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Poole on 2 Samuel 2:8-17: Rumble at Gibeon's Pool

Verse 8:[1]  But (1 Sam. 14:50) Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul’s host (Heb. the host which was Saul’s[2]), took Ish-bosheth (or, Esh-baal, 1 Chron. 8:33;[3] 9:39) the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim…

[But Abner took Ish-bosheth, etc.]  He did this, either, 1.  out of fidelity to Saul; or, 2.  out of hatred for David; or, 3.  because he was thinking that his authority was not going to be as great before David, as before Ish-bosheth (Menochius).  This ambitious old fox willed the shadow and name of kingdom to be before Ish-bosheth, so that he himself  might in the meantime enjoy royal power (Martyr).

Took Ish-bosheth, etc.:  Partly out of envy and malice against David; and partly out of his own ambition and desire of rule, because he knew that Ish-bosheth would have only the name of king, whilst he had the power.  Ish-bosheth, called also Esh-baal, 1 Chronicles 8:33; 9:39; it being usual with the Hebrews, instead of Baal, the name of false gods, to put בּשֶׁת/Bosheth, which signifies shame, or confusion, or a shameful thing;[4] as appeareth by comparing Judges 9:53, with 2 Samuel 11:21; and 2 Samuel 4:4, with 1 Chronicles 8:34; and from Jeremiah 3:24;[5] Hosea 9:10.[6]

[And he led him about through the camps]  Which through fear of the Philistines had not been put in one place, but were dispersed and spread, as it were, in various places (Menochius).  Commending him to the soldiers, like Otho[7] in Tacitus[8] (Grotius).  But where was this camp, with the Israelites recently scattered?  Therefore, many take it for the proper name of a place (Malvenda, thus Jonathan, Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, etc.).

[‎וַיַּעֲבִרֵ֖הוּ מַחֲנָֽיִם׃And he caused to pass over, or led across, or led away, to Mahanaim (Malvenda, etc.).  It was a place beyond Jordan in the tribe of Gad (Malvenda out of Junius).  Concerning which see Genesis 32:2; Joshua 13:26; 21:38 (Malvenda).  Abner crosses the Jordan (Martyr, Josephus in Malvenda), 1.  so that he might retain the men of Jabesh in service; 2.  so that there the King might enjoy suitable hospitality.  For the region was fertile.  [Because that place was farther from the Philistines.]  Moreover, while so many hindrances are yet before David; let us also learn, when things do not succeed as hoped, but many adversities occur, not immediately to despair, not to doubt our function and vocation (Martyr).

Mahanaim; a place beyond Jordan, whither he carried him; partly to secure those brave and valiant men of Jabesh-gilead to himself; and principally because this place was most remote from David, and from the Philistines too; and therefore here he might recruit his forces with less disturbance than in other places.


Verse 9:[9]  And made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel.

[Over Gilead]  That is, the tribes, or region, beyond Jordan (Menochius, Malvenda, Junius).  A Synecdoche, as in the following members of the list (Junius, Piscator).

Gilead; largely so taken for all the land of Israel beyond Jordan, as it is Joshua 22:9; Judges 10:8.

[And over Geshuri]  Or Geshur (Syriac, Arabic).  Geshuri was some part of that kingdom, of which mention is made in 2 Samuel 3:3; for, although Talmai got possession of it, perhaps some portion of the region was pertaining to the Israelites (Menochius).  The King of this was a tributary to the Israelites, as I suppose:  and, so that David might bind him to himself, and make him an adversary to Ish-bosheth, he asked for himself Talmai’s daughter, Maacah, to wife (Tirinus).  [In Hebrew it is ‎וְאֶל־הָאֲשׁוּרִי:]  They translate it, over Ashuri (Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, Montanus, Strigelius, Osiander), or the Ashurites (Castalio, Junius and Tremellius), the people of the house of Asher (Jonathan), that is, the whole region on the north:  for Synecdochically by this and the following terms the whole breadth of the region from the sea to Jordan is understood (Junius, Piscator).

The Ashurites, that is, the tribe of Asher, as the Chaldee Paraphrast and others understand it.

[And over Jezreel]  That is, the tribe of Issachar, in which was the incredibly broad Jezreel valley (Menochius), the region in the midst of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali (Junius, Piscator, Malvenda).

Jezreel; a large and rich valley situate in the borders of the tribes of Zebulun, Issachar, and Naphtali, and so put synecdochically for them all.

[Over all Israel]  The eleven tribes are here called the Kingdom of Israel; and the tribe of Judah alone is called the Kingdom of Judah (Munster).

All Israel; except Judah, as it follows.


