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Ish-bosheth was Saul’s son, King of Israel and David’s rival. Ish-bosheth appears to have been a man who was easily manipulated by others.
As David was rising to power throughout Israel, Saul and several of his sons died in battle on Mount Gilboa. Abner, Saul’s commander, apparently believed that he had a better chance of retaining his favored position under one of Saul’s sons than under David—so he took Ish-bosheth (also called Ish-baal) and made him king over the northern tribes of Israel, while David became king only over the southern tribe of Judah.
Later, when Ish-bosheth accused Abner of being disloyal, Abner threatened to hand Ish-bosheth’s kingdom over to David, and Ish-bosheth was too afraid even to rebuke him. Soon after this, David demanded that Ish-bosheth return Michal, David’s former wife, to him. (Earlier, Saul had given her to another man when she helped David escape from Saul.) Ish-bosheth appears to have followed David’s every word, despite her new husband’s desperate tears (2 Samuel 3).
Finally, when David’s commander, Joab, killed Abner, Ish-bosheth’s courage failed (2 Samuel 4:1), and eventually Ish-bosheth himself was assassinated by two of his own men.
Ish-bosheth reigned over the northern tribes for two years from the city of Mahanaim, which was located across the Jordan River and along the Jabbok River. This is the same city to which David later fled when his son Absalom rebelled against him, and it became the capital of one of Solomon’s administrative districts (1 Kings 4:14). That suggests it must have been a key city of the northern kingdom during the time of David and Solomon.