The murder of Ish-Bosheth

Chapter 4

The murder of Ish-Bosheth

v1 Ish-Bosheth was the son of Saul. He heard that Abner had died in Hebron. So, Ish-Bosheth became afraid. And all the people of *Israel were also worried. v2 Ish-Bosheth had two leaders in his army. The name of one man was Baanah, and the name of the other man was Recab. The name of their father was Rimmon. He came from the town of Beeroth. He was from the *tribe of Benjamin. (The town of Beeroth belonged to the *tribe of Benjamin. v3 The people from Beeroth had escaped to the town of Gittaim. They still live there as foreigners.)

Everything changed in *Israel when Abner died. He had been very powerful. He had been able to control the country. But Ish-Bosheth was too weak to rule the country alone. At times like that, often other leaders fight to become the ruler. That could have caused a war that would have destroyed the whole country. Abner’s plan to unite *Israel and *Judah would have failed. Everyone in *Israel was worried about the future. But, two of Ish-Bosheth’s captains changed the situation. The information in verses 2 and 3 was probably important to the *Israelites when the writer wrote this account.

v4 (Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son. His name was Mephibosheth. He was *lame. He was five years old when Saul and Jonathan died in the battle at Jezreel. A servant girl looked after Mephibosheth when he was young. The servant girl heard the news about the battle. She picked up the boy and she ran for safety. She was in such a hurry to leave that he fell. His injury was severe, so he could not walk.)

This verse is not about Ish-Bosheth, but it contains some important information. King Saul had four sons and one grandson. (In 1 Chronicles 8:33-34 the name of Ish-Bosheth is ‘Esh-Baal’. And the name for Mephibosheth is ‘Merib-Baal’.) Three of Saul’s sons died with him in the battle against the *Philistines (1 Samuel 31:8). Ish-Bosheth escaped, so he became king. We believe that he did not have any sons to become king after him. So, Jonathan’s son should have become king after Ish-Bosheth. But Mephibosheth could not walk. He could not fight wars. Therefore, he could not be the king. He would not affect the plans for *Israel. So, nobody bothered to kill him. He was about 13 years old in this chapter. The story of Mephibosheth continues in chapter 9.

v5 One day Recab and Baanah (the sons of Rimmon who came from Beeroth) went to Ish-Bosheth’s house. They arrived about midday. Ish-Bosheth was having a rest. v6-7 Recab and Baanah went into the centre of the house. They pretended that they were getting some wheat. Ish-Bosheth was lying on his bed in his bedroom. The two men pushed a *spear into Ish-Bosheth’s stomach and killed him. Then they cut off his head. They took his head with them and they escaped from the house. They travelled along the valley of the river Jordan that night. v8 They arrived at Hebron and they took the head of Ish-Bosheth to David. They said to David, ‘Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth, the son of Saul. And Saul was your enemy because he tried to kill you. Today the *Lord has punished Saul and his family for what they did to you.’

v9 David spoke to Recab and his brother Baanah (the sons of Rimmon who came from Beeroth). David said, ‘I shall tell you the truth. I certainly know that the *Lord lives. He has rescued me from all my troubles. v10 Now a man once thought that he was bringing me good news. He said, “Saul is dead.” So, I seized him and I killed him in Ziklag. That was how I rewarded him for his news. v11 But this is worse. You are wicked men. You killed an innocent man while he was asleep on his bed. Now I will punish you because you are guilty. You must die.’

v12 So David gave a command to his men and they killed Recab and Baanah. Then David’s men cut off the hands and feet from the bodies of Recab and Baanah. The men hung the bodies next to the pool in Hebron. But they took Ish-Bosheth’s head and they buried it in Abner’s grave in Hebron.

In those days, people usually gave the oldest son’s name first (as in verse 2). But from verse 5, Recab’s name is first. This probably means that he was the leader in this event. Recab and Baanah were captains in Ish-Bosheth’s army. He trusted them. They could visit the king at his house. Perhaps they went there often to get food for their soldiers. The king may have had soldiers who guarded his house. But these soldiers would not suspect Recab and Baanah. *Israel is a hot country. People often got up early and they worked while it was cooler. Then they rested when it became hot in the middle of the day. Recab and Baanah killed Ish-Bosheth when he could not defend himself. They murdered him in the same way that Joab murdered Abner. They cut off his head as the evidence of their act. Also, this was like a prize for them (see 1 Samuel 17:51-58 and 31:8-9). They travelled at night so that they would not meet other people. (Most people only travelled in the daytime because it was safer.)

We do not why Recab and Baanah were not loyal to Ish-Bosheth. They probably knew that he was too weak to remain as the king. Perhaps they wanted David to approve of them as leaders. This act would show that they were loyal to David. They even said that this was the *Lord’s work. But they did not trust the *Lord. Instead, they wanted to punish Saul’s family. Recab and Baanah knew what Saul had done to David. They had probably gone with Saul when he chased David. But they did not know that David respected Saul. Saul had been God’s *anointed king. Perhaps Recab and Baanah did not know about the punishment for the man who killed Saul (1:5-16). Certainly, they did not realise that David would punish them in the same way.

David was a soldier. But a fair soldier did not kill innocent people. David did not need anyone to punish his enemies. He trusted God in every situation. David was very angry at Recab and Baanah. He punished them by the law of the *Lord (Exodus 21:12 and Leviticus 24:17). David’s men hung up the two bodies without their hands and feet. This showed everyone that they had punished the two men. But they buried Ish-Bosheth’s head with proper honour. Ish-Bosheth had depended on Abner while he was alive. Then, when they died, their bodies shared the same grave.