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Poole on 2 Samuel 3:6-11: Abner's Defection to David

Verse 6:[1]  And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul.


[Abner was directing the house of Saul, ‎וגו״ הָיָ֥ה מִתְחַזֵּ֖ק]  He was strengthening himself (was pre-eminent [Jonathan]) in the house of Saul (Montanus); he was acting manfully for the house, etc. (Pagnine, similarly Vatablus); he had confirmed himself (Junius and Tremellius), that is, he had acquired for himself authority and wealth (Junius, Piscator).


Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul:  He used all his endeavours to support Saul’s house; which is mentioned, to show the reason of his deep resentment of the following aspersion.  Or, he strengthened himself in the house of Saul, that is, he so managed all affairs, as to get all the riches and power into his own hands; which made Ish-bosheth suspect that he aimed at the kingdom, and sought to marry the king’s concubine in order to it, as the manner was.  See 2 Samuel 12:8; 16:21; 1 Kings 1:17.

 

Verse 7:[2]  And Saul had a concubine, whose name was (2 Sam. 21:8, 10) Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah:  and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou (2 Sam. 16:21) gone in unto my father’s concubine?


[He said, Wherefore hast thou gone in, etc.?]  Either, because of lust, or so that thou mightest take her to wife, and thus seize the kingdom from me? (Lapide, similarly Lyra, Martyr, Menochius).  He said this, either out of false suspicion, or from certain knowledge (Piscator).  This was calumny (Malvenda, Josephus in Lapide).  [To others the suspicion appears to have been true (thus Martyr, Sanchez):]  But impious and proud men are unwilling to have their sins marked (Martyr).  Concerning this matter, nothing is certain (Vatablus).  In Hebrew it is, he said to Abner[3] (Jonathan, Montanus); Ish-bosheth said to Abner.  [Thus all others:]  Out of verse 8.  An Ellipsis of the nominative preceding the verb is common, as in Genesis 3:1, and he, that is, the serpent, said o the woman; and in Genesis 14:20, and he, that is, Abraham, gave to him tithes; and in Genesis 41:13, me ‎הֵשִׁיב, he restored, namely, either Pharaoh, or Joseph.  [Consult our extracts on that passage.]  And in 2 Samuel 24:1, and he moved David, namely, Satan, out of 1 Chronicles 21:1:  see also 2 Samuel 21:8 (Glassius’ “Grammar” 696).


Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine?:  Either, first, To satisfy thy own lust.  Or rather, secondly, By that pretence to take away my crown first; for this was that which stirred up his jealousy and rage, and caused him to speak that to Abner which otherwise he neither would nor durst.  But whether Abner were guilty or no, it is not evident from the following words; for if it were true, great men cannot endure to be told of their faults, though they be true and great.

 

Verse 8:[4]  Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ish-bosheth, and said, Am I a (Deut. 23:18; 1 Sam. 24:14; 2 Sam. 9:8; 16:9) dog’s head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?


