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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 3

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-39


2 Samuel 3:1

There was long war. As Ishbosheth reigned only two years, and as "the house of Saul" is the phrase used, it seems probable that after Ishbosheth's murder, during the five years before David's election to the throne of all Israel, the house of Saul had some puppet representative at Mahanaim, and some commander in Abner's place. But after the death of this able man matters would go from bad to worse, and, though David probably remained on the defensive, yet the contrast between the peace and good government of Judah and the misery in Israel made all the tribes wish to put an end to a harassing civil war. It is plain, too, that the Philistines, repelled at first by Abner's skill, had again gained the ascendant, and regarded themselves so completely as the rulers of the country, that they resented immediately with summary violence the bold act of the northern tribes in choosing David to be their common king.

2 Samuel 3:2

Unto David were sons born. This increase of his wives is mentioned as a proof of David's prosperity. For though contrary to the Law (Deuteronomy 17:17), it was yet looked upon as part of the state of a king, and as such had been practised by Gideon (Judges 8:30), who approached more nearly to the royal dignity than any other of the judges. But it is the rule of the Books of Samuel that they generally abstain alike from praise and 'blame, and allow facts to speak for themselves. But never did a history more clearly deserve the title of 'A Vindication of the Justice of God.' Alike in Eli, in Saul, and in David, their sufferings were the result of their sins, and to the polygamy and lust of the last are due both the crimes which stained his character and the distress of the last twenty years of his life. (For Amnon, his first born, see 2 Samuel 13:1-39.)

2 Samuel 3:3-5

Chileab. The Midrash explains Chileab as meaning "Quite like the father." He is called Daniel in the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 3:1, and this was probably his real name, and Chileab a name of affection. He must have died young, for Adonijah appears as David's eldest son after the death of Amnon and Absalom; and it is thus natural that he should still be known by the name he bore as a child. Geshur. The word signifies "Bridgeland," and is the name of two districts, one of which formed the northern part of the tribe of Manasseh, and extended on both sides of the Jordan, from the little Hermon to the sea of Gennesareth (Deuteronomy 3:14; Joshua 12:5; Joshua 13:13). The other was in Syria (2 Samuel 15:8), and probably was situated upon some river, though its exact position is not yet known. Talmai, its king, now gave his daughter to be one of David's wives, and though he was probably only a petty prince, still it is a proof of David's growing power that a potentate living at so great a distance was willing to make an alliance with him. Of the other wives and their sons nothing is known except of Adonijah, who inherited, on the death of Absalom, the dangerous position of firstborn; and who, after trying to make his rights good, was put to death by Solomon (1 Kings 2:25). As Eglah is especially called David's wife, the Jewish interpreters hold that she was the highest in rank in his household, and therefore identical with Michal, who was restored to David while at Hebron. But she was childless; and more probably the words are to be taken as simply closing the narrative, and as belonging, therefore, equally to each of the six.

2 Samuel 3:6

Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul. The Hebrew really means that until this miserable quarrel about Rizpah, Abner had been the mainstay of Ishbosheth's throne and dynasty. She is proved to have been a noble woman, with a warm and devoted heart, by the narrative in 2 Samuel 21:8-11. But the harem of a deceased king was looked upon as the special inheritance of his successor; and Absalom, by taking David's concubines (2 Samuel 16:21, 2 Samuel 16:22), treated his father as a dead man, and committed so overt an act of treason as made reconciliation impossible. So Solomon put his brother Adonijah to death for asking Abishag to wife (1 Kings 2:23-25). Still, as Bathsheba there saw no impropriety in Adonijah's request, and as Solomon deposed Abiathar and put Joab to death for complicity, as we must conclude, in Adonijah's request, it was probably part of some scheme of conspiracy, and that, if granted, it would have been used by Adonijah as a proof that the kingdom really was his. Here there was no plot, and as Rizpah had probably always lived apart from Ishbosheth, Abner may have expected that the king would see no difficulty in the matter.

2 Samuel 3:8

Then was Abner very wroth. This extreme indignation on Abner's part is not easy to understand; for he could scarcely have expected Ishbosheth to endure quietly what at least was a great insult. But probably the question, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father's concubine? does not mean a mild expostulation on the king's part, but the purpose to degrade Abner and strip him of his office. Probably after the defeat by Joab at Gibeon, the army was less satisfied with its leader, and his detractors may gladly have encouraged the king to use this opportunity for bringing Abner down to his proper place. Weak kings often try to play the strong man; but the attempt here only drove the imperious soldier to put the matter to the proof, and show that the strength was his. We know that David groaned all his life through under Joab's iron will, and, though he tried, yet that he never succeeded in throwing off the yoke. But Joab never behaved unfaithfully to his sovereign as Abner did here, and his crimes were deeds of violence committed in David's cause. Am I a dog's head, which against Judah, etc.? The words literally are, Am I a dog's head that is for Judah? and are rightly rendered in the Revised Version, Am I a dog's head that belongeth to Judah? Am I at once worthless and a traitor, a thing of no account, and on the side of thy enemies? In the words that follow he protests, not so much his innocence as his great deserts. This day—that is, at this very time—I am showing kindness unto the house of Saul … and this day thou wouldest visit upon me—that is, punish me for—the fault about this woman. I make and maintain thee as king, and thou wouldst play the king upon me, the kingmaker!

2 Samuel 3:9

As the Lord hath sworn to David. This not only shows that the prophetic promise of the kingdom to David was generally known (see note on 2 Samuel 1:2), hut that Abner regarded it as solemnly ratified. There is no express mention of any such oath, but Abner was a man of strong words, and possibly only meant that Jehovah's purpose was becoming evident by the course of events.

2 Samuel 3:11

He could not answer Abner. Though the reply was one of open treason, and was spoken with violence, yet Ishbosheth did not venture to bring the matter to an issue. Perhaps he looked round upon his officers to see if any would take his side, and, when all were silent, he was too feeble to dare to order the arrest and trial of his too powerful captain.

2 Samuel 3:12

Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf; Hebrew, under him. The Revised Version renders this "where he was;" but the phrase really means "immediately" (see note on 2 Samuel 2:23). And this agrees with the haughty temper of Abner. Without waiting for advice, or allowing his anger to cool, he at once sent trusty envoys to open negotiations with David. Whose is the land? Abner's meaning in these words is plain. You, David, he seems to say, will answer that the land is mine; for Jehovah has promised it to me. But, as a matter of fact, much of the land is mine (Abner's), or at least belongs to the house of Saul, whose prime minister I am. Yours is an abstract right; mine is actual possession. Come, let us make the two agree. Give me fitting assurances of safety and reward, and I will make your claim a reality.

2 Samuel 3:13

Except thou first bring Michal. Besides David's affection for Michal, there were political reasons for demanding her restoration. Saul's despotic act in giving her in marriage to another man (1 Samuel 25:44) had been a public disavowal of David as the son-in-law of the royal house, and equivalent to a proclamation of outlawry. David's rights were all declared null by such an act. But now Ishbosheth must with equal publicity reverse his father's deed, and restore to David his lost position. It must have been a most painful humiliation to him to be driven thus to cancel his father's decree, and declare thereby to all Israel that he was unable to refuse hie assent to whatever his rival demanded. And for this reason David sent his messengers directly to Ishbosheth, because the importance of Michal's surrender to him lay in its being a public act of the state. For Michal, in 2 Samuel 21:8, we ought to read Merab (see note there).

2 Samuel 3:14

A hundred foreskins. This was the number which Saul had required (1 Samuel 18:25), and David acted rightly in not boasting that he had really given twice as many (1 Samuel 18:27). As he had paid her father the stipulated price, Michal, by Oriental law, was David's property.

2 Samuel 3:15

Phaltiel the son of Laish. In 1 Samuel 25:44 he is called Phalti. This word, in Hebrew lexicons, is usually regarded as a contraction for Phaltiyah, "Jehovah is deliverance," while Phaltiel means "El is deliverance." The substitution of El for Yah is one of those changes which arose out of the superstitious reverence for the sacred name which to this day causes the word LORD to be read in our Bibles where in the Hebrew are the four consonants Y, H, V, H, which, by attaching to them the vowels belonging to the Hebrew word edonay (or, adonay, lord) we make into "Jehovah" (Yehovah).

2 Samuel 3:16

Her husband went with her along weeping behind her. "Along weeping" is a very awkward rendering of the Hebrew phrase, "going and weeping." The Revised Version is far better, "weeping as he went and followed her." Phaltiel had been Michal's husband for eight or nine years, and his sorrow at losing her excites sympathy for them both. They had evidently loved one another, and she was now going to be but one of many wives; and though David may have desired her restoration because he valued her and cherished the remembrance of their youthful affection, yet there was a large admixture of political motive in his conduct. At Gallim she had been Phaltiel's one jewel, and had been loved for her own sake; at Hebron she would have many rivals. But women of royal rank have often to pay the price of sacrificed affections for the ends of statecraft. Near Bahurim, on the road from Jerusalem to Gilgal, in the valley of the Jordan, the convoy approached the borders of Judah, and Abner will not allow the weeping husband to enter David's dominions. Painful as was his fate, he had himself done wrong in marrying another man's wife; and if he was weeping now, we may well believe that David had felt equal anguish when Michal was torn from him and sold to another,—for fathers in those days received instead of giving a dowry upon the marriage of their daughters. Saul in this matter was most to blame, and if he had not committed this wrong, David might never have sought an evil solace in multiplying to himself other wives

2 Samuel 3:17

And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel. Most probably this had taken place before Abner escorted Michal to Hebron, and that he paid David but one visit—that recorded in 2 Samuel 3:20. He would probably not take so decided a step as the surrender of Michal without sounding the elders, that is, the local sheikhs, and finding out how far they were inclined to support David as king of all Israel. When everything was ready he would take Michal to Hebron, and so have the opportunity of arranging with David for future action; and though Ishbosheth would dislike the matter and suspect Abner of ulterior purposes, yet he could not refuse so specious a plea as the escorting of his sister. His previous failure, too, had taught him that Abner was master. We may further be sure that David had everywhere many adherents. All Israel knew that he was marked out by prophecy to be their king, and, moreover, "all Israel and Judah loved him" (1 Samuel 18:16). But when Abner says, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you, he makes it probable that, at some time after the defeat at Gilboa, the attempt had even been made to elect David king. But Abner had then opposed it, and his success in resisting the Philistines, and David's unfortunate entanglement with those inveterate enemies of Israel, had made the attempt fail. And now Abner's attempt was to be equally unsuccessful.

2 Samuel 3:18

The Lord hath spoken. Here again Abner's statements go far beyond the text of anything recorded in Holy Scripture, but probably they give the popular interpretation of the prophecies respecting David. It will be noticed also that Abner endeavours to meet the general prejudice against David by asserting that he was Israel's destined deliverer from Philistine oppression. As Abner's speech is virtually an acknowledgment of failure, we may also be sure that he had found himself unable any longer to make head against the Philistines on the western side of the Jordan, and that Judah was the only tribe there that enjoyed tranquillity. Everywhere else they had once again established their supremacy. Though a brave soldier, Abner was inferior, not only to David, but also to Joab, both as statesman and general; and the weak Ishbosheth was no help to him, but the contrary.

2 Samuel 3:19

In the ears of Benjamin. This tribe alone, probably, was really loyal to the house of Saul, their kinsman. But since the withdrawal of the court to Mahanaim, they got but little good from it, and were left to resist the predatory bands of the Philistines as best they could. So warlike a tribe too would despise Ishbosheth, and long for a braver man to aid them in fighting their enemies.

2 Samuel 3:20

Twenty men with him. These, we may feel sure, were not common soldiers, but chieftains selected from those elders who were on David's side; and, though the honourable escort of Michal was the pretext, yet Ishbosheth must have felt sure that more was intended. Most of them, however, would join Abner on the road, especially those who represented Benjamin and the western tribes. On arriving at Hebron they were honourably received, and, after a feast, they settled the conditions on which David was to be made king of all Israel; and Abner then departed in peace, after giving the assurance that all the tribes would now gladly assemble, and by solemn compact and covenant make David their king. The terms of the league, and the conditions agreed upon for Ishbosheth, are not mentioned, because upon Abner's death the whole plan fell to the ground, and David had to wait for many years before his hopes were fulfilled. But we gather from this covenant and 2 Samuel 5:3 (where see note) that the early kings of Israel were not absolute monarchs.

2 Samuel 3:22

From pursuing a troop. This gives a wrong idea, as though Joab had been repelling an attack. The Revised Version is right in rendering "came from a foray," the troop being a company of men sent out on a predatory excursion. It is not unlikely that David had arranged this expedition in order that his interview with Abner might take place in Joab's absence; and as he returned with "great spoil," he had probably been away for some nine or ten days, during which he had penetrated far into the country of the Amalekites. Had David acted frankly and honourably, Joab would not have stood in the way of his master's exaltation, and the blood feud between him and Abner might have been arranged. But it is evident that David secretly disliked and chafed under the control of his strong-willed and too-able nephew.

2 Samuel 3:24, 2 Samuel 3:25

What hast thou done? David's secret dealing makes Joab see a personal wrong to himself in the negotiation with Abner. There could be no room, he feels, for both of them in David's army, and David meant, he supposes, to sacrifice himself. In hot haste, therefore, he rushes into the king's presence, and reproaches him for what he has done, but covers his personal feelings with professed zeal for his master's interests. Abner is a mere spy, who has come on a false pretext, and with the real intention of learning David's going out and coming in, that is, his present manner of life and undertakings. All that thou doest; literally, all that thou art doing; all that is now going on, and thy plans and purposes. Abner would not only judge by what he saw, but in his interview with David would lead him on to talk of his hopes and prospects. David had little time to explain the real object of Abner's coming, nor was Joab in a mood to listen to anything he said. He had detected his master in secret negotiations, and would regard his excuses as tainted with deceit. And after giving vent to his auger in reproaches, he hurried away to thwart David's plans by a deed of most base villainy. Had David acted openly, all would have been done with Joab's consent and approval.

2 Samuel 3:26

The well—Hebrew, cistern—of Sirah. Josephus ('Ant.,' 8. 1. 5) says that this cistern was situated about two miles and a half north of Hebron. There was probably a caravanserai there, at which Abner halted, intending to continue his march homewards as soon as the coolness of evening set in. Here Joab's messengers overtook him, and, speaking in David's name—for otherwise Abner would not have fallen into the trap—asked him to return for further conference, mentioning, perhaps, Joab's arrival as the reason. In this way Abner's suspicions would be set at rest, and it would seem quite natural for him to find Joab waiting for him at the gate.

2 Samuel 3:27

Joab took him aside in the gate. As we read in 2 Samuel 18:24 of David sitting "between the two gates," and of "the roof over the gate," and in 2 Samuel 18:33 of "the chamber over the gate," Ewald's idea of there being a roofed inner space, with a guard room over it, as in the mediaeval gate towers in German towns, is probably right. As the "two gates" would make the space between them gloomy, the spot would just suit Joab's purpose. He meets Abner, therefore, in a friendly manner, and drawing him aside, as if to converse with him apart from the people going in and out, there assassinates him. The place was so public that the deed must have been witnessed by multitudes, though the gloom, felt the more by them from the contrast with the bright glare of sunshine outside, had given Joab the opportunity of drawing his sword without Abner's observing it. For the blood of Asahel his brother. Joab's act was in accordance with Oriental feeling; and the duties of the avenger of blood might with some straining be made to cover his retaliation for an act done by Abner in self-defence (Numbers 35:26, Numbers 35:27). It is remarkable that Hebron was itself a city of refuge (Joshua 20:7), and this may have led Joab to murder him in the gate, before he had actually entered. Still, Abner did not expect any such retribution, and supposing that Joab knew of the purpose that had brought him to Hebron, he could not suppose that he would be so indifferent to his master's interests as to put a summary stop to the negotiations for uniting the tribes under David. As it was, this deed brought upon David an evil name, and four or five years had to elapse before the tribes could be induced to take him for their king. Even then his hold over them was far less than it would otherwise have been; for though the shock was gradually got over, yet the suspicion still dung to him. And if the deed was Joab's own act, still David had contributed to it by underhand dealings. His very fear of Joab had caused him to wrong his able general, and given him just cause for resentment.

2 Samuel 3:28

I and my kingdom are guiltless. By this David means, not his royal house, but the people generally, who too often have to pay the penalty for the sins of their rulers (see 2 Samuel 21:1). Necessarily this is the case, wherever the crime is a state crime; but David protests that Abner's murder was a private crime, for which Joab and Abishai alone ought to suffer.

