Containing The Interval Of Forty Years.
From The Death Of Saul To The Death Of David.
How David Reigned Over One Tribe At Hebron While The Son Of Saul Reigned Over The Rest Of The Multitude; And How, In The Civil War Which Then Arose Asahel And Abner Were Slain.
1. THIS fight proved to be on the same day whereon David was come back to Ziklag, after he had overcome the Amalekites. Now when he had been already two days at Ziklag, there came to him the man who slew Saul, which was the third day after the fight. He had escaped out of the battle which the Israelites had with the Philistines, and had his clothes rent, and ashes upon his head. And when he made his obeisance to David, he inquired of him whence he came. He replied, from the battle of the Israelites; and he informed him that the end of it was unfortunate, many ten thousands of the Israelites having been cut off, and Saul, together with his sons, slain. He also said that he could well give him this information, because he was present at the victory gained over the Hebrews, and was with the king when he fled. Nor did he deny that he had himself slain the king, when he was ready to be taken by the enemy, and he himself exhorted him to do it, because, when he was fallen on his sword, his great wounds had made him so weak that he was not able to kill himself.
He also produced demonstrations that the king was slain, which were the golden bracelets that had been on the king's arms, and his crown, which he had taken away from Saul's dead body, and had brought them to him. So David having no longer any room to call in question the truth of what he said, but seeing most evident marks that Saul was dead, he rent his garments, and continued all that day with his companions in weeping and lamentation. This grief was augmented by the consideration of Jonathan; the son of Saul, who had been his most faithful friend, and the occasion of his own deliverance. He also demonstrated himself to have such great virtue, and such great kindness for Saul, as not only to take his death to heart, though he had been frequently in danger of losing his life by his means, but to punish him that slew him; for when David had said to him that he was become his own accuser, as the very man who had slain the king, and when he had understood that he was the son of an Amalekite, he commanded him to be slain. He also committed to writing some lamentations and funeral commendations of Saul and Jonathan, which have continued to my own age.
2. Now when David had paid these honors to the king, he left off his mourning, and inquired of God by the prophet which of the cities of the tribe of Judah he would bestow upon him to dwell in; who answered that he bestowed upon him Hebron. So he left Ziklag, and came to Hebron, and took with him his wives, who were in number two, and his armed men; whereupon all the people of the forementioned tribe came to him, and ordained him their king. But when he heard that the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead had buried Saul and his sons [honorably], he sent to them and commended them, and took what they had done kindly, and promised to make them amends for their care of those that were dead; and at the same time he informed them that the tribe of Judah had chosen him for their king.
3. But as soon as Abner, the son of Ner, who was general of Saul's army, and a very active man, and good-natured, knew that the king, and Jonathan, and his two other sons, were fallen in the battle, he made haste into the camp; and taking away with him the remaining son of Saul, whose name was Ishbosheth, he passed over to the land beyond Jordan, and ordained him the king of the whole multitude, excepting the tribe of Judah; and made his royal seat in a place called in our own language Mahanaim, but in the language of the Grecians, The Camps; from whence Abner made haste with a select body of soldiers, to fight with such of the tribe of Judah as were disposed to it, for he was angry that this tribe had set up David for their king. But Joab, whose father was Suri, and his mother Zeruiah, David's sister, who was general of David's army, met him, according to David's appointment. He had with him his brethren, Abistiai and Asahel, as also all David's armed men. Now when he met Abner at a certain fountain, in the city of Gibeon, he prepared to fight.
And when Abner said to him, that he had a mind to know which of them had the more valiant soldiers, it was agreed between them that twelve soldiers of each side should fight together. So those that were chosen out by both the generals for this fight came between the two armies, and throwing their lances one against the other, they drew their swords, and catching one another by the head, they held one another fast, and ran each other's swords into their sides and groins, until they all, as it were by mutual agreement, perished together. When these were fallen down dead, the rest of the army came to a sore battle, and Abner's men were beaten; and when they were beaten, Joab did not leave off pursuing them, but he pressed upon them, and excited the soldiers to follow them close, and not to grow weary of killing them. His brethren also pursued them with great alacrity, especially the younger, Asahel, who was the most eminent of them.
He was very famous for his swiftness of foot, for he could not only be too hard for men, but is reported to have overrun a horse, when they had a race together. This Asahel ran violently after Abner, and would not turn in the least out of the straight way, either to the one side or to the other. Hereupon Abner turned back, and attempted artfully to avoid his violence. Sometimes he bade him leave off the pursuit, and take the armor of one of his soldiers; and sometimes, when he could not persuade him so to do, he exhorted him to restrain himself, and not to pursue him any longer, lest he should force him to kill him, and he should then not be able to look his brother in the face: but when Asahel would not admit of any persuasions, but still continued to pursue him, Abner smote him with his spear, as he held it in his flight, and that by a back-stroke, and gave him a deadly wound, so that he died immediately; but those that were with him pursuing Abner, when they came to the place where Asahel lay, they stood round about the dead body, and left off the pursuit of the enemy.
