What kind of king should rule in Israel? That is one of the pressing questions in 1 and 2 Samuel, and the answer comes through the contrast between David and Saul. The true king of Israel will not take the law of God into his own hands and obey it only insofar as he sees fit. Instead, the true king of Israel will obey the Lord’s commandments, trusting in God for victory (1 Sam. 13:8–15; 15:1–30; 17:1–54). The true king of Israel will not seize the throne by taking advantage of his predecessor in moments of weakness, but he will wait for the Lord to deliver it into his hands (chs. 24; 26). The true king of Israel will not look to necromancers for guidance but will attend to the lawful means of discerning God’s will (chs. 28; 30). The true king of Israel will honor his promise not to harm those whom he has lawfully sworn to protect (2 Sam. 3:26–39).
Today’s passage shows that the true king of Israel will pursue justice for those are killed unlawfully. We read in 2 Samuel 4 about the end of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul whom Abner had made king over the northern tribes of Israel (2:8–11). The first thing to notice is how weak Saul’s descendants were at this point. Ish-bosheth lost his courage when he heard about the death of Abner, who was apparently the true power behind the son of Saul (4:1). The text also mentions Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul. He was crippled in his feet (v. 4). Essentially, no one was left to challenge David for the throne of Israel. All potential rivals were effectively powerless.
This made what Baanah and Rechab did to Ish-bosheth all the more cold-blooded. Saul’s former captains entered the home of Ish-bosheth while he was resting and murdered him, bringing his head to David (vv. 2–3, 5–8). Clearly, they thought that they would get a reward from David for killing his enemy (v. 8). However, these foolish men did not understand that David did not see Saul’s house as his enemy. Moreover, Ish-bosheth had done nothing worthy of death. So David repaid their murder with capital punishment, which is the penalty required by the Mosaic law (vv. 9–12; Gen. 9:6; Num. 35:31).
Note also that Baanah and Rechab appealed to the will of God to justify their act (2 Sam. 4:8). They used the name of the Lord to try to show the righteousness of a cause that God never gave them. It is a great sin indeed to claim divine warrant for something God has not commissioned. May we never claim the Lord’s will for our actions except when it is clearly revealed in Scripture.