[Am I a dog’s head, etc.,הֲרֹ֙אשׁ כֶּ֥לֶב אָנֹ֨כִי֘ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לִֽיהוּדָה֒ הַיּ֙וֹם אֶֽעֱשֶׂה־חֶ֜סֶד עִם־בֵּ֣ית׀ שָׁא֣וּל]  The אֲשֶׁר/which here begets more than a little obscurity (Dieu).  [They render the passage variously:]  Am I the head of a dog, who to the tribe of Judah (am I the head of a dog, because to Judah [Montanus]) today have done (shall do [Montanus]) mercy with the house of Saul? (Pagnine, Montanus).  Am I the head of the dogs of Judah? (Syriac).  Am I the superintendent or keeper of the dog (that is, dogs), which pertains to the tribe of Judah? that is, of the dogs of David, thine enemy.  Am I so vile and of abject office? that thou regardest me no more highly than a dog? (Vatablus, thus Kimchi and Rabbi Salomon in Dieu, Munster).  Thus רֹאשׁ/head they take metaphorically, and כֶּלֶב/dog collectively for dogs, and אֲשֶׁר/which they refer to כֶּלֶב/dog (Dieu).  Now, the keeping of dogs is vile, because the dog itself is a vile animal; hence he opposes the lion to the dog, Ecclesiastes 9:4, as the most excellent to the vilest (Bochart’s A Sacred Catalogue of Animals 1:2:56:685).  Am I the head of a dog, who belongeth to Judah?, that is to say, am I one of the dogs, our enemies of the tribe of Judah (enemies call each other dogs); shall I do, instead of, have I done, etc.? that is to say, are my services obscure and new? (Mariana).  Am I a canine person, who was (or is [Malvenda]) to Judah? (Junius and Tremellius), that is, who defected with the tribe of Judah, 2 Samuel 2:4 (Junius, Piscator).  Others:  that I might be of or with Judah? or have I then this day shown mercy, etc. (Dutch).  Others:  Am I a dog’s head, who against Judah is this day pursuing the house of Saul with benefits? (Tigurinus, similarly Munster, Strigelius, Castalio, English, Osiander).  Others thus:  Am I a dog’s head…before Judah? etc.  Am I so despised before Judah and David, that thou dreadest not, that I might transfer the kingdom to David? (Estius).  Rabbi Salomon thus translates it, Would I prefer to be a head in thine house? it is better for me to be a dong and commoner in the house of David.  This opinion is harsher.  Now, Rabbi Salomon notes here that ‎הֲרֹ֙אשׁ כֶּ֥לֶב is not rightly conjoined as two substantives in Construct, inasmuch as they are divided to a certain extent; because הֲרֹ֙אשׁ has the Pasta accent (֨ ), a strong Disjunctive ὑποστίγμην/accent; and כֶּ֥לֶב by a Makkaph is most closely joined with the following ‎אָנֹכִי/I:  which suggests to me another interpretation; am I a head? am I a god, who is to Judah? that is, am I to thee as a head, am I honored as a prince? Rather as a do, etc., dost thou hold me.  Or (if with Kimchi, Jonathan, and the Septuagint, you follow not the accents here) consider, whether אֲשֶׁר/which might not be able to be an adverb, or a conjunction (as often elsewhere), and to be explained as, if, so that, because, etc.  I have also observed it to denote and signify amplification, even, even indeed, and furthermore, yes and in fact, as in 1 Samuel 15:20, ‎אֲשֶׁ֤ר שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙, yes and in fact I have obeyed;[5] Psalm 10:6,אֲשֶׁ֣ר לֹֽא־בְרָֽע׃, even indeed I shall not be in evil; Psalm 95:11;[6] 144:12;[7] Isaiah 8:20;[8] Habakkuk 3:16.[9]  Thus in this place, shall I be the head of a dog? even indeed to Judah? that is, am I such an object of contempt to thee, that not only to thee, but also to thine enemies, the men of Judah, I might be considered as a dog’s head? (Dieu).  Am I a dog’s head against Judah, etc. (Vulgate), that is to say, am I so vile and useless to thy kingdom in this contest against Judah? (Menochius).  Because of thee, etc., I am said to be a dog’s head against Judah, because I am not restoring Israel to David, whom I know to have been anointed, etc. (Jerome in Lapide).  By Judah I am held as the prince of dogs, that is, of foolish men (Lapide).  Or thus:  I appear as a dog to thee; but the men of Judah have not found me a dog, but a lion (Sanchez, similarly Tirinus).  The term dog signifies a thing most vile and odious, as it is evident from 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 9:8; 16:9; Deuteronomy 23:18; Job 30:1.  Moreover, a dog’s head is a dog:  a Hebraism (Sanchez).  Head is put for the whole man:  Erasmus.[10]  A head beset with every crime:  Jerome to Theodosius.  O charming head:  Terence’s[11] Eunuchus (Gataker[12]).  Among the ancients, both the lust and impudence of dogs are proverbial.  Whence in Aristophanes[13] a certain man is called κυνοκέφαλος/dog-headed, and in Homer κυνῶπις/dog-eyed,[14] concerning which see Pierius in his Hieroglyphics[15] (Serarius).