However, both Joab (1) himself, and his brother Abishai, ran past the dead corpse, and making their anger at the death of Asahel an occasion of greater zeal against Abner, they went on with incredible haste and alacrity, and pursued Abner to a certain place called Ammah: it was about sun-set. Then did Joab ascend a certain hill, as he stood at that place, having the tribe of Benjamin with him, whence he took a view of them, and of Abner also. Hereupon Abner cried aloud, and said that it was not fit that they should irritate men of the same nation to fight so bitterly one against another; that as for Asahel his brother, he was himself in the wrong, when he would not be advised by him not to pursue him any farther, which was the occasion of his wounding and death.
So Joab consented to what he said, and accepted these his words as an excuse [about Asahel], and called the soldiers back with the sound of the trumpet, as a signal for their retreat, and thereby put a stop to any further pursuit. After which Joab pitched his camp there that night; but Abner marched all that night, and passed over the river Jordan, and came to Ishbosheth, Saul's son, to Mahanaim. On the next day Joab counted the dead men, and took care of all their funerals. Now there were slain of Abner's soldiers about three hundred and sixty; but of those of David nineteen, and Asahel, whose body Joab and Abishai carried to Bethlehem; and when they had buried him in the sepulcher of their fathers, they came to David to Hebron. From this time therefore there began an intestine war, which lasted a great while, in which the followers of David grew stronger in the dangers they underwent, and the servants and subjects of Saul's sons did almost every day become weaker.
4. About this time David was become the father of six sons, born of as many mothers. The eldest was by Ahinoam, and he was called Arenon; the second was Daniel, by his wife Abigail; the name of the third was Absalom, by Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur; the fourth he named Adonijah, by his wife Haggith; the fifth was Shephatiah, by Abital; the sixth he called Ithream, by Eglah. Now while this intestine war went on, and the subjects of the two kings came frequently to action and to fighting, it was Abner, the general of the host of Saul's son, who, by his prudence, and the great interest he had among the multitude, made them all continue with Ishbosheth; and indeed it was a considerable time that they continued of his party; but afterwards Abner was blamed, and an accusation was laid against him, that he went in unto Saul's concubine: her name was Rispah, the daughter of Aiah.
So when he was complained of by Ishbosheth, he was very uneasy and angry at it, because he had not justice done him by Ishbosheth, to whom he had shown the greatest kindness; whereupon he threatened to transfer the kingdom to David, and demonstrate that he did not rule over the people beyond Jordan by his own abilities and wisdom, but by his warlike conduct and fidelity in leading his army. So he sent ambassadors to Hebron to David, and desired that he would give him security upon oath that he would esteem him his companion and his friend, upon condition that he should persuade the people to leave Saul's son, and choose him king of the whole country; and when David had made that league with Abner, for he was pleased with his message to him, he desired that he would give this as the first mark of performance of the present league, that he might have his wife Michal restored to him, as her whom he had purchased with great hazards, and with those six hundred heads of the Philistines which he had brought to Saul her father.
So Abner took Michal from Phaltiel, who was then her husband, and sent her to David, Ishbosheth himself affording him his assistance, for David had written to him that of right he ought to have this his wife restored to him. Abner also called together the elders of the multitude, the commanders and captains of thousands, and spake thus to them: That he had formerly dissuaded them from their own resolution, when they were ready to forsake Ishbosheth, and to join themselves to David; that, however, he now gave them leave so to do, if they had a mind to it, for they knew that God had appointed David to be king of all the Hebrews by Samuel the prophet; and had foretold that he should punish the Philistines, and overcome them, and bring them under. Now when the elders and rulers heard this, and understood that Abner was come over to those sentiments about the public affairs which they were of before, they changed their measures, and came in to David.
When these men had agreed to Abner's proposal, he called together the tribe of Benjamin, for all of that tribe were the guards of Ishbosheth's body, and he spake to them to the same purpose. And when he saw that they did not in the least oppose what he said, but resigned themselves up to his opinion, he took about twenty of his friends and came to David, in order to receive himself security upon oath from him; for we may justly esteem those things to be firmer which every one of us do by ourselves, than those which we do by another. He also gave him an account of what he had said to the rulers, and to the whole tribe of Benjamin; and when David had received him in a courteous manner, and had treated him with great hospitality for many days, Abner, when he was dismissed, desired him to bring the multitude with him, that he might deliver up the government to him, when David himself was present, and a spectator of what was done.
5. When David had sent Abner away, Joab, the of his army, came immediately to Hebron; he had understood that Abner had been with David, and had parted with him a little before under leagues and agreements that the government should be delivered up to David, he feared lest David should place Abner, who had assisted him to gain the kingdom, in the first rank of dignity, especially since he was a shrewd man in other respects, in understanding affairs, and in managing them artfully, as proper seasons should require, and that he should himself be put lower, and be deprived of the command of the army; so he took a knavish and a wicked course.
