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Poole on 2 Samuel 3:22-30: The Murder of Abner

Verse 22:[1]  And, behold, the servants of David and Joab came from pursuing a troop, and brought in a great spoil with them:  but Abner was not with David in Hebron; for he had sent him away, and he was gone in peace.

[They came, with robbers have been smitten]  Philistines (Tostatus in Menochius), or Edomites, Amalekites, etc., who, with occasion taken from the discord between Saul and David, were more freely plundering on the borders of Israel (Sanchez).

[‎בָּ֣א מֵֽהַגְּד֔וּד]  He came (had come [Vatablus]) from the camp (Jonathan, Pagnine); they returned from the battle line (Arabic); he was coming or returning from an excursion (Tigurinus, Septuagint); from a troop, understanding, of enemies (Munster), or from, understanding either pursuing (Junius and Tremellius), or spoiling (Syriac), a troop.

A troop of robbers, either Philistines, or Edomites, or some others, who taking advantage of the discord between the houses of Saul and David, made inroads into Judah, as they had occasion.


Verse 23:[2]  When Joab and all the host that was with him were come, they told Joab, saying, Abner the son of Ner came to the king, and he hath sent him away, and he is gone in peace.


Verse 24:[3]  Then Joab came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone?

[What hast thou done?]  That is to say, thou hast acted foolishly (Vatablus).  His equal and rival was inflaming him with martial pride (Grotius).

What hast thou done? thou hast committed a great oversight, to dismiss so dangerous and mischievous a person when he was in thy hands.


Verse 25:[4]  Thou knowest Abner the son of Ner, that he came to deceive thee, and to know (1 Sam. 29:6; Isa. 37:28) thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest.

[And so that he might know thy going out, etc.]  A Hebraism, for, how thou art conducting thyself? (Vatablus).  Thine actions and plans of action (Pisctor):  the secrets of the kingdom:  thine whole manner of life at home and abroad, in peace and war.  See Numbers 27:17 (Malvenda).

To know, etc.:  To search out thy counsels and secret designs, and to make use of them against thee.


Verse 26:[5]  And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah:  but David knew it not.

[And so going forth, etc.]  Angry and indignant that the king did not answer.  What he was not able to do with the king as author, he determined to do by his own authority (Martyr).

[He sent messengers]  In the name of the king (Sanchez out of Josephus, Menochius).  Not standing in awe of the judgment of God, nor of the anger of the King.  And hence David so vociferously excused himself (Martyr).

He sent messengers after Abner, in the king’s name, and upon pretence of some further communication with him.

Verse 27:[6]  And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab (1 Kings 2:5; so 2 Sam. 20:9, 10) took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly (or, peaceably[7]), and smote him there (2 Sam. 4:6) under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of (2 Sam. 2:23) Asahel his brother.

[He led him away separately]  He pretended that he wanted to speak with him in the name of the King with witnesses removed (Menochius out of Lyra, Piscator).

[To the midst of the gate]  The reputation of the place brought it to pass, that Abner acted less guardedly (Martyr).

In the gate; in the entrance into the city before he came to the king; and in the place where conferences used to be.

[So that he might speak to him in deceit, ‎בַּשֶּׁלִי]  [They render it variously:]  In quiet (Munster, Montanus, similarly the Syriac, Arabic); pacifically (Pagnine); quietly, charmingly (Vatablus); in error (Hebrews in Vatablus, Piscator out of Junius), that is, by error (Junius), because Abner did not know his heart, that he wanted to kill him (Vatablus).  The Greeks render it ἐνεδρεύων, that is, lying in ambush:  likewise ἐν παραλογισμῷ; that is, through false reasoning.  I would prefer, in tranquility:  that is, secretly, without witnesses:  in such a way that they might be interrupted by no one (Piscator).  Suddenly, unexpectedly (Hebrews in Vatablus); ignorantly (certain interpreters in Munster).  So that he might speak with him unsuspecting (Junius and Tremellius).

Quietly; with appearance of great civility and kindness.  Or, secretly, as having some matter of great importance to utter, which none but himself must hear.

