ISHBOSHETH: According to II Sam. ii.-iv. a son of Saul, whom his uncle, Abner, set on the throne of Israel at Mahanaim after the slaughter by the Philistines at Gilboa. In I Chron. viii. 33, ix. 39 he is called Esh-baal (Hebr. Eshbaal, a contraction of lshbaal, "man of the Lord," i.e., of Yahweh); when the use of the name "Baal" was shunned, and bosheth, "shame," substituted for it (see BAAL, § 5), the form Ishbosheth became com- mon. That in the Hebrew text the original form was Ishbaal is shown by the translations of Aquila, Symmachus, Theodotion, Itala, and the Septuagint codex 93 Holmes. The original form remains in Chronicles probably because those books were read and copied less frequently than Samuel. The Chronicler names Ishbosheth fourth of the sons of Saul after Jonathan, Malchi-shua and Abinadab. I Sam. xxxi. 2 does not name him, I Sam. xiv. 49 names Jonathan, Ishui, and Malchi-shua. The order here indicates that Ishbosheth was the youngest son of Saul, and that is the more probable since he was dependent upon Abner, since there is no mention of his wife or children, and since he is not named among Sauls sons who were in the battle with the Philistines. The age given him in II Sam. ii. 10 does not agree with the indications of the context, according to which David and Jonathan were not yet forty years old at the time of the battle of Gilboa; the item belongs to the later chronological insertions.
Abner, a cousin of Saul, after the battle of Gilboa sought to save for Israel as much as he might of Sauls achievements, and had Ishbosheth set up as king beyond the Jordan at Mahanaim, where he was recognized by Gilead, Asher, Jezreel, Ephraim, and Benjamin--practically all Israel. Judah and the South had made David king there, though under tributary relations with the Philistines; and for his possessions west of the Jordan Ishbosheth was also a vassal of the Philistines. The strife which arose between Israel and Judah, the first indication of which is given in II Sam. ii. 12 sqq., was suffered by the overlords, and continued with increasing success for David. Finally Abner took offense at the complaint of Ishbosheth because the former had married one of Sauls concubines, and told Ishbosheth that he would influence Israel to choose David king, a threat which he proceeded to fulfil. David thereupon demanded of Ishbosheth the return of his former wife, Michal, thus forcing recognition of his relationship to Sauls household, the way having been paved by negotiations between himself and Abner (II Sam. iii. 12 sqq.). At the defection of Abner Ishbosheth lost heart, and he was soon after assassinated by two of his military officers, who thought in this way to secure their own advancement. They carried his head to David; but being a member of the house of Saul, David at once punished the murder by the execution of the murderers.
This is the course of the Judaic narrative in II Sam. ii.-iv. Were the Ephraimitic account extant, possibly the coloring of the story might be somewhat changed. Two points in the story appear trustworthy: that David wished to he recognized as the son-in-law of Saul, and that he was innocent of the death of Ishbosheth. The length of Ishbosheth's reign was probably a little less than that of David in Hebron (II Sam. vi. 5).