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2 Samuel 2
The defeat of Israel and the death of Saul and his three sons in the battle of Jezreel, must have convinced David that the time was come when the anointing of Samuel, which had hitherto brought him nothing but trouble and anguish, would reward him for his sufferings by bringing him to the throne of Israel. He does not, however, betray any of the signs of human ambition, which most other men have manifested in similar circumstances. He does not follow the promptings of his own will, nor act on the dictates of his own judgement; nor does he ask counsel of flesh and blood; he inquires of the Lord, not whether he shall claim the vacant throne, but whether and to which of the cities of Judah he shall go up; and he is answered, "Go up to Hebron."
Kirjath-arba, which is Hebron, had long been a distinctly representative, and had become even a sacred, place. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had dwelt there; and it had been appointed as a city of refuge and a Levitical city. Hebron represented the spiritual Church. One circumstance connected with its history gives it a double significance. When the Israelites came into Canaan, Hebron was possessed by the children of Anak. These were giants, and were like those who are spoken of as existing before the Flood (Gen 6:4). The nations of Canaan were the degenerate descendants of the people of the ancient Church, and of these the Anakim were the most corrupt; as the Nephilim, or giants, that lived immediately before the Flood, were the most corrupt of the degenerate descendants of the people of the most ancient Church. It was the fear of the sons of Anak that caused the children of Israel to wander forty years in the wilderness, and that excluded all the men from twenty years old and upwards from entering Canaan, except Caleb and Joshua (Num 14:29, 30). When the spies who were sent to search the land, returned to the camp of Israel, one part of their evil report related to its gigantic inhabitants. "There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight." When the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan, Hebron, the district inhabited by these giants, was appropriately given to Caleb (Josh 14:13), who had brought up a good report of the land, and encouraged the children of Israel to go up at once and possess it (Num 13:30).
When David was divinely directed to go to Hebron, it was on account of its representative character. In Hebron had dwelt those in whom the ancient Church had fallen into its deepest state of corruption; on account of which the inhabitants of Hebron were utterly destroyed by Joshua (Josh 10:36, 37); and there David was commanded to go, to set up his kingdom, which was to represent the Lord's spiritual Church, that Church which the Lord established when He was upon earth; for the Christian Church was the ancient Church unclothed. To represent more expressively the establishment of the Church, it is recorded that David, when he went up thither, took with him his two wives, who represented the Church, as to the internal and external affection of truth, by which the spiritual Church is distinguished. His men also did David bring up, every man with his household; these representing all the truths of the Church, each united to its own good, with their derived thoughts and affections; those who are principled therein constituting the household of faith. David's men dwelt in the cities of Hebron. Thus the doctrines of the ancient Church, which these cities represented, after being purged of their errors and corruptions, became again the habitations of spiritual truth and goodness, which David's men and their families represented.
Not long after David's settlement in Hebron, "the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." The tribe of Judah, which was the first, was for some time the only tribe that acknowledged David as king; we can hardly say, as the successor of Saul, for the men of Judah seem to have made no claim for David's sovereignty over the whole people. Yet rightly considered, he who was king of Judah was entitled to be the sovereign of all the tribes of Israel; for he who rules the highest should rule all below. Jesus was sought and worshiped by the wise men from the east as King of the Jews, and the King of the Jews was written as an accusation over His cross; but He was acknowledged also as the King of Israel.
The kingdom began under David as it ended under Rehoboam, by being divided into two, the kingdom of Judah and the kingdom of Israel, if we may call Ish-bosheth's reign a succession, which was rather a usurpation. The kingdom belonged to the Lord, and by His command David had been anointed king long before the death of Saul. David was therefore the rightful sovereign of the one kingdom. Still there was a deeper cause for, and there is a deeper meaning in, the divided state of the people than the letter of the Word reveals.
David, we have seen, was potentially king while Saul actually reigned; as, in an early stage of the regenerate life, "we delight in the law of God after the inward man: but we see another law in our members, warring against the law of our mind, and bringing us into captivity to the law of sin which is in our members." The state is now changed. The inward man reigns actually, but the outward man is not yet wholly subject to his government. The highest or inmost thoughts and affections of the natural mind have made a voluntary submission, or rather have given their joyful consent, to the supremacy and rule of the spiritual. The men of Judah have anointed David king, confirming Samuel's act by their own, and thus reciprocating the Divine love to them in their practical love to Him. Our Lord, as the anointed of Jehovah, though never anointed as an earthly king, had the precious ointment of grateful and adoring love poured upon His head (Matt 26:7), and even upon His feet (John 12:3); acts appropriately done to Him, and done by loving women, who represented the Church, not only in general, but in particular, as it exists in the heart, when Jesus reigns there as King and Governor.