[He smote him in the groin, ‎הַחֹמֶשׁ]  In the fifth rib (Munster).  See 2 Samuel 2:23[8] (Piscator).  God here turns the wickedness of Joab to His own glory, the punishment of Abner, and the good of David.  Yet Joab is not excused, who willed only to satiate his hatred, not to follow the judgments of God.  Joab does undeserved things, but Abner suffer things deserved; and David approaches to the Kingdom in a more honest way.  If Abner had lived, he would have been too insolent and ruthless; and David in a certain measure would have depended on his nod (Martyr).

[To avenge the blood of Asahel, ‎בְּדַם]  In the blood (Vatablus); because of the blood (Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius, Piscator), that is, the murder of Asahel (Piscator).  As Joab himself was saying, and was preferring to believe.  Yet the better (and true [Martyr]) reason was, lest Abner should make himself more beloved and powerful in the kingdom (Menochius, similarly Lyra, Tirinus, Martyr, Serarius out of Josephus and Procopius[9]).  He killed Amas for the same reason, 2 Samuel 20 (Tirinus out of Lyra).

Smote him there under the fifth rib; as he did Asahel, 2 Samuel 2:23.  For the blood of Asahel his brother; to revenge the death of Asahel; and withal (though that be not here mentioned) to secure his own standing, and rid his hands of so great and powerful a competitor.  And this was Joab’s design; but God had other designs in it, both to punish Abner’s manifest wickedness, and particularly his rebellion against David, and against God and his own conscience therein; and that David might not owe his kingdom to Abner, and to his revenge and treachery, but wholly to God’s wise and powerful providence.


Verse 28:[10]  And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the LORD for ever from the blood (Heb. bloods[11]) of Abner the son of Ner…

[He says]  Emphatically and earnestly, with hands lifted up to heaven, which was the gesture of one swearing (Martyr out of Josephus).

[I am clean]  David prudently clears himself of responsibility, and justifies himself against suspicions of complicity concerning this crime, which he was not able to punish on account of the newness of the Kingdom and the remnants of the civil war.  See verse 37 (Grotius).  David either, while he was saying these things, was washing his hands to signify his innocence, after the manner of the Hebrews, Deuteronomy 21:6; Psalm 26:6; Matthew 27:24; or has regard to that custom (Sanchez).

[And my kingdom]  That is to say, By no public counsel did Joab do this (Martyr).  God sometimes punishes subordinates because of the sins of Princes (Menochius).

[Before the Lord[12] (thus Munster, Junius and Tremellius)]  From Jehovah (Piscator, Septuagint, Tigurinus); from with Jehovah (Vatablus, Montanus, Dutch), that is, from punishment before the Lord (Dutch).  The sort of speech appears ἐλλειπτικὸν/elliptical, so that might be understood, so that I am not to be punished.  And then the following ‎מִדְּמֵי is to be rendered, because of the bloods.  (Thus מִן/from is often taken.)  That is to say, because of the murder, or as far as the murder is concerned.  A Metonymy, of which sort previously, but this more express, because of the plural number:  because, when someone is killed, his blood is scattered about, and so for one blood many bloods, as it were, are made.  Thus in Genesis 4:10[13] (Piscator).  From the sight of the Lord (Syriac, Jonathan in Vatablus), in the place of, in the sight of (Vatablus); before the Lord (Arabic, Pagnine, Strigelius, English, certain interpreters in Vatablus), that is, with Jehovah as witness.  I call Jehovah to witness (Castalio).  Jehovah knows that I have no knowledge of the death of Abner (Vatablus).

[Forever]  That is to say, that was never able to occur to me (Martyr).  I do not fear any punishment for me or mine forever (Sanchez).

He said, etc.:  David said publicly, before his courtiers and people; and seriously, as in God’s presence; I call the Lord to witness, that this was not done by my instigation or authority, or by any public counsel, but only by Joab’s malice; and therefore I trust that God will not punish me nor my kingdom, but Joab only.