[1055 BC]  Verse 10:[10]  Ishbosheth Saul’s son was forty years old when he began to reign over Israel, and reigned two years.  But the house of Judah followed David.

[Of forty years]  Therefore, Saul was a sexagenarian when he began to reign; for Saul reigned only two years.  Concerning which see on 1 Samuel 13:1 (Sanchez).

[And he reigned two years]  Question:  How is this to be understood?  For, as long as Ish-bosheth ruled over Israel, David reigned over the one tribe:  but David is said to have reigned in Hebron seven years and six months (Sanchez, Estius).  Response 1:  There was an interregnum in Israel for five years; either, 1.  before Ish-bosheth came into the kingdom (certain interpreters in Martyr, certain interpreters in Sanchez); because the ten tribes were hesitating for so long whether they were receive Ish-bosheth or Mephibosheth as King; and others were favoring David.  Or, 2.  after Ish-bosheth was killed; for the ten tribes did not immediately join with David (certain interpreters in Martyr).  Or, 3.  partly before Ish-bosheth began to reign, partly after he was killed; so that this two-year period was in the midst of this seven years (Sanchez out of Cajetan).  Response 2:  He is said to have reigned for two years, not simply (for he reigned seven years, which is taught by Tostatus, Serarius, Genebrard,[11] Torniellus,[12] and Salian [Tirinus]), but when those things were written (Martyr).  Or when those things that are mentioned below were done (Rabbi Levi in Vatablus).  He reigned two years, that is, tranquilly and quietly (Serarius, Lapide, similarly Estius, Menochius, Tirinus, Martyr).  With this verb (he had reigned) verse 12 coheres (and verse 11 is to be enclosed in Parentheses).  And so is indicated, not how many years Ish-bosheth reigned, but in what year of his reign he began to wage war upon David.  This is confirmed from 2 Samuel 3:1, there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David (Piscator).

Reigned two years, to wit, before the following war broke forth; compare 1 Samuel 13:1; for that he reigned longer, may appear both from the following verse and from 2 Samuel 3:1, and from the following history; though some think he reigned only two years, and that the rest of David’s seven years the Israelites by Abner’s instigation stuck to the house of Saul, but were in suspense whether they should confer the crown upon Mephibosheth the right heir, but a child; or upon Ish-bosheth, a grown man, whom with some difficulty, and after long debates amongst themselves, they preferred.

[The house of Judah alone]  He calls the tribe of Judah a house (Vatablus).


Verse 11:[13]  And (2 Sam. 5:5; 1 Kings 2:11) the time (Heb. number of days[14]) that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months.

[Seven years and six months]  But in 1 Kings 2:11 it is seven years.  That is, the number, either exceeding the whole number, or taking from it, is wont to be omitted or added (Sanchez).


Verse 12:[15]  And Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to (Josh. 18:25) Gibeon.

[Abner went forth]  Namely, so that he might join the tribe of Judah to the others, and to the kingdom of Ish-bosheth (Sanchez).

The servants of Ish-bosheth, that is, his officers and commanders, and their army.  To Gibeon, in the country of Benjamin, Joshua 18:25, near Judah, to fight with David's army, and to bring back the rest of the kingdom to Saul’s house.


[circa 1053]  Verse 13:[16]  And Joab the son of Zeruiah, and the servants of David, went out, and met together (Heb. them together[17]) by (Jer. 41:12) the pool of Gibeon:  and they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool.

[Joab]  A military man of might and ability; but ambitious, hot-tempered, vengeful, etc. (Grotius).  Question:  How did David dare to set himself in opposition to so many tribes?  Responses:  1.  The tribe of Judah was exceedingly well furnished with might and numbers.  2.  The companions of David were accustomed to victories.  3.  Many from the ten tribes adhered to David.  See 1 Chronicles 12 (Sanchez).  [4.  He was trusting in the promise of God concerning the kingdom.]

Went out, to battle.  Question:  How could or durst this one tribe oppose all the rest?  Answer:  First, This tribe was very numerous and valiant of themselves, and they had a king of extraordinary courage, and conduct, and success.  Secondly, There were great numbers of the other tribes which favoured them, as appears from 1 Chronicles 12.  Thirdly, They had the encouragement of special promises of God, made both to their tribe and to David.

[And they met them]  Joab was unwilling to begin the battle; either, 1.  because he saw that Abner was stronger than himself (Munster).  Or, 2.  by the commandment of David; who was unwilling to violate the oath concerning not extinguishing the seed of Saul (which Saul had exacted from him[18]); and so was not willing to fight with Ish-bosheth, but only to repel force (Martyr).

