When Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died at Hebron, his courage failed, and all Israel was dismayed. Now Saul’s son had two men who were captains of raiding bands; the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, sons of Rimmon a man of Benjamin from Beeroth (for Beeroth also is counted part of Benjamin; the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been sojourners there to this day).
Jonathan, the son of Saul, had a son who was crippled 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 as she fled in her haste, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.
Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, set out, and about the heat of the day they came to the house of Ish-bosheth as he was taking his noonday rest. And they came into the midst of the house as if to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach. Then Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. When they came into the house, as he lay on his bed in his bedroom, they struck him and put him to death and beheaded him. They took his head and went by the way of the Arabah all night, and brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron. And they said to the king, “Here is the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life. The Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring.” But David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?” And David commanded his young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hanged them beside the pool at Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner at Hebron. – 2 Samuel 4 ESV
The transition of the kingdom from Saul to David had been anything but smooth up to this point. With Saul’s death, you would have thought that the path for David’s God-ordained ascension to the throne would have been cleared of all roadblocks. But then Abner had shown up and convinced Saul’s son, Ish-bostheth to claim the crown for himself. This set up a long, drawn-out conflict between the tribe of Judah and the remaining tribes of Israel. Then, when David’s men routed the army of Ish-bosheth, you would have thought that Abner, the commander of Ish-bosheth’s troops would have recommended surrender. But it would not be until Ish-bosheth made a stink about Abner sleeping with one of his concubines that Abner decided to turn his back on the house of Saul and offer his services and the allegiance of the remaining tribes of Israel to David.
David, in an effort to solidify his claim to the crown, took Abner up on his offer and made a peace treaty with him, with a special addendum, that Ish-bosheth return David’s wife, Michal, to him. The only problem with David’s deal with Abner is that he never informed Joab, his own military commander. What made this oversight particularly blatant was that Abner had murdered Joab’s brother, Ahasel. David’s treaty with Abner surprised and offended Joab, and so, he took matters into his own hands and murdered Abner. This forced David into damage control, prompting him to throw a huge state funeral for Abner and to pronounce a devastating curse on his own military commander. Now things were in a state of turmoil. Upon hearing of Abner’s death, Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul and the king of the remaining tribes of Israel, lost his nerve. Up until that point, he had been little more than a puppet king, relying heavily on Abner’s charisma and leadership to survive. Now that Abner was dead, he was on his own, a thought that left him scared to death. Not only that, the people of Israel had no confidence in his ability to lead the nation without Abner’s help. In this unstable state, Ish-bosheth found himself in a highly vulnerable spot. And it led two men, Rechab and Baanah, to plot and carry out the assassination of the king. They believed, that with Ish-bosheth out of the way, they could hand over the kingdom to David, and receive a reward for their act of allegiance.
It does not appear from the text that any of this was God’s will. This was clearly the work of two men, who were taking matters into their own hands and attempting to facilitate the outcome that best suited their own personal interests. Like Abner, Rechab and Baanah had no love affair for David. They were in it for what they could get out of it. Ish-bosheth was nothing more than a means to an end, with the end being their own personal ambitions.
What’s important to note is that all of this began with David’s decision to make an alliance with Abner, a plan that had been concocted by Abner, but not ordained or approved by God. Nowhere do we see David seeking or receiving God’s permission to sign a deal with Abner. And in doing so, David created a highly unstable and potentially dangerous atmosphere. God didn’t need David’s help in uniting the kingdom. He had not sanctioned a treaty with Abner. And because David chose to act without God’s approval, Abner ended up dead, murdered by Joab. Joab ended up cursed by David. Ish-bosheth ended up assassinated by Rechab and Baanah. And those two men would end up executed by David’s order, with their heads and hands cut off and their bodies hung up for public display. What a great way to start a kingdom!
In the midst of all this mess there’s one subtle ray of light. It’s easy to miss. In verse four, there is the mention of Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. This verses is almost a parenthetical statement that comes out of the blue. It doesn’t seem to fit the context, but it sets up something that is going to happen later on in the story and recorded in chapter nine. Mephibosheth was the grandson of Saul, and as such, he would have been a potential heir to the throne of Saul. But he was only five-years old and suffered from a physical disability of some sort. In the middle of all the death, deceit, self-centered promotional efforts, jockeying for position, seeking of rewards and looking out for number one, Mephibosheth’s name appears as a subtle hint that it is the helpless and hopeless, the overlooked and the down-and-out who God protects. Abner could make deals, but he would eventually have to deal with God. Rechab and Baanah could come up with plans to line their pockets and improve their futures, but ultimately, their futures were in God’s hands. Joab could seek to mete out revenge on his own terms, but would learn that vengeance, when not left up to God can end up as anything but a blessing. David could attempt to speed up his ascension to the throne of all Israel, but he would learn the hard way, that trying to accomplish God’s will your own way rarely ends well.
We’re told that Mephibosheth “was crippled in his feet.” Could it be that this little description was meant to provide a not-so-subtle insight into how David, in an attempt to help God out, was actually crippling his own kingship. The helplessness of Mephibosheth provides a dramatic reminder of David’s need for God. This young boy, who lacked the ability to walk on his own, would find himself at the mercy of the king. He would have no other choice than to entrust his life to the sovereign will of his grandfather’s replacement. And David was still learning that his life, his kingdom, and his future rule over the house of Israel were completely at the mercy of God Almighty. Waiting on and resting in Him is always the best course of action.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.