Verse 29:[14]  (1 Kings 2:32, 33) Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and let there not fail (Heb. be cut off[15]) from the house of Joab one (Lev. 15:2) that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread.

[Let it come upon the head of Joab, ‎יָחֻלוּ [16]Let them remain (Munster, Junius and Tremellius, Vatablus), namely, those bloods (Munster); let them befall (Septuagint); let if fall (Pagnine, Syriac, similarly Tigurinus); let them drip (Jonathan); let it rest (Arabic); they shall suffer, that is, they shall break in with sorrow and suffering (Malvenda).  Let this crime be ascribed to Joab, and let him pay its penalty (Vatablus).

Let it rest, that is, this blood, the guilt and punishment of it.  And on all his father’s house.  But children were not to suffer for their parent’s sin, Deuteronomy 24:16; and therefore either this was only a prediction; or, if it were an imprecation, David may seem to have transgressed his bounds, and mingled his passion with his zeal, that so he might express his utter detestation of this horrid murder, and how far he was from having any hand in it.

[And let there not fail, etc. (thus Pagnine, Junius and Tremellius), ‎יִכָּרֵת]  Let there not be exterminated (Vatablus), cut off (Montanus, Piscator), that is, let there always be one, etc. (Piscator).

[Enduring a flux of seed, ‎זָב]  One flowing (Pagnine, Montanus, Jonathan).  Suffering a flux (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Vatablus), namely, of seed (Arabic, Piscator).  Γονορρυὴς, having gonnorhea (Septuagint in Piscator).  This disease was foul; and disreputable among the Hebrews.  See Leviticus 10 (and Leviticus 15 [Sanchez]).  The one afflicted with that was useless for generation.  Therefore, Joab is punished with sterility and ἀτεκνίᾳ/childlessness (Lapide).  Moreover, such are consumed in their whole body, and were expelled by the Church (Martyr).

An issue was not only a troublesome and shameful disease, but also infectious, both to him that had it, and to all that touched him; so that whilst it was upon a man, he was cut off in a great part from converse either with God or men.

[And a leper]  Such were both suffering miserably, and were shut out of the assembly of the people of God (Lapide).

[And one holding a spindle[17] (thus the Syriac, similarly the Arabic)]  Thus פֶּלֶךְ in Proverbs 31:19[18] is translated by the Septuagint, Pagnine, and Vatablus (and Munster), and others here and there (Lapide).  That is, a poor and needy man, who sustains his life with mean and womanly work (Menochius, similarly Sanchez).  Now, the greatest ignominy of man is the distaff and spindle, as the examples of Sardanapalus[19] in Justinus’[20] in his Of Phillipic Histories[21] 1 and Hercules[22] teach (Sanchez).  Let them be effeminate and soft, and more suited to the distaff and spindle, than to war (Martyr).  ‎וּמַחֲזִ֥יק בַּפֶּ֛לֶךְ, and grasping or holding a rod or staff (Pagnine, Montanus, Vatablus, thus Junius and Tremellius, Piscator, Munster, etc.), that is, upon which he might lean because of a distemper in his feet (Martyr).  Let him be valetudinary, gouty, wasting, etc. (Piscator out of Junius), palsied; that is to say, let them be carried about like living cadavers (Martyr).  Blind (Aquila in Piscator); the blind are wont to be led with staff in hand.  The Septuagint has κρατῶν σκυτάλης, that is, holding a spindle (Piscator).

That leaneth on a staff, through craziness, or feebleness, or lameness, whereby he is rendered unfit for action and public service.

[Falling by the sword]  By an untimely death (Martyr).

[And lacking bread]  It is a horrible sort of death, to die by famine (Martyr).  This was common in execrations, Psalm 59:6, 15; 109:10 (Sanchez).  It was their custom to curse the posterity of the wicked with horrible things.  See Psalm 109:10, 12 (Grotius).  Moreover, in these words is contained, not a mere prediction, as some maintain, but an imprecation (Serarius, similarly Martyr, Sanchez, Tirinus, Lyra).  We are not able to establish, whether David, impelled by the divine Spirit, or only by his human spirit, and yielding to his own soul, said those things (Martyr).  David clears himself from the suspicion of crime by this imprecation, etc. (Tirinus).  David, as if a Prophet, appears prophetically to curse Joab, and to foretell vengeance from God, unless you prefer with others that these words signify what was deserved by Joab (Lapide).


