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Poole on 2 Samuel 3:12-21: David's Covenant with Abner

[1048 BC]  Verse 12:[1]  And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying, Whose is the land? saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.

[He sent on his own behalf (thus Munster, Tigurinus, Montanus, Vatablus), ‎תַּחְתָּו]  From his place in which he was (Jonathan in Vatablus), while he remained at his own house (Mariana).  Secretly (Kimchi in Munster); in place of himself (Pagnine), in his place, that is, from where he was standing, as in 2 Samuel 2:23[2] (Piscator); in his own name (Castalio), not in the name of the King, or of the Israelites (Martyr).

Messengers on his behalf; who in his name and stead might treat with David concerning his reconciliation with him.  Thus God overrules the lusts and passions of wicked men, to accomplish his own wise and holy purposes.  And who then dare contend with that God who makes even his enemies to do his work, and destroy themselves?

[Whose is the land? (thus Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus)]  That is to say, Does not it pertain to thee as King? (Menochius).  It is thine by right (Lyra).  God hath given it to thee; thou hast liberated the people; to thee it is due (Martyr).  ‎לְמִי־אָרֶץ, to whom is the land? (Montanus), to whom doth the land, that is, have regard, long? that is to say, this is the common desire of the nation, that thou shouldest reign (Mariana).  This kingdom belongeth to thee, not to the children of Saul (Vatablus).

Whose is the land? to whom doth this whole land belong, but to thee?  Is it not thine by Divine right?  Saul’s son is but a usurper, thou only art the rightful owner.

[And so that they might say, Make, etc., ‎לֵאמֹ֗ר כָּרְתָ֤ה בְרִֽיתְךָ֙]  Saying, settle (Montanus); and let them say (or, and who might say [Vatablus]), settle thy covenant (Junius and Tremellius).  Hebrew:  cut, or split.  See on Genesis 15:18[3] (Piscator).  Question:  Was it lawful for David to make a covenant with Abner?  David appears to present to him an occasion for sinning, and to consent to one doing evil, contrary to Romans 1:32.  Response:  Abner did not sin in bringing the people to David (Martyr); neither did David, who makes use of his right and the sin of Abner for good and his own advantage (Menochius).  David was able rightly to take advantage of the sin of Abner; and what was given wickedly by him he was able to receive in a good spirit.  Thus Christians were receiving the oath of the Heathen, which was offered through the names of their idols.  Thus is he excused, who, compelled by necessity, borrows money.  Thus Paul rejoices over those that preach the Gospel with a bad disposition.[4]  But, if a thing be bad of itself, it is not lawful to approve of it with our assent:  if it be not, we are able, as has been said, compelled by necessity, to give our assent to it.  Yet he with whom we contract is to be admonished of his error.  But in these things, David is not able to be excused; 1.  That he did not consult the Lord, but rashly hastens deliberation.  2.  That he enters into covenant with a degenerate man, a fornicator, etc., a traitor to Ish-bosheth (Martyr).  David was not a partaker in the fault of Abner, but to the decision of Abner his stance was merely passive; and he turned it to his own purpose, just as God makes use of the pursuits of the impious (Tirinus).

Make thy league with me, that thou wilt pardon all past offences to me, and to all Israel, and thou wilt receive me into thy grace and favour.


Verse 13:[5]  And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee:  but one thing I require of thee, that is (Heb. saying[6]), (so Gen 43:3) Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring (1 Sam. 18:20) Michal Saul’s daughter, when thou comest to see my face.

[Who says, Very wellWell (Montanus), good (Piscator), that is to say, the condition is satisfactory (Vatablus).

I will make a league with thee, to wit, upon thy terms; which, all circumstances considered, seems to be lawful, to prevent the great effusion of Israelitish blood, which otherwise would certainly have been split.  And although the principle of this action of Abner’s was base and wicked, yet the action itself was lawful and commendable, and no more than his duty to God and David obliged him to; and therefore David might well persuade and induce him to it.

