2 Samuel 4: Lessons from the Collapse of the House of Saul About the Dangers of Walking in the Flesh

Introduction: In the Bible, David represented the promise of the Spirit while Saul represented the deeds of the flesh. Before David could assume control, the deeds of the flesh within Saul’s lineage had to be fully exposed. From the final judgments that God placed upon the house of Saul in this chapter, God provides seven warnings about the dangers of turning to your flesh.

First, Ish-bosheth, the last remaining eligible male heir under Saul, depended upon Abner instead of God for his power. When Abner died, Ish-bosheth became filled with despair. From this mistake, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently leads to despair and hopelessness. Second, Ish-bosheth then turned to two commanders of marauding bandits to protect him. But these men would later turn on Ish-bosheth. Ish-bosheth should have turned to God. From his mistake, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently leads to trusting in strong people instead of Him. Third, the last male descendant through Jonathan, Mephibosheth, also suffered because of Saul’s sins. From this example, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently causes innocent people to suffer. Fourth, Ish-bosheth and his new commanders both came from the family of Benjamin. But the commanders murdered Ish-bosheth because they thought they could gain an advantage with David. From their mistakes, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently leads to self-destructive acts. Fifth, the commanders then cut off Ish-bosheth’s head to boast of their sins before David. From their mistake, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently leads to spiritual blindness. Sixth, David then rebuked the men for their murder. But they failed to repent. From their mistake, God warns that turning to the flesh frequently results in an unrepentant heart. Finally, as a just king, David sentenced the men to death for Ish-bosheth’s murder. From their judgment, God warns that turning to the flesh and failing to repent frequently leads to God’s judgment. Because all have sinned, all need Jesus’ forgiveness.

1. Turning to the Flesh Frequently Leads to Despair and Hopelessness. 2 Sam. 4:1.

  • Ish-bosheth was filled with fear after Abner’s death. The former chief of Saul’s army, Abner, made Saul’s last son, Ish-bosheth, king of Israel. Because Ish-bosheth placed his trust in Abner and not in God, news of his death filled Ish-bosheth with fear: “1 Now when Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he lost courage, and all Israel was disturbed.” (2 Sam. 4:1). Abner previously made the weak son Ish-bosheth King of Israel in an effort to preserve his own power. (2 Sam. 2:8-9). But Joab, David’s general, had just murdered Abner as revenge for killing his brother (2 Sam. 3:27). With Abner gone, Ish-bosheth did not have a strong backer to support him as king. Even worse, he feared that the people supporting David could kill him at any time.

  • Trusting in the flesh leads to despair. When a person trusts in the flesh and not in God, God may remove His hedge of protection and allow that person to experience the despair and hopelessness that comes from living without Him: “65 Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. 66 So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life. 67 In the morning you shall say, ‘Would that it were evening!’ And at evening you shall say, ‘Would that it were morning!’ because of the dread of your heart which you dread, and for the sight of your eyes which you will see. 68 The Lord will bring you back to Egypt in ships, by the way about which I spoke to you, ‘You will never see it again!’ And there you will offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer.” (Dt. 28:65-68). “This you will have from My hand: you will lie down in torment.” (Is. 50:11(b)). “These two things have befallen you; who will mourn for you? The devastation and destruction, famine and sword; how shall I comfort you?” (Is. 51:19). “And it shall be that when they say to you, 'where should we go?' then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says the LORD: “Those destined for death, to death; and those destined for the sword, to the sword; and those destined for famine, to famine; and those destined for captivity, to captivity.”’” (Jer. 15:2). If you are experiencing fear, doubt, or anxiety, give those fears to God and trust in Him alone.

  • Trusting in the flesh can also cause you to feel helpless. For those who fail to turn back to God after feeling despair or fear, God may eventually allow you to feel helpless until you repent and turn to Him. This is the equivalent of feeling like an exposed carcass to predators: “26 Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.” (Dt. 28:26). “As for those of you who may be left, I will also bring weakness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies. And the sound of a driven leaf will chase them, and even when no one is pursuing they will flee as though from the sword, and they will fall.” (Lev. 26:36). “The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, . . . so that they could no longer stand before their enemies.” (Josh. 2:14). “The LORD has done what He purposed; He has accomplished His word which He commanded from days of old. . . . He has exalted the might of your adversaries.” (Lam. 2:17). “I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hand of those who seek their life; and I will give over their carcasses as food for the birds of the sky and the beasts of the earth.” (Jer. 19:7; 7:33; Ps. 79:2). “The wicked flee when no one is pursuing, but the righteous are bold as a lion.” (Prov. 28:1). If you feel helpless, God is the only one who can empower and restore you when you fully trust in Him.