Verse 30:[23]  So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother (2 Sam. 2:23) Asahel at Gibeon in the battle.

[Joab and Abishai]  Joab with his own hand; Abishai by consent and assistance (Grotius).  Sometimes an action and an active verb are attributed to one consenting to and approving the action.  See Judges 9:4, 5, 18, 24 (Glassius’ “Grammar” 293).

[Because he had slain Asahel…in battle]  Hebrew:  in that battle[24] (Piscator), concerning which 2 Samuel 2:23.  By this circumstance is amplified the baseness of the murder; because a matter, conducted in the heat of battle and unwillingly by Abner, the brothers, with the matters composed and in perfect peace, paid back to him (Malvenda out of Junius).

Joab and Abishai; for though Joab only committed the murder, yet Abishai was guilty of it, because it was done with his consent, and counsel, and help, and approbation; for by these and such-like actions men are involved in the guilt of other men’s sins, at least in God’s judgment.  Abner slew Asahel in the fury of battle, and for his own necessary defence; and therefore it was no justification of this unnecessary and treacherous murder in a time of peace.

[1] Hebrew: וְהִנֵּה֩ עַבְדֵ֙י דָוִ֤ד וְיוֹאָב֙ בָּ֣א מֵֽהַגְּד֔וּד וְשָׁלָ֥ל רָ֖ב עִמָּ֣ם הֵבִ֑יאוּ וְאַבְנֵ֗ר אֵינֶ֤נּוּ עִם־דָּוִד֙ בְּחֶבְר֔וֹן כִּ֥י שִׁלְּח֖וֹ וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ בְּשָׁלֽוֹם׃

[2] Hebrew: וְיוֹאָ֛ב וְכָל־הַצָּבָ֥א אֲשֶׁר־אִתּ֖וֹ בָּ֑אוּ וַיַּגִּ֤דוּ לְיוֹאָב֙ לֵאמֹ֔ר בָּֽא־אַבְנֵ֤ר בֶּן־נֵר֙ אֶל־הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ וַֽיְשַׁלְּחֵ֖הוּ וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ בְּשָׁלֽוֹם׃

[3] Hebrew:  ‎וַיָּבֹ֤א יוֹאָב֙ אֶל־הַמֶּ֔לֶךְ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר מֶ֣ה עָשִׂ֑יתָה הִנֵּה־בָ֤א אַבְנֵר֙ אֵלֶ֔יךָ לָמָּה־זֶּ֥ה שִׁלַּחְתּ֖וֹ וַיֵּ֥לֶךְ הָלֽוֹךְ׃

[4] Hebrew: יָדַ֙עְתָּ֙ אֶת־אַבְנֵ֣ר בֶּן־נֵ֔ר כִּ֥י לְפַתֹּתְךָ֖ בָּ֑א וְלָדַ֜עַת אֶת־מוֹצָֽאֲךָ֙ וְאֶת־מְ֣בוֹאֶ֔ךָ וְלָדַ֕עַת אֵ֛ת כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֥ר אַתָּ֖ה עֹשֶֽׂה׃

[5] Hebrew:  ‎וַיֵּצֵ֤א יוֹאָב֙ מֵעִ֣ם דָּוִ֔ד וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח מַלְאָכִים֙ אַחֲרֵ֣י אַבְנֵ֔ר וַיָּשִׁ֥בוּ אֹת֖וֹ מִבּ֣וֹר הַסִּרָ֑ה וְדָוִ֖ד לֹ֥א יָדָֽע׃

[6] Hebrew: וַיָּ֤שָׁב אַבְנֵר֙ חֶבְר֔וֹן וַיַּטֵּ֤הוּ יוֹאָב֙ אֶל־תּ֣וֹךְ הַשַּׁ֔עַר לְדַבֵּ֥ר אִתּ֖וֹ בַּשֶּׁ֑לִי וַיַּכֵּ֤הוּ שָׁם֙ הַחֹ֔מֶשׁ וַיָּ֕מָת בְּדַ֖ם עֲשָׂה־אֵ֥ל אָחִֽיו׃

[7] Hebrew:  ‎בַּשֶּׁלִי.