2 Samuel 3:29

Let it rest on the head of Joab. The Hebrew word is very strong, "Let it roll itself," or throw itself upon Joab's head. The force of the expression thus indicates the great excitement under which David was labouring; yet even so it was no slight matter to utter so bitter a curse upon a man so powerful, and whose military skill was so essential to the maintenance of his throne. To a man of David's strong sense of justice, it was a small matter that by Abner's murder the kingdom of the ten tribes was lost perhaps forever; what he hated was the wickedness of this mean act of personal revenge. And thus his imprecations are all such as would be humiliating to a family so distinguished for great physical as well as mental gifts, as the house of Zeruiah. Nor was David content with this; for we gather from 1 Chronicles 11:6 that during the intervening years Joab was deprived of his office, and that he regained it only by an act of daring bravery. (For the miserable condition of one suffering with an issue, see Le 1 Chronicles 15:2, etc.; and for that of a leper, Leviticus 13:1-59; Leviticus 14:1-57.) Instead of one that leaneth on a staff, some translate "a distaff holder," that is, a poor effeminate creature, fit only for woman's work. The true sense is probably a cripple—one who needs a crutch. That falleth on the sword; more correctly the Revised Version, that falleth by the sword. The two last imprecations mean that if any of the race of Joab and Abishai escape these personal blemishes, yet that his fate shall be, in war an inglorious death, and in peace a life of poverty. This curse of David is regarded in the Talmud ('Sanhedr.,' 48.2) as very sinful. Undeniably it was uttered in violent anger, and while Joab's act was utterly base and perfidious, yet he had the excuse for it of Asahel's death and David's double-dealing. The latter made him conclude that the man who had killed his brother was also to usurp his place. Possibly this suspicion was not without reason. As David was strong enough to deprive Joab of his command, it is plain that he had nothing to fear from telling him his plans. Joab would have assented, the blood feud have been appeased by a money payment, and all gone well. But David, it seems, wished to hold Joab in check by giving at least a share in the command to the veteran Abner.

2 Samuel 3:30

Joab and Abishai his brother. Nothing is said of Abishai having taken part in the murder, but the words suggest that it was a premeditated act, and that Abishai was privy to it.

2 Samuel 3:31

David said to Joab. The excuse of the blood feud made it impossible for David to punish Joab further than by depriving him of his command; but he made him condemn his own deed by taking part in the public mourning for the man he had murdered. This mourning consisted in going in solemn procession, clad in sackcloth, before Abner's body, carried on a bier to the grave, while David followed as chief mourner; and the emphatic way in which he is called King David suggests the thought that he went in royal state, so as to give all possible dignity to the funeral. His tears and lamentations with uplifted voice were so genuine and hearty as to move the people to a similar outburst of grief. But while all those at Hebron had proof that David was innocent, the people generally would know only that, when Abner was escorting the king's wife back to him, and arranging for his election to rule over all Israel, he was treacherously murdered at the gate of Hebron by one who was chief over David's army and also his nephew.

2 Samuel 3:33

The king lamented. The word is the same as that used in 2 Samuel 1:17. The word rendered "fool" is nabal (for which see 1 Samuel 25:25). The idea contained in the word is not that of mere silliness, but of worthlessness also; and thus in Psalms 14:1 we find that the nabal is also an atheist.

2 Samuel 3:34

Thy hands were not bound. Abner had been put to death by Joab for killing Asahel. But there had been no legal process. He had not been brought in fetters before a judge to be tried for the crime alleged, but murdered for private ends. And thus, "As a man falleth before the children of iniquity, so had he fallen," that is, by crime, and not by law. These words s re probably the refrain of the dirge, like those in 2 Samuel 1:19, 2 Samuel 1:25, 2 Samuel 1:27, and were followed by the celebration of Abner's bravery, but they alone are recorded, because they contain the main point. Abner's death was not, like the sentence upon Baanah and Rechab, an act of justice, but one of lawless revenge; and by this poem David proclaimed, not only his innocence, but also his abhorrence of the crime.

2 Samuel 3:35

The people came to cause David to eat meat. The Jewish commentators, Philippson, Cahen, etc; consider that the occasion for this was given by the custom of taking food after a funeral (Jeremiah 16:7; Ezekiel 24:17), which in time degenerated into the giving of a costly banquet (Josephus, 'Bell. Jud.,' 2. 1). To this day, at a Jewish funeral in Germany, the bearers are regaled with eggs, broad, and wine. While, then, others were partaking of the food that had been provided, David remained apart, and when urged by the assembled multitude to join them in their meal, he protested that he would continue fasting until sunset. He thus proved that his sorrow was genuine, and the people were convinced of his innocence, and pleased at the honour which he thus did to the fallen soldier.

2 Samuel 3:36

Whatsoever the king did pleased all the people. This is a tribute to the king's conduct generally. The people would have been grieved and astonished if David had been guilty of this mean murder; but his indignant disavowal of it was in accordance with his usual justice and uprightness, and so it confirmed their high opinion of him. Thus while the more distant tribes condemned David, those who had the best opportunity for forming a judgment gave their verdict in his favour.

2 Samuel 3:37

All Israel understood. The twenty men who had accompanied Abner would be witnesses of all that David did, and would carry their report of it home, and of the high estimation in which his character was held at Hebron. And this gradually would be told throughout the tribes, and the final verdict of all well-disposed people would be in David's favour.

2 Samuel 3:38

A prince and a great man. David pronounces this high estimate of Abner's worth to his servants, that is, to his officers, and especially to the six hundred mighty men. His conduct is bold and open, and must have greatly humiliated Joab and Abishai. But though the six hundred approved of David's conduct, and respected him for it, yet probably, as Abner had killed Asahel, they would not have consented to any further punishment than the disgrace inflicted on Joab by his being deprived of the command of David's warriors.

2 Samuel 3:39

I am this clay weak … the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me. David would gladly have had Abner as a counterpoise to Joab's too-great power. As it was, though an anointed king, he had but one tribe loyal to him; the rest were the subjects of a rival; and the Philistines were oppressing all alike. Had Abner's enterprise been carried out, all the tribes would have been united under his sway. He could thus have made head against the Philistines, and Abner, in command of the Benjamites and other tribes, would have curbed the fierce self-will of Joab. As it was, the sons of Zeruiah might be reprimanded, and could not treat David as Abner had treated Ishbosheth; but they were indispensable. David had a strange set of men around him in those outlaws (1 Samuel 22:2); and Joab, brave, skilful, and unscrupulous, was a man after their own heart. They had just returned with great booty from a foray under his command; and it was a brave and manly thing in David to reprove him so openly, and dismiss him from his command. Had he attempted more, and Joab had stood upon the defence, there were plenty of "men of Belial" (1 Samuel 30:22) to side with him, and David might have met with the fate threatened him at Ziklag (1 Samuel 30:6). As it was, he proved himself to be king, and Joab, in spite of everything, remained a most faithful officer, and the right hand man in his kingdom, and one even trusted with perilous and disgraceful secrets (2 Samuel 11:14).


2 Samuel 3:1-11

Rival interests.

The facts are:

1. A desultory war is carried on between the house of Saul and the house of David, in which the latter has the advantage.

2. David has six sons born to him while at Hebron.

3. A quarrel arises between Abner and Ishbosheth, consequent on an accusation resented by Abner.

4. Abner charges his master with ingratitude, and threatens to transfer his allegiance to David.

5. In seeking to give emphasis to his threat, Abner indicates his knowledge of the Divine will concerning David. The object of the historian in 2 Samuel 3:1-5 is obviously to give a representation, from a political point of view, of David prior to the action of Abner in his favour; and in 2 Samuel 3:6-11 to state the circumstance that led to a transfer of Abner's support from one side to the other. The general effect of the war between the two royal houses and the growth of David's domestic establishment are the two prominent items of the situation prior to Abner's change of policy. Judged solely by the standard of the age, they pointed in the direction of advancing influence, but looked at in the light of a higher standard they suggest a qualified prosperity. The general truths embodied in this account of rival interests may be set forth as follows.

I. DEFENSIVE ACTION IN A JUST CAUSE IS SOMETIMES THE BEST POLICY. That the cause of David was just is evident to every believer in the truth of the First Book of Samuel, and, as seen there and in the Psalms, the conviction of this governed his conduct. From a purely human point of view it might seem contrary to natural justice to set aside the son of the late king; and the effort of Ishbosheth to urge, by force of arms, his own claim may be a natural sequence of thought and feeling. But kings have no rights apart from the will of God; and, as the sequel shows (verse 10), both the young king and his general were not unacquainted with the Divine purpose. The right being with David, it might seem strange that he did not press his claim to entire dominion by aggressive war. His skill and valour, the coherence of his following, and the enthusiasm created by his personality, to say nothing of the demoralizing effect on Abner of his own infidelity to conscience, could not but have speedily made him master of all Israel. Instead of that, we find David simply authorizing such conflict as would suffice to hold his own and check the aggressive efforts of the house of Saul. It is interesting to see here the same David as of old, who had such faith in God and the gradual unfolding of his purposes that he would never raise a hand against Saul, or do anything, except in necessary self-defence, that could be construed into hostility. Had not Abner's evil counsels prevailed with Ishbosheth, David would have lived in peace at Hebron till a mightier hand than his own cleared the way to the throne of a united people. Statesmen would do well to take such an example in many of the painful contingencies that arise. To a just man it is half the victory to be calm and strong in the conviction of his rectitude and the righteousness of his position. There is a watchful Providence cherishing the good and frustrating the evil. Forces under the direction of an evil genius are sure to wear themselves out if only the objects of their hate can hold their own; and the wasting of their strength means the final triumph of the cause of truth and justice. There are seasons in Church life when this policy of pure defence is wise; for at such times God has ends to effect which work in with the scope of more aggressive endeavours.

II. A RIGHT CONTENTION WILL COME TO A NIGHT ISSUE. "David waxed stronger and stronger." Of course he did. It could not but be so, for he was a chosen servant, not seeking or doing his own will, but simply placing his life in the hands of God, to work out for his people and for future ages, purposes the precise nature of which he could not understand. No weapon formed against him could prosper. He who contended against him fought against God. The forces of nature were on his side. Never did mortal more vainly contend against late than did Ishbosheth contend against David. The principle involved in this instance is of wide range. Right is sure to prevail in the issue. The disturbing element introduced by sin into the universe causes strife of the most grave character. The whole line of Divine government, so far as we can trace it, seems to be a line of conflict between right and wrong, holiness and sin. The antagonism taken up in Eden runs on and becomes more acute on Calvary, and is apparent now in a "long war" between the children of light and the kingdom of darkness. Time is in favour of righteousness. There is an endurance in truth which cannot be affirmed of error. As perhaps the friends of David thought those years of war very tedious and dispiriting, and sometimes even inconsistent with rightness of claim and purpose, so we may be weary in the greater strife and become disturbed by cruel questionings; yet the issue is sure. "Stronger and stronger" may be affirmed of the kingdom of righteousness on earth. For even the seeming failures and delays only become, in the hands of Providence, the means of acquiring the hardier and more enduring virtues by which at last the final victory shall be won. The same is true of any conflicts in which character is at stake. Our "righteousness shall be brought forth as the light," and our "judgment as the noonday." The parallel may be seen also in the conflict of the "old" End the "new man." The one is on the way to perish; the other is "renewed day by day."

III. THE UNEXPRESSED WOES OF LIFE ARE VERY REAL. "There was long war." The sentence is brief, and understandable by a child. It is repeated with careless ease. As a rule, it connotes to the ordinary reader only a general idea of men seeking to slay one another. But to read history aright we ought to bring the faculty of imagination into full play; and it is only as we exercise the historic imagination that we get a glimpse of the sad facts embodied in this simple form of expression. Subjected to the vitalizing power of this faculty, what unexpressed woes rise up to view! What harsh and fierce dispositions! What weary marchings and watchings! What murderous blows and bleeding wounds and agonizing deaths! What widows' wailings and orphans' tears! What losses to homes and nation of strong men and productive toil! This, which applies to the brief statement of the sacred narrative, is equally true of greater woes. Men read of great battles very much as they read algebraic symbols. The real items indicated are not vivid to the mind. Men read also of the banishment of the wicked to outer darkness in the same mechanical way. The hurry of life leaves no time for the imagination to lay hold of the actual facts connoted. Hence the power over the will of mere visible, present realities. Hence the difficulty of getting the "powers of the world to come" to influence motive. Hence, also, the necessity of each man making an effort to bring his mind into actual view of the facts covered by language, and of the preacher and teacher rendering the aid of well-chosen speech to further this effort.

IV. CONVENTIONAL STRENGTH MAY BE AN OCCASION OF MORAL WEAKNESS. The historian tells us of the growth of David's domestic establishment at Hebron. Estimated by the customs prevalent in the East at that time, this acquisition by David of wives and sons was supposed to add to the splendour and stateliness of his regal position. All the paraphernalia of a court, the wide-reaching influence of family connections, and the imposing show of a large household would lead ordinary men to regard him as among the great ones of the earth. The accidental surroundings of life form a delusively important part of what is deemed to be human greatness. We are all children in so far as we are influenced in our judgments on social position and weight of character by the circumstantials of life. Even the more educated are prone to either identify or associate greatness with large establishments. This kind of conventionalism plays an important part in human affairs; but it is not God's standard. David's polygamous habits were consistent with the conventional morality of the age, and his domestic establishment projected his public position before the eye of the people in a form accordant to princely fashion; but we know that beneath all the signs of wealth and greatness there were influences at work which could not but weaken his moral three and mar the beauty and sweetness of his private life. Oriental splendour and conventional moralities were indulged in at great moral cost. David in Hebron with many wives and their accompaniments could not be as morally robust as was David in earlier days. The same danger attends all who conform to customs not based on strict principles of purity and godliness. Fashion cannot make righteousness. Goodness may live amidst habits essentially alien to the welfare of the individual and to saints, as surely as life may continue in an atmosphere charged with malarious poisons; but the enervation of the one will be as certain as of the other. The insensibility of the man to the subtle action of the evil is only an aggravation of its action and in no wise a palliation. Modern Christians should severely scrutinize the moral quality of the circumstances and habits in which conventional usage allows them to live. This can only be done by making use of tests absolutely given by God apart from the colouring which custom is apt to give even to Divine laws.

V. UNRIGHTEOUS MEN PAY HOMAGE TO RIGHTEOUSNESS. There can be no question but that Ishbosheth knew well the nature and validity of David's claims; for the theocratic rule was a reality in Israel during and subsequent to the life of Samuel. It was, therefore, wrong for him to put forth any personal claim of his own. Jonathan's example had been lost upon him; and yet this man recognized the evil done by Abner in lustful indulgence, and even ventured to protest against it. On the other hand, Abner, while being unrighteous enough to indulge in sinful lust and to abet the invalid claim of Ishbosheth, nevertheless is fired with indignation that the love of gratitude should have been violated by the young monarch. Thus men, pursuing a course which they know to be contrary to the will of God, become, when personal and family matters are involved, zealous, each in his own fashion, for what is right and proper. Truly, man is a strange compound of moral light and darkness. The psychological explanation is a study. It is the habituation to the wrong which renders men so dull to appeals, so insensible to the real demerit of their actions, and it is the latent force of conscience which saves them from being parties to a course on which they have not taken the initial step. Hence our Lord's reference to the "gnat" and the "camel." The prevalence of this state of moral confusion is very wide even in Christian society. In the same individual may be found great sensitiveness and great obtuseness. The holding of slaves and gain by the sale of them has coexisted with a profound regard for religious worship. Licentious men have had a dread of dishonesty. Multitudes who rob God of the love and obedience due to him are indignant if an ordinary business debt is not paid. The Pharisees could conspire to kill Jesus Christ, and yet feel very unhappy if they omitted any of the ceremonials of religion. It is a common thing for men and women to indulge in envy, jealousy, and ill will, while extremely careful to keep up an external conduct conformable to the requirements of the Decalogue. There is much scope for searching of heart on this subject; and in dealing with it the preacher needs to exercise great discrimination and delicacy of reference. Abner must be made to see himself as Ishbosheth sees him, and vice versa. "Man, know thyself," is a maxim of immense importance to every one.

VI. PASSING EVENTS MAY SERVE TO UNVEIL THE WORKINGS OF CONSCIENCE. Viewed from a distance by the people, Abner seemed to be a man who all along was conscientiously and faithfully subordinating his life to the maintenance of a just cause. So far as we can see from the narrative, he had been reticent concerning the mental processes of which he was daily conscious. But the incident of Ishbosheth's accusation of immorality was as the removing of a veil whereby the actual thoughts of Abner stood revealed. "So do God to Abner, and more also, except, as the Lord hath sworn to David, even so I do to him." Thus Abner had known all along that it was God's will to give the kingdom to David. The ideas and compunctions connected with this central fact had evidently been covered up and suppressed. The real inner life of struggle against right and God was now exposed by his own act. In the case of every man there is always an inner life necessarily hidden by himself from ordinary view. It is a necessity of social existence that each man should be more unknown than known to his fellows. Only where there is perfect holiness would perfect knowledge of others be helpful to love and confidence. But in the case of men pursuing a deliberate course which seems to others to be conscientious, but is known to themselves to be contrary to right, there is a rigid and designed concealment of their self-condemnation. They gain the reputation of being upright, though perhaps misguided, men, while their own conscience gives the lie to this public judgment. An incidental reference, an unguarded hasty admission of fact, an effort to justify an action, may be as a sudden rent in the covering of the real life within, exposing to the view of others a guilty violation of truth, a perpetual conflict against the well-ascertained will of God. This frequent concealment of aft inner guilty life and its possible unveiling by incidental events should be a guide in forming an estimate of conduct, and a warning to evil doers. The self-exposure, also, however incidental, is to be taken as a preintimation of the final exposure when God shall bring hidden things into judgment.