[Thou shalt not see]  Do not try to see me (Vatablus).

[Until thou shalt have brought Michal, ‎כִּ֣י׀ אִם־לִפְנֵ֣י הֱבִיאֲךָ֗ אֵ֚ת מִיכַ֣ל]  Except thou first bring Michal (Syriac, Munster, Pagnine, Tigurinus, similarly Vatablus, Jonathan).  [Junius and Tremellius tie these words with what follows, and render them in this way, unless before they introduce thee, thou arrive with Michal, etc.]  That לִפְנֵי, in the presence of or before, has produced great difficulty for Interpreters; which is altogether removed, if we consider that particle to denote, not only time, but also place and situation, and in general a representation of any present thing; the same as ἐνώπιον, before, in the presence of, as if you would say in Greek εἰ μὴ ἐνώπιον τοῦ προσάγειν σε, unless in person thou bring Michal; that is, unless this be present, before and in the presence of, that thou bring Michal; that is, unless at the same time thou bring, and, when thou shalt stand, cause also to stand the daughter of Saul, and bring it to pass that her introduction is in person (Dieu).

[And thus thou shalt come and see me, ‎בְּבֹאֲךָ֖ לִרְא֥וֹת]  Verbatim:  in coming thee to see (Vatablus).  The reasons for demanding his wife back again were:  1.  His love towards her:  2.  Lest she stick any longer in adultery with her disgrace (Menochius, similarly Martyr):  3.  So that he might win the heart of men to himself, and fortify the way to the kingdom (Martyr, similarly Menochius).  4.  So that in this matter he might put the trustworthiness of Abner to the test (Martyr).  What Abner might have answered is to be gathered out of the following verse, namely, that it is not safe to take Ish-bosheth’s sister without his permission; wherefore he should make petition to Ish-bosheth, but that he is going to see to it, that Ish-bosheth grants the wishes of David (Sanchez).


Verse 14:[7]  And David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth Saul’s son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me (1 Sam. 18:25, 27) for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines.

[David sent to Ish-bosheth]  So that he might bestow that honor on the king and brother of his wife, lest he recall Michal with him unconsulted, and so that he might win him to himself; lest he furnish an occasion for new quarrels between Ish-bosheth and Abner.  Finally, lest the covenant made with Abner become known (Menochius).  But he wished also to show, that he was not of an implacable spirit towards him (Martyr).

Ish-bosheth’s consent was necessary, both to take her away from her present husband, and to persuade her to return to David.  Hereby David opened to him also a door of hope for his reconciliation, lest being desperate he should hinder Abner in his present design.  My wife Michal; who, though she was taken from me by force, and constrained to marry another, 1 Samuel 25:44, yet is indeed my rightful wife.  Her David demands, partly, for the affection he formerly had and still retained to her; partly, to deliver her from the sin and reproach of adultery with another man, who was not in truth and justice her husband, though he was so called and accounted; and partly, upon a politic consideration, that she might strengthen his right and title to the kingdom.


Verse 15:[8]  And Ish-bosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel (1 Sam. 25:44, Phalti) the son of Laish.

[Therefore, Ish-bosheth sent]  He thought that David ought not to be provoked, since Abner was alienated in soul (Menochius).

And Ish-bosheth sent, etc.:  For, being forsaken by Abner, he durst not deny David, into whose power he saw he must unavoidably come; and besides he supposed that she might be an effectual instrument to make his peace with David.


Verse 16:[9]  And her husband went with her along weeping (Heb. going and weeping[10]) behind her to (2 Sam. 19:16) Bahurim.  Then said Abner unto him, Go, return.  And he returned.

Bahurim; a city of Benjamin, upon the borders of Judah.  See 2 Samuel 19:16; 1 Kings 2:8.


Verse 17:[11]  And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past (Heb. both yesterday and the third day[12]) to be king over you…

[Abner spoke, etc., ‎וגו״ וּדְבַר־אַבְנֵ֣ר הָיָ֔ה עִם]  And the word of Abner was with the elders, etc. (Montanus).  A word (speech [Castalio, Strigelius]) he had, etc. (Pagnine, Tigurinus).

