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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES—
2 Samuel 4:1. “His hands were feeble,” literally “his hands slackened,” i.e., “he lost the power and courage to act as a king.” (Keil.) “Troubled,” or “confounded.”
2 Samuel 4:2. “Saul’s son.” “Noteworthy is this designation for Ishbosheth.” (Erdmann.) “Captains,” etc. “The part that these two men play, as well as Abner’s conduct, suggests the supposition that the firm military organisation that Saul had called into being had relaxed, and a disintegration of the army into separate bodies under adventurers and partisans was imminent, if it had not already occurred.” (Erdmann.) “Beeroth.” Probably the present village of Bireh (Joshua 9:17), about seven miles north of Jerusalem, and close to the western frontier of Benjamin.
2 Samuel 4:3. “Fled to Gittain.” Where this place was or why the Benjamites fled there is not known; some have suggested that the flight took place at the time of the Philistine invasion mentioned in 1 Samuel 31:7. In Nehemiah 11:33, a Gittaim is mentioned as being inhabited by Benjamites after the exile, but it may not be the same place.
2 Samuel 4:4. “Mephibosheth,” or Meribaal (Baal’s fighter); see 1 Chronicles 8:34. His name was changed doubtless for the same reason as Eshbaal was changed to Ishbosheth (see on 2 Samuel 2:8). This fact is here introduced to show that Ishbosheth was the last of Saul’s family who could make any pretensions to the throne, as, according to Oriental notions, the physical infirmity of Mephibosheth unfitted him for the duties of sovereignty.
2 Samuel 4:5. “On a bed,” etc., literally on the mid-day bed, in a quiet, cool, retired part of the house, both the hour and the place favouring their deed of bloodshed.
2 Samuel 4:6. “Fetched wheat.” The grain for the supply of their soldiers was evidently kept in the house of the king. “It is still a custom in the East to allow the soldiers a certain quantity of corn, together with some pay.” (Jamieson.)
2 Samuel 4:7. “As the thread of the narrative was broken by the explanatory remarks in 2 Samuel 4:6, it is resumed here by the repetition of some of the words. When Thenius, therefore, attempts to prove the ‘evident corruption of the Masoretic text’ by appealing to the nonsense of relating the murder of Ishbosheth, etc., twice over, he is altogether wrong, and has measured the peculiarities of Hebrew historians by the standard adopted by our own. J. P. F. Konigsfeldt has given the true explanation when he says:—‘The Hebrews often repeat in this way for the purpose of relating something fresh, as for example in this instance, their carrying off the head.’ Compare with this 2 Samuel 3:22-23, where the arrival of Joab is mentioned twice in two successive verses; or 2 Samuel 5:1-3, and many other passages.” (Kiel.) “The plain,” i.e., the Arabah, or Valley of the Jordan, as in 2 Samuel 2:29.
2 Samuel 4:8. “The king.” Notice that David is always here so termed, while in respect to Ishbosheth the title is always avoided.” (Erdmann.) “Thine enemy, which sought,” etc. These words may refer to Ishbosheth, but are generally understood in reference to Saul. Nothing is said in the history of any attempt of Ishbosheth to slay David. (See also on 2 Samuel 4:11.)
2 Samuel 4:11. “How much more,” etc. “The form of the thought is a progression from the less to the greater. If I executed in Ziklag him who avowed having killed at his own request on the battlefield mine enemy Saul, under whose persecutions the Lord delivered me from all adversity, how much more must I demand at your hands the blood of this righteous man whom ye murderously slew in his house on his bed.” (Erdmann.) “Righteous person.” “The assumption of the regal power which Abner had forced upon Ishbosheth was not a capital crime in the existing state of things.” (Kiel.) “Require his blood.” “On this phrase see Genesis 9:5, according to which God is Himself the avenger of blood. (Comp. Psalms 9:13.) David recognises himself as king in God’s service, and as His instrument.” (Erdmann.)
2 Samuel 4:12. “Cut off,” etc. Because the hands and feet were the offending members. Such unishment is still common in Eastern countries. “The pool,” etc. “Outside the town of Hebron is a pool of good water, which, being below the level of the adjoining ground, is accessible by flights of steps at each corner; and there is another reservoir at a little distance, both of which are very ancient. One or other of these must certainly be the pool referred to. The exposure of the mutilated relics at the pool was owing to its being a place of public resort.” (Jamieson.)