A dog's head, that is, a vile and contemptible creature, as a dog was.  See Deuteronomy 23:18; 1 Samuel 24:14; 2 Samuel 9:8; 16:9; Job 30:1; Ecclesiasters 9:4.  And a dog’s head is put for a dog by a synecdoche, usual both in the Hebrew and in other languages, as the head is oft put for the whole man in the Latin tongue.  Which against Judah; so the particle ל/lamed is well rendered, as אֶל/el, which among the Hebrews is confessedly of the same nature and use, is used Ecclesiastes 9:14;[16] Jeremiah 34:7;[17] Ezekiel 13:9,[18] 20;[19] Amos 7:15.[20]


[And I have not delivered thee]  In Hebrew it is written הִמְצִיתִי, instead of הִמְצֵאתִי,[21] that is, I have not caused to discover thee in the hand of David, in the place of, I have delivered (Munster).


Have not delivered thee into the hand of David, which I could oft and easily have done.


[And thou hast charged against me, etc., ‎וַתִּפְקֹ֥ד עָלַ֛י עֲוֹ֥ן הָאִשָּׁ֖ה]  And (or and nevertheless [Pagnine, Vatablus], and now [Jonathan]) thou hast visited (visitest [Vatablus], that is, thou reproves me [Vatablus, Mariana], thou inquires [Septuagint, Tigurinus]) upon me the iniquity of the woman (Montanus, Pagnine), or of that woman (Junius and Tremellius, Piscator), as if committed with this woman (Junius); rather, against this woman (Piscator); while thou oughtest to have connived at this (Vatablus, Malvenda).  That is to say, and thou hast not even returned to me this favor, namely, the tacit condoning of this my slight fault (Menochius).  Thus he thinks illicit intercourse to be an inconsiderable matter (Martyr).  And thou upbraidest (imputest [Junius and Tremellius, Strigelius, Mariana, Castalio], imposes [Munster]) to me the fault of this woman (Arabic); thus thou chidest me, as if it were true that I had an affair with her (Vatablus).  Thus he denies the charge brought against him; for no such thing is found to have been committed (Malvenda out of Junius).  Perhaps he turned the sin from himself to the woman; that is to say, thou chargest against me that in which she offended (Mariana).


That thou chargest me today with a fault concerning this woman; either, that thou accusest me falsely concerning this matter; or, that thou canst not wink at so small a fault (for so he esteemed it) as conversation with this woman, who, whatsoever she formerly was, is now so impotent and inconsiderable, that she can do thee no service, as I have done.

 

Verse 9:[22]  (Ruth 1:17; 1 Kings 19:2) So do God to Abner, and more also, except, (1 Sam. 15:28; 16:1, 12; 28:17; 1 Chron. 12:23) as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him…


[Except as the Lord hath sworn, etc.]  He must have known this before the civil war was undertaken (Grotius).  He makes use of the language of swearing, so that he might signify the firmness of the divine promises; otherwise it does not appear where He swore (Menochius, Tirinus).  Abner was not able to be ignorant of this previously, but purposely he, with knowledge and awareness, set himself in opposition to the will of God (Martyr).


As the LORD hath sworn to David:  Whence it appears that this wicked wretch did all this while fight against his own knowledge and conscience, and against God himself.

 

Verse 10:[23]  To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, (Judg. 20:1; 2 Sam. 17:11; 1 Kings 4:25) from Dan even to Beer-sheba.

 

Verse 11:[24]  And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him.


He could not answer Abner, because he durst not provoke Abner further, lest he should really execute what he supposed as yet he only threatened.


[Because he was fearing him (similarly Pagnine)]  And [I think that it is to be read, as] David was Joab, verse 39.  Thus authority was not yet belonging to Otho[25] to restrain crime, says Tacitus in his Histories 1 (Grotius).  His chiding was untimely, which only begat hatred (Menochius).  [The Hebrew thus stands, ‎מִיִּרְאָת֖וֹ אֹתֽוֹ׃:]  From him fearing him (Montanus), because of the fear wherewith he was fearing him (Junius and Tremellius).  Thus it is to be written, because of fear of him wherewith he was fearing him.  Thus it is a genitive of the object; or because of his fear, which is a genitive of the receiving subject (Piscator).  Verbal nouns, both absolute and construct, govern the case of their verb, and so the accusative, as in Numbers 10:2, ‎וּלְמַסַּ֖ע אֶת־הַֽמַּחֲנֽוֹת׃, and for the pulling up the camps,[26] that is, of the camps.  In Deuteronomy 1:27, ‎בְּשִׂנְאַ֤ת יְהוָה֙ אֹתָ֔נוּ, because of the hatred of the Lord us, that is, against us.  Some posit an Ellipsis of an etymologically connected word, so that it might be, because of the hatred of the Lord wherewith He hated us.  Thus in Deuteronomy 7:8.[27]  Thus in this place, because of his fear him, that is, of him, or because of him (Glassius’ “Grammar” 162).


