After the death of King Saul, Abner (the commander of Saul’s army) took Saul’s son Ish-Bosheth and made him king over the areas of Israel called Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, Ephraim, and Manasseh (2 Samuel 2:9). Ish-Bosheth was 40 years old at the time and reigned for two years (2 Samuel 2:10).
During this same time, David served as king over the tribe of Judah in Hebron, a city in southern Israel. David’s men and Abner’s men fought one another in battle. After about two years, King Ish-Bosheth accused Abner of sleeping with Saul’s concubine (2 Samuel 3:7). Abner became angry at the false accusation and promised to turn over all of Israel to David (2 Samuel 3:8–10).
Abner met with David and made an agreement to bring the entire nation of Israel under David’s control. Afterwards, Joab, the commander of David’s army, came before David and accused Abner of falsehood. According to Joab, Abner was only seeking ways to defeat David. Without David’s permission, Joab tracked down Abner and murdered him (2 Samuel 3:26–27). This deed was more than an act of supposed loyalty to David, however. Joab had been seeking to avenge his brother Asahel’s death at the hands of Abner (2 Samuel 2:19–23).
David made all of his people mourn and declared that he had nothing to do with Abner’s death. Joab had been acting on his own. However, when Ish-Bosheth heard that Abner had died, he and all Israel were troubled. Two men named Rechab and Baanah came to Ish-Bosheth’s home “at about the heat of the day.” King Ish-Bosheth “was lying on his bed at noon. And they came there, all the way into the house, as though to get wheat, and they stabbed him in the stomach” (2 Samuel 4:5–6). The assassins then cut off Ish-Bosheth’s head and slipped away (2 Samuel 4:7).
Rekab and Baanah brought the head of Ish-Bosheth to David, hoping for a reward. Instead, David had them executed, because they had “killed an innocent man in his own house and on his own bed” (2 Samuel 4:11). David also gave orders to bury the head of Ish-Bosheth in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.
This gruesome series of events paved the way for David to transition from leading the tribe of Judah to becoming king over all of Israel. Despite the violence around him, David remained innocent of the blood of his rivals. After Ish-Bosheth’s and Abner’s murders, David remained in Hebron for five more years until the elders of Israel came to him and made a covenant to establish him as king of all Israel (2 Samuel 5:1–5). At that time, David and his men conquered Jerusalem, making it the capital of Israel and the “City of David.” David ruled from Jerusalem for the remainder of his 40 years as king.