When the men of Judah came and anointed David king, they told him of the pious act of the men of Jabesh-gilead in burying Saul; and David sent messengers to bless them, and at the same time to ask their allegiance to him, now that Saul was dead. We have already remarked upon the burial of Saul as the type of resurrection; and it was fitting that this should be introduced here, seeing that the anointed, as buried in Saul, had risen in David. For, in resurrection, that which is raised is not the same as that which is sown; the life that is taken up is not the same as that which is laid down. The old dies, the new lives. David, as the anointed, was higher than Saul.
It does not, however, appear that the men of Jabesh acknowledged David as king. For it is immediately added, "But Abner the son of Ner, captain of Saul's host, took Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and brought him over to Mahanaim; and made him king over Gilead, and over the Ashurites, and over Jezreel, and over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, and over all Israel." Mahanaim, which was on the other side Jordan, and not far from Jabesh, was the spot where Jacob, after parting with Laban, with whom he had entered into a covenant, was met by the angels of God. "And when Jacob saw them, he said, This is God's host; and he called the name of the place Mahanaim." This name means two camps, and these two camps signify both the heavens, or both the kingdoms of the Lord, the celestial and the spiritual; and in the supreme sense, the Divine celestial and the Divine spiritual of the Lord. Although in its after-history Mahanaim seems to have verified its name, its two camps were not always the camps of God, nor were angels always the hosts that encamped therein. Mahanaim is connected, though not in the same manner, with two kingdoms, rivals to that of David. In Mahanaim Abner set up a rival king and kingdom to those of Judah; and to Mahanaim David himself came, when he fled before Absalom, on that unnatural son rebelling against his father, and attempting to wrest the kingdom from him (1 Sam 17:24). In Israel there were at this time, therefore, two camps, but one of them was hostile to the other.
The subject treated of in the naming of Mahanaim is the inversion of state, in which good obtains the first place and truth takes the second. Good has now obtained the first place, for the men of Judah have anointed David king of Judah; but truth has not yet submitted to the supremacy of good, for the rest of the tribes have not yet given David their allegiance. This is a state which has yet to be worked out, but it is not to be effected without that internal conflict which is represented in the Word by war.
A singular and sanguinary conflict seems to have formed the commencement of the several years' war that was carried on between the house of David and the house of Saul. Abner, captain of his master's host, had gone to Gibeon, and was followed by Joab, captain of the host of David; and they met together on the opposite sides of the pool of Gibeon. "And Abner said to Joab, Let the young men now arise, and play before us. And Joab said, Let them arise." Twelve from each side met, "and they caught every one his fellow by the head, and thrust his sword in his fellow's side; so they fell down together: wherefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is in Gibeon." Had this encounter been the means of settling a question of right or even of might, there would have been less regret for the mutual slaughter, but it was only the initiative of a sore battle, in which David's men were victorious. We may be thankful that, as a part of Bible history, it contains another and higher meaning than that of the letter.