Met together, that is, met the opposite army, and put themselves into a posture for battle.


Verse 14:[19]  And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us.  And Joab said, Let them arise.

[Let the young men arise, and play before us]  To play here is put in the place of to fight with the sword, as the event teaches (Munster, thus Castalio).  Military sport is understood, that is, fighting; by that figure, whereby an odious matter is mitigated by a more positive term.  Thus to make sport in Genesis 21:9[20] is explained as to persecute in Galatians 4:29 (Estius).  Let them play, by gladiatorial sport, and duelling, as they are wont to do in theaters (Tirinus out of Malvenda and Lapide).  Let them play, that is, let them descend into a single crucible, and show whether they are skilled in the art of war (Vatablus).  It had already come to pass, that to watch men wounding each other in a barbaric and bestial manner was regarded as sport (Martyr).  Only for the sake of pride and the vain ostentation of might was this combat offered and accepted (Tirinus).  The battle was after the likeness of sport; they were fighting one-on-one; as it is done in dancing, and in other games (Martyr).  In battles the generals are wont to allow preludes or skirmishes, either so that they might test their own or the enemies’ strength; or in pursuit of martial glory; or, so that, if they see themselves less prepared, they might avoid a public contest.  Thus Cæsar often did, The Gallic Wars 2, and Maximus,[21] as Appian[22] testifies in “Concerning the Spanish Wars”[23] 11.  Therefore, Abner proposed this, so that the fighting might expend the daylight, so that he might flee at night.  For, he was not thinking that so many auxiliary troops as we previously reported had come to David (Sanchez).  Or this was appointed as a divinatory token of victory (Serarius, similarly Sanchez), of which Tacitus testifies the Germans formerly made use (Serarius).  The Hebrews were also wont to appoint certain signs for themselves, wherewith they might conjecture concerning the success of their affairs.  See the things said on 1 Samuel 14 (Sanchez).  Men brought up in arms think little of shedding the blood of citizens, even for amusement (Grotius).

Abner trusting to his greater numbers, offers battle.  Play before us, that is, show their prowess and dexterity in managing their weapons, and fighting together.  He speaks like a vain-glorious and cruel man, and a soldier of fortune, that esteemed it a sport to see men wounding and killing one another.  So this he designed, partly for their mutual recreation, and trial of skill and valour; and partly that by this occasion they might be engaged in a battle.


Verse 15:[24]  Then there arose and went over by number twelve of Benjamin, which pertained to Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David.

[The went over by number (thus Munster, Tigurinus, English), ‎בְמִסְפָּרIn number (Septuagint, Jonathan, Pagnine, Montanus), by equal number (Arabic, Junius and Tremellius), according to number, that is, by a certain number (Vatablus).

[Of Benjamin]  A warlike tribe, as it appears out of Judges 20 (Menochius).  That alone out of the ten tribes was campaigning for the kingdom (Martyr).  These went over, that is, the pool of Gibeon, out of verse 13 (Piscator).

Twelve of Benjamin:  Abner selected all his combatants out of Benjamin, both because that was a warlike and valiant tribe, and that he might give the more honour to his own tribe.


Verse 16:[25]  And they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow’s side; so they fell down together:  wherefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim (that is, the field of strong men[26]), which is in Gibeon.

[Each one, with the head of his fellow seized]  That is, they seized by the hair, which they were wearing long after the manner of their people.  Whence I gather, that this was not hostile combat (for then the head would have been protected by a helmet), but a gladiatorial game.  Of which among the Romans there were many sorts; in which are instituted certain laws and forms of fighting, and sorts of weapons and habits; which appears to have been done here also.  For, it is not likely that all would seized upon the heads of others, unless the theatrical laws were thus prescribing (Sanchez).  It is strange that the same sort of fighting pleased all (Martyr).  Moreover, the each one some restrict to the young men of Joab, whom they maintain to have been unharmed and victorious, but all and each of the Abner’s young men were smitten (thus Josephus and Rabanus and Angelome[27] in Lapide).  This is not dissatisfying to me:  For it is not plausible that the strength and skill of all was so evenly matched, that all perished in the same manner at the same time (Sanchez).  But others everywhere refer the each one to all, as much to the young men of Abner, as to those of Joabe, who all were smitten with mutual wounds (Lapide, thus Martyr).

By the head; by the hair of the head, which after their manner was of a considerable length, and therefore gave their enemy advantage; which every one of them endeavoured to get, and to improve against the other.