2. Turning to The Flesh Frequently Leads to Trusting in Strong People. 2 Sam. 4:2-3.

  • Ish-bosheth was left with two untrustworthy commanders to protect him. After Abner died, Ish-bosheth failed to trust in God. Instead, he placed his trust in two worthless commanders: “Saul’s son had two men who were commanders of bands: the name of the one was Baanah and the name of the other Rechab, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, of the sons of Benjamin (for Beeroth is also considered part of Benjamin, and the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have been aliens there until this day).” (2 Sam. 4:2-3). Beeroth was nine miles north of Jerusalem. It was one of the four cities first given to the Gibeonites (Josh. 9:17). But it was later allotted with the three other cities to the tribe of Benjamin (Josh. 18:25). The two men that Ish-bosheth selected to protect him “were commanders of bands.” In other words, they commanded raiding parties to loot and steal from others. Their only connection to Ish-bosheth was that they shared the common tribe of Benjamin. Yet, like the changing ownership of their city, their allegiance shifted like the wind. Ish-bosheth must have assumed that all members of this tribe would band together because of their privileged status under Saul. Thus, he let these men guard him. This would later give these men the opportunity to kill Ish-bosheth in an effort to obtain favor with David, who was growing in power throughout Israel.

  • Trust in God and not the powerful people of the world. God does not want you to trust in powerful people or human institutions. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.” (Ps. 118:8). “Thus says the LORD, ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD.”’ (Jer. 17:5). “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils; for why should he be esteemed?” (Is. 2:22). Instead, He wants you to trust in Him alone. “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (Ps. 55:22). “[C]asting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:7). When times are difficult, do you place your trust in strong people or in God?

3. Turning to the Flesh Also Frequently Causes Innocent People to Suffer. 2 Sam. 4:4.

  • Saul’s grandson Mephibosheth became paralyzed. Saul’s house was crumbling from its sins. Even the last male descendant through Jonathan, Mephibosheth, would also suffer because of Saul’s sins: “Now Jonathan, Saul’s son, had a son crippled in his feet. He was five years old when the report of Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel, and his nurse took him up and fled. And it happened that in her hurry to flee, he fell and became lame. And his name was Mephibosheth.” (2 Sam. 4:4). Mephibosheth was only 12 years old and a cripple at this time. Because his nurse Jereel acted out of fear, she caused him further injuries. His physical condition also symbolized the condition of Saul’s lineage and legacy. As one commentator observes: “The reason for the introduction here of this account of Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, is to show that, he being physically in capacitated for the throne, the house of Saul became practically extinct with the death of Ish-bosheth.” (Ellicott’s commentary on 2 Sam. 4).1 Jereel incorrectly assumed that David was a cold killer like the kings of the world. Yet, instead of looking to kill Saul’s descendants, David would later seek to show them God’s love through kindness: “The king said, ‘Is there not yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?’ And Ziba said to the king, ‘There is still a son of Jonathan who is crippled in both feet.”’ (2 Sam 9:3). “David said to him, ‘Do not fear, for I will surely show kindness to you for the sake of your father Jonathan, and will restore to you all the land of your grandfather Saul; and you shall eat at my table regularly.”’ (2 Sam. 9:7). Are you a David to others who fear you and consider you their enemy?

Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth was dropped and became crippled2

  • Sin can also afflict the innocent with poor health. Just as Saul’s sins hurt Mephibosheth, your sins can cause others to suffer. This includes, but is not limited to, poor health: ‘“I sent a plague among you after the manner of Egypt; I slew your young men by the sword along with your captured horses, and I made the stench of your camp rise up in your nostrils; yet you have not returned to Me,’ declares the LORD.” (Amos 4:10; Lev. 26:25). “ The Lord will smite you with the boils of Egypt and with tumors and with the scab and with the itch, from which you cannot be healed.” (Dt. 28:27). “I, in turn, will do this to you: I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away; also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up.” (Lev. 26:16; Ex. 9:9). “Now the hand of the LORD was heavy on the Ashdodites, and He ravaged them and smote them with tumors, both Ashdod and its territories.” (1 Sam. 5:6). Modern examples of this might include emotionally scarred children who experience broken marriages and / or abusive parents. Are you engaging in sins that could cause innocent people or even children to suffer?