2 Samuel 3:12-21

The facts are:

1. Abner, disgusted with Ishbosheth's conduct, opens negotiation with David for the transfer of the kingdom to him.

2. David consents to discuss the question on condition that Abner first of all undertakes to restore unto him Michal, Saul's daughter.

3. Concurrent with Abner's efforts to bring this to pass, David makes a demand on Ishbosheth for the restoration of Michal.

4. Abner, taking charge of Michal on her return to David, effects the final separation from her weeping husband.

5. Reminding Israel and Benjamin of their former preference of David, Abner seeks to bring them over to his cause.

6. Charged with instructions from the people, he pro-coeds to Hebron as a legate to arrange the business with David.

7. As a result of the interview, it was left to Abner to complete the formal submission of all the people to the authority of David

Faithfulness in small things.

The passage here in reference to David and Michal brings out a feature in the character of the king which was prominent from first to last. According to the common estimate of things, the a priori belief would be that, when a ruler desires the subjugation of a kingdom, he will readily accept offers of submission and of all powerful aids to bring it to pass. To obtain supremacy over Israel was the one thing above all others on which David's mind was set, and the cooperation of so influential a man as Abner was a virtual realization of the king's purpose. To an astute unprincipled man like Abner it was doubtless a cause of amazement that, when the kingdom was within the king's grasp, he should practically refuse to have it unless a certain private affair was first arranged. The great affairs of the nation were made to wait on the settlement of what seemed to be a mere matter of sentiment and personal interest. Few monarchs in the East would thus have dealt with the chance of gaining the ends of long-cherished political ambition. In David's case the stipulation was consistent with his character, lie was ever generously careful of maintaining the rights of individuals and of sacrificing his own ambition to the justice due to others. He was faithful in that which is least.

I. THE CLAIMS OF THAT WHICH IS LEAST ARE VALID AND ARE SUBSTANTIAL PARTS OF A VAST SYSTEM OF OBLIGATIONS. Michal was David's wife, bound to his heart and life by ties sacred and memorable (1 Samuel 18:17-30). To political schemers it would seem absurd to set a woman, not seen for many years, and known to be living in forced matrimony with another man, ever against a whole kingdom. But wrong done to her (1 Samuel 25:44) had not invalidated her claim on David's affection. It was due to her, due to the memory of her father in spite of his follies, due to the force of his Own character on others, and due to the old love (1 Samuel 18:20-28) which changing fortunes had not changed, that she should have justice done her on the very first opportunity of enforcing it. David's vision was clear enough to see that, if his claim to be king over all Israel was valid because of the appointment of God, so equally the claim of this banished woman on his love and care was also valid, because based on principles which God had ordained for the regulation of domestic life. The same Divine wilt was in both; and, moreover, they were equally parts of the great system of obligations which covers the whole area of human activity, and which is productive of highest good to man when the different parts are equally held as sacred and are rigidly observed. In human affairs there is often an apparent collision of what are called small and great obligations. In reality there is no such thing. There may be a question of order in which actions shall be done; but obligation, in the moral sense, can never clash with obligation. To love the Lord with all the heart is the prime, the chief duty, hut it does not destroy the duty of love to our neighbour. To take part in public affairs may be an obligation, but the care of home is a valid claim which cannot be ignored. There are duties which, entering into the minutiae of life or pertaining to the home rather than to public affairs, may be regarded as relatively small, but inasmuch as they are not the creation of custom but proceed from the will of God and form parts of the great scheme of life, they are to be regarded as sacred and binding as those which figure more largely before the public eye.

II. THE BRINGING ABOUT OF GREAT EVENTS INVOLVES MORE CHANGES THAN LIE WITHIN OUR OWN ACTION, AND PROVIDENCE TAKES CARE OF THEM. The event of all Israel submitting to David would imply manifold influences brought to bear on the elders of the people, and through them on the masses, and in such a process of change there might arise many a circumstance adverse to the desired issue. It was not in David's power to effect this by any personal action. All he could do was to set agencies at work through Abner, and trust in Providence for disposing the hearts of men aright. It was right doubtless for the people to own him as king, but it was not in his power to establish this right. On the other hand, it was in his power to do justice to a banished woman, and demand, as a prior step, that she be restored to his heart and home. There is always an uncertainty attending our efforts to bring about great issues in the world's affairs, even though those issues be predicted and included in the Divine purpose; for our actions are but a few among myriads of forces for and against the end for which we strive, and for ages the goal may not be reached. It is our duty to do what we can, just as it was David's to use means for winning Israel over to the allegiance which had been predicted and was part of the theocratic purpose; but we have to act in faith that an overruling Providence is at work above us and above all forces, and that the great issue will in some unknown way and time be brought to pass. The statesman cannot make the nation great and strong; he can only set in motion social and material forces which in due course may accomplish the purpose in view. The missionary can but contribute an item of force towards rendering the whole earth submissive to Christ. The parent can contribute but some of the elements which in the end will tend to form the final character of his children. The far-reaching aims of life are binding on us, but their realization is not all in our power. It is absolutely within our power to perform single acts of justice and consideration as occasion offers. As the products of will, they may fill but a small place in the world in comparison with the realization of those other wider aims which are products of many wills; yet they afford opportunities for proving our fidelity to truth and righteousness as surely as do the great events to bring about which we can only contribute our part. David's profound regard for what was right shone forth in his care for a single individual, just as truly as his faith in Providence appeared in subordinating the attainment of his political ambition to this act of justice.

III. HUMAN DUTY IS PLEDGED TO THAT WHICH IS KNOWN AND DISTINCT. David knew that Michal was his wife, that she had been forcibly separated from him in the day of adversity, and that as a good man he was bound to amend her wrongs as soon as occasion offered. Though a king, he saw that domestic were prior to political obligations. There may have been, as a matter of fact, policy in showing his regard in this way for the house of Saul, but the evident motive was to do a right deed as soon as it was seen to be right and scope offered for its performance. In morals, prompt action is homage to righteousness. A known duty and scope for its performance should never be deferred. As air, in obedience to the law of its action, rushes in to fill a vacuum, so does a just mind at once seize opportunity for doing what is clearly known to be right. If men linger and hesitate to do specific acts discerned to be just, it is clear evidence that they are defective in righteousness of principle. Their inner life is pro tanto alien to that of God. This explains, in one way at least, how it is that some men do not at once turn from positive sins and surrender themselves to Christ. They see what is the right thing to do, but defer it till some great scheme of their life is completed.

IV. FAITHFULNESS IN THAT WHICH IS LEAST GIVES MORAL POWER FOR OTHER ACTS. Having discharged this more private domestic duty, and so satisfied his conscience in reference to an obvious obligation in which a sufferer was concerned, David was a stronger man for carrying through whatever might be useful for realizing the great purposes of Providence. A good conscience is a moral tonic. The impression produced on Abner and others by this regard for what is right in the more private sphere of life, could not but be favourable to the public interests of the king. Evil men are awed by pronounced goodness, and the halting are won to allegiance. History presents many instances of influence augmented by conscientious attention to duties in private and domestic life. The habit formed by such carefulness to do the right thing in minor matters gives momentum to the action of the will when it is called to act in reference to great questions in the face of strong opposition. Many men become morally enervated by careless inattention to obligations of a private nature, yet lying close at hand and clear as daylight. Their influence on great public questions is weakened by their consciousness of neglect, and by the disgust with which men regard public separated from private righteousness.

Policy without principle.

The Bible narratives do not enter into details concerning the inner motives of those whose actions are recorded; they rather state outward facts, and leave them to produce their natural impressions. The strange and apparently irreconcilable procedures of Abner are no doubt resolvable into some one governing feeling which, with unvarying consistency though in varying form, shaped his entire public actions. The whole facts from first to last reveal the operation at the base of his conduct of one master passion—the love of pre-eminence; and it is in the working out of this powerful feeling that we find a remarkable illustration of a policy in life apart from principle.

I. A LOVE OF PRE-EMINENCE IS OFTEN A CLUE TO MUCH IN LIFE THAT IS OTHERWISE UNACCOUNTABLE. It certainly does seem strange that a man of Abner's abilities, brought up in full knowledge of the special relation of David to Samuel and Jonathan, and therefore fully aware of the reason why, after the exile from Palestine, David should assume royal state at Hebron and claim dominion also over the entire house of Israel, should give up his services in favour of David's rival. In the light of mere custom and regal order it would seem to be patriotic and manly on his part to identify his life with the interests of a son of the reigning house, and probably he flattered himself that ordinary men would put this interpretation on his conduct. But the best solution of all the facts of his life is to be found in the hypothesis of his passionate love of preeminence. With so strong a man as Joab on David's side, and the reputed zeal of the other sons of Zeruiah, there was little chance of his rising to the position of power which alone would satisfy his ambition. Although his ordinary sense must have assured him, to say nothing of the latent truth recognized by the conscience (2 Samuel 3:9, 2 Samuel 3:10), that Ishbosheth could never successfully compete with so brave and active a rival as David, yet, on the principle that it is "better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven," he found it more congenial to throw in his lot with a man over whom he could exercise chief influence and in whose cause he would be the principal figure. This policy void of principle ran through, as we shall soon see, the actions of his entire course. There lies, also, at the spring of every man's conduct, be he a public character or only a private individual, some master passion to which all other feelings and aims are subordinate, and it is good for each one, and necessary to the true interpreter of life, to find out what it is. In public affairs there can be no question that in very many instances it is not fear of God, not pure patriotism, not regard for human interests as such, but open or disguised love of pre-eminence which furnishes the main incentive to conduct. The form of conduct may be such as would result from the action of higher and better feelings, but that is simply the result of policy. This feeling, which finds its scope in the rivalry and struggle of individuals, is but the social form of the generic feeling known as selfishness, or, as modern theologians term it, selfism, which in its essence is sin and probably the metaphysical explanation of sin itself, and which, moreover, is the solution of the fact that men do not recognize the eternal King, but prefer to belong to an inferior order of things. To please self, men will even consent to lose moral rank, and become foes rather than friends of the Righteous One.

II. MORAL HUMILIATIONS MAY MODIFY THE FORM OF POLICY, BUT THEY WILL NOT DESTROY THE MASTER PASSION. To an aspiring man, as was Abner, it was intensely mortifying to be charged with wrong doing by one nominally his superior, and the moral sting of the charge probably lay in its truth. This was, on the part of Ishbosheth, a virtual assumption of both moral and legal superiority; and, as such, was a blow at that secret, unexpressed sense of superiority which Abner had all along felt in relation to the weak young man whose cause he had patronizingly advocated. In even bad men the moral sense is strong, if not in leading to right courses, yet in making them wretched for wrong doing, inwardly and morally Abner was now weak in the presence of his royal master. The soul that is humiliated does not like to be reminded of its humiliation, and, if possible, the occasions of such reminders must be avoided and punished. The change wrought in Abner lay in the deep region of unexpressed and inexpressible feelings. The old love of pre-eminence was untouched by the collision with Ishbosheth. The masterful springs of human life are not easily dried up or supplanted. The immediate effect was simply to raise up a minor yet strong personal feeling, which came as a dam between the old love of pre-eminence and the interests of Ishbosheth, and caused it to flow with widened channel in another direction. Emotions stimulate thinkings, and personal feelings arouse ingenuity. Swift as lightning Abner saw that he could be a yet more important personage than ever, and, at the same time qualify his moral humiliation by the sweets of revenge. In spite of Joab and the other son of Zeruiah, he would figure as the means of placing the crown of a united people on David's head. It should be seen that what war could not do Abner had the power to do. The names of David, Israel, and Abner would henceforth be indissolubly associated in the annals of the time. Instead of pre-eminence at the court of Ishbosheth, there would be pre-eminence at the court of David, and in the judgment of a compact nation. There have been other instances of statesmen, under the influence of resentment, changing their course, and apparently, but not in reality) their principles.

The policy in all such cases has been to subordinate public interests to certain cherished feelings. A form of sound principles may be adopted for the very same reason as previously it was rejected. Evil men are prone to do the same in ecclesiastical affairs. In private life men have been known even to assume a form of godliness—to quote the Divine truth (2 Samuel 3:9, 2 Samuel 3:10)—as a means of better subserving their purpose. It were well if rebuke of sin (2 Samuel 3:7, 2 Samuel 3:8) always produced the godly sorrow that leads to genuine repentance, and then the adoption of the true principles of the kingdom would be, not as a policy, but as a matter of conviction. The case of Saul of Tarsus in relation to the spiritual kingdom stands out in sharp contrast to that of Abner in relation to the temporal kingdom (cf. Acts 9:5-20).

III. DURING THE WORKING OUT OF THE MASTER PASSION THE TRUTH OF GOD ABIDES AS A PERMANENT WITNESS. That Abner should have so explicitly referred to the Divine purpose (2 Samuel 3:9) cannot be ascribed to information recently received, but must be accounted for on the ground that he had all along had the truth suppressed in his own mind. He here unwittingly unveils his own conscience and condemns his past course as a violation of solemn obligations rising far above social considerations and personal preferences. To the people he, perhaps, seemed to be a man upheld by a sense of right, but to himself he was known as a rebel against God. The Divine truth asserted inwardly its own reality. Its light revealed to himself, whenever he calmly reflected on his conduct, the dark and damaging characters of his public career. And though he was now adopting right principles, and so would in future escape the pain of knowing that his actions were not running counter to their direction, yet, being conscious of adopting them for unprincipled reasons, he could not avoid the conviction that he was doing the right thing for David, not because of a love of God, but for personal ends. The sense of right would thus reveal to him the essential crookedness of ways that were ostensibly straight. The man who does right things from bad motives never knows the blessedness of the just. Probably there is no determinate course of wrong doing in which the light of truth does not bear some witness more or less distinct. Even those who, following lower passions, change the glory of the incorruptible God into images after their own likeness (Romans 1:23), at times find within a protest against their conduct (Romans 2:15). No man who has heard the claims of Christ to universal dominion as clearly and authoritatively set forth as ever Abner had heard of the Divine right of David, can live opposed to him, or, as a mere matter of policy, fall in formally with his rights, without being sensible at times of a voice which tells him of his dangerous position and worthless character. Many a converted man has borne testimony that, for years previous to his conversion, the truth of God bore faithful witness as to what was the will of God concerning him in his relation to the Anointed One.

IV. THE WORKING OUT OF A POLICY CHANGED IN OUTWARD FORM BUT NOT IN NATURE NECESSITATES AND ENSURES MUCH ZEAL AND INGENUITY. The change of allegiance was, for Abner, a momentous step. For onlookers it meant on his part a judgment, and self-respect demanded that that judgment should be justified by every possible means. His policy being the same along an altered course, he must so act as to make it appear that he had come into the possession of new and true principles, and so get the credit of acting on principle and not on policy void of principle. Of course, a man who sincerely came to the belief that God had purposed David to be king, and loved the doing of the will of God, would at once go and offer his services to David. Abner did this. Of course, he would be eager to fulfil all conditions that might be specified by David in bringing to pass the will of God (2 Samuel 3:13-16). This was true of Abner. And as to gaining over others to his new view of things, no pains would be spared to show the reasonableness of the course now to be taken. Abner made out a case before the elders of Israel and the more sturdy Benjamites, and was able to report to David complete success (2 Samuel 3:17-21). What zeal and ingenuity were implied in all this may be imagined by those only who know how hard it is to justify sudden changes of conduct and get one's followers to entertain new ideas. But Abner's love of pre-eminence in national affairs must perish if these efforts were not forthcoming. The same will apply to any one who changes sides in public affairs, and at the same time desires to attain to the distinction formerly obtained or secretly longed for. In fact, fully to gratify the cravings of selfish ambition means toil upon toil. However gratifying the completion of one's aims may seem, it is a vain and miserable issue when regarded in the clear light of pure principle. In the real moral world—the sphere in which God alone awards the prizes of life—he is not crowned who does not "strive lawfully" (2 Timothy 2:5), that is, is not observant of all the great and holy principles on which alone God would have men act. It is certain, therefore, that men of the Abner stamp, who are doing the right things, not because they are right and of God, but for personal ends, will one day find that their efforts will, while being used up by God in furtherance of the dominion of Zion's King, bring to themselves none of the glory and honour which alone fall to those who persist in "well doing" (Romans 2:6, Romans 2:7).

. It becomes us now and then to search into the mainsprings of life, to ascertain what really are the principles or feelings which dominate our conduct.