[He thrust his sword into the side of his opponent, ‎וְחַרְבּוֹ֙ בְּצַ֣ד רֵעֵ֔הוּAnd his sword (or the sword of each [Hebrew], of him [Vatablus]) into the side of his fellow (Jonathan, Pagnine, Montanus).  Understanding, was thrust (Vatablus).  [It is similarly supplemented by the Syriac, Arabic, Munster, Tigurinus, Junius and Tremellius.]

[The field of the robust, ‎חֶלְקַ֥ת הַצֻּרִ֖יםHelkath-hazzurim (Pagnine, Montanus, Tigurinus, Dutch, English).  The field (portion, or inheritance [Septuagint, Jonathan, Junius and Tremellius]) of the robust, or mighty[28] (Vatablus out of the Hebrews, Munster, Junius and Tremellius, Strigelius, Piscator), or of the slain[29] (Jonathan in Vatablus), or of the invaders (Septuagint), or of the points,[30] that is, of swords (certain interpreters in Vatablus), or of sword points, because they were fighting with the tip (Junius), or of rocks, that is, where those young men after the likeness of stones stood firm with resolution in the battle (Piscator).  This was not true courage, but madness.  Therefore, a monument, not of virtue, but of wickedness, was raised (Martyr).

Helkath-hazzurim, or the field of rocks, that is, of men who stood like rocks, unmovable, each one dying upon the spot where he fought.


Verse 17:[31]  And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David.

[And Abner was put to flight, with the Israelites (Vatablus), ‎וַיִּנָּגֶףHe was smitten, yet not unto death.  See verse 19 (Vatablus).  He was beaten (Piscator), afflicted with a wound (Junius and Tremellius), broken (Jonathan in Menochius).

[1] Hebrew:  ‎וְאַבְנֵ֣ר בֶּן־נֵ֔ר שַׂר־צָבָ֖א אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְשָׁא֑וּל לָקַ֗ח אֶת־אִ֥ישׁ בֹּ֙שֶׁת֙ בֶּן־שָׁא֔וּל וַיַּעֲבִרֵ֖הוּ מַחֲנָֽיִם׃

[2] Hebrew:  ‎צָבָ֖א אֲשֶׁ֣ר לְשָׁא֑וּל.

[3] 1 Chronicles 8:33:  “And Ner begat Kish, and Kish begat Saul, and Saul begat Jonathan, and Malchishua, and Abinadab, and Eshbaal (‎וְאֶת־אֶשְׁבָּעַל).”  So also 1 Chronicles 9:39.

[4] בּוֹשׁ signifies to be ashamed.

[5] Jeremiah 3:24:  “For shame (‎וְהַבֹּשֶׁת) hath devoured the labour of our fathers from our youth; their flocks and their herds, their sons and their daughters.”

[6] Hosea 9:10:  “I found Israel like grapes in the wilderness; I saw your fathers as the firstripe in the fig tree at her first time:  but they went to Baal-peor, and separated themselves unto that shame (‎לַבֹּשֶׁת); and their abominations were according as they loved.”

[7] Otho was Roman Emperor for three months in 69 AD.

[8] Histories 1.

[9] Hebrew:  ‎וַיַּמְלִכֵ֙הוּ֙ אֶל־הַגִּלְעָ֔ד וְאֶל־הָאֲשׁוּרִ֖י וְאֶֽל־יִזְרְעֶ֑אל וְעַל־אֶפְרַ֙יִם֙ וְעַל־בִּנְיָמִ֔ן וְעַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל כֻּלֹּֽה׃ פ

[10] Hebrew: בֶּן־אַרְבָּעִ֙ים שָׁנָ֜ה אִֽישׁ־בֹּ֣שֶׁת בֶּן־שָׁא֗וּל בְּמָלְכוֹ֙ עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּשְׁתַּ֥יִם שָׁנִ֖ים מָלָ֑ךְ אַ֚ךְ בֵּ֣ית יְהוּדָ֔ה הָי֖וּ אַחֲרֵ֥י דָוִֽד׃

[11] Gilbert Genebrard (1535-1597) was a French Benedictine scholar, specializing in Oriental studies.  He served the Roman Church as a professor of Hebrew at the Collège Royal, and later as Archbishop of Aix.  He is especially noteworthy for his commentary on the Psalms, his Chronographiæ, and his translation of Rabbinic works into Latin.

[12] Augustine Torniellus (1543-1622) was a member of the Society of Barnabites, a Counter-Reformation order.  His work, Annales Sacri et Profani, cleared up many geographical and chronological difficulties and obscurities, especially in the Old Testament.

