In this chapter, Ish-Bosheth is murdered by his own men.
After Abner is slain, it says in v. 1 that both Ish-Bosheth and all Israel (primarily referring to the northern tribes) were distressed. For Ish-Bosheth, he lost his chief commander and the man principally responsible for his own kingship. For the nation, they lost their chief commander which opened up the possibility of further battle and defeats. What could make this even more distressing is that they heard he died in Hebron, which was David’s capital at the time. This means that Abner’s treachery is also revealed in his death, because the only reason he would have visited Hebron without Ish-Bosheth’s permission or knowledge would be to defect to David’s camp.
Having already suffered numerous defeats, it looks like this is going to be the end of the road for Ish-Bosheth. It’s at around this point when the vultures start circling his kingdom. Baanah and Recab murder Ish-Bosheth as an opportunistic venture. They see that 1) Ish-Bosheth will inevitably be defeated and 2) if they kill him first, it will possibly give them a strong position to join David’s camp.
As in the previous chapter, it amazes me how many people assert that the LORD wants David to be king at precisely the time when they defect to join David, but couldn’t seem to care less what the LORD said when they are busy fighting against David and supporting Ish-Bosheth. Suffice it to say, the decisions of most people in this book are 99% political, with only a religious vaneer to justify whatever they want to do.
In this chapter, Baanah and Recab assert that “this day the LORD has avenged my lord the king against Saul and his offspring.” But if we read between the lines, it’s obvious that Ish-Bostheth was in decline, and these two soldiers murdered him because they want a reward and didn’t think they had a future in Ish-Bosheth’s kingdom (because his kingdom itself was in decline).
David, for his part, is going to have none of this business. We already saw him kill the unnamed Amalekite that came to announce Saul’s death. The Amalekite possibly even lied about killing Saul because he thought that David would be pleased. In this case, David does not call Ish-Bosheth the LORD’s anointed, but he does call him an “innocent man”, even though David himself had been fighting a war against Ish-Bosheth. That strikes me as a bit peculiar, that David would have no qualms about killing hundreds of men to unseat Ish-Bosheth and take the kingdom for himself, but kills these two men for assassinating the person that David was trying to dethrone.
To be fair, there is a pretty big difference between killing someone in battle and striking them while they are unarmed in their own home. Similarly, this is why David was furious at Joab, for killing Abner, while Abner was not guilty for killing Asahel. Abner killed Asahel in clean combat, while Joab killed Abner deceptively under the banner of peace.
Unfortunately for Baanah and Recab, they are not nearly as important figures as Joab, so David has them both put to death and had their bodies hung as a sign of shame, exposed to be eaten by birds and rats. (Recall the Philistines hanging the body of Saul for the same reason). Their crime is almost identical to that of Joab, but their punishment is immediate death, just like the unnamed Amalekite, rather than Joab who goes entirely unpunished until near the end of his life.