2. We may rest assured, in our appeals to men on behalf of Christ, that there is in their conscience, confronting their actual life of rebellion, a witness for him the Divine authority of which they must secretly recognize.

3. Any change from an externally wrong to an externally right course is to be tested by its being or not being the outcome of pure love of what is pleasing to God.

4. There is a day coming when the actions which seem to lie in the direction of the kingdom of Christ, and, in fact, as right actions, are due to him, will be unveiled so as to be seen in their relation to the actual feelings in which they originated, and then those, who during a part of their life were regarded as good workers, will be known as "workers of iniquity" (Matthew 7:21-23).

5. In the lives of some men one portion is spent in endeavouring to undo the deeds of former misspent days, and not always with clean hands in the sight of God.

6. The secret of every life is to be found in the heart, and hence the need constantly of the prayer that God would create within us a clean heart.

7. It is a right thing for men of influence, when the force of truth is openly admitted by themselves, to do what lies within their power to bring others over to its practical recognition.

8. The great mass of the people are very much influenced in the course they take in public affairs by the reasonings of able leaders; hence the responsibilities of leaderships in the government of God.

Policy with principle.

A careful examination of facts will show that David's conduct in this narrative, and indeed all through his early career, was the very reverse of Abner's. His entire course, from the day of his call from the sheepfold to the proffered allegiance of Abner, was one of simple honest desire to do the will of God. Again and again had he resisted temptations to grasp at power; and his conduct in the interview with Abner, and use of his services, proceeded from the same principle, that, in its very nature, excluded selfish motive.

I. ACTION GOVERNED BY DIVINE PURPOSE IS THE NORMAL COURSE FOR A RATIONAL CREATURE. In inanimate and irrational things the Divine purpose is so stamped upon their being or wrought into the texture of their nature that as a matter of course they, in their movements, follow in the line appointed. Their action is necessarily normal. In creatures endowed with a rational will there comes in the prerogative of option. The possibility of an abnormal course belongs to such beings as an essential element of their constitution. The angels that have kept their first estate, and fallen angels and man, illustrate the two sides of the case. In the affairs of ancient Israel the revealed purpose of God was that David should be king (2 Samuel 3:9). This was the will of the Eternal, by which every man, from Samuel and Saul in the highest ranks to the lowliest descendant of Jacob, was to be guided in his political life. How Samuel and Jonathan conformed to this law is beautifully seen in their respective careers. How David was governed by it is to be seen in the strong faith in his own destiny which ran through his patient endurance of exile; in his firm but restrained opposition to Ishbosheth; and also in his negotiations with Abner. It is this conscious conformity of action with the Divine purpose in relation to public affairs that raises the strong assertions of integrity in the Psalms above the suspicion of being the outgoings of a self-righteous spirit that claims perfect internal holiness in the sight of God. As a rule, our private conduct is normal in so far only as it is the carrying out in action of the definite purpose of God that we should govern self for him. Hence sin is properly said to be a fall (Hosea 14:1). Hence our Saviour's was the only true life. He was man as man should be. It was his meat and drink to do his Father's will. The goal of redemption is to raise us to the full stature of men in Christ Jesus. This view of human life, inwrought as a principle into all the operations of heart and mind, will do much to bring about the final harmony of our own lives, and indeed of all things, for discords will cease in proportion as rational created wills move in unison with the Divine.

II. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH LIFE SHOULD BE CONDUCTED BEING CLEARLY RECOGNIZED, IT SERVES AS A LIGHT TO THE CHOICE AND REJECTION OF MEANS BY WHICH THE ATTAINMENT OF THE END MAY BE SECURED. Between David's revealed predestination to be king over the chosen race, and the realization of the Divine will in the factual facts of history, many acts on his part had to be performed. It would be perplexing to an ordinary mind to prestate the agencies and methods by which the shepherd boy and exile should at last peacefully ascend the throne and reign over a united people. Had human passion, or bare calculation, or mere politic balancing of advantages been taken as guide and governor of action, there would doubtless have been, in his case, a reproduction of the tragic struggles so often recorded in the history of public affairs. But conformity of self to the holy will of God being the root principle of life, conjoined with the never absent conviction that Providence was sure to be on his side in seeking to conform self to the revealed will, this illumined his pathway even amidst the darkest of earth's shadows, and enabled him to see what courses should be avoided and what pursued. Clearly he must not give scope to mere lust of power; for where the need and what the use of that when the Holy One had sworn that he should reign? Clearly, also, he must not use force and conquer the people over whom as king he is to rule; for had not God chosen him to be king over a chosen race, for the realization of high spiritual issues stretching far into a glorious future? Equally plain was it that there is no need to have recourse to the cunning and craft and falsehoods—the policy void of moral principle—which a godless spirit might suggest; for was he not the chosen servant of the Holy One of Israel, who has no need of low born policies to establish his dominion over men? Hence David's patience in exile, his tender regard for Saul even when others suggested revenge, his merely defensive action at Hebron, and his manifest unwillingness to force Ishbosheth from the throne and to compel Israel to submit to himself. He had faith in God and in God's supremacy over the hearts and destinies of men. In so far as he had a policy it was suggested by his fundamental principle, and embraced three things:

(1) Use of peaceful means.

(2) Waiting on Providence for some free movement on the part of Israel.

(3) A regard for the susceptibilities of the house of Saul and the natural interest of the people in that house.


(1) His abstention from hostilities during Saul's lifetime, and his subsequent nonaggressive action against Ishbosheth, as also his willingness to accept the services of Abner with the elders of the people.

(2) His acceptance of the allegiance of Abner, viewing it as simply a fact brought about apart from any bribe or effort on his part, and being in its outward form, with which he was alone concerned, conformable to the revealed purpose (verse 9), and consistent with his belief in an overruling Providence which reaches to the spirits of men.

(3) His laying down the condition (verses 13-16) on which he would accept the services of Abner; for while personal affection and conjugal duty alike suggested the restoration of Michal from her enforced banishment (1 Samuel 25:44), such a course would prove to Ishbosheth and Israel that he still cherished his old regard for the house of Saul, and thus tend to win all parties over to a peaceful settlement. Here, then, was a sound and wise policy grounded on, and in fact issuing out of, the abiding recognition of the main principle that God had a will concerning his life, to effect which was at once his glory and delight. The facts suggest their own application and lessons. They find their highest and truest counterpart in the life of the Son of David, whose advance to universal supremacy proceeds from the declared will of God (Psalms 72:1-20.), and is secured in patience, by means in nature pure and peaceful, by an unseen action on the spirits of men making them willing, and by a kind and considerate regard for the varied susceptibilities of human nature. They also furnish illustrations of how the Church may combine policy and principle, displaying the wisdom of the serpent with the harmlessness of the dove. We furthermore learn that, in pursuing our individual course through the world, we may, by keeping the main principle of having a holy Divine purpose to work out clearly before the mind, ever have at hand a pure, bright light by which we shall see what means and methods in detail may be safely and honourably used for seeking the end we have in view.

III. A POLICY THUS FOUNDED ON PRINCIPLE IS SURE IN THE COURSE OF TIME TO ISSUE IN THE TRIUMPH OF LIFE. There is evidence in David's early career that he had to endure the blame of eager and less conscientious men for being so very scrupulous in the use of means. The sons of Zeruiah were, also, not satisfied with what they would call his timorous policy (verses 24, 25, 39). Those years spent in Hebron, merely keeping in check the assaults of Ishbosheth's men (verses 1, 22), seemed to give a doubtful meaning to the Divine promise which had become the property of both David and the true sections of the nation (verses 9, 10, 17, 18). But the man of God held on, and would not swerve from the policy founded on clear principle. Events proved that he was right and the overeager men wrong. In due course, Providence so governed the action of leading forces, that the entire people were brought (verses 17-21) under influences which at last issued in his realizing the end on which his heart had been so long set. In fact, he allowed God to work where man cannot work, i.e. on the spirits of men beyond the reach of our own hand and voice. Once more we see it illustrated that God's time and methods are best. The same peaceful issue is coming on as the result of "the patience of the saints," and their undying faith in the action of the Spirit of God on the spirits of men. It is when professing Christians lose their faith in God, and have recourse to questionable devices, that, in seeking to hasten on, they really retard the progress of that which they have at heart. Taking a wide view of the government of God in the unfolding of the moral order, we see the same attainment of remote ends by means of righteous and quiet acting through long epochs. What is thus true on a large scale will be found true also of the individual life—the effort to realize the holy will of God in our personal experience. In public and private affairs, in working out our lines of policy founded on principle, we should not forget to leave a very broad margin for the action of God beyond anything we can do or attempt. This has ever been the case with the best men. There are springs which God's hand alone can touch. He can govern the free actions of leaders of men, so that the actual course they freely take, though not most pure in motive, shall, in its form, harmonize with the main purpose of the Eternal. Would that man had more faith in God as the living God!


1. The sincere satisfaction of those who, like David, restrain feeling and bad in, pulse, and wait for God to open the way and change the course of events.

2. The important contribution to the realizing of the purposes of Christ the Anointed One sometimes made by men whose acts are not pervaded by his Spirit. As Abner's acts accelerated God's purposes, so the gains of commerce, of science and art, though not always made in the name of God, become means of advancing his kingdom.

3. The survival of sacred feelings amidst and in spite of the turmoil and commotions of life. The old love for Michal was still alive, as many an old affection cherished in early days reappears and asserts itself when occasion offers.

4. The deep wounds and secret sorrows induced by harsh and arbitrary acts. As the cruel deed of Saul (1 Samuel 25:44) left its traces in the lives of David, Michal, and Phaltiel (verse 15), so it is with other deeds of the same spirit but different in form.

5. The apparent subordination of great public interests to private is, in the case of men of principle, only on the surface; the reverse is really the truth. David's promotion of the unification of the nation, on condition of getting back his wife (verse 13), was, as seen above, in the real interests of the unification under himself; and so when the acts of really good men are traced down to their principles, they only, in outward form, appear to be too personal.

6. The great extent to which the mass of men are biased even against what is plain truth (verses 9, 17, 18) by prejudice, and are swayed by able leadership.

7. The completeness with which, in the course of providence, influence slowly gathered and widely exercised against the cause of God, may be suddenly turned to work round in promotion of it (cf. Saul of Tarsus and Abner, verses 17-21).

2 Samuel 3:22-27

The facts are:

1. Joab, returning from an expedition, finds David at Hebron after Abner's departure.

2. Hearing from the people a general statement of what had transpired between the king and Abner, Joab reproaches David for his peaceful conduct, and insinuates that Abner was simply playing the spy.

3. Sending a messenger, unknown to David, after Abner, he induces him to return to Hebron, and, under pretence of a quiet conference, he leads him aside and assassinates him.

4. Hearing of the affair, David at once repudiates it, and in strong terms desires that heavy judgments may fall on the head of Joab and his house.

5. David orders a general mourning for Abner, attends his funeral, and utters a pathetic lamentation over him.

6. The king's sorrow assumes a solemn and impressive form throughout the day, so as to convince the people of his utter abhorrence of the crime and his sense of the national loss.

7. David causes his servants to know that he cherished a regard for the great abilities and possible services to Israel of Abner, and was pained and enfeebled in his action as anointed king by the perverse conduct of the sons of Zeruiah.

Defective sympathy.

The first impression, on reading the account of the conduct of Joab, is that of the most villainous treachery, and one at once enters into the anger and vexation of David. But the treacherous act professedly in the service of David was the outcome of a permanent condition of mind. Ostensibly it is to be ascribed to the resentment cherished on account of the death of Asahel; but the action of a man occupying a responsible position in a great undertaking is not governed merely by the presence of a feeling of this kind. The resentment would have had no positive power to issue in this deed had not the mind of Joab been out of harmony with the mind. of David in the views taken of the kingdom, its principles, and methods of consolidation. A public servant will govern his private passions if his mind is in full sympathy with his master's, so as to see that the indulgence of them would be uncongenial to him and injurious to his interests. Joab was deficient in sympathy with the higher qualities and aims of his great master, and consequently the bad qualities found an outlet which otherwise would have either had no existence or would have been suppressed for his sake.

I. THE EMPLOYMENT OF MEN OF DEFECTIVE SYMPATHIES IS, IN THE PRESENT STATE OF THE WORLD, UNAVOIDABLE. That Joab was not in full sympathy with David's pure and lofty aspirations is seen both in this account and also in the pressure previously put upon David in exile by his chief men to take away the life of Saul, as, again, in the subsequent allusions to his conduct (2 Samuel 19:7). That such a man should have been at the head of military affairs in David's service is not surprising, for David had from the first to take such men as were disposed to follow his fortunes, and when he set up regal authority in Hebron it was in the nature of things for the man of greatest will power to push his way to the front. Kings cannot make their ministers; they can only use what the age produces. It was not David's fault; it was the natural condition of things, arising from myriads of concurrent causes, that there was not one man since the death of Samuel and Jonathan that was so spiritual and far seeing as to enter with full enthusiastic sympathy into his conceptions of the kingdom of God and the holy principles on which it should be established and governed. The evil of having to work out great and glorious issues in conjunction with men who do not enter into the inner spirit of the enterprise is remarkably illustrated in the case of our Saviour. There was not one who could enter into the full depth and breadth of his work in the world. Relatively his blundering disciples, often paining his heart by their worldly notions, were as far removed from him as was Joab, With his crude ideas and low feelings, from David. Nor could it be otherwise unless men were supernaturally transformed. The same holds good now in the instruments Christ has to use in carrying on his work in the world. How defective many labourers and followers are in sympathy with his holy aspirations and methods! Indeed, it is the same in every secular employment. Seldom, if ever, does the servant enter fully into the mind of the master. Ideas and feelings cherished by the directing and originating mind are, of necessity, inadequately appreciated by instrumentalities not perfectly charged with them. The servant, in this sense, is not equal to his lord.

II. THE EXISTENCE OF THIS DEFECTIVE SYMPATHY BETWEEN SERVANT AND MASTER IS THE OCCASION OF VARIOUS EVILS. Because Joab did not really understand the pure and generous spirit of David, his very zeal for him assumed forms not only opposed to the king's wishes, but fraught with evil tendencies for the kingdom. It is obvious from 2 Samuel 3:24 that Joab misapprehended the peaceful, generous policy of David, and 2 Samuel 3:25 reveals the fact that he was in his heart actually opposed to the course which had been taken; for he actually dares to rebuke him for not perceiving the cunning spy in the man of peace. So far was he out of sympathy with the principles and policy of the king, that he stealthily, and with the aid of his brother (2 Samuel 3:30), even allowed the personal resentment of his heart to issue in an act which was not only unjust and base in itself, but also in direct opposition to the will and measures of David. Here we have, as the outcome of his worldly spirit, displeasure with his king, assumption of superior wisdom, indulgence in personal revenge, murder, and practically assertion, for the time being and in a particular instance, of supreme power. Not one of these evils would have come to the surface of life, but would have been crushed in their most incipient stage, had his nature been more in sympathy with that of his master. Inasmuch as by full sympathy we alone can really understand, appreciate, fall in with, delight in, and surrender every faculty and subdue every errant feeling to the prompt carrying out of our Lord's designs, so, conversely, a lack of sympathy cannot but result in the evils of misapprehension of designs, non-appreciation of motives and methods, discontent with actual deeds, withholding of services, and free scope to passions, in nature and consequences at variance with his superior will. The lives of the apostles during our Saviour's ministry on earth abundantly illustrate this. Bred in an atmosphere of formalism and religious exclusiveness, they entered not into the perfect mind of Christ, and consequently wondered at his methods (Luke 9:44, Luke 9:45), desired what was contrary to his Spirit (verses 46-56), and, in the case of Peter, actually rebuked him for arranging to establish his kingdom by a method which seemed to them to be unnecessary and unbecoming (Matthew 16:21-23). The persecutions authorized by the Church in dark ages, the methods introduced by Ignatius Loyola and subsequently adopted by his followers, the bitter spirit cherished towards men differing in minor matters of faith or practice, and the sundry base deeds which grow out of a professedly Christian life because it is not well nourished in fellowship with Christ himself,—these are some of the evils appearing in the course of the establishment of the kingdom of heaven as a consequence of the servants of the Lord not being in full harmony of spirit with him they profess to serve.