[13] Hebrew:  ‎וַֽיְהִי֙ מִסְפַּ֣ר הַיָּמִ֔ים אֲשֶׁר֩ הָיָ֙ה דָוִ֥ד מֶ֛לֶךְ בְּחֶבְר֖וֹן עַל־בֵּ֣ית יְהוּדָ֑ה שֶׁ֥בַע שָׁנִ֖ים וְשִׁשָּׁ֥ה חֳדָשִֽׁים׃ ס

[14] Hebrew:  ‎מִסְפַּ֣ר הַיָּמִ֔ים.

[15] Hebrew:  ‎וַיֵּצֵא֙ אַבְנֵ֣ר בֶּן־נֵ֔ר וְעַבְדֵ֖י אִֽישׁ־בֹּ֣שֶׁת בֶּן־שָׁא֑וּל מִֽמַּחֲנַ֖יִם גִּבְעֽוֹנָה׃

[16] Hebrew: וְיוֹאָ֙ב בֶּן־צְרוּיָ֜ה וְעַבְדֵ֤י דָוִד֙ יָֽצְא֔וּ וַֽיִּפְגְּשׁ֛וּם עַל־בְּרֵכַ֥ת גִּבְע֖וֹן יַחְדָּ֑ו וַיֵּ֙שְׁב֜וּ אֵ֤לֶּה עַל־הַבְּרֵכָה֙ מִזֶּ֔ה וְאֵ֥לֶּה עַל־הַבְּרֵכָ֖ה מִזֶּֽה׃

[17] Hebrew:  ‎וַֽיִּפְגְּשׁ֛וּם—יַחְדָּ֑ו.

[18] 1 Samuel 24:21.

[19] Hebrew:  ‎וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אַבְנֵר֙ אֶל־יוֹאָ֔ב יָק֤וּמוּ נָא֙ הַנְּעָרִ֔ים וִֽישַׂחֲק֖וּ לְפָנֵ֑ינוּ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יוֹאָ֖ב יָקֻֽמוּ׃

[20] Genesis 21:9:  “And Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had born unto Abraham, mocking (‎מְצַחֵק, making sport).”

[21] Quintus Fabius Maximus Æmilianus (second century BC) was a Roman statesman and consul, serving as proconsul to Hispania.

[22] Appian of Alexandria (c. 95-165) was a Roman historian

[23] In The Foreign Wars.

[24] Hebrew:  ‎וַיָּקֻ֖מוּ וַיַּעַבְר֣וּ בְמִסְפָּ֑ר שְׁנֵ֧ים עָשָׂ֣ר לְבִנְיָמִ֗ן וּלְאִ֥ישׁ בֹּ֙שֶׁת֙ בֶּן־שָׁא֔וּל וּשְׁנֵ֥ים עָשָׂ֖ר מֵעַבְדֵ֥י דָוִֽד׃

[25] Hebrew: וַֽיַּחֲזִ֜קוּ אִ֣ישׁ׀ בְּרֹ֣אשׁ רֵעֵ֗הוּ וְחַרְבּוֹ֙ בְּצַ֣ד רֵעֵ֔הוּ וַֽיִּפְּל֖וּ יַחְדָּ֑ו וַיִּקְרָא֙ לַמָּק֣וֹם הַה֔וּא חֶלְקַ֥ת הַצֻּרִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּגִבְעֽוֹן׃

[26] Hebrew:  ‎חֶלְקַ֥ת הַצֻּרִ֖ים.

[27] Angelome de Luxeuil (died circa 855) was a French monk of the Rule of Saint Columbanus.  He composed commentaries on Genesis, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, and Song of Solomon.  As an expositor, he is heavily influenced by Alcuin.

[28] צוּר can signify a rock or cliff.

[29] צוּר can signify to besiege, or to treat as an enemy.

[30] צרר signifies to be sharp; צַר, a flint

[31] Hebrew:  ‎וַתְּהִ֧י הַמִּלְחָמָ֛ה קָשָׁ֥ה עַד־מְאֹ֖ד בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֑וּא וַיִּנָּ֤גֶף אַבְנֵר֙ וְאַנְשֵׁ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל לִפְנֵ֖י עַבְדֵ֥י דָוִֽד׃

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Matthew Henry: 'Here is, I. A rivalship between two kings, David, whom God made king, and Ishbosheth, whom Abner made king. One would have thought, when Saul was slain, and all his sons that had sense and spirit enough to take the field with him, David would come to the throne without any opposition, since all Israel knew, not only how he had signalized himself, but how manifestly God had designated him to it; but such a spirit of contradiction is there, in the devices of men, to the counsels of God, that such a weak and silly thing as Ishbosheth, who was not thought fit to go with his father to the battle, shall yet be thought fit t…

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