4. Turning to the Flesh Frequently Leads to Self-Destructive Acts. 2 Sam. 4:5-7.

  • Ish-bosheth’s untrustworthy commanders killed him. Trusting in the flesh invites demonic forces into your life. Satan will frequently use this influence to deceive you into self-destructive acts. This is exactly what Ish-bosheth’s new commanders did with their new power: “5 So the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, Rechab and Baanah, departed and came to the house of Ish-bosheth in the heat of the day while he was taking his midday rest. They came to the middle of the house as if to get wheat, and they struck him in the belly; and Rechab and Baanah his brother escaped. Now when they came into the house, as he was lying on his bed in his bedroom, they struck him and killed him and beheaded him. And they took his head and traveled by way of the Arabah all night.” (2 Sam. 4:5-7). Rechab and Baanah were fellow Benjamites (2 Sam. 4:2). But their tribal loyalty was no match for their desire for power under David’s growing influence. Believing that David thought as they did, they murdered Ish-bosheth while he was napping in the middle of the day, possibly while they guarded him. To ensure they got the credit for their murder, they then cut off his head to prove that they were responsible for this act.

  • Satan’s curse of self-destruction within families. These Benjamites engaged in acts of self-destruction as each person sought to promote themselves. Like these men, persons who embrace the sins of the flesh will eventually turn to behaviors that cause harm to both themselves and their families: “53 Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you.” (Dt. 28:53). “Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.” (Lev. 26:29). “I will make them eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they will eat one another's flesh in the siege and in the distress with which their enemies and those who seek their life will distress them.” (Jer. 19:9). “They slice off what is on the right hand but still are hungry, and they eat what is on the left hand but they are not satisfied; each of them eats the flesh of his own arm.” (Is. 9:20). “The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children; they became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.” (Lam. 4:10). “Therefore, fathers will eat their sons among you, and sons will eat their fathers; for I will execute judgments on you and scatter all your remnant to every wind.” (Ezek. 5:10). Modern examples of this include addicts who slowly poison their bodies, their families, and their relationships. Are you engaging in the slippery slope of sins that lead to self-destructive behaviors?

  • Trusting in the flesh will lead to your defeat. In addition to causing self-destruction within families, unrepentant sin can also lead God to remove His protections. This in turn can lead to your defeat before your enemies: “25 The Lord shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Dt. 28:25). “I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.” (Lev. 26:17). When the Jews were disobedient to God, they were defeated in battle: “The Philistines drew up in battle array to meet Israel. When the battle spread, Israel was defeated before the Philistines who killed about four thousand men on the battlefield.” (1 Sam. 4:2). “So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers.” (1 Sam. 4:10). Every person will face the spiritual attacks of Satan and his demons. Do you really want to try to face those attacks without God?

5. Turning to the Flesh Frequently Leads to Spiritual Blindness. 2 Sam. 4:8.

  • The untrustworthy commanders boasted of their murder of Ish-bosheth. Rechab and Baanah were so blinded by the sins of their flesh that they boasted of their murder to David: “Then they brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron and said to the king, ‘Behold, the head of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, your enemy, who sought your life; thus the Lord has given my lord the king vengeance this day on Saul and his descendants.’” (2 Sam. 4:8). These men again presumed that David thought like the other worldly kings around them. They also presumed that they could act on God’s behalf when they followed after the desires of their flesh. As one commentator observes: “They do not understand at all. They do not understand David’s submission to God and his refusal to raise his hand against God’s anointed (or even one who has in some less noble way been made king). They do not understand David’s love for Saul, or his commitment to protect the lives of his offspring and the honor of his name (1 Samuel 24:16-22). They do not learn from David’s previous actions that David is not so eager to gain the throne that he will wink at the wickedness of those who seek to kill God’s anointed.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “4. Waiting on the Lord” (2 Samuel 2:1-5:5)).3

Ish-bosheth’s murders brought his head expecting to be rewarded4

  • Your acts of the flesh will not please God. Paul warns that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:8). “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.” (Is. 64:6). “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (Ja. 4:4). “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 Jo. 2:15). Thus, believers are warned not to conform to the things of the world: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). If you are pursuing the desires of your flesh or the ways of the world, your actions are equally repugnant to God.

  • Failing to follow after God can lead to spiritual blindness. Rechab and Baanah did not even see any problem with their murder. Believers are also warned that if they reject God’s guidance, they may also become spiritually blind to their sins. ‘“Now hear this, O foolish and senseless people, who have eyes but do not see; who have ears but do not hear.”’ (Jer. 5:21; 4:21). “Render the hearts of this people insensitive, their ears dull, and their eyes dim, otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and return and be healed.” (Is. 6:10; Ro. 11:8). Many become spiritually blind because they love darkness more than God’s light (Jo. 1:10; 3:20). Have you accepted any sin in your life as normal?

