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Ishbosheth (Hebrew אִ֥ישׁ בֹּ֙שֶׁת֙, man of shame), or Eshbaal (Hebrew אֶשְׁבָּֽעַל, man of Baal) (1095–r.1055-1048 BC according to Ussher,[1] or 1050-r. 1010-1003 BC according to Thiele) was the second king of the United Kingdom of Israel. He reigned for seven years and five months and then was assassinated.[2]


Ishbosheth was the fourth son of King Saul. He was born in the year that his father became king, because the Bible says that he was forty years old when he began to reign. (2_Samuel 2:10 )

Abner, who would arrange for Ishbosheth to take the throne, was his great uncle.


In 1055 BC (or 1010 BC), Saul and his three elder sons Jonathan, Malchishua, and Abinadab died in the Battle of Gilboa in action against the Philistines. (1_Samuel 31:1-2 ) Saul's uncle Abner, Saul's chief of staff, proclaimed Ishbosheth king over all Israel shortly thereafter. But Ishbosheth did not reign over all of Israel, because David, son of Jesse of Bethlehem, was recognized in Hebron as king in the land of the tribe of Judah. Ishbosheth's capital city was Mahanaim, in Gilead, on or near the border between the land of the tribe of Gad and the eastern portion of the land of the tribe of Manasseh.[3][4][5] (2_Samuel 2:8-11 )

The Long War

Ishbosheth was at peace with King David of Judah for two years, while Abner concentrated on chasing the Philistines out of the territories of Israel other than Judah, which David held. Then Abner broke the peace in a shocking provocation. Abner was now Ishbosheth's chief of staff and prime minister,[3][6] and David had his nephews Joab, Abishai, and Asahel as joint chiefs of staff. Abner and his men challenged Joab and his men to a bizarre contest at the pool of Gibeon. Twelve men from each side met at that place, and the twenty-four men killed one another. Then the rest of the armies met in full-scale battle, and Abner's men lost. Asahel pursued Abner relentlessly, and then Abner turned and killed him with a thrust with the butt of his spear. The other two brothers continued to pursue Abner and his men to the hill of Ammah. There Abner begged Joab to cease the pursuit before any more men died, and Joab sounded the retreat and returned to Hebron, which was David's capital. Abner and his men crossed to the eastern side of the Jordan River and returned to Mahanaim.[5] (2_Samuel 2:12-29 )

In the years that followed, David's army grew stronger, while Ishbosheth's army grew weaker.[5] (2_Samuel 3:1 ) Nevertheless, David did not order a direct attack against Ishbosheth, and seems to have been content to wait for God to take His course.[4] Finally Ishbosheth made the major mistake that cost him his realm and his life.

Provocation and defection

In the summer of 1048 BC (or 1003 BC), Ishbosheth accused Abner of beginning an affair with one of the late King Saul's concubines. This would have been a serious act of lese majesté if it happened, but the Bible does not say that Abner committed any such act, but only that Ishbosheth accused him of it. Abner furiously denied the accusation and then announced his intention to encourage the members of the court to transfer their allegiance to David.[5] Subsequently, word came to Ishbosheth that Abner had entered into negotiations with David, but that Joab had murdered Abner.[3][5][6][7] (2_Samuel 3:6-30 )


On a day described as hot, Ishbosheth was taking an afternoon nap when two members of his court surprised him, murdered him in his bed, and cut his head off. This probably happened on or about 1 Elul 2956 AM (August 16, 1048 BC). They brought his head to David, who promptly had them executed. (2_Samuel 4 ) Then all the tribal leaders came to David's capital of Hebron and pledged their allegiance to him.[3][5][6] Thus the House of Saul came to an end.[7] (2_Samuel 5:1-5 )


  1. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2003, pghh. 410, 412, 414-415, 417
  2. Jones, Floyd N., The Chronology of the Old Testament, Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2004, pp. 99-100, 279
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 "King Ishbosheth: Biography," Kings of Israel, n.d. Accessed January 1, 2009.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Lockwood B, "Whatsoever is not commanded is forbidden," Firm Foundation, April 1996. Accessed January 1, 2009
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 "The Unified Kingdom Part II in Biblical Archeology," n.d. Accessed January 1, 2009
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Ishbosheth." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Accessed January 1, 2009 <>.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Konig, G, "Ishbosheth,", n.d. Accessed January 1, 2009

See also