“And when Saul’s son heard that Abner was dead in Hebron, his hands were feeble, and all the Israelites were troubled. And Saul’s son had two men that were captains of bands: the name of the one was Baanah, and the name of the other Rechab, the sons of Rimmon a Beerothite, of the children of Benjamin: (for Beeroth also was reckoned to Benjamin. And the Beerothites fled to Gittaim, and were sojourners there until this day.) And Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son that was lame of his feet. He was five years old when the tidings came of Saul and Jonathan out of Jezreel, and his nurse took him up, and fled: and it came to pass, as she made haste to flee, that he fell, and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth. And the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, went, and came about the heat of the day to the house of Ishbosheth, who lay on a bed at noon. And they came thither into the midst of the house, as though they would have fetched wheat; and they smote him under the fifth rib: and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. For when they came into the house, he lay on his bed in his bedchamber, and they smote him, and slew him, and beheaded him, and took his head, and gat them away through the plain all night. And they brought the head of Ishbosheth unto David to Hebron, and said to the king, Behold the head of Ishbosheth the son of Saul thine enemy, which sought thy life; and the LORD hath avenged my lord the king this day of Saul, and of his seed. And David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said unto them, As the LORD liveth, who hath redeemed my soul out of all adversity, When one told me, saying, Behold, Saul is dead, thinking to have brought good tidings, I took hold of him, and slew him in Ziklag, who thought that I would have given him a reward for his tidings: How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person in his own house upon his bed? shall I not therefore now require his blood of your hand, and take you away from the earth? And David commanded his young men, and they slew them, and cut off their hands and their feet, and hanged them up over the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ishbosheth, and buried it in the sepulchre of Abner in Hebron” (2 Samuel 4:1-12).
No sooner had David dealt with the untimely death of Abner that yet another act of cruelty was laid at his feet. This time it was the death of Ishbosheth the king of Israel. Even though Ishbosheth’s rulership was weak and stood in the way of uniting Israel and Judah, David would not have dreamed of removing his rival in this way.
Ishbosheth was not the kind of person that kings are made of. Being the puppet of Abner he would have constantly feared being deposed, but things did not get better when Abner was killed, for the people were disheartened with him. In fact it is highly unlikely that Ishbosheth could have continued without Abner’s power. The people of Israel probably feared David taking over and expected their king to valiantly rise up to oppose him. Weak leadership produces a weak nation.
Those responsible for Ishbosheth’s assassination were the captain’s of his own army who were brothers. They were supposed to protect the king rather than murder him. It is interesting that these men were from Beeroth in Gibea and under the protection of the tribe of Benjamin, the same tribe as Saul. King Saul had acted cruelly against the Gibeonites by slaying many of them (2 Samuel 21:1), so maybe they were taking vengeance for this crime and thus put an end to Saul’s dynasty. Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth might have suffered the same fate if the nurse had not hidden him, though unfortunately she dropped him, making him a cripple.
These men were looking for a reward and fame in planning this crime. They must have thought that David would be overjoyed at the news of the death of his rival, but they thought wrong. They murdered Ishbosheth while he was taking his siesta. They plunged a dagger into him and cut off his head.
The men travelled almost seventy miles to Hebron with the head of Ishbosheth and presented it to David. As the text tells us, this reminded David of the day the Amalekite boasted about killing Saul (2 Samuel 1). While the Amalekite had lied, these two men had the evidence of their wickedness in their hands. Maybe they thought that David would be flattered by their calling him lord and king, but he plainly saw what they had done to their previous lord and king. They even used God’s name to justify what they had done. How their faces must have changed when David called upon God’s name to condemn them!
David immediately called for the death penalty for the murderers. This is what he ought to have demanded for Joab’s crime, but at least he was doing the right thing here. The brothers deserved to die more than the Amalekite did, so if David did not mete out the punishment to fit the crime, then he would be undermining his own authority and justice. Had he let them live they could easily have been a problem for him in the future.
David buried Ishbosheth’s head in Abner’s tomb in Hebron, thus honouring him. The exhibiting of the criminal’s dismembered bodies besides the pool in Hebron served as a warning to others who might contemplate rising up against the king, and thus brought dishonour to their names.
This is a short chapter, but it is vital to our understanding of the life of David. Despite the fact that he could act unwisely at times, we see that he could refocus and do that which is right in God’s eyes. David continued to struggle on his way to his promised position. The death of Ishbosheth sets the scene for David’s reign over a united Israel.