The pool of Gibeon, on the opposite sides of which the two little armies sat down, and across which their two leaders spoke to each other, is the type of one of those deep questions on which the men of the Church have long taken opposite sides, and over which they have proposed and accepted the challenge to decide the question by a gladiatorial display of intellectual skill. In Scripture pools signify intelligence derived from the knowledges of goodness and truth; for pools are there taken for collected waters or lakes, and collected waters or lakes are collected knowledges by which intelligence comes. Both from its situation and from the subject of the contest between the two camps, the intelligence which the pool of Gibeon represents, is that which relates to the question, whether goodness or truth, or, what is the same, whether charity or faith has the claim to priority, and is entitled to take the first place. Those who maintain the priority and supremacy of charity are represented by the servants of David, while those who contend for the priority and supremacy of faith are represented by the servants of the son of Saul. "It has been a subject of controversy from the most ancient times whether priority and preference are due to charity or to faith. This controversy originated in the ignorance which prevailed of old, and which prevails at this day, concerning this truth, that one has only so much of faith as he has of charity, and that in the process of regeneration charity meets faith, or what is the same thing, good meets truth, insinuating into it all its particulars, and adapting itself thereto, and thus causing truth to be faith." "Those who are in truth before they are regenerate are always such that they believe truth to be both prior and superior to good, and so it appears at that time; but when truth is conjoined to good in their minds, or when they are regenerate, they see and perceive that truth is posterior and inferior, and then good in them has the dominion over truth. But as within the Church there are more unregenerate than regenerate men, and as the unregenerate judge from appearances, it has been a matter of dispute from ancient times whether priority belongs to truth or to good. With those who were not regenerated, and also with those who were not fully regenerated, the opinion prevailed that truth is prior; for as yet they had no perception of good, and so long as there is no perception of good, they must of necessity be in shade, or in ignorance on things of this nature. But those who are regenerate, because they are in essential good, are enabled, by virtue of the intelligence derived from it, to perceive what good is, and that it is from the Lord, and that it flows in through the internal man into the external, and this continually, man being entirely ignorant of it, and that it adjoins itself to the truths of doctrine which are in the memory, consequently that good in itself is prior, although it did not before appear to be so."
These states of thought in the Church, and these stages of the regenerate life, are strikingly represented in the state of the Israelitish people at the time of this meeting between Joab and Abner, when they were divided, the tribe of Judah, which represented charity or goodness, being on one side, and the rest of the tribes, which have more relation to truth and faith, being on the other. Yet, in reference to the regenerate this is a temporary state; for even in this stage the regenerate are progressing to one in which truth in them will be subordinate to goodness, as the tribes now under Saul are being brought, though by a painful experience, to unite with Judah in acknowledging the sovereignty of David. Their submission is to be brought about by conquest; and the singular and sanguinary scene enacted in the sight of the two contending parties is the beginning of the conflict.
And very expressive also of the nature and issue of the contest, in this its first stage, are the particulars of the conflict. The contest is at first a kind of intellectual sport, as the young men were to arise and play. The intellectual character of the contest is indicated by the number of combatants on either side. There are some numbers that have relation to good and some that have relation to truth. The number twelve has especial relation to truth, and generally means all the truths that enter into and constitute the faith of the Church, like the twelve tribes of Israel and the twelve apostles of the Lord. These are the intellectual combatants that are to contend for victory. They enter into the serious play of deadly strife. The contest is short and sharp, each man seizes his fellow by the head, and plunges his sword into his side. The head has a comprehensive meaning, but, in particular, it signifies the truth which a man believes to be truth, and which he makes the truth of his faith, for with man this constitutes the head, and is meant by the head in many parts of Scripture; as in Isaiah, "The redeemed shall come to Zion with songs of joy upon their head" (Isa 35:10). As the head has relation to truth and faith, the side has relation to charity; for there, where the combatants strike, is the region of the heart, which is the seat of life, and the symbol of love, which is life. Spiritual combatants lay hold of the head and thrust at the side, when they seize the faith and strike at the love of their opponents, and thus endeavour to subdue them through both the understanding and the will. But the singularity of this conflict is, that each combatant is victor and each is vanquished. The whole of the combatants are slain, they fall down together. A complete representative this of those intellectual and spiritual conflicts in which victory and defeat are common to both sides; in which neither convinces the other, but each one believes that he wields the sword of truth, and inflicts a mortal wound upon the principles of the other. From the determined character of those who engaged in this conflict the place was called the field of strong men, to express the state of mind which such a deadly but indecisive trial of strength leaves behind it, each side equally strong in its own convictions.
But no momentous question can be allowed long to remain undecided, if the means exist by which it can be brought to a decision. The death of these combatants was the signal for a general engagement. "And there was a very sore battle that day; and Abner was beaten, and the men of Israel, before the servants of David." This preponderance of power on David's side is representative of the beginning of that inversion of state which is to end in good being actually the first in the mind's estimation, and in the government of its thoughts and affections. And this also implies the ascendancy of the spiritual over the natural; for the one state implies the other. So far as we are naturally minded we give truth the first place and good the second, and even if we do not give truth the preference theoretically, we do it practically; and only when we have become spiritual do we give a practical supremacy to good. In every regenerate mind therefore, the conflict takes place which is to determine whether good' or truth shall be the reigning power; and only as we incline to the supremacy of goodness in our own hearts and lives does the cause of the right principle prosper and ultimately prevail.
