Ishbosheth hears of Abner’s death, and we’re told that his courage (what courage?) fails him. In fact, all of Israel was dismayed right along with him.

We then move to Baanah and Rechab, who are not only captains of Ishbosheth’s own raiding bands, but fellow Benjaminites as well. They are brothers, the sons of Rimmon, who is in Beeroth. This would clearly have raised questions for the intended audience, so the narrator explains that Beeroth is considered part of Benjamin because the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been sojourners there to this day. Of course, this clarifies precisely nothing for me.

My study Bible speculates that the town was left empty when the original Beerothites fled, meaning it was free for Benjaminite opportunists like Rimmon to move in.

Rechab and Baanah go to Ishbosheth’s home. Unfortunately for the king of Israel, his doorkeeper fell asleep on the job just as he himself was tucking in for the nap, allowing Rechab and Baanah to slip in and kill him in his bed. They then decapitate his corpse and bring the head to Hebron.

Strangely, the King James Version specifies that they stabbed Ishbosheth “under the fifth rib” (the same phrase is used for the killings in 2 Sam. 2:23 and 2 Sam. 3:27, too). Other versions have them merely stabbing Ishbosheth in the “belly” or “stomach” (none that I can find use “tummy” or “tum-tum,” though). My RSV is even less specific, having the assassins merely slay Ishbosheth. None of my notes are showing any explanation for the difference, though.

Ishbosheth is slain, from the Maciejowski Bible, c.1240

Ishbosheth is slain, from the Maciejowski Bible, c.1240

Their motives are never made explicit. My New Bible Commentary suggests that their family might have some resentment toward Saul (and therefore the whole royal family), so it could be that their revenge was personal. It seems to me, though, that as army captains, they were pretty well situated in the established structure. A second explanation is that they either hoped for more or saw that Ishbosheth’s rule was coming to an end anyway and wanted to make sure they were aligned with the winning side.

Either way, they present David with Ishbosheth’s head, declaring that “the Lord has avenged my lord the king this day on Saul and on his offspring” (2 Sam. 4:8), making them the instruments of the divine.

David feels a little differently. He reminds the assassins of what he did to the man (here not identified as an Amalekite) who notified him that Saul had died (here did not claim to be the killer), a version of the events from 2 Samuel 1. If he killed a man for merely telling him about a king of Israel’s death, how much more should he do to men who were the actual agents of one?

And so Rechab and Baanah are killed, their hands and feet removed, and their bodies hung beside a pool at Hebron (which doesn’t sound like a great idea, hygienically, though presumably would ensure that the bodies would be seen by the greatest number of people – everyone needs water!).

David then buries Ishbosheth’s head in Abner’s tomb. It’s unclear why he made this choice rather than, for example, burying Ishbosheth with Saul, or perhaps making him a tomb of his own. The connection to Abner seems a little strange to me.

There’s an unflattering pattern emerging, where David’s enemies keep conveniently dying, often by assassination (even Saul was specifically said to have not been killed by the Philistines as part of the battle). Though David is punishing the assassins and emphasizing his own innocence, it still keeps happening, people keep thinking that they can profit by killing David’s enemies for him.

It almost comes a cross as a “she doth protest too much” sort of situation.

The surviving son

In the middle of the above, the narrative slides over what would appear to be the remaining person with a serious claim to the crown – Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. The purpose of the passage is apparently to show why Mephibosheth’s, whose claim to the crown would have been much stronger than David’s, was passed by.

The boy was five years old when Jonathan died at Jezreel. Presumably in fear that the Philistines would come after the remaining royal family to secure their control over Israel, his nurse fled with him. Unfortunately, he fell during the flight and his feet were crippled.

The only reason I can think of to mention this story here – that I can think of, anyway – is to explain why Mephibosheth was not a legitimate threat to David’s upcoming kingship, presumably because the office still required something more of a battle leader than an administrator.