To be honest, I don’t recall Ish-Bosheth appearing in the book of 1 Samuel. We learn a great deal about Jonathan, we see three of Saul’s sons die on Mt. Gilboa, but Ish-bosheth stays silently in the background. That is, until Abner gets ahold of him in 2 Samuel. He steps forward as a puppet king of Israel for two years while David leads the tribe of Judah. So, how did the family lines of depression affect Ish-Bosheth, son of Saul?
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner, the commander of Saul’s army, had taken Ish-Bosheth son of Saul and brought him over to Mahanaim. He made him king over Gilead, Ashuri and Jezreel, and also over Ephraim, Benjamin and all Israel.2 Samuel 2:8-9 NIV
During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”
Abner was very angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So he answered, “Am I a dog’s head – on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the LORD promised him on oath and transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.2 Samuel 3:6-11 NIV
In addition to being commander of Saul’s army, Abner was Ish-Bosheth’s uncle. He not only brought his political experience to the table, but he also brought his position of family authority over Ish-Bosheth. It is no surprise that Abner’s previous positions alone were enough to sway Ish-Bosheth into becoming a puppet king. Between Abner and David, every decision Ish-Bosheth made was directed by someone else. Even Ish-Bosheth’s death in 2 Samuel 4 occured at the hands of two of his men while he was sleeping. In fact, the only report of Ish-Bosheth ever making a decision on his own occurred when he confronted Abner about Rizpah, and it ended with his authority as king being stripped away.
Outside of Abner’s direct influence, Ish-Bosheth had an unusual relationship with the rest of his family. We don’t see Ish-Bosheth fighting in any battles alongside Saul. In 1 Samuel 28, the ghost of Samuel warns Saul that he will lose all of his sons in the battle against the Phillistines. So, how does Ish-Bosheth survive the carnage? Based on 2 Samuel, he must have been at home. Ish-Bosheth was not a warrior like his father and brothers. He did not lead thousands of men every day like his older brother Jonathan did. We really don’t find out anything that Ish-Bosheth did do. He certainly did not have any experience or qualities to enhance his claim to Israel’s throne. Yet, thanks to Abner, he sits in charge of eleven loosely connected tribes.
Ish-Bosheth Son of Saul
Unlike Jonathan and even Michal, Ish-Bosheth seemed to inherit none of his father Saul’s warrior instincts. Instead, he inherited all the fear and silence Saul ever possessed, and he seems to have inherited it ten-fold. Ish-Bosheth faced a bully in his Uncle Abner, and he did not know how to stand up for himself or his family. We don’t even see him wake up or fight back at his death. He reacted to every circumstance we see him face, and he never made proactive changes to protect his household.
Ish-Bosheth really exemplifies the breakdown caused among his family because Saul never treated his depression. Aside from God’s punishment for Saul’s poor choices, the family never learned to readjust their negative thinking. Those like Jonathan who didn’t struggle with mental illness themselves spent the majority of their time trying to play catch-up and keep the peace. Ultimately, the family met with a tragic end. Perhaps the tragedy could have been avoided if Saul had sought help for his struggles instead of running from them in fear.