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
THE MURDER OF ISHBOSHETH
This chapter further illustrates the teaching of the preceding one, inasmuch as it—
I. Gives two examples of the unconscious co-operation of human actions and Divine purpose. The nurse of Mephibosheth obeyed a Divine instinct when she sought to save her charge from the danger which surrounded him. And she probably did save him from death at the hand of the Philistines, being so far permitted by God to succeed in her praiseworthy endeavour. Mephibosheth was spared to receive from David the tribute of gratitude which he deserved for his father’s sake, but an apparent accident prevented the execution of the full intention. The child was saved, but saved to be a hopeless cripple for the rest of his days, and we can well imagine that his nurse felt long and deep grief in consequence. But most likely her fall was the means of preventing the son of Jonathan from coming into collision with his father’s friend, and so bringing upon himself the fate which befel his uncle. To the miscarriage of the plans of man concerning him he probably owed the blessing of living a peaceful and honoured life instead of one of turmoil and disappointment. The event which to his friends seemed so untoward was an intervention of his father’s God on his behalf, and a meeting and co-operation of the Divine and the human in a purpose of mercy towards him and towards the nation. For the lameness of Mephibosheth, as well as the death of Ishbosheth, was the removal of a hindrance to David’s peaceful accession. The thoughts suggested by this latter event are the same as those upon the murder of Abner in the preceding chapter.
II. It shows the true standard by which to judge human actions. David, like the true man he was, looked at the deed of violence done to Ishbosheth not in the light of the relation in which it stood to himself, but in its relation to the eternal principles of right and wrong. As in the case of Saul (see page 276) he could separate the man from the opponent, and, as in the murder of Abner, he allowed no plausible excuse or plea to blind him to the real nature of the crime. On this subject see also page 289.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
2 Samuel 4:1. Cursed is the man that trusteth in men, and maketh flesh his arm.
1. Because of the frailty of all human supports, with which fall the hopes based on them.
2. Because of the faithlessness of men, in whom blind confidence is placed instead of putting confidence in the faithfulness of the Lord.
3. Because of the danger and ruin of body and soul to which one thereby exposes himself.—Lange’s Commentary.
The contrast is striking between the conduct of Ishbosheth under difficulty and that of David. In the history of David we have repeatedly found his faith faltering, and we have seen him overcome for the time by the spirit of distrust. But these occasions occurred in the midst of protracted and terrible struggles; they were exceptions to his usual bearing; faith commonly bore him up in his darkest trials. Ishbosheth, on the other hand, had no resource—no sustaining power whatever under visible reverses. David’s slips were like the temporary retiring of the gallant soldier, when, fagged and weary, he is driven back for a few moments by superior numbers; but as soon as he has recovered his breath, dashes on undaunted to the conflict. Ishbosheth’s failure was like the conduct of the soldier who lays down his arms and rushes from the field as soon as he has begun to taste the bitter storm and cruel reverses of the war. With all his slips and failures, there was something in the demeanour of David that showed him to be cast in another mould from that of other men. He was habitually aiming at a higher standard, and upheld by the consciousness of a higher strength.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 4:8. How evil seeks deceitfully to clothe itself with the appearance of good.
1. By falsehood, in alleging something evil in others as a pretext to make itself appear right and good.
2. By hypocrisy, in representing itself as in harmony with God’s word and will.
3. By the pretence of having promoted the interests of another.—Lange’s Commentary.
How important it is that our conduct should be regulated by general laws, clearly and strictly defined—not dependent on the capricious judgment of each individual in his particular case, or loosely accommodated to particular circumstances. There seems to be no crime so flagrant but that some are found not only to commit it, under the influence of temptation, but to commit it without scruple or compunction, by contriving to persuade the conscience that theirs is a particular case.—Lindsay.
2 Samuel 4:11. Charity teaches us to make the best, not only of our friends, but of our enemies, and to think those may be righteous persons who yet in some instances do us wrong.—Henry.
2 Samuel 4:12. These rapid instantaneous executions by order of David have raised a painful feeling in pious hearts. Granting that the retribution was justly deserved, and granting that a rapid execution was necessary to make a due impression on the people, it may be asked—How could David, as a pious man, hurry sinners into the presence of their Judge without leaving them a moment to ask mercy, or giving them one affectionate exhortation to repentance? The question is one of very great difficulty, and with our present light it hardly admits of a satisfactory answer. The difficulty arises from our ignorance of the precise views which prevailed in Old Testament times in regard to the future world. It is certain that David and other pious men believed in a future life, and must often have thought about it; but how far they were ordinarily under the power of the world to come—how far, for example, the future life was present to their thoughts in connection with such men as Baanah and Rechab—is a problem which we have not materials to solve. The abrupt procedure of David on this and similar occasions favours the supposition that in their ordinary frames of mind, when not specially exercised in spiritual contemplation to the utmost stretch of their powers, they had a much less vivid impression of the future than we have now.… The Old Testament did not hide life and immortality from the view of faith, but it was the New Testament that brought them clearly to light.—Blaikie.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 4". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany