II Samuel 4
4 When Ish-Bosheth son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel became alarmed. 2 Now Saul’s son had two men who were leaders of raiding bands. One was named Baanah and the other Rekab; they were sons of Rimmon the Beerothite from the tribe of Benjamin—Beeroth is considered part of Benjamin, 3 because the people of Beeroth fled to Gittaim and have resided there as foreigners to this day. 4 (Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.) 5 Now Rekab and Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, set out for the house of Ish-Bosheth, and they arrived there in the heat of the day while he was taking his noonday rest. 6 They went into the inner part of the house as if to get some wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rekab and his brother Baanah slipped away. 7 They had gone into the house while he was lying on the bed in his bedroom. After they stabbed and killed him, they cut off his head. Taking it with them, they traveled all night by way of the Arabah. 8 They brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you. This day the Lord has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.” 9 David answered Rekab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble,10 when someone told me, ‘Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and put him to death in Ziklag. That was the reward I gave him for his news! 11 How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand and rid the earth of you!” 12 So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them. They cut off their hands and feet and hung the bodies by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-Bosheth and buried it in Abner’s tomb at Hebron.
1. The Condition of Saul’s House 1-4
The house of Saul was weak yet still it grew weaker and weaker. Ish-bosheth possessed the throne but his hands were very weak. When he “heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage” (1). His only strength stemmed from Abner and now Abner was dead. We don’t know what Ish-Bosheth planned. Without Abner’s support he had no spirit left in him. Though Abner had, in a passion deserted Ish-Bosheth, it is possible that Ish-Bosheth hoped, by his own means, to develop a good relationship with David. But now even this hope seems to have dissipated as he sees himself forsaken by his friends and at the mercy of his enemies while the Israelites that had served him were troubled and at a loss what to do, whether to proceed in their former treaty with David or not. If we use our imaginations, it is not difficult to think that David, in the court of King Saul and being a good friend of Jonathan’s and the husband of his sister, Michal, David may have personally known Ish-bosheth fairly well since he was Saul’s young son in the court David frequented.
Next we learn who the murderers were. They were brothers as Simeon and Levi were brothers and partners in their treason, though it is a subject of debate whether Simeon and Levi did right or wrong. Bannah and Rekab were Ish-Bosheth’s own servants, employed under him. This fact makes their deed so much the more base and treacherous. They were Benjamites, of his own tribe. They were of the city of Beeroth which is mentioned in Joshua 18:25 as belonging to Benjamin. They moved from there to Gittaim possibly at the time of Saul’s defeat to find a safer place to live. After the return of the Israelites from Babylon, in the days of Nehemiah, according to Nehemiah 11:33, we see Gittaim mentioned as a place where Benjamites apparently still or again lived. We see no explanation for why these details are inserted into this story, but it does illustrate that the Bible is true and events like this had a real geographic context. We are dealing with real people, real places and a true story.
Mephibosheth is mentioned probably because he was the son of Jonathan. Yet because his feet were lame he was not suited to become the next king. If he was five years old when his father and grandfather were killed, he would now be about twelve years old. Seven years earlier his nurse, hearing of the Philistines’ victory, was afraid they would send soldiers to Saul’s house, to kill all his descendants. If so, they would especially aim at her young master, who was now next heir to the crown. In fear, she fled with the child in her arms to take him either to a secret or strong place at which time she fell or dropped the child who fell, and either broke or dislodged possibly more than one bone in his feet which rendered the lad crippled for the rest of his life unfit for the kings court or the soldiers’s camp.
It is not the central lesson of this chapter, but it is worth mentioning that the results of sad accidents children experience in their young years, whether physical, moral or spiritual, those results remain with them all their days including the children of such fine men as Jonathan. What reasons we all have to be thankful to God if we have been spared such accidents in childhood. We can thank God who in His goodness sent His angels to bear us up in their arms, out of which there is no danger of falling. Ps. 91:12 says. “For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways: they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”
2. The Evil Deed is Done 5-7
Now let’s think about how the murder was committed. There is nothing sinful or immoral about taking a nap at midday. Maybe Ish-Bosheth was tired or the weather was unusually hot. I lived near this place for about eight years and know from personal experience that it gets hot there in July and August. But, on the other hand, it is possible that his nap betrays a lazy streak in the King. It may be that Ish-Bosheth was a sluggish man, loved his ease and hated business, and when he should have been, at this critical juncture, at the head of his forces in the field, or at the head of his counsels in a treaty with David, he was lying on his bed sleeping. Difficulties can challenge us to greater efforts or discourage and cause us to want to hide. Difficulties are with us in life. While we are in the world we will have trouble. How we respond to it is more an indication of who or what we are than what the trouble is or was. In any event, Proverbs 20:13, perhaps should have been applied that fateful day when Ish-Bosheth received an unexpected visit. "Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare."
The treachery of Baanah and Rekab is demonstrated in that they came into the house under pretense of getting wheat to feed their regiments. Possibly the storage place for grain was near the king’s bedroom which gave them an opportunity, when they were getting wheat, to murder the king on his bed. None of us know when and where death will meet us. When we go to sleep we are not sure we will awake still in this life or for what cause or reason we may not rise. Ish-Bosheth’s own men, who should have protected his life, took it away.
3. The Evil Deed is Reported 8
The murderers triumphed in what they had done which may indicate the cause for the deed in the first place. Apparently they felt they had performed some very glorious action giving David the advantage and that that was enough to justify the deed and even make it honorable. So off they trot to Hebron to make a present of Ish-Bosheth’s head to David. “Here is the head of Ish-Bosheth son of Saul, your enemy, who tried to kill you.”
They were very wrong to think this deed would be acceptable to David. Without a commission they made themselves instruments of God’s justice and ministers to bear his sword. They had no regard either to God or to David’s honor; they aimed at nothing but to make their own fortunes and to get preferment in David’s court. They pretended to have a concern for David’s life, and a desire to see him in full possession of his throne. But when a gift is given, the desires, values and interests of the recipient should be considered. They gave a “gift” which, to David, was no gift. This is very clear in this story, but there are many incidents in which God’s sons and daughters give Him something they think He should want, but is nowhere close to what He really wants. This is why obedience is better than sacrifice. When we obey, we give our king something He really wants regardless of our own misguided desires. Baanah and Rekab were fools to expect a reward. They did not know David. If we are going to give a gift to our King, let it be something He wants.
4. The Evil Deed is Avenged 9
David immediately, unhesitatingly and with strong conviction passed sentence on Baanah and Rekab. He needed no other evidence, their own tongues witnessed against them; they were far from denying the fact; they gloried in it. David showed them the heinousness of their crime, and that blood called for blood from his hand, who was now the chief magistrate, and avenger of blood. He may have been the more vigorous in prosecuting this case because he had recently failed to prosecute one he should have but did not. “. . . How much more—when wicked men have killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed—should I not now demand his blood from your hand” (11). Baanah and Rekab cannot make restitution, so true to God’s law, David will take their lives instead. David correctly defined the crime. Ish-Bosheth was a righteous person, he had not done nor designed any wrong for them. David was apparently satisfied that what opposition Ish-Bosheth had given him was not from personal malice, but was a mistake, and that mistake having come from an idea and influence of another, Abner.
Mercy teaches us to make the best, not only of our friends, but also of our enemies, and to think they may be righteous even though they may have done us wrong. We are not to judge a man as inherently bad just because he was bad to us. David considered Ish-Bosheth an honest man, even though he had given David a great deal of trouble. The nature of the crime made it even worse. To slay him in his own house, which should have been his castle, and on his own bed, when he was asleep and unable to defend himself, two men against one is not just. This was cowardly, treacherous and barbarous. David also could refer to a precedent. David had put to death the Amalekite who brought what he thought would be good news of Saul’s death to David. Nothing is said here of that Amalekite’s helping Saul to kill himself, only of his bringing the tidings of his death. David seems to say, “I treated him as a criminal who brought me Saul’s crown, should I do anything less to rascals who brought me the head of an innocent man?”
