The Battle of Gibeon

Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful individuals with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determin … More


With Israel divided there was constant tension between the north and the south. From the beginning of David’s reign his real rival in the north was not Ishbosheth but Abner. In order to settle the question of royal succession Abner, the general in the north and David’s military leader Joab agreed to some part of a “dagger match” at the pool of Gibeon about five miles northeast of Jerusalem (vv. 12-17). Twelve men from each side were chosen to fight each other and the side with the most survivors would be declared the winner. The idea was to avoid an all-out war. 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.

An incident occurred in the battle at Gibeon which was to have serious repercussions. Asahel was killed (vv. 18-23). During the course of the battle he set his sights on Abner. He determined to chase down the old general and kill him. As he scampered up and down the rough hills of Benjamin, Abner spotted the young soldier bearing down on him. Twice Abner warned Asahel to turn aside lest he be killed. Asahel, however, refused to be deterred. As he closed in on Abner, the wily old general abruptly stopped and thrust backward with the butt of his spear. Asahel was struck with such force that the butt of the spear ripped through his belly and exited his back. Asahel died on the spot.

Abishai, a surviving brother, vows to take revenge (v. 24) but when faced by unfavorable odds gives up the chase (vv. 25-28). At this point David had lost 20 soldiers, but Abner had lost 360 (vv. 29-32). Observing that an all-out assault on the position of Abner would be extremely costly, Joab signaled his men to halt the attack. Under cover of darkness, Abner and his men marched through the Jordan valley, crossed the river and returned to the safety of Mahanaim. The battle was over but not the war.


Persistence can be a good quality in my life if it is for a worthy cause. But if the goal is only for personal gain, persistence may be no more than stubbornest.  As noted, Asahel’s stubbornest cost him his life. Before I decide to pursue a goal I must make sure it is worthy of my devotion.

II Samuel 2:12-32 (English Standard Version)

Abner the son of Ner, and the servants of Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon. And Joab the son of Zeruiah and the servants of David went out and met them at the pool of Gibeon. And they sat down, the one on the one side of the pool, and the other on the other side of the pool. And Abner said to Joab, "Let the young men arise and compete before us." And Joab said, "Let them arise." Then they arose and passed over by number, twelve for Benjamin and Ish-bosheth the son of Saul, and twelve of the servants of David. And each caught his opponent by the head and thrust his sword in his opponent's side, so they fell down together. Therefore that place was called Helkath-hazzurim, which is at Gibeon. And the battle was very fierce that day. And Abner and the men of Israel were beaten before the servants of David. And the three sons of Zeruiah were there, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel. Now Asahel was as swift of foot as a wild gazelle. And Asahel pursued Abner, and as he went, he turned neither to the right hand nor to the left from following Abner. Then Abner looked behind him and said, "Is it you, Asahel?" And he answered, "It is I." Abner said to him, "Turn aside to your right hand or to your left, and seize one of the young men and take his spoil." But Asahel would not turn aside from following him. And Abner said again to Asahel, "Turn aside from following me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How then could I lift up my face to your brother Joab?" But he refused to turn aside. Therefore Abner struck him in the stomach with the butt of his spear, so that the spear came out at his back. And he fell there and died where he was. And all who came to the place where Asahel had fallen and died, stood still. But Joab and Abishai pursued Abner. And as the sun was going down they came to the hill of Ammah, which lies before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. And the people of Benjamin gathered themselves together behind Abner and became one group and took their stand on the top of a hill. Then Abner called to Joab, "Shall the sword devour forever? Do you not know that the end will be bitter? How long will it be before you tell your people to turn from the pursuit of their brothers?" And Joab said, "As God lives, if you had not spoken, surely the men would not have given up the pursuit of their brothers until the morning." So Joab blew the trumpet, and all the men stopped and pursued Israel no more, nor did they fight anymore. And Abner and his men went all that night through the Arabah. They crossed the Jordan, and marching the whole morning, they came to Mahanaim. Joab returned from the pursuit of Abner. And when he had gathered all the people together, there were missing from David's servants nineteen men besides Asahel. But the servants of David had struck down of Benjamin 360 of Abner's men. And they took up Asahel and buried him in the tomb of his father, which was at Bethlehem. And Joab and his men marched all night, and the day broke upon them at Hebron.

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