When Abner was beaten he fled, and was pursued by a brother of Joab. As this flight and pursuit have important future consequences both to Abner and Joab, the captains of the opposing hosts, it is necessary carefully to consider it.
" There were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe." Asahel pursued Abner, but Abner seems to have been nearly as light of foot as his pursuer. He not only kept in advance, but was able to look behind and warn Asahel of the danger to which he exposed himself in coming too near. "Howbeit he refused to turn aside: wherefore Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him under the fifth rib that the spear came out behind him; and he fell down there, and died in the same place." The three sons of Zeruiah represent, like all such combinations, the trine that makes complete unity; and as the last in every trine has reference to action, this is well represented by Asahel being light of foot. The wild roe, to whose fleetness that of Asahel is compared, expresses the character of the ultimate which he represented. In Jacob's last blessing on his sons, Naphtali is said to be a hind let loose; and he represents the delight of the natural affections after temptations, when the affections, previously bound, are restored to a state of freedom. But Asahel is compared to a roe that has never been bound, but is in the enjoyment of its original wild freedom. He therefore, represents that activity which springs from the impetuosity of the natural affections that have not been chastened by temptation. He receives his death-stroke in an unusual way indeed, from behind Abner, and by the hinder end of his spear; but this shows his want of caution and experience, and it points out also the external means by which such a principle as that which Asahel represents may be overcome; for behind and before mean what are relatively external and internal, obscure and clear. To be thus slain would be a reproach and the circumstance that "as many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still," may be considered to express mingled sorrow and regret that, in the warfare of the spiritual life much zeal may be united with much indiscretion, and that a good cause may suffer loss from the well-intentioned but misdirected efforts of those who support it.
But Joab and Abishai continued the pursuit in which Asahel had failed; "and the sun went down when they were come to the hill of Amman, that lies before Giah by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon." In the prosecution of the same object by the two higher faculties there is some degree of the union of what is good and true, and therefore of zeal and discretion, as effected by temptation, which was wanting in Asahel; for they came to the hill Amman, which means a beginning; that lies before Giah, which means breaking forth (of a fountain); by the way of the wilderness of Gibeon, which spiritually signifies temptation as to truth. But when they were come thus far the sun went down. Sunset is the. end of a state of clear perception, and the beginning of a state of obscure perception, in regard to love and faith. In the present instance the state of clear perception had ended before the object of pursuit had been attained; thus indicating a still undecided or indecisive state respecting the supremacy of good or of truth in the Church and kingdom of the Lord among and within men.
The state of undetermined supremacy is further described in the account which follows. The men of Benjamin, the tribe to which Saul belonged, and in whose land the combatants now were, "gathered themselves together after Abner, and became one troop, and stood on the top of an hill. Then Abner called to Joab, and said, Shall the sword devour for ever? Know you not that it will be bitterness in the latter end? how long shall it be then, ere you bid the people return from following their brethren? And Joab said, As God lives, unless you hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up every one from following his brother." These leaders of the two opposite troops agreed to desist; and they returned, one to Mahanaim, the other to Hebron. They seem to have been mutually impressed with a conviction that it was unbecoming to carry on a fratricidal war to determine whether one or both the kings should reign; for this alternative seems to have entered into their calculations; and this state of indecision may be referred to that higher sphere which this condition of the two parties represents.
Still, although the question of the kingship was as yet undecided, and both the leaders agreed for the time to desist, the advantage was on the side of David. Of David's servants only nineteen had fallen besides Asahel, but of Benjamin and the men of Abner three hundred and threescore had died. These numbers express not only the extent but the nature of the loss; for three belongs to the spiritual class of numbers, and twenty to the celestial; or, to truth and good respectively. Although, therefore, both sides suffered loss, the relative strength remaining was on the side of goodness as compared with truth, or of the inner as compared with the outer man. As regards Asahel, they buried him in the sepulchre of his father which is in Bethlehem; thus representing the rising into a new and higher life of that natural principle of which he was the expressive type.4 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page