III. THIS DEFECTIVE SYMPATHY, IF NOT GRADUALLY REMEDIED, MAY INVOLVE ACTIONS PERMANENTLY DAMAGING TO THE MOST POWERFUL OF MEN. It is probable that Joab was with David in exile, and, like many others, he may have been drawn over to his side partly because of the intimation given by Samuel and recognized by Jonathan of the Divine choice of David, and partly because of disgust at the misgovernment of Saul. However much he might have failed in the first instance to comprehend and appreciate the holy aims and principles of his leader, he could not have shared so long in David's fortunes and misfortunes without having many opportunities of learning what manner of person he was, and how decidedly spiritual were his aims and purposes. He appears not to have profited by these privileges, and consequently, by the action of a well known psychological law, the original secularity of his nature gained in power, so that when a contest arose between a private passion and acquiescence in his master's arrangements, there was not sufficient moral force to restrain and destroy the passion, and hence the dark deed which disgraced his name and caused him to be in the future a man distrusted and abhorred (2 Samuel 3:39). The reverse is seen in the case of the apostles, excepting Judas, who all yew out of their imperfect sympathy with the innermost heart of Christ, and brought forth fruit accordingly. In private life there can be no question but that, when opportunities for getting nearer and nearer to the mind of Christ are neglected, the lower tendencies of human nature gain force, and when temptation to exercise them arises, sad deeds are done and reputations are damaged. Probably, if all things were explained, it would come out that many of the sad crimes perpetrated by persons professedly in the kingdom and service of Christ are connected with failure to maintain and deepen the sympathy of the heart with all that is in Christ and his work. "Without me ye can do nothing;" "Abide in me."


1. The incidental evils arising from imperfect sympathy with the holy and far reaching purposes of God may be found in course of the historic revelation which God has given us, and should be ascribed to their proper human source, and allowed for in our estimate of the form, matter, and incidents of the revelation.

2. A critical estimate of the degree of the triumphs of early Christianity should be formed on a consideration of the degree, more or less, to Which the leading and subordinate servants of Christ understood and entered into his spirit.

3. In a selection of men for any form of Christian work, great stress should be laid on their quick and eager perception of the purely spiritual aspects of his kingdom. Intellectual and other qualities are very subordinate to this.

4. It becomes us to be on our guard lest mere private feelings of the lower order should gain ascendency over the more general considerations that pertain to the kingdom of God.

5. It will be useful if we now and then calmly reflect on the degree to which the cause of God may have suffered through our own defective sympathy with its more spiritual interests.

6. The great need of each one is to cultivate close fellowship with Christ, so as more fully to enter into his mind.

The incidence of guilt.

When a great crime has been committed, the first question in the public mind is—Who is guilty? In national affairs, where personal actions are supposed to be connected with public interests, it is not always clear at first whether one or another party is to be charged with blame for what has been done. It was impossible, even judged by the low standard that too often governed the conduct and opinions of Eastern people, but that the death of Abner would be regarded with consternation, and men would be swift in their judgment. It was, therefore, only natural that David should take steps to let it be known that, although Joab was a public servant, the guilt in this case must rest on the individual himself, and not in any sense on the government under which he served.

I. IN EVERY CASE, AS TO THE ACTUAL INCIDENCE OF GUILT, THERE IS NO UNCERTAINTY IN THE MINDS OF THE PARTIES CONCERNED. To men of low moral type in Judah, who may have suspected Abner's zeal and who were disposed to judge of David as they would of themselves, it might be an open question as to whether he did not really connive at the treachery of Joab. To men in Israel, who were mindful of Abner's former antagonism to David and who were themselves of implacable temper, it might be conceivable that David was an inactive partner in the crime. In the absence of any superior court of inquiry, or of any statement from David, disquieting rumours may have gained temporary currency. Meanwhile the real fact would stand clear before the conscience of both Joab and the king. Popular discussion never avails to alter the facts of conscience. Joab knew himself to be solely guilty, with consent of his brother (2 Samuel 3:30); David knew himself to be entirely innocent. Each carried within himself the judgment of God. It is here that we see the dividing line between the opinions and discussions of the world and the invisible moral sphere, where actual facts are registered in clear and ineffaceable lines so as to admit of no shadow of doubt. What though outsiders cannot ascertain reality, it is there, and it is only a question of time as to its being seen by others besides those now familiar with it. The secrecy of the guilty is only a play with an advantage for a short time. Men charged with public crimes, and men who live in sin against God, know that there is no mistake in the incidence of guilt. They possess exclusive knowledge, perhaps, but there is no consolation in that. Likewise those wrongly charged With complicity in evil are possessors of a secret knowledge which enables them to see that the permanent moral order is on their side, and that it is only a question of time, more or less, when their "righteousness shall be brought forth as the light," and their "judgment as the noonday."

II. A SACRED CAUSE IS NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THE DEEDS OF ITS PROFESSED SUPPORTERS. A hasty judgment would conclude that, as Joab was a prominent supporter of the Davidic cause, it must bear the shame and guilt of his murderous deed; but the only warrant for that being a true view of the case would be that the general spirit of David's administration favoured treachery, and that the master and servant were in secret collusion,—neither of which suppositions can be for a moment entertained. Kings and their officers, masters and their servants, are to be held jointly responsible only when the service generates the wrong. As a fact, governments and employers do suffer temporary loss of prestige when those in positions of trust act out their own individual wickedness; but in due course men will distinguish the manifestation of the individual baseness from the public interests with which it was associated. The separation of these is important in many relationships of life. The divinely appointed kingdom and just rule of David must not be confounded with Joab's malice. The government of a country should not bear the guilt of men whose position enables them to violate moral laws with impunity. Private vice is not one with public crime. The evil deeds and imperfect character of men whose names are in the records of revelation must not be charged on the revelation of God or his method of educating the world for something better. The foul deeds done during the dark days of the Church's life by some of the leaders of Christianity are not to be ascribed to the holy cause with which they were identified. The personal vices of professors of religion do not really compromise Christ. In all these cases it is the Joab spirit, and not the spirit of the king, which expresses itself, and it is condemned by the very cause in the interests of which it may at first seem to be manifested. Christ's kingdom is one of unchangeable righteousness and love, in spite of all the injustice and hate of men bearing the blessed Name.

III. WHEN OCCASION OFFERS, DEEDS ALIEN TO THE SPIRIT OF A GOOD CAUSE SHOULD BE DISTINCTLY REPUDIATED. As a matter of duty and policy, David felt bound to take an early opportunity of repudiating any association, either in spirit or action, with the crime of Joab. It was due to himself as an individual and as prospective king of a united Israel, and to that better system of government which on the death of Saul he was called to inaugurate. Suspicions cannot be prevented, the odium of connection with a wrong doer cannot but arise, malicious foes will be sure to turn every possible event to his detriment; but as soon as the ear of the nation can be reached self-vindication becomes imperative. It is a question of opportunity. Sometimes good men may have to pass years "under a cloud," and even go down to the grave trusting only to the vindication of the just in the day of judgment. David escaped that sorrow. His declaration, his daring to denounce so powerful a man, the severity of his curse on the evil doer, the evident sincerity of his sorrow for Abner, and the suspension of public duties for an elaborate funeral ceremonial,—all made known as distinctly as possible how alien was the spirit of his life and government from the cruel treachery of Joab. The same course is open to us when individually our fair fame may be compromised by others. Modem governments often have to disown deeds of their officials. Our Lord himself has laid down principles in the New Testament by which he may in all ages have wherewith to repudiate the evil deeds and spirit of some of his professed friends; and in course of history, when danger arises of confounding his holy kingdom with vile actions, his providence brings out the true spirit inculcated in sharp contrast with the evil. As occasion offers, we in our age should be careful to let men see that he is not responsible for the abuses which have sprung out of the imperfections of some of his servants. Never did the world more need to see clearly Christ and his kingdom as they are in contrast with much that is done and maintained in his Name.

IV. TIME FAVOURS THE RIGHT ASSIGNMENT OF GUILT. If any were disposed to doubt the sincerity of David's disclaimer—and there are such suspicious, unfriendly men in every age—he could afford to wait. The true interpreter of our actions in the past is to be found in the tenor of our life. The years to come would reveal the true David and the true Joab. The pure feeling that prompted this quick repudiation would reappear in a life of kindliness and generosity and justice, and every good deed and generous sentiment would only make more clear his freedom from complicity in this crime; and, on the other hand, the hard, stern, vindictive feeling which continued to hold and fashion the life of Joab would only render more clear and emphatic the judgment against him. So of much past Church history; time will only tend to bring out more distinctly the separation between Christianity, as it is in Christ and his teaching, and those actions and feelings which too often were identified with his service. Individual deserts also will become manifest, however obscure the facts may be to present observers. The future is against the wicked and on the side of the just. Evil men may well dread the coming of the day when the hidden things of darkness shall be made manifest, when the exact incidence of guilt will be seen; good men, those who have made their peace with God and have received the Spirit of the kingdom, may lift up their heads in confidence in prospect of that same great day.


1. It adds to the guilt of a man when, knowing that he is solely responsible for certain deeds, he allows others with whom he has been associated to fall under suspicion. Joab ought to have voluntarily cleared David.

2. Good men unavoidably under suspicion may find consolation in that some of the best—Joseph, David, and even the best, Christ (Luke 23:2; John 19:12)—were suspected of wrong.

3. Although the "peace of God" is the heritage of the just as a personal boon, yet it is due to the cause dear to their hearts to seek self-vindication, as in the case of David and Paul, and this will be the chief motive for a disclaimer.

4. It behoves Christian people especially to exercise a very calm and sober judgment when any one known as a servant of Christ is accused of or imagined to be in complicity with evil transactions.

5. The general character of a man under suspicion ought to give great weight to any disclaimer he may make, and be to us a set off against all prima facie evidence.

Deferred punishment.

It is natural to ask—If Joab's crime was so base, and David's repudiation of complicity with it so emphatic, why was he not punished as an offender against morality and the principles of the new administration? The answer is nigh at hand. David was averse to signalize the establishment of his supremacy over all the tribes of Israel by the shedding of blood, and a less punishment than death in those times would have been misinterpreted to his injury. His cause at that juncture was in a critical position, and to have cleared off so competent and influential a man would have been perilous. Moreover, the execution of Joab would have tallied best with complicity in his guilt; the sparing of his life and abiding the issue of events was most favourable to the establishment of his own innocence. But most of all he was desirous of leaving the judgment in the hands of God, having in most scathing language stated his own sense of the evil desert of the man (2 Samuel 3:29). Herein we may trace analogies.

I. THE PRESENT STAGE OF THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD DOES NOT PROVIDE FOR THE IMMEDIATE PUNISHMENT OF ALL SIN. Many a modern Joab does not at once suffer for his sin as conscience and public opinion would demand. There are vile deeds performed, horrible.vices indulged, characters and fortunes ruined, and widespread miseries induced, by persons whose actions are not discovered, or, if discovered, are such as civil authority does not touch. The common judgment of men is that severe punishment is due to such, but it comes not in their life. The betrayer of purity, the licentious liver who hides his vices, the forger who escapes discovery, are but instances of many. They seem to escape any open and public infliction of punishment, and carry no more on their conscience than Joab did on his, which would be little, just in proportion as it was debased. The solution of this apparent anomaly is really to be found in the consideration that the government of God extends over an area wider than this present life, and that for profound reasons, not all revealed, it is not best for judgment to fall all at once and at the time of the committal or even discovery of the sin. Bishop Butler has dwelt on this aspect of the Divine government with great wisdom and sobriety of judgment. With God a thousand years are as one day. His methods of ruling men here evidently proceed on the fact that there is a future and a great day of account, when men shall receive according to the deeds done in the body.

II. ALTHOUGH PUNISHMENT IS DEFERRED, THE PERPETRATORS OF EVIL ARE UNDER THE PERSONAL DISPLEASURE OF GOD. David's mind was averse to Joab. He cherished distrust and displeasure toward him. He had scope for action, and possibly for true repentance, but in his monarch's estimation he was a base and condemned man. No easy, jaunty spirit on the part of Joab could alter this serious fact. There existed in the mind of his king the condition of feeling which was prophetic of a doom one day to be actualized. In like manner "God is angry with the wicked every day." Those who seem to escape present punishment are already condemned in the sure, infallible judgment of God. Merciful and pitiful as he is, and not willing that any should perish, he cannot but regard their secret sins with abhorrence, and see in them, unless they repent and seek newness of life and forgiveness in Christ, a debased form of humanity gradually maturing to receive into themselves the wrath treasured up against the day of wrath (Romans 2:4-6). The prosperous wicked seldom reflect on how the Holiest and Wisest of all looks on them. Men great and esteemed in the world are often despised by God because he knows what their true character is.

III. THE MIND OF GOD IS REVEALED TO HIS SERVANTS AS TO THE DESERT OF THE WICKED, AND SOME INTIMATION IS GIVEN OF WHAT WILL COME UPON THEM. The imprecation (2 Samuel 3:29) of David the king was his way of revealing to all offended by the crime of Joab his sense of desert; and, considering how a distinguished posterity was regarded in the East as the crowning good of a long life, and how evidently ambitious Joab was to figure in history, it was not easy for the king to select terms more indicative of a terrible punishment. The utterance was not that of vindictiveness or malice, but of a mind anxious to show its sense of the desert of the evil doer; and no doubt it intimated his belief that some such terrible issue would in the course of providence be the reward of the crime. This is analogous to what God has been pleased to do. To remove the fears and perplexities arising from the fact that sin is often long unpunished in this world, he has distinctly made known how he regards it, what terrible issues will come of it, and how just is the outcome of all crime on the perpetrator. The words of David concerning Joab's desert are mild compared with those of Christ and his apostles concerning the desert of those who deliberately reject Christ, pierce him with their sins, and trample on the blood of the everlasting covenant (Matthew 11:20-24; Hebrews 10:26-31).

IV. MEANTIME, GOD DOES MANIFEST MUCH SYMPATHY WITH THOSE WHO SUFFER FROM WRONG DOING. David's lament over Abner as one noble in position and in some aspects of character, and yet brought to a premature end as though he were a mean, weak, and inferior person; his taking upon his own heart the anguish which he knew must afflict multitudes; his abstention from food and present comforts because of the common calamity; his revulsion of feeling from the "men too hard" for him; and his use of authority for securing for Abner the highest funeral honours;—all this, so natural and beautiful in Israel's king, so soothing to the hearts of the troubled people, is strikingly suggestive of the wonderful way in which God, while denouncing sin and foretelling its punishment, manifests his sympathy with a world afflicted with the deeds of evil doers. This is largely the meaning of our Saviour's life among men. This is one element which enters even into the great transaction on Calvary. This is the explanation of the manifold ministries of comfort and encouragement raised up by the Head of the Church for the relief of those who are bowed down, and the mitigation of many of the calamities which come in consequence of the sins of others.

V. WHILE PROVIDING THUS FOR THE DUE PUNISHMENT OF SIN AND THE MITIGATION OF THE CALAMITIES IT ENTAILS, GOD ALSO EXERCISES A RESTRAINING POWER OVER EVIL TENDENCIES. The continued presence of David, asserting his rightful authority and infusing his own generous spirit into the administration of affairs, could not but have the effect of lessening the influence of Joab and setting a limit to the range of evil he otherwise might do. The king was among his people for their good and the restraint of one who, in spirit, was their calamity. Here, again, do we not get a glimpse of what is true in the spiritual sphere? God does not leave evil men entirely unrestrained to carry out their designs and to afflict the world with their base spirit. As responsible beings, they have their freedom to act for a while, but he "restrains the wrath of man;" he is present in our human affairs, checking and controlling so that other influences less powerful in appearance shall be brought to bear and find full and free scope. It is never to be forgotten that, though there are Joabs amongst us, "hard" in spirit and cruel of purpose, and bearing on their conscience the blood of others, there is amongst us the eternal King, whose love, generous sympathy, and determination to care for the faithful never fail.


1. It is characteristic of a just man that, free from personal ill-will, he will have faith in the retribution of wrong doing, and will even forecast and acquiesce in its form.

2. A righteous indignation will induce a denunciation of men in power in spite of any resentment that may arise.

3. The guilty conscience is so cowardly that righteous denunciation may even increase the moral power of the just over the unjust man.

4. It is important to cherish strong faith in God's methods of government if we would be calm and strong in assertion of right and awaiting a proper adjustment of rewards.

5. It will be a matter of sincere grief to a generous mind to see men of great abilities come to an ignoble end, even though in the past those abilities have not been used in the desired direction—allowance being made for the strong temptations to which such men are liable.

6. A manifestation of sympathy with the sorrows of a people, and an effort to draw out their more tender feelings, is a sure way to the exercise of a moral influence more potent than the assertion of authority.

7. A man proves his capacity for ruling others when, without sacrifice of principle, he can by generous sentiments win their good will and awaken a prevailing kindly sentiment towards himself.


2 Samuel 3:1-5


The house of David.

1. The theocracy had its chief support in David and his house. On him also rested the Messianic hope (2 Samuel 7:13). Hence the importance which attaches to events of his life that would otherwise have been left unrecorded.

2. "The summary narrative of these seven years presents the still youthful king in a very lovable light. The same temper which had marked his first acts after Saul's death is here strikingly brought out. He seems to have left the conduct of the war altogether with Joab, as if he shrank from striking a single blow for his own advancement. When he does interfere, it is on the side of peace, to curb and chastise ferocious vengeance and dastardly assassination. The incidents recorded all go to make up a picture of rare generosity, of patient waiting for God to fulfil his purposes, of longing that the miserable strife between the tribes of God's inheritance should end" (A. Maclaren).