Because he feared him, as having a greater interest in, and power with, both the army and the rest of the people, than himself had.


[1] Hebrew:  ‎וַיְהִ֗י בִּֽהְיוֹת֙ הַמִּלְחָמָ֔ה בֵּ֚ין בֵּ֣ית שָׁא֔וּל וּבֵ֖ין בֵּ֣ית דָּוִ֑ד וְאַבְנֵ֛ר הָיָ֥ה מִתְחַזֵּ֖ק בְּבֵ֥ית שָׁאֽוּל׃

[2] Hebrew:  ‎וּלְשָׁא֣וּל פִּלֶ֔גֶשׁ וּשְׁמָ֖הּ רִצְפָּ֣ה בַת־אַיָּ֑ה וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ אֶל־אַבְנֵ֔ר מַדּ֥וּעַ בָּ֖אתָה אֶל־פִּילֶ֥גֶשׁ אָבִֽי׃

[3] No subject of the verb is specified.

[4] Hebrew: וַיִּחַר֩ לְאַבְנֵ֙ר מְאֹ֜ד עַל־דִּבְרֵ֣י אִֽישׁ־בֹּ֗שֶׁת וַ֙יֹּאמֶר֙ הֲרֹ֙אשׁ כֶּ֥לֶב אָנֹ֨כִי֘ אֲשֶׁ֣ר לִֽיהוּדָה֒ הַיּ֙וֹם אֶֽעֱשֶׂה־חֶ֜סֶד עִם־בֵּ֣ית׀ שָׁא֣וּל אָבִ֗יךָ אֶל־אֶחָיו֙ וְאֶל־מֵ֣רֵעֵ֔הוּ וְלֹ֥א הִמְצִיתִ֖ךָ בְּיַד־דָּוִ֑ד וַתִּפְקֹ֥ד עָלַ֛י עֲוֹ֥ן הָאִשָּׁ֖ה הַיּֽוֹם׃

[5] 1 Samuel 15:19, 20:  “Wherefore then didst thou not obey the voice of the Lord, but didst fly upon the spoil, and didst evil in the sight of the Lord?  And Saul said unto Samuel, Yea, I have obeyed (‎אֲשֶׁ֤ר שָׁמַ֙עְתִּי֙) the voice of the Lord, and have gone the way which the Lord sent me, and have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.”

[6] Psalm 95:10, 11:  “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, It is a people that do err in their heart, and they have not known my ways:  Unto whom I sware (‎אֲשֶׁר־נִשְׁבַּ֥עְתִּי, even indeed I sware) in my wrath that they should not enter into my rest.”

[7] Psalm 144:11, 12:  “Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood:  That our sons may be as plants (‎אֲשֶׁ֤ר בָּנֵ֙ינוּ׀ כִּנְטִעִים֘, even indeed let our sons be as plants) grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace…”

[8] Isaiah 8:20:  “To the law and to the testimony:  if they speak not according to this word, it is because (‎אֲשֶׁר, even indeed) there is no light in them.”

[9] Habakkuk 3:16:  “When I heard, my belly trembled; my lips quivered at the voice:  rottenness entered into my bones, and I trembled in myself, that I might rest (‎אֲשֶׁ֤ר אָנ֙וּחַ֙, nay indeed I shall rest) in the day of trouble:  when he cometh up unto the people, he will invade them with his troops.”

[10] Desiderius Erasmus (1467-1536) was a renowned Dutch humanist, classical scholar, and Roman Catholic theologian.

[11] Publius Terentius Afer (died 159 BC) was a Roman playwright.

[12] Thomas Gataker (1574-1654) was an English churchman, theologian, and critic, of great reputation in his own day.  On account of his great learning, he was invited to sit as a member of the Assembly of Divines at Westminster.  His abilities as a critic are on display in his commentaries on Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Lamentation, found in the English Annotations.