In the first place, he endeavored to calumniate Abner to the king, exhorting him to have a care of him, and not to give attention to what he had engaged to do for him, because all he did tended to confirm the government to Saul's son; that he came to him deceitfully and with guile, and was gone away in hopes of gaining his purpose by this management: but when he could not thus persuade David, nor saw him at all exasperated, he betook himself to a project bolder than the former: - he determined to kill Abner; and in order thereto, he sent some messengers after him, to whom he gave in charge, that when they should overtake him they should recall him in David's name, and tell him that he had somewhat to say to him about his affairs, which he had not remembered to speak of when he was with him. Now when Abner heard what the messengers said, (for they overtook him in a certain place called Besira, which was distant from Hebron twenty furlongs,) he suspected none of the mischief which was befalling him, and came back.
Hereupon Joab met him in the gate, and received him in the kindest manner, as if he were Abner's most benevolent acquaintance and friend; for such as undertake the vilest actions, in order to prevent the suspicion of any private mischief intended, do frequently make the greatest pretenses to what really good men sincerely do. So he took him aside from his own followers, as if he would speak with him in private, and brought him into a void place of the gate, having himself nobody with him but his brother Abishai; then he drew his sword, and smote him in the groin; upon which Abner died by this treachery of Joab, which, as he said himself, was in the way of punishment for his brother Asahel, whom Abner smote and slew as he was pursuing after him in the battle of Hebron, but as the truth was, out of his fear 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.
By these examples any one may learn how many and how great instances of wickedness men will venture upon for the sake of getting money and authority, and that they may not fail of either of them; for as when they are desirous of obtaining the same, they acquire them by ten thousand evil practices; so when they are afraid of losing them, they get them confirmed to them by practices much worse than the former, as if no other calamity so terrible could befall them as the failure of acquiring so exalted an authority; and when they have acquired it, and by long custom found the sweetness of it, the losing it again: and since this last would be the heaviest of all afflictions they all of them contrive and venture upon the most difficult actions, out of the fear of losing the same. But let it suffice that I have made these short reflections upon that subject.
6. When David heard that Abner was slain, it grieved his soul; and he called all men to witness, with stretching out his hands to God, and crying out that he was not a partaker in the murder of Abner, and that his death was not procured by his command or approbation. He also wished the heaviest curses might light upon him that slew him and upon his whole house; and he devoted those that had assisted him in this murder to the same penalties on its account; for he took care not to appear to have had any hand in this murder, contrary to the assurances he had given and the oaths he had taken to Abner. However, he commanded all the people to weep and lament this man, and to honor his dead body with the usual solemnities; that is, by rending their garments, and putting on sackcloth, and that things should be the habit in which they should go before the bier; after which he followed it himself, with the elders and those that were rulers, lamenting Abner, and by his tears demonstrating his good-will to him while he was alive, and his sorrow for him now he was dead, and that he was not taken off with his consent.
So he buried him at Hebron in a magnificent manner, and indited funeral elegies for him; he also stood first over the monument weeping, and caused others to do the same; nay, so deeply did the death of Abner disorder him, that his companions could by no means force him to take any food, but he affirmed with an oath that he would taste nothing till the sun was set. This procedure gained him the good-will of the multitude; for such as had an affection for Abner were mightily satisfied with the respect he paid him when he was dead, and the observation of that faith he had plighted to him, which was shown in his vouchsafing him all the usual ceremonies, as if he had been his kinsman and his friend, and not suffering him to be neglected and injured with a dishonorable burial, as if he had been his enemy; insomuch that the entire nation rejoiced at the king's gentleness and mildness of disposition, every one being ready to suppose that the king would have taken the same care of them in the like circumstances, which they saw be showed in the burial of the dead body of Abner.
And indeed David principally intended to gain a good reputation, and therefore he took care to do what was proper in this case, whence none had any suspicion that he was the author of Abner's death. He also said this to the multitude, that he was greatly troubled at the death of so good a man; and that the affairs of the Hebrews had suffered great detriment by being deprived of him, who was of so great abilities to preserve them by his excellent advice, and by the strength of his hands in war. But he added, that
"God, who hath a regard to all men's actions, will not suffer this man [Joab] to go off unrevenged; but know ye, that I am not able to do any thing to these sons of Zeruiah, Joab and Abishai, who have more power than I have; but God will requite their insolent attempts upon their own heads."
And this was the fatal conclusion of the life of Abner.
(1) It ought to be here noted, that Joab, Abishai, and Asahel were all three David's nephews, the sons of his sister Zeraiah, as 1 Chronicles 2:16; and that Amasa was also his nephew by his other sister Abigail, ver. 17.