[To the elders of Israel]  By whose judgment public affairs were administered (Martyr).

Ye sought for David in times past, etc.:  Even in Saul’s time you highly honoured him, and prized his conduct, and wished that the power were in his hands; and great numbers of you went to him when he was in the hold, 1 Chronicles 12.  And after Saul’s death you would gladly have advanced him to the crown, if your respect to Saul’s family, together with my authority and influence, had not diverted you.


Verse 18:[13]  Now then do it:  (2 Sam. 3:9) for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies.

[Now then do it]  Hitherto I have resisted thee in this matter.  I no longer stand in the way.  Do ye, therefore, etc. (Vatablus).  Act, understanding, so that he might reign over you, now that it is permitted (Vatablus).

Now then do it; you shall have my free consent and utmost assistance in procuring it.

[Since the Lord hath spoken to David, ‎אֶל־דָּוִד]  Of David (Septuagint, Syriac, Arabic, Junius and Tremellius, Strigelius, Sanchez, Castalio).  That אֶל/ to often means the same thing as of/concerning.  Thus in Hebrews 1:7, and to the angels He saith,[14] that is, of the angels; thus in Hebrews 4:13, to whom to us a word,[15] that is, of whom.  See what things we have on Acts 2:25[16] (Sanchez).  Yet Abner is not following the will of God, but the heat and pride of his own soul, and traffics in the word of God.  For, by that same word of God, he wished to sell Ish-bosheth, and to buy David (Martyr).

[Saying, by the hand of David I will save my people, ‎הוֹשִׁ֜יעַ אֶת־עַמִּ֤י]  I will preserve my people (Pagnine, Tigurinus, similarly the Septuagint, Jonathan, Syriac, Junius and Tremellius, Munster, Strigelius, Glassius).  It is an Enallage of tenses; the Infinitive in the place of the Future/Imperfect; הוֹשִׁיעַ in the place of אוֺשִׁיעַ (Glassius’ “Grammar” 361).  Others:  He made safe (Montanus, Mariana), in the place of, I made safe; the third person in the place of the first:  or, to make safe, that is, He said.  But I prefer the former (Mariana).  Question:  Where then did He say these things?  Response:  He said them through Samuel (Sanchez, Josephus in Martyr).  Which prediction was already spread abroad, passing from mouth to mouth (Martyr).  Samuel often spoke concerning this matter, neither is it necessary that all thing be committed to writing (Sanchez).

The Lord hath spoken of David; he wickedly pretends religion, when he intended nothing but the satisfaction of his own pride, and malice, and fury against Ish-bosheth.  It is very probable God spake these words, but undoubtedly he spake the same sense by Samuel, though it be not expressed before.


Verse 19:[17]  And Abner also spake in the ears of (1 Chron. 12:29) Benjamin:  and Abner went also to speak in the ears of David in Hebron all that seemed good to Israel, and that seemed good to the whole house of Benjamin.

[Abner spoke to Benjamin]  Who were attached to the house of Saul (Menochius).  This tribe was excelling, both in number, and in use of arms.  [Concerning the number ἐπέχω, I suspend judgment, on account of that internecine slaughter in Judges 20.]  These he thus wins for David so completely that they never departed from his posterity.  Even from this we are able to see just how skillful Abner was for tumult (Martyr).

In the ears of Benjamin; to these he particularly applies himself, because they might be thought most kind to Saul and his house, and most loth to let the kingdom go out of their own tribe; and therefore it was necessary that he should use all his art and power with them, to persuade them to a compliance with his design; and besides, they were a valiant tribe, and bordering upon Judah, and situate between them and the other tribes; and therefore the winning of them would be of mighty concernment to bring in all the rest.


Verse 20:[18]  So Abner came to David to Hebron, and twenty men with him.  And David made Abner and the men that were with him a feast.

