“And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker” (2 Sam. 3:1b). The author of 2 Samuel shows us how Saul’s house is growing weaker in our chapter today. Hearing that Abner was killed, Ish-bosheth’s “courage failed” (2 Sam. 4:1) him and the remaining heir was a crippled son of Jonathan named, Mephibosheth. More on him in 2 Samuel 9. Suffice it to say, the quick mention of Jonathan’s son here shows us that there is no one left to reign on the throne of Israel from Saul’s house. Before you think I am being unkind about a crippled boy ruling as king, remember that kings in this day were oftentimes leading their armies out to war, remember the song, “Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands”? (1 Sam. 18:7b). So Saul’s son Ish-bosheth lacks the courage to continue resisting and Mephibosheth lacks the ability since he is no position to be going off to war and leading the people of Israel.
Well at least the people of Israel still have Ish-bosheth, right? When news comes that Abner was killed at Hebron, not only was Ish-bosheth at a loss but “all Israel was dismayed” (2 Sam. 4:1b). Abner was Ish-bosheth’s protection and strength, and with him gone the king of Israel is likened to a sitting duck. As it turned out he was a sleeping one. Two men from Beeroth, Rechab and Baanah, captains of raiding bands for Ish-bosheth, come to him while the king is taking his noonday rest. Beeroth was a city associated with Gibeon (Joshua 9:17), that group of people who were shrewd in making a covenant with Israel because they feared for their lives (see Joshua 9). Perhaps you remember that Saul put many of the Gibeonites to death, and there was bloodguilt on Saul and his house that resulted in a three year famine during the reign of David (see 2 Sam. 21:1). Rechab and Baanah may very well have fled from Beeroth when Saul attacked the Gibeonites and now they are seeking revenge on Saul’s house.
What exactly did they do? They came to Ish-bosheth during his noonday rest and “stabbed him in the stomach” (2 Sam. 4:6), and then “beheaded him” (2 Sam. 4:7). These men of raiding bands, came upon the king while he slept in his own bed. As Dale Ralph Davis points out, “They are not strong but weak, not courageous but cowardly, not manly but mercenary” (2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, 52). This is why, when they come to David with Ish-bosheth’s head in hand, David is not at all pleased. Indeed Ish-bosheth was an enemy of David, as was his father Saul, but David has not consented to the killings of Abner nor of Ish-bosheth. These events certainly weaken the house of Saul, but they also make David look really suspicious. How convenient for David that Abner and Ish-bosheth are killed.
Rechab and Baanah thought they were bringing good news to David, doesn’t this sound familiar (see 2 Sam. 1:1-16), and it resulted in their immediate deaths. David doesn’t credit these two sons from Beeroth with protecting him from his enemies, but gives Yahweh all the credit. “As Yahweh lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood at your hand and destroy you from the earth?” (2 Sam. 4:9b-11). These wicked men do not get credited with David’s deliverance, for that has come time and again from his gracious God.
Rechab and Baanah may have acted like they were the servants of the Lord (see 2 Sam. 4:8), executing vengeance on David’s behalf, but theologizing their wicked actions, doesn’t change the fact that they are wicked men. Let me give you an example of theologizing. Someone in the church is being confronted about their ongoing sin, and that member rather than repenting, points out how we are all sinners and God is compassionate, not at all like these elders who are approaching him about his sin. Such a person is using theology as a cover for their sin and folly. God sees right through this, even when people are sometimes fooled. Theology, the study of God and of the Scriptures that tell us about our God, should always lead us to doxology, that is, the worship of God. May our continued look in 2 Samuel lead us to deeper doxology!