fight. Asahel wanted to kill Abner and to finish the battle. Asahel chased Abner and would not stop. Abner tried to persuade Asahel to fight someone else. Abner did not want to kill Asahel. Abner knew that this would cause trouble between himself and Joab. But Abner had to protect himself. In verse 23, Abner did not turn round and fight Asahel. Instead, Abner stopped. Asahel was running so fast that he could not stop. He ran straight into the blunt end of Abner’s *spear and he died. The men from *Judah stopped when they saw the body of their brave soldier Asahel. However, Asahel’s two brothers continued to chase Abner. They wanted to kill Abner because he had killed their brother. (They succeeded in 3:26-30.)
In verse 26, Abner tried again to stop the men who were fighting. He knew that they were all *Israelites. They were not enemies. But if they kept fighting each other, they would become enemies. People sometimes fight against other people who live in the same nation. This often causes the nation to divide. Abner wanted to avoid this in *Israel. Joab realised that this was a good decision. So he blew a *trumpet. That told everybody to stop fighting. A *trumpet is a musical instrument. A person blows into it and it makes a loud sound. The leaders in an army blew a *trumpet to start or to stop a battle. Everyone in the battle can hear the sound of the *trumpet.
Abner and Joab, each with their own army, returned to their own homes. David’s men had been more successful in this battle. In those days, it was the custom to bury dead people in their home town. Each family had an area of land where they could bury their relatives next to each other. Bethlehem was about half way between Gibeon and Hebron.