3. In the house of David, at war with the house of Saul, we see an embodiment of the great conflict between good and evil; a representation of "the household of faith" as opposed to the world, and the spirit as opposed to the flesh (Galatians 5:17). Notice—

I. ITS PROTRACTED ANTAGONISM. "And there was long war," etc. It:

1. Is rendered necessary by the opposite nature and aims of the contending parties. "These are contrary the one to the other."

2. Implies a state of constant warfare, and involves many a painful struggle. "What grievous tales of distress are folded up in these brief words!"

3. Is permitted by God for wise and beneficent purposes: to test the principles of his servants; to exercise their faith and patience; to strengthen, purify, and perfect their character.

4. And must go on to the end. "This is a battle, from which, as it ends only with life, there is no escape; and he who fights not in it is of necessity either taken captive or slain" (Scupoli).

II. ITS INCREASING STRENGTH. "David waxed stronger and stronger," in the number of his followers, the amount of his resources, the unity and vigour of their employment, the stability of his position, the extent of his influence, the assurance of his success. And all who "strive against sin" within and without also "go from strength to strength:"

1. In patiently waiting upon God and faithfully doing his will. "Wait on the Lord, be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart" (Psalms 27:14).

2. By the bestowment of his grace and the cooperation of his providence, directing, protecting, and prospering them, in accordance with his promises. Their strength is not self-derived, but "cometh from the Lord." "And he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God," etc. (Zechariah 12:8); "Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4); "I have all strength in him that giveth me power" (Philippians 4:13).

3. And thereby they show that God is with them, and that his righteous purposes concerning them will be accomplished.

III. ITS DECLINING OPPONENTS. "And the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker," relatively and proportionately to the growth of David's, and in consequence of the protracted antagonism and increasing strength of the latter.

1. In wilful separation from God, and seeking their own selfish ends in opposition to his will (see 2 Samuel 2:8-12). Those who fall away from God fall into self-division and self-contention (2 Samuel 3:8); "and a house divided against itself cannot stand."

2. By the immovable might of God against whom they set themselves (Psalms 2:4), and his wrath, which is "revealed from heaven against all ungodliness," etc. (Romans 1:18). They are like a wave that dashes against a rock and is broken and scattered in foam. "The face of the Lord is against them that do evil" (1 Peter 3:12).

3. And thereby they prove that God is against them, and are taught that their purposes will assuredly fail and they themselves be overthrown. From the time of his defeat (2 Samuel 2:17), if not from the very first, Abner probably felt that the cause in which he had embarked was hopeless. "He recognized now most distinctly in David the rising star in Israel; and, however haughtily his words might sound, he only sought to conceal behind them his despair of Ishbosheth" (Krummacher).

IV. ITS PERILOUS RELATIONSHIPS. (2 Samuel 3:2-5.) "The increasing political strength of David was shown, as usual among Eastern monarchs, by the fresh alliances through marriage into which he now entered" (Edersheim). In addition to his three wives, Michal, Ahinoam (mother of Amnon), and Abigail (mother of Chileab, who appears to have died early), he had "Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur" (mother of Absalom and Tamar), Haggith (mother of Adonijah), Abital, and Eglah; and he afterwards still further enlarged the royal household (2 Samuel 4:1-13-16). "None of his sons here mentioned were eminent for virtue, and some of them were notorious for their sins." Polygamy was tolerated by the Law of Moses (1 Samuel 1:2), although the king was forbidden (Deuteronomy 17:17) to "multiply wives to himself;" and it was practised by David in conformity with ancient and prevalent custom, from political considerations and natural inclinations, without reproof (2 Samuel 12:8); but (as his subsequent history shows) it fostered in him a sensual tendency, undermined his moral strength, and produced innumerable enmities and other evils in his family: "One deadly element of future woe mingled itself with the establishment of the kingdom of David—he brought into his family the curse of the harem. An utter lack of discipline was one of its first fruits; and it brought yet deeper ill even than that; for it poisoned all the springs of family life, and tainted it with ever-recurring impurity; working in him and all around him its universal fruits of impurity, jealousy, hatred, incest, and blood" ('Heroes of Hebrews Hist.'). "It was the immemorial custom in all those countries for the magnificence and power of a ruler to display itself in the multiplication of his establishment, that is, of his wives; forevery wife involved a separate establishment. It shows the utmost depravity when Christians seek to shelter their own unjust and shameless lives under an appeal to that of David, and that, too, although none of their other proceedings show the smallest trace of David's noble spirit, and although they are by no means ready to bear as David did the consequences of their shame" (Ewald). "If we want exemplifications of all the miseries and curses which spring from the mixture of families and the degradation of woman in the court and country where polygamy exists, David's history supplies them. No maxims of morality can be half so effectual as a faithful record of terrible effects like these" (Maurice). In view of these effects we learn that no strength or prosperity can be lasting where "the friendship of the world" is cherished, and "the lusts of the flesh" are suffered to prevail; and that victory over some opponents may be followed by defeat by other more subtle and dangerous foes.—D.

2 Samuel 3:6


The character of Abner.

Abner, son of Net, was first cousin of Saul, probably about the same age, commander-in-chief of his army (1 Samuel 14:50), and contributed greatly to his early successes. He introduced David to the king after his victory over Goliath, sat at the royal table (1 Samuel 20:25), was well acquainted with their relations to each other, took part in the persecution (1 Samuel 26:14), and, after the battle of Gilbea, became the main support of the house of Saul (2 Samuel 2:8). "'Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul,' but God strengthened David, whom Abner knew to have been designed for the kingdom by God" (Wordsworth). Notice:

1. His eminent abilities—military skill, prudence, energy, courage, and perseverance; as shown by the honourable position he so long held in the service of Saul, and his successful efforts after his death (2 Samuel 2:8-12). "Abner's act was not an ordinary act of rebellion against the person of David and his rightful claim to the throne; because Jehovah had not yet caused David to be set before the nation as its king by Samuel or any other prophet, and David had not yet asserted the right to reign over all Israel, which had been secured to him by the Lord, and guaranteed by his anointing as one whom the nation was bound to recognize" (Keil). Nor was he destitute of generous sentiments. If he could not be called a good man, he was "a prince and a great man" (2 Samuel 3:38).

2. His worldly ambition and carnal selfishness. This was probably the main, if not the only, motive of his opposition to the Divine purpose; and to it Ishbesheth evidently attributed the conduct with which he charged him, regarding his act as an assertion of royal rights (2 Samuel 3:7). His pride and self-esteem are also apparent in his haughty answer (2 Samuel 3:8).

"Ambition's like a circle on the water,
Which never ceases to enlarge itself,
Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought."

3. His passionate resentment, which, as is commonly the case, was an indication of the truth of the charge brought against him; nor did he deny it, but contemptuously declared that he was too great a man and had rendered too many services to be accused of such a "fault;" and then took an oath to avenge the insult by translating the kingdom to David, "as the Lord had sworn" to him (2 Samuel 3:9, 2 Samuel 3:10). "This was Abner's arrogancy to beast such great things of himself, as if he had carried a king in his pocket, as that great Earl of Warwick in Edward IV.'s time, is said to have done" (Trapp). "No man ever heard Abner godly till now; neither had he been so at this time if he had not intended a revengeful departure from Ishbosheth. Nothing is more odious than to make religion a stalking horse to policy" (Hall).

4. His altered purposes. The change, although right and good in itself, was due to a passionate impulse and probably the desire of personal advantage; and, in its announcement, Abner betrayed his previous ungodliness and present hypocrisy. "Alas! how eloquently can hypocrites employ the Name of God, and take the sanction of religion, when by such means they think to advance their present interests!" (Lindsay). But, on the other hand, it may be said that his sudden wrath was only the occasion of his open avowal of an irrepressible and growing conviction of duty, and of his taking the decisive step which he had been long contemplating; and that he henceforth faithfully endeavoured to make amends for his former errors and sincerely sought the welfare of the nation. "When an opposer of God's Word honestly turns, we should, without reluctance, give him the hand, without undertaking to pass judgment on the motives that are hidden in his heart" (Erdmann). David, unlike Joab (2 Samuel 3:25), put the best construction on Abner's conduct.

5. His energetic action and extensive influence. He sent messengers "immediately" (LXX.) to David, recognizing his authority, etc. (2 Samuel 3:12); had communication with the elders of Israel (2 Samuel 3:18); spake in the ears of Benjamin (2 Samuel 3:19), who might be jealous of the transfer of sovereignty to Judah; and, having obtained their consent, came himself to Hebron with twenty men, "representatives of Israel, to confirm his overtures by their presence," partook of an entertainment "of the nature of a league," and went away in peace. "David believed that in this offer of Abner a Divine providence was to be observed which would make, as he hoped, a full end to the unhappy civil war" (Krummacher).

6. His cruel fate. "Now is Ishbosheth's wrong avenged by an enemy" (Hall). Even though his present course was in fulfilment of the Divine purpose, it averted not the consequences of his former conduct; and retribution came upon him suddenly, unexpectedly, and by a wicked hand. "One wicked man is made to be another's scourge." "Human sin must serve the purposes of God's kingdom" (Psalms 76:10). "David's kingdom is not promoted by Abner's treason, as David so expected, but rather by the taking away of Abner; thus the Lord, in the promotion of his kingdom, chooseth not the instruments nor alloweth even the means which appear good to men; but, by the contrary, he taketh away the same instruments and means in which men have most confidence, and by others more unlikely, and without men's expectation, he advanceth the cause of the Church and worketh great things" (Guild).—D.

2 Samuel 3:7-11


The dissensions of the wicked.

1. The union of wicked men rests only upon regard for their own interests. It is not founded on mutual esteem, and does not constitute true friendship (1 Samuel 18:1-4).

"The friendships of the world are oft
Confederacies in vice, or leagues in pleasure."


2. When their interests come into collision, their dissensions begin. And occasions of such collision are sure to arise. "Let us mark the inherent weakness of a bad cause. Godless men banded together for selfish ends have no firm bond of union. The very passions which they are united to gratify may begin to rage against one another. They fall into the pit which they have dug for others" (Blaikie).

3. Wicked men, engaged in a common enterprise against God, are not indifferent to their reputation in the sight of one another. "Am I a dog's head," etc. (2 Samuel 3:8)? Their conscience, though perverted, is not dead; their self-esteem and love of approbation are fully alive; and they estimate to the full their claims upon the gratitude of others.. They would even have their crimes connived at for the sake of the benefits which they confer.

4. Nothing more surely tests and manifests the character of the wicked than being reproved by each other for their faults. "Proud men will not bear to be reproved, especially by those to whom they have been obliged" (M. Henry). It is otherwise with the good (Psalms 141:5).

5. The strong despise the weak, and passionately resent their complaints, however reasonable and just.

6. The weak suspect the strong, and, although they may feel justified in speaking, are put to silence by their fears. "And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him,"

7. The dissensions of the wicked are the most effectual means of their common overthrow, usually turn out to the advantage of the righteous, and promote the extension of the kingdom of God.—D.

2 Samuel 3:12-16


A domestic episode.

Michal was the first wife of David (1 Samuel 19:11-17). Of her he had been deprived when he fled from the court of Saul; she was given to Phaltiel (Phalti), the son of Laish, of Gallim (1 Samuel 25:44), by her father, perhaps as a piece of policy, to attach him to his house, and they lived together for many years, apparently in much domestic comfort. We have here—

I. AN INJURED HUSBAND DEMANDING HIS JUST RIGHT. "Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require," etc. (2 Samuel 3:13). The demand was:

1. Founded upon justice; David having been unjustly and contemptuously treated.

2. Reverential toward the Law, which had been flagrantly violated. It does not appear that Michal was ever legally divorced from David.

3. Incited by affection toward her and the memory of her early love to him.

4. Adapted to test the sincerity and fidelity of Abner, and prepare the way for further negotiations.

5. Consistent with his honour. He could not suffer his wife to live as the wife of another man without shame.

6. Calculated to remind the northern tribes of his former services against the Philistines (2 Samuel 3:15, 2 Samuel 3:18).

7. And to increase his influence over them by the maintenance of his family alliance with the house of Saul and the public recognition of his power. There was policy as well as principle in the condition imposed.

II. A FEEBLE RULER ENFORCING A HUMILIATING REQUIREMENT. "And David sent messengers to Ishbosheth, Saul's son," etc. (2 Samuel 3:14). "Not to Abner, but to Ishbosheth (for the league between David and Abner was a profound secret), whom David knew must act feebly, as he was at Abner's dictation" ('Speaker's Commentary'), "to demand the restoration of Michal, that her return might take place in duly legal form" (Keil), and that it might be apparent that he "had not taken her by force from her husband." Nothing is said of Ishbosheth's feelings on receiving the message. Like other incapable monarchs, he never exhibited any spirit except on the point of his royal dignity; and, even on this, his wrath was extinguished before the frown of Abner. Under constraint, he sent Abner himself, and took his sister from her husband. And the effect of this concession must have been to discredit him in the eyes of the people and hasten his downfall. Henceforth it was hardly necessary that Abner should disguise his intentions (2 Samuel 3:17). There is no more pitiful sight than that of a man who holds the royal office without adorning it with royal qualities.

III. A HELPLESS SUBJECT SUBMITTING TO A PAINFUL NECESSITY. (2 Samuel 3:15, 2 Samuel 3:16.) The scene is a pathetic one. Michal conducted forth, attended by her husband, "weeping behind her" to Bahurim (2 Samuel 19:17), on the borders of Judah, where he was compelled to part from her, with the contemptuous order, "Go, return." "And he returned" in bitter disappointment, grief, and shame. Yet he had brought his trouble on himself. How fruitful in domestic misery are imprudence, ambition, and sinful expediency! It may be long delayed, but it surely comes. Men reap. as they sow. "Wherefore all Phaltiel's tears move no pity of mine. Caveat raptor, let him beware who violently takes another man's wife, seeing shame and sorrow are the issue of such ungodly marriages" (T. Fuller). "His tears ought to have been tears of repentance for his sin against God and against David" (Wordsworth). Perchance there lay hid in the evil he now suffered the seed of future good. But here his history ends.

IV. A HAUGHTY PRINCESS RESTORED TO HER LEGITIMATE LORD. Nothing is said of their meeting. This silence is ominous; and it is to be feared that the reunion was not one of unmingled satisfaction. Time and circumstances may have changed her feelings toward David (1 Samuel 18:20), separated her more widely from him in spiritual sympathy, and developed in her heart her father's pride. She was now only one of many wives. At a subsequent meeting (2 Samuel 6:20) she was scornful, jealous, and unspiritual. And that which David anticipated with pleasure became an occasion of pain and lasting trouble.—D.

2 Samuel 3:17, 2 Samuel 3:18

An urgent appeal: an evangelistic address.

"Now then do it "(2 Samuel 3:18). Having resolved to transfer his allegiance, Abner here persuades the elders of Israel to make David king over the whole land; as they afterwards did (2 Samuel 5:1-3). A similar appeal may be addressed to others, urging them to submit to the royal authority of Christ, of whom David was a type (1 Samuel 2:10). Translated into New Testament language, it is, "We beseech you, on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God" (2 Corinthians 5:20). Consider—

I. WHAT YOU SHOULD DO. Jesus Christ is King, anointed and exalted to the right hand of God; he reigns in grace and righteousness in many hearts; but his kingdom is not yet fully revealed and universally extended on earth, and it cannot be set up "within you" except by your own consent. You must:

1. Receive him heartily as your King and Lord, your absolute Owner and supreme Ruler, as well as your Redeemer and Saviour; by a personal, inward, voluntary act; in the renunciation of whatever is opposed to his will, and the submission and surrender of your whole being to his direction and control. "Now be ye not stiff necked, as your fathers were, but yield yourselves unto the Lord" (2 Chronicles 30:8; Romans 6:13).

"Our wills are ours, we know not how;
Our wills are ours to make them thine."

2. Confess him openly, by uniting with his people, testifying your faith in him, and proclaiming his Name before men. "With the heart man believeth," etc. (Romans 10:10; 2 Corinthians 8:5). "Whosoever therefore shall confess me," etc. (Matthew 10:32).

3. Serve him loyally, by obeying his commandments, assisting his friends, resisting his foes, seeking his honour and the spread of his kingdom. "It is not enough that I should love the Lord myself alone; every heart must love him, and every tongue speak forth his praise."

II. WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT. "NOW then do it: for Jehovah hath spoken," etc.

1. It is the purpose of God that he should reign over you. "He must reign," either in mercy or in judgment.

2. It is the promise of God that through him you may be saved from your enemies—sin, Satan, death, and hell. "There is none other Name."

3. It has been your own desire in times past that he might be your King. "Ye sought for David both yesterday and the day before to be king over you: now then do it." Under the bitter oppression of the ruler chosen by yourselves, in view of the superior worth of "the man of God's choice," in weakness, fear, and misery, you have often said. "Oh for one glorious hour of him who, in the Name of the Lord of hosts, smote Israel's most formidable foe!" But your wishes led to no practical result. "Your goodness was as the morning cloud." And now your reason, conscience, and all that is best within you urge you to accept Christ as your King. Let your feelings be translated into definite and decisive action, without which they are worse than useless. "Now then do it." "Crown him Lord of all."

