The Murder of Ish-bosheth & The Pool of Gibeon

Looking UpYou say that no liars will go to heaven (Rev 21:8), and it appears that if we lie not only is it against You, but bad things will happen, sooner or later, like the guy that said he killed Saul, when he hadn’t. 

So what’s up with David now?

1. Morgan Bible
Illustration from the Morgan Bible depicting the death of Ish-bosheth.
In the Biblical story, Ish-bosheth was proclaimed king over Israel in 1007 B.C. by Abner, the captain of Saul’s army, at Mahanaim in Transjordan), after his father and brothers were slain in the battle of Gilboa. Ish-bosheth was 40 years old at this time and reigned for two years.

About Names
The names Ish-bosheth and Ashba’al are unusual in some ways, as they have ambiguous meanings in the original Hebrew that are puzzling.

In Hebrew, for Ish-bosheth, “ish” means “[great] man” and “boshet” means “[given to] bashfulness [or humility]” or “[sensitive to] shame”, but it could also mean “shameful (or shamed) person”.

He is also called Ashba’al, in Hebrew meaning “[person of] master[y]” (and the “esh” may be connected to the Hebrew word for “fire”).

“Ba’al” may also allude to the name of the ancient deity Baal mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.

Critical scholarship suggests that Bosheth was a substitute for Ba’al, beginning when Ba’al became an unspeakable word; as (in the opposite direction) Adonai became substituted for the ineffable Tetragrammaton.

“Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker” (2 Sam 3:1).

David was blessed by six sons: Amnon, Chileab, Adonijay, Shephatiah, Eglah, and  Absalom  (you will hear more from Absalom).

“And it came to pass, while there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, that Abner made himself strong for the house of Saul. 

And Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah: and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, Wherefore hast thou gone in unto my father’s concubine?

Then was Abner very wroth for the words of Ish-bosheth, and said, Am I a dog’s head, which against Judah do shew kindness this day unto the house of Saul thy father, to his brethren, and to his friends, and have not delivered thee into the hand of David, that thou chargest me to day with a fault concerning this woman?1 

So do God to Abner, and more also, except, 2 as the LORD hath sworn to David, even so I do to him;

To translate the kingdom from the house of Saul, and to set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.

And he could not answer Abner a word again, because he feared him. 

And Abner sent messengers to David on his behalf, saying,  Whose is the land?  Saying also, Make thy league with me, and, behold, my hand shall be with thee, to bring about all Israel unto thee.

And he said, Well; I will make a league with thee: but one thing I require of thee, that is, Thou shalt not see my face, except thou first bring Michal Saul’s daughter, when thou comest to see my face. 

And David sent messengers to Ish-bosheth Saul’s son, saying, Deliver me my wife Michal, which I espoused to me for an hundred foreskins of the Philistines. 

And Ish-bosheth sent, and took her from her husband, even from Phaltiel the son of Laish.

And her husband went with her along weeping behind her to Bahurim. Then said Abner unto him, Go, return.  And he returned. 

And Abner had communication with the elders of Israel, saying, Ye sought for David in times past to be king over you:

Now then do it: for the LORD hath spoken of David, saying, By the hand of my servant David I will save my people Israel out of the hand of the Philistines, and out of the hand of all their enemies” (2 Sam 3:6-18).

Abner and 20 men went to David in Hebron and David had a feast with them.  And Abner said that if David would make a league with him that he wouldn’t interfere in him reigning all over, and David sent him away.

Then Joab and David’s servants showed up with a spoil they had conquered.

“Then Joab (this man is a mighty warrior and very loyal to David) came to the king, and said, What hast thou done? Behold, Abner came unto thee; why is it that thou hast sent him away, and he is quite gone? 

Thou knowest Abner…that he came to deceive thee, and to know thy going out and thy coming in, and to know all that thou doest. 

And when Joab was come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, which brought him again from the well of Sirah: but David knew it not.

And when Abner was returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside in the gate to speak with him quietly, and smote him there under the fifth rib, that he died, for the blood of Asahel his brother. 

And afterward when David heard it, he said, I and my kingdom are guiltless before the LORD forever from the blood of Abner the son of Ner:

Let it rest on the head of Joab, and on all his father’s house; and let there not fail from the house of Joab one that hath an issue, or that is a leper, or that leaneth on a staff, or that falleth on the sword, or that lacketh bread.

So Joab and Abishai his brother slew Abner, because he had slain their brother Asahel at Gibeon in the battle. 

And David said to Joab, and to all the people that were with him, Rend your clothes, and gird you with 3 sackcloth, and mourn before Abner. And king David himself followed the bier. 

And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept. 

