2 Samuel 1-4: After Saul’s Death

Original Publication Date
January 3, 2017
Nov 1, 2022 12:53 AM
2 SamuelChapter StudySaulDavidDivision of Israel
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2 Samuel 1-4

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This page was originally posted on my Blogger version of the blog on January 3, 2017 The content below has a few minor tweaks for clarity, and additional references, and some updated information.


It isn't a surprise that after Saul died David became king, because we know that God had already chosen David to be king. If we paid close attention in 1 Samuel, we probably could have guessed the kingdom would be divided over this issue. Unlike countries today, which have lengthy succession plans, Israel didn't have a law for how to handle the death of the king. The closest thing to a law for who should take over the throne was the idea that God would appoint a ruler. Of course, as we saw when the Israelites were in the wilderness and even in Saul's behavior, the Israelites didn't always recognize or believe God when someone was appointed.

David's Reaction to Saul's Death

It is an Amalekite who brings news of Saul's death to David. The nameless Amalekite has his own version of what happened to Saul, which loosely follows the narrative given in 1 Samuel. According to the Amalekite it is he who kills Saul, which isn't necessarily a conflict, though it doesn't seem entirely truthful. We are told that Saul begs his armor bearer to end his life; these words match what the Amalekite says was asked of himself by Saul (1 Samuel 31:4 vs 2 Samuel 1:9-10). We know that the Amalekite can't be Saul's armor bearer because the armor bearer kills himself (1 Samuel 31:5).

If Saul didn't immediately die, he may have asked the passing Amalekite to kill him, but it seems more likely the Amalekite found the dead Saul before the Philistines and raided his body hoping to get a reward from David.[2] Half-truths about Saul and David's broken friendship probably plagued the kingdom the same way the rumor mill churns out stories about celebrities today. Some people likely believed there was truth to Saul's paranoia, or that David harbored ill will towards Saul because of all that had transpired. In the Amalekite's mind, proof of Saul's death to David would earn him a reward.

Unknown to the Amalekite, however, was David's respect for Saul. Not only does David (and his men) mourn the loss of the king and his sons, he has the Amalekite executed for killing God's anointed king. This sent a message to the surrounding kingdoms including Israel, that David had nothing to do with the king's death and was an ally to Saul. It proved that David had not been trying to kill Saul as some people believed.

During this time, David offers a lamentation on the death of his king and his friend Jonathan. I discussed the misconception of David's words in 2 Samuel 1:26 when I discussed the "bromance"/friendship of David and Jonathan a few posts ago, but it is worth noting again that in this passage David is not saying he loves Jonathan in a sexual manner. He was saying that the love of their friendship was more powerful than the romantic loves he had with women. This makes perfect sense given that David's original wife was given away (or left him) and he shared his affections with multiple wives. Jonathan's friendship was more stable, more sure, and more important than romantic love. People have different purposes in our lives and thus impacts. In today's society we often romanticize the idea of marrying our best friend, however in David and Jonathan's era, men and women weren't really friends. The truth is, it's likely that David's wives were just pretty to look at and fun to sleep with; he probably didn't have deep philosophical conversations with them. This placed Jonathan in a much more important role; David could find new wives that fit those criteria, but he couldn't replace Jonathan so easily. This is what he meant by a love greater than women.

It is also worth noting that today male friendships aren’t encouraged in the same way female friendships are, but during David’s time it’s possible that male friendships were more common and accepted.

David teaches this lamentation to the people and records it in the Book of Jasher. The Book of Jasher, mentioned in Joshua 10:13 as well, is a missing book of the Bible. Scholars have not been able to locate the original Book of Jasher, though there is a version in circulation that scholars say is a forgery from the 18th century.[1] The original book is thought to have contained poetry and songs, like the lamentation David wrote for Saul.

Israel and Judah

Eventually, Israel permanently becomes two kingdoms; it is the southern kingdom of Judah that the Jews of today both descend and receive their name. At the end of 1 Samuel, we see that David favored his tribe, Judah. It was to Judah's elders that he sent the spoils of war. This favoritism os not just from lineage but likely stemmed from where his supporters were, because it is the people of Judah that crown David king after Saul's death. The northern part of Israel chooses Saul's son Ishbosheth.

Ishbosheth is 40 years old when he becomes king of Israel and reigns 2 years. David is crowned king of Judah at 30 and reigns 7 years. Once the two kingdoms are united, David rules another 33 years.