III. WHEN YOU SHOULD DO IT. Whatever reason exists for doing it at all should induce you to do it now. There are not a few who are persuaded of their duty, yet break the force of every appeal by delay and the intention of doing it at a future time. But:

1. The present is a most favourable opportunity. The King "waits to be gracious," and sends you the message of reconciliation. "Men and brethren, to you is the word of this salvation sent." "Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 2:1, 2 Corinthians 2:2).

2. If you do it today, tomorrow and all your future days will be days of peace and happiness.

3. If you wait till tomorrow, it is probable that you will never do it. Your susceptibility to Divine influences will be lessened, your indisposition, which is the real cause of delay, will be increased; life is uncertain, probation is brief, the end is nigh. "Our gracious Ahasuerus (Esther 4:11) reacheth out the golden sceptre to all that have a hand of faith to lay hold of it; but then he shall take his iron mace or rod in his hand to bruise his enemies and break them in pieces like a potter's vessel." Say not, with the procrastinator, "To morrow" (Exodus 8:10); "Go thy way for this time" (Acts 24:25); for "the Holy Ghost saith, Today" (Hebrews 3:7). "'Cras! cras!' (Tomorrow! tomorrow!) is the cry of the raven. This is the thing that destroys many; while they are saying, 'Cras! cras!' suddenly the door is shut". "The man that procrastinates struggles ever with ruin" (Epictetus). "There is a circumscribed space of time appointed thee, which if thou dost not employ in making all calm and serene within, it will pass away and thou wilt pass away, and it never will return".

"Defer not till tomorrow to be wise;
Tomorrow's sun to thee may never rise."


2 Samuel 3:22-30


The vengeance of Joab.


(1) Early life (1 Samuel 22:1);

(2) conflict with Abner (2Sa 2:13, 2 Samuel 2:24, 2 Samuel 2:30);

(3) capture of the stronghold of Zion (1 Chronicles 11:6);

(4) captain of the host (2 Samuel 8:16; 2 Samuel 20:23);

(5) conflicts with the Ammonites and Syrians (2 Samuel 10:7);

(6) reduction of the Edomites (1 Kings 11:15, 1 Kings 11:16);

(7) complicity in the murder of Uriah (2 Samuel 11:14);

(8) capture of Rabbah (2 Samuel 11:1; 2 Samuel 12:26);

(9) relations with Absalom (2 Samuel 14:1, 2 Samuel 14:29);

(10) defeat and murder of Absalom (2 Samuel 18:2, 2 Samuel 18:14);

(11) upbraiding the king (2 Samuel 19:5);

(12) replaced by Amasa (2 Samuel 20:4);

(13) murder of Amasa (2 Samuel 20:10);

(14) defeat of Sheba (2 Samuel 20:22);

(15) remonstrance with David (2 Samuel 24:3);

(16) defection to Adonijah (1 Kings 1:7);

(17) denounced by David (1 Kings 2:5);

(18) put to death by Benaiah at the command of Solomon (1 Kings 2:28, 1 Kings 2:34).]

1. Among those who played a prominent part in David's reign the foremost man was his nephew Joab. He was possessed of great physical strength and daring, clear judgment and strong will, eminent military skill, and immense power over others; "a bold captain in bad times." With the ruder qualities of activity, courage, and implacable revenge, "he combined something of a more statesmanlike character, which brings him more nearly to a level with his youthful uncle; and unquestionably gives him the second place in the whole history of David's reign. In consequence of his successful attempt at the siege of Jebus, he became commander-in-chief, the highest office in the state after the king. In this post he was content, and served the king with undeviating fidelity. In the wide range of wars which David undertook, Joab was the acting general, and he therefore may be considered as the founder, as far as military prowess was concerned, the Marlborough, the Belisarius, of the Jewish empire" (Stanley). His patriotism was unquestionable; nor was he without piety (2 Samuel 10:12).

2. His natural gifts, good qualities, and invaluable services were more than counterbalanced by his moral defects and numerous vices. "He ever appears wily, politic, and uuscrupulous" ('Speaker's Commentary'). "He is the impersonation of worldly policy, secular expediency, and temporal ambition, eager for his own personal aggrandizement, and especially for the maintenance of his own political ascendency, and practising on the weaknesses of princes for his own interests; but at last the victim of his own Machiavellian shrewdness" (Wordsworth).

3. "Joab was a type of the national aspect of Judaism. He was intensely Jewish, in the tribal meaning of the word, not in its higher, world wide bearing; only Judaean in everything that outwardly marked Judaism, though not regarded in its inward and spiritual reality. Nor is it without deep symbolical meaning, as we have the higher teaching of history, that Joab, the typical Eastern Judaean—may we not say, the type of Israel after the flesh?—should, in carrying out his own purposes and views, have at last compassed his own destruction" (Edersheim).

I. EVIL DEEDS ARE SELDOM WROUGHT WITHOUT PLAUSIBLE PRETEXTS. It is uncertain whether Joab was aware of former negotiations between David and Abner; but on returning to Hebron from a military expedition, being informed of the league that had just been made, his suspicion was aroused; he hastened to the king with the view of inducing him to share it, probably believing that Abner was not to be trusted; and finding the result doubtful or contrary to his expectation, resolved to take the matter into his own hands, on the ground of:

1. Guilt incurred by a public enemy.

2. Zeal inspired for the king's safety (2 Samuel 3:25).

3. Obligation imposed by personal injury, according to the custom of blood revenge (Exodus 21:13; Num 35:9 -35; Deuteronomy 19:1-13). This is twice mentioned by the historian (2 Samuel 3:27, 2 Samuel 3:30) as the ostensible ground, and was perhaps popularly regarded as a sufficient justification of his deed. "The act of Abner was justifiable homicide; but it was precisely to such cases that the rule applied, not to those of murder, against the penalties of which no sanctuary afforded protection. Besides, unless the right of avengement for blood did apply to such cases as this, whence the deep necessity of Abner to avoid slaying Asahel (2 Samuel 2:22)? It may be admitted that a case of this nature may have involved some doubt as to the application of the rule to it, and very likely it was not in such cases often enforced. But where any room for doubt existed, Joab and Abishai might interpret it in their own favour as their justification for an act the true motives of which durst not be alleged, and as a ground, on which they might claim exemption from the punishment due to murder (Kitto, 'Daily Bible Illus.').

II. PLAUSIBLE PRETEXTS OFTEN COVER THE BASEST MOTIVES, though they cannot entirely conceal them.

1. Vindictiveness. Joab's act, even if it fell within the letter of the Law, which allowed punishment for homicide under certain circumstances (Numbers 35:22), was shown, by the place, the time, and the manner of it, to have been done, not from regard for justice, but from deliberate, unwarrantable, malicious revenge. So David regarded it (2 Samuel 3:28); denouncing it as the "shedding of the blood of war in peace" (1 Kings 2:5), and joining it with the murder of Amasa.

2. Jealousy and ambition (1 Samuel 18:6-16). This was his main motive. He was "afraid of losing his command of the army and his dignity with the king, and lest he should be deprived of those advantages and Abner should obtain the first rank in David's court" (Josephus). Hence his suspicion and slander of Abner (2 Samuel 3:25). "Through envy of the devil came death into the world" (Wis. 2:24).

"Envy at others' good is evermore
Malignant poison setting on the soul;
A double woe to him infected by it—
Of inward pain the heavy load he bears,
At sight of joy without he ever mourns."


3. Presumption. He rudely remonstrated with the king (2 Samuel 3:24), presuming upon his position; and afterwards, without the king's authority, whilst seeming to act under it, recalled the man who had been sent away under the king's protection; and gratified his private revenge, regardless of the effect of his conduct on the king's dignity and reputation.

4. Treachery. Under the pretence of speaking with him in a friendly and confidential manner, he drew his victim aside in the middle of the gate, and smote him there. Possibly Abishai alone was witness of the act. "Cursed be he that smiteth his neighbour secretly. And all the people shall say, Amen" (Deuteronomy 27:24).

III. IMPUNITY IN CRIME IS COMMONLY PRODUCTIVE OF DISASTROUS EFFECTS. Under the circumstances, it would hardly have been possible for David to punish Joab and Abishai. "Probably public feeling would not have supported the king, nor could he, at this crisis of his affairs, have afforded the loss of such generals, or brave the people and the army" (Edersheim). Great men often owe their exemption from punishment to their position. But crime, although unpunished by man:

1. Incurs the righteous displeasure of God. (2Sa 3:29, 2 Samuel 3:39.) Human punishment does not and cannot always accord with the Divine. Although David could not punish, he durst not forgive. His words "express his moral horror at this evil deed, and at the same time the everlasting law of God's recruiting justice." "The extension of the curse to the descendants clearly refers to the threatenings of the Law; and in both cases the offensive character disappears if we only remember that whoever by true repentance freed himself from connection with the guilt, was also exempted from participation in the punishment" (Hengstenberg).

2. Incites other men to similar crimes. It is not improbable that Baanah and Rechab were induced to assassinate Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 4:6) by the unavenged death of Abner.

3. Encourages the criminal to continue his evil course, increases his obduracy, and causes him to "wax worse and worse." "Joab prospered even after his sin. God gave him time for repentance. But he hardened his heart by sin. And in the end he was cut off. Successful crime is splendid misery."

4. Escapes not forever the retribution which it deserves. "Evil pursueth sinners" (Proverbs 13:21; Proverbs 29:1). Joab sinned with a strong and violent hand, and by a strong and violent hand he at length perished (1 Kings 2:34; Psalms 58:11).

"O Blind lust!
O foolish wrath! who so dost goad us on
In the brief life, and in the eternal then
Thus miserably overwhelm us!"

(Dante, 'Purg.,' 12.)


2 Samuel 3:31-35

(HEBRON.) David's lament over Abner.

"As a fool dies should Abner die?—

Thy bands unbound,
Thy feet not set in fetters:

As one falls before the wicked, thou didst fall!"

On hearing of the death of Abner, David exhibited the same generous spirit as formerly at the death of Saul (2 Samuel 1:11, 2 Samuel 1:12).

1. He disclaimed (before his trusted servants, as afterwards, 2 Samuel 3:38) against having had any part therein; declaring, "I and my kingdom are guiltless before the Lord," etc. Malicious persons, judging others by themselves, might accuse him of it; and if it had been instigated by him, he would have brought guilt upon his people as well as himself (2 Samuel 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:1, 2 Samuel 24:17).

2. He invoked a curse on the head of the author of the deed; not from a feeling of personal hatred and vindictiveness, but of righteous indignation (1 Samuel 26:19).

3. He ordered a public mourning in honour of the deceased. "And David said to Joab," etc. (2 Samuel 3:38). Although he durst not arrest him, he clearly indicated what he thought of his conduct, and sought to remove the odium which it cast on his own good name.

4. He followed in the procession as chief mourner, wept at the grave (John 11:35), and fasted until sunset. "There is no more beautiful picture in his life than that of his following the bier where lay the bloody corpse of the man who had been his enemy ever since he had known him, and sealing the reconciliation which death ever makes in noble souls by the pathetic dirge he chanted over Abner's grave" (A. Maclaren). "This short poem is not only a dirge; it is also an apology for David and for Abner himself" (Wordsworth). It expresses—

I. ADMIRATION OF EMINENT WORTH. Abner was not a villain (fool) or murderer, deserving of being put in fetters and dying a felon's death; but brave, capable, noble-minded, "great in council, great in war," and worthy of respect and honour. A generous man sees and appreciates what is best in other men. "The generous spirit of David kept down all base and selfish feeling, and added another to those glorious conquests over his own heart which were far higher distinctions than his other victories, and in which he has left us an example which all, from the least to the greatest, should try to emulate" (Blaikie).

II. AFFLICTION FOR A PUBLIC LOSS. A light was quenched "in Israel" (2 Samuel 3:38). His presence and influence would have contributed to the reconciliation of the tribes and the welfare of the nation (2 Samuel 3:21). David's sorrow was sincere; his tears (in confirmation of his words) evinced the tenderness and sympathy of his heart, moved the people also to tears, and (in contrast with the bearing of Joab) convinced them of his innocence and uprightness.

III. ASTONISHMENT AT AN EXTRAORDINARY FATE. "The point of this indignant, more than sorrowful, lament lies in the mode in which Abner was slain" (Kitto, 'Cyc.'). How strange that Abner should have fallen in the full possession of strength to defend himself and liberty to flee from danger; neither as a prisoner taken in battle nor (in allusion to the right of blood-revenge which Joab claimed) as a murderer delivered up in bonds to the avenger by lawful authority, as he would have been if he were guilty! His fall—so different from what might have been expected and from what he merited—could be accounted for only by its having been caused by the treacherous malice and murderous violence of "sons of wickedness."

IV. ABHORRENCE OF A WICKED DEED. (2 Samuel 3:29, 2 Samuel 3:39.) The death of Abner was, even more than his life would have been, conducive to David's interests. "It must have seemed to him, from a prudential point of view, that it was a piece of good fortune.

But the strength of his moral indignation does not suffer itself to be assuaged by worldly considerations" (Delitzsch). Hatred of wrong is a sign and measure of the love of right. "Ye that love the Lord, hate evil" (Psalms 97:10). David was as severe toward evil doers as he was tender and pitiful toward the victims of their wickedness. "He was a man extreme in all his excellences—a man of the highest strain, whether for counsel, for expression, or for action, in peace and in war, in exile and on the throne" (E. Irving).—D.

2 Samuel 3:36-38


Acceptance with the people.

"And all the people took notice of it, and it pleased them," etc. (2 Samuel 3:36). David's conduct not only freed him from suspicion, but also won the confidence and affection of "all the people" (1 Samuel 12:3-5).


1. His elevated position, which (like a mountain peak) attracts their attention, and exposes him to their constant gaze.

2. His responsible position, which leads them to compare his actions with the principles according to which he ought to rule.

3. His influential position, which makes them watchful of his course, out of concern for their own interests.

II. ACCEPTANCE WITH THE PEOPLE IS AN OBJECT WORTHY OF BEING DILIGENTLY SOUGHT. It is not the highest object, and ought not to be sought supremely. Truth and justice are of greater worth than popularity. The praise of God must be loved more than the praise of men (John 12:43). But it should not be neglected or despised, because:

1. It conduces to his safety and happiness.

2. It renders his measures less likely to be suspected and opposed; enables him to effect his purposes for their good; increases the measure of his usefulness.

3. It aids him in his endeavours to promote the glory of the supreme Ruler.


1. Other ways are uncertain and variable, like the changing moods of the people.

2. This appeals to what is noblest and most permanent in them, and secures the sympathies of the most reliable men.

3. It also obtains the favour and help of God, who disposes their hearts to approve, submit, and obey.


1. It shows a readiness to be pleased, and a disposition to admire genuine excellence.

2. It confirms his devotion to their welfare, and encourages him to persevere in well doing.

3. It tends to their improvement in virtue, and thus contributes to their peace and unity, power and prosperity.

CONCLUSION. What has been said applies to other relations besides that of ruler and subject. "A good name is better than precious ointment" (Ecclesiastes 7:1) or "great riches" (Proverbs 22:1); "Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification" (Romans 15:2; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Titus 2:9); "Whatsoever things are of good report, think on these things" (Philippians 4:8).—D.

2 Samuel 3:38


The fall of a prince and a great man.

The world is sometimes startled by the fall of an eminent man in a sudden and violent manner—like that of the Czar of Russia or the President of the United States. Here is the epitaph of such a man. Reflect:

1. How uncertain is the continuance of human life! This familiar but little heeded truth is set forth in an impressive manner by such an event, teaching that no station is exempt from the approach of death, no safeguards effectual against it. "Death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces" (Jeremiah 9:24).

2. How unstable is the foundation of earthly greatness! It is built upon the sand, and in a moment crumbles into dust. Goodness alone (the essence of true greatness) endures and goes with the soul into "everlasting habitations."

3. How deplorable is the less of superior excellence! The world is made poorer by its removal.

4. How dreadful is the prevalence of diabolical wickedness! One assassination begets another. And at times there is abroad in society a spirit of lawlessness, recklessness, and ungodliness, which is full of peril, and calls for the earnest efforts and prayers of good men that it may be overcome.

5. How mysterious are the ways of Divne Providence, in permitting the innocent to perish, the godless to succeed, the guilty to be spared!

6. How often is evil overruled for the promotion of beneficent ends (2 Samuel 4:1; 2 Samuel 5:1)!

7. How profitable is the remembrance of a noble minded man! "Know ye not," etc.? "He being dead, yet speaketh."—D.

2 Samuel 3:39


The sons of Zeruiah.