[David made for Abner…a feast]  As a token of the undertaking of the covenant.  Great cheerfulness followed, which nevertheless at length ended in ruin.  The society of the pious with the impious always displeases God.  God willed to frustrate these counsels, so that David would be indebted to Himself for that blessing, not to a traitor (Martyr).

And David made…a feast:  Which in those times was customary when persons entered into covenant.  See Genesis 26:30; 31:44, 46.


Verse 21:[19]  And Abner said unto David, I will arise and go, and (2 Sam. 3:10, 12) will gather all Israel unto my lord the king, that they may make a league with thee, and that thou mayest (1 Kings 11:37) reign over all that thine heart desireth.  And David sent Abner away; and he went in peace.

[That I might gather to thee, etc.]  Often one man is able to accomplish much in the presence of a vast multitude:  it is even less remarkable in a Leader; while two common soldiers undertook the transfer of the empire of the Roman people, and transferred it,[20] Tacitus’ Histories 1 (Grotius).

All Israel, that is, the elders and chieftains of all Israel, representing and ruling all the rest.

[And that I might enter into a covenant with thee]  In a public ceremony, and with the people present and looking on (Menochius).

[‎וְיִכְרְת֤וּ אִתְּךָ֙ בְּרִ֔ית]  Verbatim:  and they shall cut with thee a covenant (certain interpreters); that they might enter a covenant (Vatablus).

[And that thou mightest reign over all, just as thine heart desirest]  Or thus, and thou reign in all things that thy heart longest for, that is, in all that thou shalt want (Vatablus).

[1] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁלַח֩ אַבְנֵ֙ר מַלְאָכִ֧ים׀ אֶל־דָּוִ֛ד תַּחְתָּ֥ו לֵאמֹ֖ר לְמִי־אָ֑רֶץ לֵאמֹ֗ר כָּרְתָ֤ה בְרִֽיתְךָ֙ אִתִּ֔י וְהִנֵּה֙ יָדִ֣י עִמָּ֔ךְ לְהָסֵ֥ב אֵלֶ֖יךָ אֶת־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃

[2] 2 Samuel 2:23:  “Howbeit he refused to turn aside:  wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib, that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place (‎תַּחְתָּו): and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still.”

[3] Genesis 15:18:  “In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram (כָּרַ֧ת יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־אַבְרָ֖ם בְּרִ֣ית), saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates…”

[4] Philippians 1:15-18.

[5] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר ט֔וֹב אֲנִ֕י אֶכְרֹ֥ת אִתְּךָ֖ בְּרִ֑ית אַ֣ךְ דָּבָ֣ר אֶחָ֡ד אָנֹכִי֩ שֹׁאֵ֙ל מֵאִתְּךָ֤ לֵאמֹר֙ לֹא־תִרְאֶ֣ה אֶת־פָּנַ֔י כִּ֣י׀ אִם־לִפְנֵ֣י הֱבִיאֲךָ֗ אֵ֚ת מִיכַ֣ל בַּת־שָׁא֔וּל בְּבֹאֲךָ֖ לִרְא֥וֹת אֶת־פָּנָֽי׃ ס

[6] Hebrew:  ‎לֵאמֹר.

[7] Hebrew: וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח דָּוִד֙ מַלְאָכִ֔ים אֶל־אִֽישׁ־בֹּ֥שֶׁת בֶּן־שָׁא֖וּל לֵאמֹ֑ר תְּנָ֤ה אֶת־אִשְׁתִּי֙ אֶת־מִיכַ֔ל אֲשֶׁר֙ אֵרַ֣שְׂתִּי לִ֔י בְּמֵאָ֖ה עָרְל֥וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּֽים׃

[8] Hebrew:  ‎וַיִּשְׁלַח֙ אִ֣ישׁ בֹּ֔שֶׁת וַיִּקָּחֶ֖הָ מֵ֣עִֽם אִ֑ישׁ מֵעִ֖ם פַּלְטִיאֵ֥ל בֶּן־לֽוּשׁ׃

[9] Hebrew:  ‎וַיֵּ֙לֶךְ אִתָּ֜הּ אִישָׁ֗הּ הָל֧וֹךְ וּבָכֹ֛ה אַחֲרֶ֖יהָ עַד־בַּֽחֻרִ֑ים וַיֹּ֙אמֶר אֵלָ֥יו אַבְנֵ֛ר לֵ֥ךְ שׁ֖וּב וַיָּשֹֽׁב׃

[10] Hebrew:  ‎הָל֧וֹךְ וּבָכֹ֛ה.

