(Ish-boʹsheth) [meaning “Man of Shame”].
Evidently the youngest of Saul’s sons, his successor to the throne. From the genealogical listings it appears that his name was also Eshbaal, meaning “Man of Baal.” (1Ch 8:33; 9:39) However, elsewhere, as in Second Samuel, he is called Ish-bosheth, a name in which “baal” is replaced by “bosheth.” (2Sa 2:10) This Hebrew word boʹsheth is found at Jeremiah 3:24 and is rendered “shameful thing.” (AS, AT, JP, NW, Ro, RS) In two other occurrences baʹʽal and boʹsheth are found parallel and in apposition, in which the one explains and identifies the other. (Jer 11:13; Ho 9:10) There are also other instances where individuals similarly had “bosheth” or a form of it substituted for “baal” in their names, as, for example, “Jerubbesheth” for “Jerubbaal” (2Sa 11:21; Jg 6:32) and “Mephibosheth” for “Merib-baal,” the latter being a nephew of Ish-bosheth.—2Sa 4:4; 1Ch 8:34; 9:40.
The reason for these double names or substitutions is not known. One theory advanced by some scholars attempts to explain the dual names as an alteration made when the common noun “baal” (owner; master) became more exclusively identified with the distasteful fertility god of Canaan, Baal. However, in the same Bible book of Second Samuel, where the account of Ish-bosheth appears, King David himself is reported as naming a place of battle Baal-perazim (meaning “Owner of Breakings Through”), in honor of the Lord Jehovah, for as he said: “Jehovah has broken through my enemies.” (2Sa 5:20) Another view is that the name Ish-bosheth may have been prophetic of that individual’s shameful death and the calamitous termination of Saul’s dynasty.
After the death of Saul and his other sons on the battlefield at Gilboa, Abner, a relative of Saul and the chief of his forces, took Ish-bosheth across the Jordan to Mahanaim, where he was installed as king over all the tribes except Judah, which recognized David as king. At the time Ish-bosheth was 40 years old, and he is said to have reigned for two years. Since the Bible does not say exactly where this two-year reign fits in with the seven-and-a-half-year period when David ruled as king at Hebron, there is no way of resolving differences of opinion held by scholars on the point. However, it does seem more reasonable to think that Ish-bosheth was made king shortly after the death of his father (rather than five years later), in which case there would have been a lapse of about five years between his assassination and David’s being installed as king over all Israel.—2Sa 2:8-11; 4:7; 5:4, 5.
Ish-bosheth’s short rule was marked by both internal and external troubles. The war between his house and that of David “came to be long drawn out”; he lost 360 men to David’s 20 in one engagement. (2Sa 2:12-31; 3:1) At the same time his relative Abner kept strengthening himself at the expense of Ish-bosheth, even to the point of having relations with one of Saul’s concubines, which, according to Oriental custom, was tantamount to treason. When rebuked for this by Ish-bosheth, Abner withdrew his support and made a covenant with David, part of which stipulated the return of David’s wife, Michal, who was Ish-bosheth’s own sister. (2Sa 3:6-21) Abner’s death at the hand of Joab further weakened Ish-bosheth’s position, and shortly thereafter two of his own captains assassinated him while he was taking his midday siesta. (2Sa 3:22-27; 4:1, 2, 5-7) However, when these murderers, in seeking a reward, brought Ish-bosheth’s head to David, he had them put to death and ordered the head interred in the tomb of Abner at Hebron.—2Sa 4:8-12.
Thus it was that the dynasty of Saul, which could have lasted “to time indefinite,” came to its abrupt and humiliating end, not because of the sins of Ish-bosheth, but instead, because of those of his father. (1Sa 13:13; 15:26-29) It is true, Ish-bosheth was a weak ruler, one who gained and held the throne principally because of the strength of Abner. Nevertheless, David referred to him as “a righteous man.”—2Sa 4:11.