[8] 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 (‎אֶל־הַחֹמֶשׁ), that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place:  and it came to pass, that as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still.”

[9] Procopius of Gaza (c. 465-528) was a Christian rhetorician, teacher, and writer.  He produced commentaries on much of the Old Testament in a catenic form (consisting of a series of extracts from the Fathers).

[10] Hebrew:  ‎וַיִּשְׁמַ֤ע דָּוִד֙ מֵאַ֣חֲרֵי כֵ֔ן וַיֹּ֗אמֶר נָקִ֙י אָנֹכִ֧י וּמַמְלַכְתִּ֛י מֵעִ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה עַד־עוֹלָ֑ם מִדְּמֵ֖י אַבְנֵ֥ר בֶּן־נֵֽר׃

[11] Hebrew:  ‎מִדְּמֵי.

[12] Hebrew:  ‎מֵעִ֥ם יְהוָ֖ה.

[13] Genesis 4:10:  “And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother’s blood (‎ק֚וֹל דְּמֵ֣י אָחִ֔יךָ) crieth unto me from the ground.”

[14] Hebrew: יָחֻ֙לוּ֙ עַל־רֹ֣אשׁ יוֹאָ֔ב וְאֶ֖ל כָּל־בֵּ֣ית אָבִ֑יו וְֽאַל־יִכָּרֵ֣ת מִבֵּ֣ית יוֹאָ֡ב זָ֠ב וּמְצֹרָ֞ע וּמַחֲזִ֥יק בַּפֶּ֛לֶךְ וְנֹפֵ֥ל בַּחֶ֖רֶב וַחֲסַר־לָֽחֶם׃

[15] Hebrew:  ‎יִכָּרֵת.

[16] חוּל signifies to whirl, or to writhe.

[17] Hebrew:  ‎וּמַחֲזִ֥יק בַּפֶּ֛לֶךְ

[18] Proverbs 31:19:  “She layeth her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle (‎פָלֶךְ).”

[19] According to some ancient historians, Sardanapalus was the last king of Assyria (seventh century BC).  He is portrayed as decadent and effeminate.

[20] Junianus Justinus was a Roman historian of the third century.

[21] Historiarum Philippicarum.

[22] According to myth, Hercules kills Iphitus, and is sentenced by the Delphic Oracle to serve Omphale as a slave.  The great hero is forced to wear women’s clothing and help with the spinning.

[23] Hebrew:  ‎וְיוֹאָב֙ וַאֲבִישַׁ֣י אָחִ֔יו הָרְג֖וּ לְאַבְנֵ֑ר עַל֩ אֲשֶׁ֙ר הֵמִ֜ית אֶת־עֲשָׂהאֵ֧ל אֲחִיהֶ֛ם בְּגִבְע֖וֹן בַּמִּלְחָמָֽה׃ פ

[24] Hebrew:  ‎בַּמִּלְחָמָה.  Note the presence of the definite article.


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday

Matthew Henry: 'We have here an account of the murder of Abner by Joab, and David's deep resentment of it.

I. Joab very insolently fell foul upon David for treating with Abner. He happened to be abroad upon service when Abner was with David, pursuing a troop, either of Philistines or of Saul's party; but, upon his return, he was informed that Abner was just gone (2 Samuel 3:22-23), and that a great many kind things had passed between David and him. He had all the reason in the world to be satisfied of David's prudence and to acquiesce in the measures he took, knowing him to be a wise and good man himself and under a divine conduct in…


Dr. Dilday
Dr. Dilday

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