Abner, Ish-Bosheth military leader, and Joab, David’s military leader, appointed elite troops to engage in hand-to-hand combat. The result was a victory for David’s men, but they were not satisfied to end the contest there. Instead they made hot pursuit of Abner and his friends, a chase that resulted in the seasoned warrior Abner taking the life of Asahel, younger brother of David’s leader Joab. Joab and a surviving brother Abishai vowed to take revenge (v. 24) but when faced by immensely unfavorable odds gave up the chase (vv. 25–28). Abner then made his way home to Mahanaim (by way of the Arabah, i.e., the Jordan Valley, and the whole Bithron, a deep ravine leading to Mahanaim, v. 29), while Joab returned by night to Hebron (v. 32). David lost 20 soldiers, but Abner lost 360 (vv. 30–31). The battle was over but not the war.
In 2 Samuel 3:1–39, we see David’s house increase while Ish-Bosheth’s foothold weakened. David possessed many sons, a sign of strength and blessing.
As a result of his dispute with Ish-Bosheth, Abner defected to David’s side. Abner had sexual relations with a concubine in the royal harem. Ish-Bosheth interpreted this as a threat to his throne. Abner was so incensed at this charge that he secretly met with David in Hebron. Abner vowed to bring all Israel under David’s rule. David agreed on the condition that Abner return his wife Michal, whom Saul had given to another man (1 Sam. 18:20–27).
Abner left under a covenant of peace. When Joab returned to Hebron from battle, he was told of Abner’s arrangement with David. Because of his blood feud with Abner (2 Samuel 2:23–24), Joab plotted the assassination of Abner without David’s knowledge.
David was so distraught at Abner’s murder that he took special steps to disassociate himself from the guilt of Joab’s wicked deed. He declared a national day of mourning and personally abstained from food. The people concluded from this that David was innocent; his stature increased in their eyes.