[13] Aristophanes of Byzantium (c. 257-c. 185 BC) was a Greek critic and grammarian, most remembered for his Homeric scholarship, and he served as librarian at the Library of Alexandria.  He produced an abridged edition of Aristotle’s History of Animals.

[14] Iliad 1:159.

[15] Pierio Valerianso Bolzani (1477-1558) was an Italian Renaissance humanist.  His Hieroglyphica was the among the first early modern studies of Egyptian hieroglyphs.

[16] Ecclesiastes 9:14:  “There was a little city, and few men within it; and there came a great king against it (‎אֵלֶיהָ), and besieged it, and built great bulwarks against it (‎עָלֶיהָ)…”

[17] Jeremiah 34:7:  “When the king of Babylon’s army fought against Jerusalem (‎עַל־יְרוּשָׁלִַם), and against all the cities of Judah (‎וְעַ֛ל כָּל־עָרֵ֥י יְהוּדָ֖ה) that were left, against Lachish, and against Azekah (‎אֶל־לָכִישׁ֙ וְאֶל־עֲזֵקָ֔ה):  for these defenced cities remained of the cities of Judah.”

[18] Ezekiel 13:9:  “And mine hand shall be upon the prophets (‎אֶל־הַנְּבִיאִים) that see vanity, and that divine lies:  they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord God.”

[19] Ezekiel 13:20:  “Wherefore thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I am against your pillows (‎אֶל־כִּסְּתוֹתֵיכֶנָה), wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly, and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly.”

[20] Amos 7:15:  “And the Lord took me as I followed the flock, and the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel (‎אֶל־עַמִּ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵֽל׃).”

[21] That is, the expected form.

[22] Hebrew:  ‎כֹּֽה־יַעֲשֶׂ֤ה אֱלֹהִים֙ לְאַבְנֵ֔ר וְכֹ֖ה יֹסִ֣יף ל֑וֹ כִּ֗י כַּאֲשֶׁ֙ר נִשְׁבַּ֤ע יְהוָה֙ לְדָוִ֔ד כִּֽי־כֵ֖ן אֶֽעֱשֶׂה־לּֽוֹ׃

[23] Hebrew: לְהַֽעֲבִ֥יר הַמַּמְלָכָ֖ה מִבֵּ֣ית שָׁא֑וּל וּלְהָקִ֞ים אֶת־כִּסֵּ֣א דָוִ֗ד עַל־יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְעַל־יְהוּדָ֔ה מִדָּ֖ן וְעַד־בְּאֵ֥ר שָֽׁבַע׃

[24] Hebrew:  ‎וְלֹֽא־יָכֹ֣ל ע֔וֹד לְהָשִׁ֥יב אֶת־אַבְנֵ֖ר דָּבָ֑ר מִיִּרְאָת֖וֹ אֹתֽוֹ׃ ס

[25] Otho reigned as Roman Emperor for three months in 69 AD.

[26] Numbers 10:2:  “Make thee two trumpets of silver; of a whole piece shalt thou make them:  that thou mayest use them for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps (‎וְהָי֤וּ לְךָ֙ לְמִקְרָ֣א הָֽעֵדָ֔ה וּלְמַסַּ֖ע אֶת־הַֽמַּחֲנֽוֹת׃).”

[27] Deuteronomy 7:8:  “But because the Lord loved you (‎מֵֽאַהֲבַ֙ת יְהוָ֜ה אֶתְכֶ֗ם), and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your fathers (וּמִשָּׁמְר֤וּ אֶת־הַשְּׁבֻעָה֙ אֲשֶׁ֤ר נִשְׁבַּע֙ לַאֲבֹ֣תֵיכֶ֔ם), hath the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.”

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Matthew Henry: 'Here...Abner breaks with Ishbosheth, and deserts his interest, upon a little provocation which Ishbosheth unadvisedly gave him. God can serve his own purposes by the sins and follies of men. 1. Ishbosheth accused Abner of no less a crime than debauching one of his father's concubines, 2 Samuel 3:7. Whether it was so or no does not appear, nor what ground he had for the suspicion: but, however it was, it would have been Ishbosheth's prudence to be silent, considering how much it was his interest not to disoblige Abner. If the thing was false, and his jealousy groundless, it was very disingenuous and ungrateful to entertain unjust surmises of one who had ventured his all for him…

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