A House Built
An Exegetical Paper on 2 Samuel 3:1-6
The first four chapters of 2 Samuel prepare the way for the introduction of David as king over the whole nation of Israel, an event which takes place in chapter five. At this point, the arc of David’s life is still very much ascendant. The ascendancy of David is very much driven home by the opening verses of chapter three, which are the chiastic center of chapters one through four. However, while David’s ascendance is the keynote, there are literary hints that the foundation may have its cracks.
Text: 2 Samuel 3:1-6 (ESV)
There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.
2 And sons were born to David at Hebron: his firstborn was Amnon, of Ahinoam of Jezreel; 3 and his second, Chileab, of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; and the third, Absalom the son of Maacah the daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; 4 and the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; and the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; 5 and the sixth, Ithream, of Eglah, David’s wife. These were born to David in Hebron.
6 While there was war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner was making himself strong in the house of Saul.
A House Being Built
Bracketing this pericope are notes on houses. In verse one we read that there was extended warfare between the houses of David and Saul, and though we don’t have dates, one might reasonably assume that this stretched the entire seven and a half years from when David was anointed king in Judah (2 Samuel 2:5) until he was made king over the united tribes (5:1-5). In this period the house of Saul is losing steam. Peter Leithart notes in his commentary that while there are over 7 years in which David is at Hebron, Ish-bosheth is only said to have reigned for two of those years. Thus Abner, likely due to Philistine advances following the death of Saul, seems to have had great difficulty in establishing Saul’s heir on the throne. This weakness in the house of Saul is exemplified in just how strong Abner himself was in contrast with Ish-bosheth, the royal heir. That plays out in the verses following our text.
Contrast this with the growing strength of David. This is the point of listing out all six of David’s wives, and the sons he fathered with each of them, in verses two through five. This display of strength or prestige is a marked increase from the two wives mentioned in the previous chapter (2:2). Further, these marriages were strategic. The “marriage to Maacah made Geshur (a small Aramaean kingdom northeast of the Sea of Galilee) his ally (3:3), strategically in Ish-bosheth’s rear.” Further, as Hamilton notes, the only other Ahinoam mentioned in Scripture is the wife of Saul (1 Samuel 14:50), to whom the prophet Nathan may be referring when he says that God has given David his master’s wives (2 Samuel 12:8). This allegiance with (or conquering of?) Saul’s house will only be further cemented by David’s demand to have Michal returned to him (3:14).
God’s blessing David with an increasing house foreshadows the strength God promises later in chapter seven. There David seeks to build a house for the Lord (7:2), but God counters by saying that he is the one who will build a house for David instead (7:11).
Disobedience in the Mortar
But if this all sounds rosy and promising, we ought to remember that God had previously given instructions for how a king ought to behave in Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). And one of the key commands in that text is that the king should not multiply wives for himself (17:17). And while the narrator does not go out of his way to editorialize or tell us “warning! warning! this is bad!”, we ought to take note. At least two of these sons, Amnon and Absalom, are going to be great sources of sorrow in David’s life. These various marriages, probably undertaken for primarily political reasons, will end up blowing up in David’s face. As Leithart puts it, “Ironically, the very institution intended to unify Israel ends up dividing it.”
2 Samuel 3:1-6 is a key text demonstrating that God was indeed building David’s house. And though that process was slow, drawn out over the course of years, David’s quiver was being filled with arrows (Psalm 127:4-5). However, disobedience to the Lord’s design for marriage and family would ultimately mean that David’s house would be one full of trouble and dissension. All of this would lead to the splitting of the kingdom in the days following Solomon, and the seeming destruction of David’s house at the exile. But ultimately, these troubles all lead the reader to anticipate the greater Son of David (Matthew 1:1), one who would be faithful over God’s house as a son (Hebrews 3:6).
Practically, the take home from this passage is to lean upon the Lord to fight your battles. David was faithful in trusting the Lord to increase his house, never desiring to engage in open warfare with Saul or his descendants. But even in the midst of that general faithfulness, we see David’s error in seeking to make alliances outside of God’s provision; embracing what to earthly eyes was a political shrewdness, yet in reality was the seedbed of many of his own heartaches. Building David’s house was God’s work, so David should have heeded the words of Hudson Taylor, and been diligent to do it God’s way.
Davis, Dale Ralph. 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity. Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus, 1999.
Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Historical Books. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2004.
Leithart, Peter J. A Son to Me: An Exposition of 1 & 2 Samuel. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2003.