Who is Ishbosheth

When I read 2 Samuel 2:12, I was quite confused. In 1 Samuel 14:49 we are told that Saul has three sons and given each of their names. We are told all three of these men died during Saul's last battle, at the end of 1 Samuel (1 Samuel 31:2). Of course when I went back to look at the two verses, I saw that different people are listed. Jonathan and Melchishua are listed in both verses, but the third son in 1 Samuel 14:49 is Ishui and in 1 Samuel 31:2, it is Abinadab. Now we come to 2 Samuel 2:12 and find the mysterious Ishbosheth has taken the throne. Someone somewhere has probably logged this as a contradiction of the Bible, but there are a couple reasons why this isn't a contradiction and why it makes plenty of sense.

The first thing we should note is that 1 Samuel 14:49 doesn't say Saul only had 3 sons. Saul had 3 sons at that time. Thus we know Saul's oldest sons were probably Jonathan, Ishui and Melchishua. 2 Samuel confirms that Saul had a concubine (2 Samuel 3:7), and assumably he had multiple wives, which means he probably had a lot of children.

The second point to be made is that 1 Samuel 31:2 could be referring to Saul's legitimate sons. We know Saul had a concubine and some of his sons were likely born to a lower station than their brothers. Jonathan was the son Saul wanted to succeed him, Abinadab and Melchishua were probably Jonathan's full brothers and next in line. Ishui may have have already been dead or the son of concubine. We don't know what happened to Ishui, who probably should have taken the throne in the absence of Jonathan, Melchishua, and Abinadab—by this theory, at least. Maybe Ishui died in battle or sided with David; he is only mentioned the one time.


Naturally, there would be some animosity between the two kings. Ishbosheth places Abner, a relative and confidant of Saul's, in a position of power, while David's army is captained by the bothers Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Asahel is killed by Abner, sparking a bitter rivalry between the remaining brothers and Abner. As the war between the two kings continued, God strengthened David, while Saul's son grew weaker.

During this warring, Ishbosheth accuses Abner of trying to sleep with one of Saul's concubines. This action seems to be indicative of Abner attempting to usurp the throne from Ishbosheth.[2] We learn that the whole time Abner defended Ishbosheth, he knew that God had appointed David to be king. Perhaps Abner's outburst is proof of his loyalty to Saul's house. After the accusation, Abner becomes angry and seeks an alliance with David. Ishbosheth fears Abner, so he does not speak up and seemingly goes along with Abner's plan.

The terms of the alliance required David's wife, Michal, be returned to him. Although we are not told how Michal felt about her new husband, we are told that when she is taken from him, he weeps. With the treaty in place, it seems that Abner (and Ishbosheth) are ready to relinquish their claim to the throne, making David the official king. However, Joab still doesn't trust Abner. Without consulting David, Joab and Abishai kill Abner.

Despite the warring, David laments and mourns Abner's death. David even fasts until the evening. When the news reaches Ishbosheth, he is troubled. Ishbosheth feared Abner, and from his point of view, Abner went to strike a deal with David only to end up dead. This would have given Ishbosheth justifiable cause to fear David, too.

While Ishbosheth is processing all of this, his captains kill him! The captains take his head to David, thinking it will bring them favor, just as the Amalekite did with Saul. In 2 Samuel we see a lot of wishy-washy people. By this, I mean people who jump ship to accommodate the person they think will win. These men had no loyalty to Ishbosheth; they followed him because he had power. Once Ishbosheth's power waned, they decided to follow someone else. We should be wary of people like this; no one should to be surrounded by shifty characters such as these. We should also be mindful that we do not become like the captains. We should follow people we believe in and when times get tough, we should be ready to fight by their side. After all, that is exactly how Jesus describes the time of His second coming. Like with the Amalekite, David puts his foot down that this is wanton murder. The captains are sentenced to death for the murder of Ishbosheth.

Initially, I wondered why they were punished but Joab and Abishai were not. Part of me thought it was typical that the victors were not punished for their crimes while the losers were; however, as I thought about the situation, it made more sense. Israel's law allowed for people to avenge the death of their kinsmen by killing the murderer. Since Abner killed Joab and Abishai's brother and was not in a city of refuge, it was perfectly legal for them to kill Abner. The captains, however, committed an unjust murder in addition to treason. David was able to put them to death simply for breaking the law, but it also stands to reason that he wouldn't want such turncoats in his presence.

References and Footnotes

  1. "What is the Book of Jasher/Jashar and should it be in the Bible?". GotQuestions.org. 2016
  2. Holman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible. pg. 528-529. 2014

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