The mental and moral qualities of men are largely traceable to hereditary tendencies. If Joab and Abishai resembled their mother, she must have been a woman of strong mind, and of a suspicious, irascible, and intolerant temper, rather than noted for her simplicity, meekness, and forbearance. And so much may be inferred from the manner in which David associates the name of his sister with her sons (2Sa 16:10; 2 Samuel 19:22; 1 Kings 2:5). Their spirit and conduct were different from his, obnoxious to him, and constrained him to make this confession to his confidential servants on the evening of the day of Abner's funeral. "It was one of those moments in which a king, even with the best intentions, must feel to his own heavy cost the weakness of everything human, and the limits of human supremacy" (Ewald).

I. NO MAN, HOWEVER HIGHLY EXALTED, IS EXEMPT FROM WEAKNESS. "I am this day weak [tender, infirm], and an anointed king." The most absolute monarch cannot do all he would. Truly good men, though anointed and endued with spiritual power, are by no means perfect, but are "compassed with infirmity." The weakness of a strong man is felt:

1. In contending against the evil that surrounds him and presses in upon him like "the proud waves."

2. In performing the duties that rest upon him, and attaining the ideal of character at which he aims. "I will walk within my house with a perfect heart," etc. (Psalms 101:2-8).

3. In effecting the purposes which he may have formed for the good of others.

II. THE WEAKNESS OF A STRONG MAN IS OFTEN OCCASIONED BY HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH OTHER MEN. "And these men, sons of Zeruiah, are too hard [rough, obstinate, powerful] for me." His relationships with them not unfrequently:

1. Enable them to acquire undue power, and incite them to pursue a presumptuous, obstinate, unjustifiable course. "A man's foes are they of his own household" (Matthew 10:36; Numbers 12:1).

2. Bring him into intimate association with those who have little sympathy with his noblest feelings, and expose him to the influence of their adverse principles (Luke 9:54; Matthew 16:22, Matthew 16:23).

3. Become an occasion of hindrance, temptation, and peril. For, unlike him in whom the prince of this world "had nothing" (John 14:30), every man possesses an inward, carnal propensity on which outward evil may take hold, and thereby cause him to stumble.

III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF HIS CONDITION FILLS HIM WITH DEEP DISTRESS. "I am this day weak," etc; which is a complaint of:

1. Painful restraint imposed upon him with respect to conduct he cannot approve.

2. Necessary endurance of men whom he cannot punish, and with whom he may not, out of regard to his own position and the common good, enter into open conflict.

3. Partial and not altogether blameless failure in the fulfilment of the obligations of his high calling. David has been severely condemned for not punishing the sons of Zeruiah; but in order to justify such condemnation, we should have a better acquaintance with all the circumstances of the case. He was not without sinful infirmity. Yet whose conviction of what is absolutely right exactly corresponds with his consciousness of actual performance? "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

IV. THE CHIEF ALLEVIATION OF HIS TROUBLE IS CONFIDENCE IN THE RIGHTEOUS RETRIBUTION OF GOD. "Jehovah reward the doer of wickedness according to his wickedness." This is expressive of:

1. Dependence on the Divine power to accomplish what he himself cannot do.

2. Faith in the Divine permission of unrequited evil for a time, for wise and beneficent ends.

3. Desire for the maintenance, vindication, and triumph of eternal righteousness in the earth (2 Samuel 3:22-30). "The Lord will render to him according to his works" (2 Timothy 4:14). "Jehovah shall reward," etc. This was the text to which Lady F. Cavendish directed attention on the occasion of the lamented death of her husband, Lord Frederic Cavendish; and which was so remarkably fulfilled in the fate that afterwards overtook his assassins. "It is the hope of the oppressed and the patience of the saints."—D.


2 Samuel 3:9-12

Doing right wrongly. Abner knew well that David was appointed by God to be king over all Israel. Yet he set up Ishbosheth as king over the eleven tribes in opposition to David, and thus caused much unnecessary and useless delay and bloodshed. When, however, Ishbosheth (whether rightly or wrongly) remonstrated with him for his conduct towards Rizpah, he calls to mind the purpose and promise of God, and resolves to cooperate with him (!) in placing David over all the nation (2 Samuel 3:9); and he opens communications with David with this view. The known will of God thus becomes a convenient pretext for the gratification at once of his revenge and his ambition. His own lips convicted him of insincerity and hypocrisy. His tardy obedience to the truth he knew was unreal and unacceptable to God, however useful to David. It was self, and not God, that ruled him throughout. Abner has many imitators—men who, instead of simply and sincerely obeying the truth they know, make it wait on their ambition or covetousness, now neglecting it, now acting according to it, and professing great regard for it, as their selfish aims may prompt. They choose their side in religion or polities, not according to conviction, but according to their supposed interests; and if they change sides it is not because of changed convictions, but because their ambition or avarice has been disappointed—they have not been made enough of, or they have quarrelled with some one, or their pride has been mortified, or they see that they have been on the side of a decaying cause which cannot be of much more service to them. Such men may be welcomed to the side they join, and may be of some service; but they wilt not be trusted, and their service will be of doubtful value. In religion especially the adherence of such persons is to be deprecated as wanting in the right spirit, and likely to be injurious rather than beneficial. They tend to corrupt the society in which they are active and influential, and deprive it of its true strength—that of sincere, spiritual, consistent character. Observe:

1. The importance of simple and uniform obedience to the known will of God. To obey as it suits our worldly aims is not to obey at all, and the pretence of obedience is hypocritical and hateful to God. Such obedience may have its uses to others; God may overrule it for good; but it will bring no blessing to the doer.

2. The language of Abner may be adopted by us in relation to the kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. "As Jehovah has sworn to his beloved Son, even so I do to him." Our knowledge of the purpose and promise of God to establish Christ's rule over all men should stimulate us to devoted service in his cause. It assures us that to be on his side is to be on God's side, on the side that must succeed. In being thus workers with God we cannot labour in vain; and labouring not in pretence, but in truth, we shall ultimately share in the glory and power of the great King whose cause we espouse (Revelation 3:21).—G.W.

2 Samuel 3:38

Death of a great man.

Abner had great qualities, filled a high position, seemed likely to be of great service to David, who sincerely lamented his untimely end, and the wicked treachery and violence by which he fell.

I. GREAT MEN SHOULD BE HIGHLY VALUED. Great generals and naval commanders. If war must be, it is of vast importance that it should be conducted by able captains. But not only these, men great in the arts of peace,—great statesmen, philosophers, historians, scientists, poets, artists, preachers, etc. Especially when distinguished ability is combined with unselfish devotion to the good of the nation or the race. For selfish ambition belittles the great, and moral corruption renders them powerful for evil instead of good. Abner's greatness was marred by his unscrupulous ambition, and Joab was worse than he. The multitude are very dependent on great leaders, whether in war or peace, and can do little without them. "Thou art worth ten thousand of us" (2 Samuel 18:3). Leading and inspiring the many, they make them partners in their own greatness. The influence of their deeds, or (in the case of intellectual leaders) their thoughts, raises others towards their own level. The character as well as the progress of a people depends a good deal on its great men.

II. GREAT MEN MUST DIE. In some conditions of society their lives are more exposed to peril than the lives of others—whether from the assassin, or from fickle monarchs or ambitious rivals, using the forms of law to put them out of their way; or the cares incident to greatness may shorten their days. "I have said, Ye are gods … but ye shall die like men" (Psalms 82:6, Psalms 82:7)—a truth they should bear in mind to keep them sober and humble, to stimulate their diligence, and preserve in them a sense of responsibility to God; a truth which others should remember, that they may not idolize the great, nor unduly confide in them (see Psalms 146:3, Psalms 146:4) or dread their anger (Isaiah 51:12), nor, to secure their favour, sin against him who lives forever; and that they may be themselves the more content to die.

III. GREAT MEN SHOULD BE HONOURED AFTER DEATH. By general mourning; by honourable burial; by commemoration of their virtues and services, in elegies (as here), or biographies, or monuments to their memory; by carrying out their unaccomplished purposes for the public good; and withal by praise to God for them and their services. Such honour is due to the men themselves, and tends to the good of society by exciting emulation, etc.

In conclusion:

1. Let Britons bless God for the large number and long succession of great men who have adorned and served their country in all departments; and pray that the succession may be maintained to the latest times. Not only are such men invaluable while they live; their works and memories survive them as a perpetual treasure. The truly great do not die altogether.

"But strew his ashes to the wind
Whose sword or voice has served mankind—
And is he dead whose glorious mind

Lifts thine on high?

To live in hearts we leave behind,

Is not to die."

2. Let us be thankful that it is not necessary to be great in order to be either happy or useful. Goodness is the essential thing. A comfort to the many who can never be distinguished.

3. Yet real greatness is possible to all. Through faith in Christ we become children of God, "heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ," to be "glorified together" with him (Romans 8:17). In the kingdom of heaven greatness is secured by conscientious obedience to the Divine commandments (Matthew 5:19), humility (Matthew 18:4; Luke 9:48), and self abasing, self-denying service of others (Mark 10:42-45). Such greatness is substantial and immortal (1 John 2:17).

4. Let us rejoice that the great "Captain of our salvation" lives forever, in fulness of power to save and bless all who trust in him.—G.W.

2 Samuel 3:39

A weak king.

"I am this day weak, though anointed king." David, indignant and distressed on account of the murder of Abner, could not venture to attempt to punish the murderers. They were too powerful for even him. Hence this lamentation. It was hardly wise to express his feeling—it would help to confirm the power of Joab and his brother. Many a monarch has been similarly weak, owing to the power of those who are nominally his servants. This is injurious when it prevents the execution of justice; but as to measures of government it is often best, the servant being wiser and abler than the sovereign. We may take the words as a picture of what has place in human nature. Man has over him rightful kings, which too often are not, in fact, his rulers.


1. Objectively. Truth, the expressed will of God, is rightful sovereign of men, but it very partially rules. Many "sons of Zeruiah" are "too hard for" it, silence its utterances, oppose its power, prevent its sway. But it is king notwithstanding, and, by the Divine judgments it expresses, will determine men's destiny, though they may refuse to let its precepts regulate their conduct.

2. Subjectively. Conscience, enlightened by truth, is anointed by God as king. "Had it strength as it had right, had it power as it had manifest authority, it would absolutely govern the world" (Bishop Butler). But in actual government it is often "weak." The lower part of human nature is in rebellion against the higher. Appetite and passion and ill-regulated lawful affections, and all these hardened into habits, are "too hard" for it. Hence come degradation, ruin, misery, now and hereafter.

II. THE REMEDY. The redemption effected by the death of our Lord, realized in the heart by faith through the power of the Holy Spirit, is the only effectual remedy. "Our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin." "Sin shall not have dominion over you; for ye are not under law, but under grace" (Romans 6:6, Romans 6:14). The revelation of God and man, of sin and holiness, in the cross of Christ; the deliverance from condemnation secured thereby; the new Divine power which is imparted to the believer; the love to his Redeemer which is planted in his heart; the filial relation into which he is brought to God; the new hopes by which he is inspired;—these rescue him from slavery to sin, and give him freedom and will and power to serve God and righteousness (see Romans 6:1-23. and 7; and Romans 8:1-4). The rightful Sovereign is replaced on the throne, strong to govern, not yet with absolutely universal and perfect sway, but with the assured prospect of it. Let, then, those who groan under the consciousness of their moral weakness accept the great Deliverer, and submit themselves to his methods of imparting strength to the soul.

III. THE SEEMING RESEMBLANCE BETWEEN DAVID AND HIS DIVINE SON. It might seem as if our Lord Jesus, like David, might say, "I am … weak, though anointed King." Long has he been exalted to his throne at the right hand of God, as Lord of all; "from henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool" (Hebrews 10:13). Yet how small a portion of mankind is actually under his moral and spiritual sway! and these how imperfectly! How much power have his foes, even where he does really rule! And his open foes and false friends seem to speak and act as they please with impunity. It is not, however, that he is "weak," or that any are "too hard for" him. He is long suffering, and delays to execute judgment; but let his enemies continue impenitent and incorrigible, and they will learn by experience that he is strong to punish them. "Vengeance has leaden feet, but iron hands." "The mill of God grinds late, but it grinds to powder." Meanwhile he uses his foes as slaves to aid in working out his purposes. And as to the limits of his moral and spiritual rule, we must remember that, in extending and perfecting it, he pays respect to the freedom of men. It is not a matter of mere power, but of instruction and persuasion. He counsels, warns, invites, manifests his own yearning pity and love, stirs the conscience, moves the heart; but he does not compel—cannot do so consistently with his own purpose or the nature of man and of the rule he would establish. But let us yield ourselves heartily to him, and we shall find that he is as strong as ever to save and make strong those who trust in him.—G.W.

2 Samuel 3:39

Sure retribution.

"The Lord shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness." In the Revised Version the words are rendered as a wish: "The Lord reward the wicked doer according to his wickedness." The substantial meaning is the same in both translations. "In his impotence to punish Joab himself, David remits him to the just judgment of God" ('Speaker's Commentary'). The words may be taken in respect to all evil doers. None can escape the judgment of God, even if they escape punishment from men.


1. The relations of God to men. As Ruler, Lawgiver, Judge. He will certainly not fail in the exercise of the functions which belong to these relations. Even if we think of him as Father, we may be equally certain that impenitent sinners will not go unpunished. What would a father be worth who should allow a depraved son to defy himself, and seriously injure other children of the family, with impunity? If he can by any means, gentle or severe, reform him, well,—this he will prefer; but if not, he must banish and abandon him. And to say that Omnipotent love need not and cannot resort to this extremity of punishment is to go beyond our knowledge, and contrary to the plain statements of Holy Writ, where the chastisement which reforms and the punishment which crushes are clearly distinguished. To make Gehenna a purgatory is certainly to add to the teaching of our Lord respecting it.

2. His threatenings. Those of conscience and those of Holy Writ. They abound throughout the Bible, and are nowhere more frequent and awful than in the teaching of the tender and loving Christ.

3. His character. As holy and just, loving righteousness and hating iniquity; truthful in regard to his threatenings as well as his promises.

4. His omniscience. Men often succeed in hiding their evil deeds or themselves from their fellow men; but it is impossible thus to escape Divine judgments (see Job 34:21, Job 34:22).

5. His omnipotence. Criminals may in some states of society be, like Joab, too strong to be punished by those in authority; but God is mightier than the mightiest. There is, therefore, no possibility of resisting his judgments.

6. The teachings of experience. The penalties which follow violations of natural law. The results of wrong doing upon body, mind, circumstances. The penalties inflicted by society on those who practise certain forms of wickedness.

II. THE SATISFACTION WITH WHICH THIS CERTAINTY IS SOMETIMES REGARDED BY THE RIGHTEOUS. According to the Revised Version the words are a wish, a prayer; but even according to the Authorized Version they are uttered with evident satisfaction. David desired that justice should be executed on Joab; and, feeling his own inability to execute it, was relieved by the assurance he felt that it would not therefore fail of execution. Would such a feeling be wrong in a Christian? St. Paul did not think so. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward [or, 'will reward'] him according to his works" (2 Timothy 4:14, where there are two readings, as here two renderings). In the case of powerful villains injuring and trampling down the weak, but who cannot be reached by human justice, can any one doubt that the feeling of confidence that the justice of God can and will reach them is a proper feeling to cherish, although it should be associated with the desire that they may, if possible, be converted? In the case of impenitent sinners in general, it is the known purpose of God to punish them according to their works. Shall his children disapprove his conduct, or only silently submit; or not rather acquiesce, approve, and, at times at least, cherish complacency? Does not the prayer divinely taught to them, "Thy will be done," apply to this part of his will? They bear the image of God's righteousness as well as loving kindness. They have strong regard for his character and honour, as well as for the happiness of his creatures. They cannot but desire that all rebellion against him should be put down by the power of his love on the hearts of the rebels, if it may be; if not, by the severe measures of his justice. In the case of serious wrong done to ourselves, we are doubtless to suppress all emotions of revenge, and to pray for and be ready to forgive the wrong doer; yet the above cited expression of St. Paul shows that, in certain circumstances, we may remit the offender to Divine justice; and in another place (Romans 12:19) he gives this as a reason for not avenging ourselves: "It is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord." The love which is so characteristic of Christianity is not, then, incompatible with hatred of sin and the desire that sin should be punished. The two are identical when the punishment is desired that the sinner may be led thereby to repentance. They are not incompatible, when, the persistence and impenitence of the sinner being supposed, love for others and zeal for the law and government of God produce at least acquiescence in his judgments. It should be observed, however, that such emotions as we have been speaking of are to form but a small part of the inner life of the Christian. Indignation against evil, and desire for its punishment, need rather to be restrained and guided, than inculcated and cherished. The sentiments towards others which should ordinarily predominate are those of pure and direct benevolence. Yet let sinners lay to heart that, unless they repent and seek salvation through Christ, God will certainly render to them according to their wickedness. "Be sure your sin will find you out." "Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out."—G.W.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 3". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/2-samuel-3.html. 1897.
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