David swore an oath. “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble.” He expresses himself resolutely, to prevent possible doubt of his intention. He was dependent on God for putting him on the promised throne, and he would not be obligated to any man to help him to it by any unlawful practice. God had redeemed him from all adversity so far, and helped him over many a difficulty and through many a danger, and so David would depend upon him to crown and complete his own work. He spoke of his redemption from all adversity as a thing done, though he had many a storm yet before him, because he knew that He who had delivered would deliver.
So David signed the warrant for the execution of these men. “ So David gave an order to his men, and they killed them” (v 12). This may seem severe when they had intended him a kindness, but he detested their evil means. In the case of Nabel’s death it was different. I Sam. 25:39 says, “ When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, ‘Praise be to the Lord, who has upheld my cause against Nabal for treating me with contempt. He has kept his servant from doing wrong and has brought Nabal’s wrongdoing down on his own head.’” But if wicked men kill Ish-Bosheth, they deserve to die for taking God’s work into their own hands. They could scarcely have done him a greater injury than to think of him as though he were as they were. Some might not care what blood they wade through to the crown, but David was not one of them.
What confusion David’s response must have been to the two murderers! What a horrid disappointment! The execution was completed against the murderers, their hands and feet were cut off and their bodies were hung up. The same disaster, defeat and failure will meet any who think they can serve the interests of the Son of David by immoral practices, war, persecution, fraud or color of religion. Any who murder nobles, break solemn contracts, lay countries waste, burn churches or execute pastors will answer to Christ and He will let them know, another day, that Christianity was not intended to destroy but rather to bless humanity. Those who think by such deeds to merit heaven will not escape the damnation of hell.
5. The Third Time is a Charm
What can we learn by reviewing and comparing the three times David was personally saddened and severely distressed that someone from among his enemies was killed. David the ethicist, was many generations ahead of subsequent development in ethics among God’s people. In responding as he did to the news he received regarding the death of his enemies, we can observe that David was consistent. He deeply cared about people and did not let his own personal situation dictate to him how he would respond. He reacted correctly, genuinely and automatically. Each response was spontaneous; he did not have to ponder what would be right to do. He was not happy his enemy was killed, he was amazingly broken by it.
The Amalekite did not kill Saul, but claimed to have killed him and probably would have killed him if he had had a chance. He only delivered the message. Saul had become an evil person who failed God and deserved to die. He killed himself. David had the Amalekite killed.
Joab was a nephew of David who, in jealousy, ambition and self-service, tricked and killed innocent Abner. Abner had been an enemy, but now seven years too late, decided to join David. David did not have Joab killed, but should have.
Bannah and Rekab were employees of Ish-Bosheth and the two of them together killed Ish-Bosheth while he defenslessly lay asleep in his own bed in his own house. Ish-Bosheth was a weak enemy of David’s who had been supported by Abner in his role as king of Israel. David had Bannah and Rekab killed.
In each of these three dissimilar instances David sincerely lamented the death of the deceased. Though the situations, moral conditions of the murderers and character of the victims were all very different, David consistently lamented the death of these three enemies. He did not consider, value or cling to any personal advantage he may have derived from their deathes.
David demonstrated something that many years later the Son of David would instruct all believers including you and me to do, namely Mat. 5:43-48:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
The world’s idea of a strong leader is of the macho man, decisive, sometimes loud, but always confident and usually giving the impression of strength. David was greatly loved by his own and subsequent generations. He was a man after God’s own heart, had courage and was brave, yet cared deeply about people and grieved at the deaths even of his enemies he personally knew. David is the kind of man men will want to follow. I want to be like Jesus and David’s example helps me understand what that might look like.
Three times David grieved at the death of an enemy. All three times reveal David loved even his enemies. David’s responses—to grieve at the death of an enemy—were each significant, meaningful and exemplary. Three responses—three charms.