And the king lamented over Abner, and said, Died Abner as a fool dieth? 

2. Mount of Olives and Bahurim
Mount of Olives and Bahurim
Results of an archaeological survey of the northeastern slope of the Mount of Olives have identified numerous ancient burial caves, some cisterns, and the biblical site of Bahurim.

The burial caves are from the Second Temple period and later, but in some places remains were preserved from the Iron Age. Ras Tammim in the survey’s Area III has been identified with biblical Bahurim.

This site is best known as the place where Shimei cursed David when he fled from Jerusalem during Absalom’s revolt.

Bahurim also is mentioned in connection with the return of David’s wife Michal.

You cannot help but feel sorry for Michal’s second husband who followed, “weeping behind her all the way to Bahurim.”

Thy hands were not bound, nor thy feet put into fetters: as a man falleth before wicked men, so fellest thou. And all the people wept again over him” (2 Sam 3:24-34).

“And the king said unto his servants, Know ye not that there is a prince and a great man fallen this day in Israel? 

And I am this day weak, though anointed king; and these men the sons of Zeruiah be too hard for me: the LORD shall reward the doer of evil according to his wickedness” (2 Sam 3:38-39).

When Saul’s son heard that Abner was dead he and the Israelites were troubled.  Jonathan had a son, Mephibosheth, and when he and Saul had been killed the nurse picked him up and ran and fell and the boy became lame of his feet.

Saul’s son had two men that were captains, Baanah and Rechab, and the Beerothites fled to Gittaim.  Rechab and Baanah went to the house of Ish-bosheth, who lay on a bed at noon.  And they entered the house and stabbed him under the fifth rib, beheaded him, and ran off with his head.


3. The Pool of Gibeon
The Pool of Gibeon is a site in Gibeon mentioned a number of times in the Bible.

Archaeological evidence locates the historical site of the pool in the village of Jib, in the West Bank Palestinian territories.

The remains of Gibeon were excavated in the late 1950s and early 1960s by a team of archaeologists led by University of Pennsylvania archaeologist James B. Pritchard.

The pool itself was unearthed in 1957.

The Pool of Gibeon, “one of the ancient world’s remarkable engineering achievements”, was dug 88 feet into limestone until it met the water table.

A spiral staircase along the walls allowed access to the water, according to the archaeologists that excavated the site.

They then took the head to David in Hebron, and said,


“Behold the head of Ish-bosheth 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” (2 Sam 4:8). 

And David replied,


“…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? 

4. Hebron
Hebron is a Palestinian city located in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 mi) south of Jerusalem.

Nestled in the Judean Mountains, it lies 930 meters (3,050 ft) above sea level.

It is the largest city in the West Bank, and the second largest in the Palestinian territories after Gaza, and home to approximately 250,000 Palestinians, and between 500 and 850 Jewish settlers concentrated in Otniel settlement and around the old quarter.

Canaanite period
Cave of the Patriarchs

Archaeological excavations reveal traces of strong fortifications dated to the Early Bronze Age, covering some 24-30 dunams centered around Tell er-Reumeidah.

The city flourished in the 17th–18th centuries B.C. before being destroyed by fire, and was resettled in the late Middle Bronze Age.

Hebron was originally a Canaanite royal city.

Abrahamic legend associates the city with the Hittites.

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 Ish-bosheth, and buried it in the sepulcher of Abner in Hebron” (2 Sam 4:9-12).

1 A curse formula –
1 Sam 3:17

2 The knowledge of David’s divine designation as successor to Saul had spread widely – 1 Sam 16:13, 25:28

3 Sackcloth is a course dark cloth, usually made out of goat’s hair.  It was worn by mourners, often by prophets, and by captives. 

Some think that originally it was a loincloth and it was the only article worn by Israel’s ancestors.  Others think it was like a corn sack with openings for the neck and arms and usually worn over another garment but next to the skin.

The Pool of Gibeon

David’s forces, led by Joab, defeated Saul’s army under the command of Abner at “the pool of Gibeon”.

The archaeological site identified as the Biblical Gibeon has a great cistern that may no doubt be identified with this pool.

This cistern, cut into solid rock is 82 feet (25 m) deep and 37 feet (11 m) in diameter.

A tunnel connects the cistern to another chamber at groundwater level.

The water is accessible by descending steps along the circumference of the cistern and then following a tunnel to a chamber fed a spring outside the city wall.

Constructed in the early 11th century B.C., the pool of Gibeon had been used for over 100 years by the time of the battle recounted in 2 Samuel.

It was still in use in the 6th century B.C., as attested by Jeremiah’s report that Johanan and his men there caught up to Ishmael, the assassin who had killed the Judahite governor Gedaliah.

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