[11] Hebrew: וּדְבַר־אַבְנֵ֣ר הָיָ֔ה עִם־זִקְנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵ֖ל לֵאמֹ֑ר גַּם־תְּמוֹל֙ גַּם־שִׁלְשֹׁ֔ם הֱיִיתֶ֞ם מְבַקְשִׁ֧ים אֶת־דָּוִ֛ד לְמֶ֖לֶךְ עֲלֵיכֶֽם׃

[12] Hebrew:  ‎גַּם־תְּמוֹל֙ גַּם־שִׁלְשֹׁ֔ם.

[13] Hebrew: וְעַתָּ֖ה עֲשׂ֑וּ כִּ֣י יְהוָ֗ה אָמַ֤ר אֶל־דָּוִד֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר בְּיַ֣ד׀ דָּוִ֣ד עַבְדִּ֗י הוֹשִׁ֜יעַ אֶת־עַמִּ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ מִיַּ֣ד פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים וּמִיַּ֖ד כָּל־אֹיְבֵיהֶֽם׃

[14] Hebrews 1:7:  “And of the angels (καὶ πρὸς μὲν τοὺς ἀγγέλους) he saith, Who maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire.”

[15] Hebrews 4:13:  “Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight:  but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do (πρὸς ὃν ἡμῖν ὁ λόγος).”

[16] Acts 2:25:  “For David speaketh concerning him (εἰς αὐτόν), I foresaw the Lord always before my face, for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved…”

[17] Hebrew: וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר גַּם־אַבְנֵ֖ר בְּאָזְנֵ֣י בִנְיָמִ֑ין וַיֵּ֣לֶךְ גַּם־אַבְנֵ֗ר לְדַבֵּ֞ר בְּאָזְנֵ֤י דָוִד֙ בְּחֶבְר֔וֹן אֵ֤ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁר־טוֹב֙ בְּעֵינֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל וּבְעֵינֵ֖י כָּל־בֵּ֥ית בִּנְיָמִֽן׃

[18] Hebrew:  ‎וַיָּבֹ֙א אַבְנֵ֤ר אֶל־דָּוִד֙ חֶבְר֔וֹן וְאִתּ֖וֹ עֶשְׂרִ֣ים אֲנָשִׁ֑ים וַיַּ֙עַשׂ דָּוִ֧ד לְאַבְנֵ֛ר וְלַאֲנָשִׁ֥ים אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֖וֹ מִשְׁתֶּֽה׃

[19] Hebrew: וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אַבְנֵ֣ר אֶל־דָּוִ֡ד אָק֣וּמָה׀ וְֽאֵלֵ֡כָה וְאֶקְבְּצָה֩ אֶל־אֲדֹנִ֙י הַמֶּ֜לֶךְ אֶת־כָּל־יִשְׂרָאֵ֗ל וְיִכְרְת֤וּ אִתְּךָ֙ בְּרִ֔ית וּמָ֣לַכְתָּ֔ בְּכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־תְּאַוֶּ֖ה נַפְשֶׁ֑ךָ וַיְּשַׁלַּ֥ח דָּוִ֛ד אֶת־אַבְנֵ֖ר וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ בְּשָׁלֽוֹם׃

[20] Two common soldiers of the guard, Proculus and Veturius, were solicited by Otho to participate in the conspiracy (a conspiracy with few members) to overthrow Galba.


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