David Crowned In Hebron
After the death of Saul, David thought the time had come for him to emerge from exile and take over the leadership of his people. He left Ziklag and proceeded to the ancient city of Hebron in Judah. There the people of Judah gathered and anointed him king. In the prime and vigor of his life (he was then thirty years old), wise in council, prompt in action, G-d-fearing and earnest, he seemed to all men best fitted to be king in those troubled times. He was the warrior king, the poet, and at times the priest.
David was surrounded by a band of valiant heroes who had long shared his adventurous exploits. Chief among his followers, bravest of his captains, was Joab, his kinsman, son of his sister Zeruiah. Joab had two brothers, Abishai and Asahel. The former was renowned for his fiery courage, and had slain three hundred Philistines with his own hands; the latter was "as swift of foot as the wild gazelle."
There are mentioned by name many other heroes, who accomplished wonderful feats of boldness. One of these adventures affords a touching proof of the feeling of strong attachment with which David had inspired his followers. At one time when war was being waged with the Philistines, he was hidden with his men near Adullam, while his enemies were encamped at Beth-Lehem. Tormented with thirst and wearied by the scorching rays of the sun, he longed for some water from his own pure well at Beth-Lehem. Eager to do his bidding at the peril of their lives, three of his most courageous men fought their way through the Philistine host and returned with the longed-for draught. David, though praising their heroism and devotion, would not taste the water they had obtained by risking their own life-blood, and poured it out as an offering to G-d. It was with the aid of followers so resolute and so undaunted that David might well hope to establish the new kingdom, and to become the protector of his people.
He began his rule by a graceful act. He sent his greeting to the men of Jabesh in Gilead, thanked them for burying the bodies of Saul and his sons, and promised them his assistance whenever they should need it.
In the meantime, Abner, the commander of Saul's army and his ever faithful follower, was determined that the sceptre should not depart from the house of Saul, and proclaimed Ishbosheth king over Israel. But considering him unsafe so near the land of Judah, Abner went with him to the old town of Mahanaim, east of the Jordan, where the prince took up his temporary residence; Abner himself soon returned to the province of Benjamin, and remained in Gibeon at the head of the army. Soon he was met there by Joab, captain of David's soldiers. A battle ensued, in which many of Abner's soldiers were slain. As this chief himself turned and fled, he was boldly pursued by the fleet-footed Asahel.
Abner knew the young Asahel was no match for him, and begged Asahel to avoid a hand-to-hand combat with him; but the youth heard this advice with disdain. Again in the heat of pursuit, Abner repeated his request, and again it was tauntingly rejected. At last Abner, to save his honor, felt obliged to take up the challenge. The next moment Asahel lay dead, easily slain by Abner. Enraged at the sad untimely end of their brother, Joab and Abishai carried on the pursuit. .At last Abner made a personal appeal to Joab to stop the bloodshed. Joab was moved; he commanded his men to leave off fighting, and both generals parted that day apparently reconciled. Yet the feeling of revenge was not extinguished in the heart of Joab. After burying his brother in Beth-Lehem, he returned with his men to Hebron, while Abner and his soldiers passed safely over the Jordan, and joined their master in Mahanaim.
This reconciliation did not last long, and frequent clashes between the two parties occurred from time to time. David was as yet too weak to stop the powerful and popular Joab from continuing his feud with Abner.
Abner Swears Allegiance to David
At last, Abner could not help being convinced that the whole land would ere long acknowledge David, who alone was able to lead and shield the people.
He spoke with the elders of Israel and showed them the utter hopelessness of the struggle. He then sent messengers to David at Hebron, and offered him his alliance. Sincere in his proffered loyalty to David, Abner proceeded to Hebron fearlessly, accompanied by no more than twenty men. He was kindly received by David, and a feast was prepared for him and his followers. He finally left Hebron in peace, promising David to win over all Israel to him.
At the time of Abner's visit to Hebron, Joab was absent on a military expedition. When he returned victorious and laden with spoil and heard what had happened meanwhile, he upbraided the king for having given his old enemy a friendly reception and allowed him to leave Hebron unhurt. Without David's knowledge, he secretly sent messengers to entice Abner back into the town. At the gates of the city he ambushed the unsuspecting general and killed him to avenge the death of his brother Asahel. David heard of this act of treachery with horror. Addressing the people, he declared himself guiltless of Abner's blood, and lamented the death of the brave Abner with these words: "A chief and great man is fallen in Israel."
Soon afterwards, the feeble Ishbosheth was murdered by two treacherous Benjaminites. The perpetrators of the deed brought their master's head in triumph to David, who, revolted at the crime, ordered them to be put to death. David then interred the head of his slain rival in the vault of Abner. Ishbosheth's sad rule, if rule it could be called, had lasted two years.