II Samuel – Chapter 3

Ishboshes Hoists Himself on His Own Petard

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

The war between David and Ishboshes continued, with David growing stronger and Ishboshes losing ground. It was then that Ishboshes dealt himself a disastrous blow.

Ishboshes called in Avner, his trusted general, and accused him of sleeping with a woman named Ritzpah, who had been Shaul’s concubine. Avner was appalled not only at the accusation, but at being spoken to thusly by the leader whom he had propped up. “What am I, chief dog-catcher of Judah?” he asked. (Really! Go look it up – verse 8.) Figuring that the word of G-d, to have at least two Benjaminite kings, had been fulfilled, Avner took this as a sign that Ishboshes’ time was up; he defected to David’s side. Ishboshes was speechless because he knew that without Avner’s support, he was lost.

Avner sent word offering his talents to David. David replied that he wouldn’t even see him until Avner returned Michal, the wife of David whom Shaul had given away. Avner retrieved Michal from Palti, who is here called Paltiel. (The name of G-d is appended to Palti’s name because of the great restraint he showed in not having relations with her.) Avner then contacted his colleagues in the Tribes that supported Ishboshes and told them that David was the rightful king, rallying support for him. But…

David had wisely kept Avner and Yoav apart. (Yoav, you may recall, wanted Avner’s head for killing his brother, Asahel.) Yoav yelled at David for trusting Avner, who supported Shaul. He then went after Avner himself. He killed Avner with the same blow that Avner had used on Asahel.

David was NOT okay with that. He declined to use his royal prerogative to execute Yoav, figuring that his reign was too new and still tenuous. Instead, he cursed Yoav, that his family would always include contaminated people, lepers, and other such misfortunes. David instructed Yoav and his other men to tear their clothes and put on sackcloth; he, himself, walked behind the coffin, an act a king is not normally permitted to do, but which was deemed necessary in this instance. Avner was buried in Hebron and David composed a dirge, as he did for Shaul and Jonathan.

People tried to comfort David, but he would not be consoled. Everyone saw how profound his grief was and it was obvious to all that David did not order the murder of Avner. And, while David did not consider his position secure enough to punish Yoav, he didn’t forget, either. (Wait until we get to I Kings chapter 2.)

Download Audio File