2 Samuel 4 – The Assassination of Ishbosheth
A. Ishbosheth is murdered.
1. (1-4) The weakened condition of the house of Saul.
When Saul’s son heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost heart, and all Israel was troubled. Now Saul’s son had two men who were captains of troops. The name of one was Baanah and the name of the other Rechab, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin. (For Beeroth also was part of Benjamin, because the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been sojourners there until this day.) Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son who was lame in his feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel; and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened, as she made haste to flee, that he fell and became lame. His name was Mephibosheth.
a. He lost heart: When Ishbosheth heard that the man who put and propped him on the throne was dead, he knew that his day was almost over. He trusted in man to gain his position, so when the man was gone, he knew his position would be soon gone. Ishbosheth was weak because he trusted in man.
b. His name was Mephibosheth: This was the son of Jonathan, David’s good friend who died with his father on the field of battle. Mephibosheth was the last male descendant of Saul with a strong legal claim to the throne of Saul. At this time he was only 12 years old – and he was lame.
i. As she made haste to flee, that he fell and became lame: Mephibosheth was weak because of circumstances beyond his control. He was weak because of his age and because of an injury that came from the hand of another.
2. (5-7) Baanah and Rechab murder Ishbosheth.
Then the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out and came at about the heat of the day to the house of Ishbosheth, who was lying on his bed at noon. And they came there, all the way into the house, as though to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. For when they came into the house, he was lying on his bed in his bedroom; then they struck him and killed him, beheaded him and took his head, and were all night escaping through the plain.
a. They stabbed him in the stomach: Ishbosheth didn’t gain any real loyalty among his troops; they were only loyal to him when they thought he was strong and had a chance to keep the throne of Saul. When the weakness of Ishbosheth was exposed, Rechab and Baanah murdered him.
i. 2 Samuel 4:2 reminds us that Rechab and Baanah were of the children of Benjamin. This was the tribe that Saul’s family came from. This means that it was fellow Benjaminites who murdered Ishbosheth.
ii. Who was lying on his bed at noon: The mid-day siesta wasn’t unusual in that part of the world, but the absence of guards points to carelessness on the part of Ishbosheth. “To sleep at noon, and without a guard, speaketh him both sluggish and secure. He dieth therefore in his sloth, who had lived slothfully all his days.” (Trapp)
b. Beheaded him and took his head: This was an important part of their plan because they wanted to prove to David that they murdered his rival to the throne.
B. David executes Ishbosheth’s assassins.
1. (8) Baanah and Rechab bring the head of Ishbosheth to David.
And they brought the head of Ishbosheth to David at Hebron, and said to the king, “Here is the head of Ishbosheth, the son of Saul your enemy, who sought your life; and the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul and his descendants.”
a. And the LORD has avenged my lord the king this day of Saul and his descendants: When they brought Ishbosheth’s severed head to David they said, “We are God’s servants, defeating your enemies as instruments of God.”
i. “Their claim, The Lord has avenged my lord the king, was presuming on God’s approval of their deed, as though they had acted on the Lord’s express orders.” (Baldwin)
b. The son of Saul your enemy: David couldn’t relate to this because he didn’t think of Saul as his enemy. The beautiful song David composed at the death of Saul and Jonathan proved that though Saul set himself as an enemy of David, David did not regard him as an enemy.
2. (9-12) David has Baanah and Rechab executed.
But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from all adversity, when someone told me, saying, ‘Look, Saul is dead,’ thinking to have brought good news, I arrested him and had him executed in Ziklag; the one who thought I would give him a reward for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous person in his own house on his bed? Therefore, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and remove you from the earth?” So David commanded his young men, and they executed them, cut off their hands and feet, and hanged them by the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner in Hebron.
a. Shall I not now require his blood at your hand and remove you from the earth: Rechab and Baanah thought David would be pleased to see the severed head of Ishbosheth. They underestimated David’s loyalty to God and the house of Saul. David was loyal to his pledge to honor and preserve Saul’s family and descendants (1 Samuel 24:20-22).
i. David was used to seeing severed heads – he carried the head of Goliath around as a trophy for some period of time. But David knew that Saul and his descendants were not his enemies in the same way that Goliath was his enemy.
ii. Even though Ishbosheth was not the LORD’s anointed in the same sense as Saul was, David had thoroughly learned to let God take vengeance.
iii. David would not accept their evil deed, even though it seemed to serve a good purpose – unifying Israel under David’s reign as king. “While it is true that God overrules all the doings of men, and compels them ultimately to serve His high purposes, it is equally true that no servant of His can ever consent to do evil that good may come. It is an arresting truth that our Lord in the days of his earthly life would not accept the testimony of demons.” (Morgan)
b. David commanded his young men, and they executed them: David swiftly made an example of these murderous men. They were not soldiers fighting together with him; they were murderers who deserved just punishment.
i. “By this act of justice, David showed to all Israel that he was a decided enemy to the destruction of Saul’s family; and that none could lift up their hands against any of them without meeting with condign [appropriate] punishment.” (Clarke)
ii. “Thus David acted with strict justice in this case also, not only to prove to the people that he had neither commanded nor approved of the murder, but from heartfelt abhorrence of such crimes, and to keep his conscience void of offense towards God and towards man.” (Keil and Delitzsch)