  • Invite Jesus to expose the hidden sins in your heart. If you say you are without sin, the truth is not in you. (1 Jo. 1:8). To remove the scales from your eyes, you must pray for the Holy Spirit to expose and convict you of your hidden sins (Ps. 139:23). Jesus comes to give sight to the spiritually blind: “And Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.”’ (Jo. 9:39; Lk. 4:18; Matt. 11:5; Is. 61:1). Are you praying for Jesus to expose and convict you of your hidden sins?

6. Turning to the Flesh Frequently Results in an Unrepentant Heart. 2 Sam. 4:9-11.

  • David rebuked Ish-bosheth’s commanders for their murder. David did not immediately kill these men. Instead, he rebuked them to give them a chance to repent: “David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As the Lord lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, 10 when one told me, saying, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 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 from your hand and destroy you from the earth?” (2 Sam. 4:9-11). David trusted in God’s timing to be king and also to avenge him: “The God who executes vengeance for me, and brings down peoples under me,” (2 Sam. 22:48). Thus, he previously struck down the man who killed Saul (2 Sam. 1:15). One commentator observes that David vowed to protect Saul’s descendants, not kill them: “Rechab and Baanah thought David would be pleased to see the severed head of Ish-bosheth. They underestimated David’s loyalty to God and the house of Saul. David was loyal to his pledge to honor and preserve Saul’s family and descendants (1 Samuel 24:20-22). Even though Ish-bosheth was not the Lord’s anointed in the same sense as Saul was, David had thoroughly learned to let God take vengeance.” (David Guzik on 2 Sam. 4).5 Rechab and Baanah should have repented. But they didn’t because they did not see their sins.

Leave vengeance to God and never repay evil with evil6

  • Jesus will rebuke those who boast in the deeds of the flesh. In order to bring about repentance, God may allow a wayward person to be directly rebuked. “20 The Lord will send upon you . . . rebuke in all you undertake to do . . . on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me.” (Dt. 28:20). “Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless . . .” (Is. 1:17). The prophet Nathan, for example, rebuked David for his hidden adultery and murder. David then immediately acknowledged his sins against God “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.”’ (2 Sam. 12:13). The prophet Jeremiah later lamented that God’s people would not repent even after being rebuked. “Were they ashamed because of the abomination they have done? They were not even ashamed at all; they did not even know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time that I punish them, they shall be cast down, . ..” (Jer. 6:15). “The wise men are put to shame, they are dismayed and caught; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, and what kind of wisdom do they have?” (Jer. 8:9). “For a voice of wailing is heard from Zion, ‘How are we ruined! We are put to great shame, . .”’ (Jer. 9:19(a)). If God has allowed a friend, family member, or co-worker to rebuke you, have you repented?

7. Turning to the Flesh Frequently Leads to God’s Judgment. 2 Sam. 4:12.

  • David punished Ish-bosheth’s commanders in proportion to their crimes. Because these men did not repent, David passed judgment upon them as a righteous king: “12 Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron.” (2 Sam. 4:12). Rechab and Baanah chose to live by the sword. Thus, they would also die by the sword. “Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place; for all those who take up the sword shall perish by the sword.”’ (Matt. 26:52).

David judged Rechab and Baanah for murdering Ish-bosheth7

  • As a just king, David had to judge evil. Rechab and Baanah broke the oldest law in the Bible against murder. Thus, God commanded that they be judged for their actions. “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man’s brother I will require the life of man.” (Gen. 9:5). “He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death.” (Ex. 21:12). “If a man takes the life of any human being, he shall surely be put to death.” (Lev. 24:17). As a just and righteous king, David had to administer God’s law: “Thus has the LORD of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother;”’ (Zech. 7:9). “O house of David, thus says the LORD: ‘Administer justice every morning; and deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, that My wrath may not go forth like fire and burn with none to extinguish it, because of the evil of their deeds.” (Jer. 21:12). “Every morning I will destroy all the wicked of the land, so as to cut off from the city of the LORD all those who do iniquity.” (Ps. 101:8).

  • God will judge the deeds of the flesh: If you are openly sinning, God warns: “be sure your sin will find you out.” (Nu. 32:23(b)). A saved believer should also not be deceived into believing that God’s grace will allow them to sin without consequence: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; . . .” (1 Pet. 4:17(a)). Yet, through Christ, you have the power to master Satan’s deceit: “And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Gen. 4:7). Because sin is so dangerous, you must remove it from your life the same way that David removed Rechab and Baanah from his kingdom. In spiritual terms, you are to make no provision for the things of your flesh: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” (Rom. 13:14). “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16). “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24). “[K]nowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin;” (Rom. 6:6). Part of living by the Spirit requires that you renew your mind every day to live according to the Spirit: “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Ro. 12:2). Are you purging the things of the flesh in your life?