2 Samuel 21
Pulpit Commentary
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.
Verse 1. - There was a famine in the days of David; Hebrew, and there was. There is an entire absence of any mark of time to show in what part of David's reign this famine took place. It does not even follow, from the mention of Mephibosheth's name, that it must have happened at a time subsequent to the sending for that prince from Machir's house; for it may have been the search after the descendants of Saul which made David remember the son of his old friend. The burial, however, of the bones of Saul and Jonathan as an act of respect to the slaughtered king makes it probable that the narrative belongs to the early part of David's reign, as also does the apparent fact that the seven victims were all young and unmarried. Mephibosheth, we read, had a young son when David sent for him. Now, he was five years old when his father was slain (2 Samuel 4:4), and thus at the end of David's reign of seven years and a half at Hebron, he would be twelve and a half years of age. The famine lasted three years, and if David had been king four or five years when the famine began, Mephibosheth, at the age of twenty, might well have a "young son" in a country where men marry early. We cannot believe that the famine occurred long after David had been king of all Israel, because manifestly it would have been unjust and even monstrous to punish a nation for the sins of a king who had long passed away. The sins of its rulers are visited upon a nation constantly through a long series of years, but it is always in the way of natural development. A statesman may put a nation upon a wrong track, and may involve it in serious difficulties, and even in irretrievable disaster, unless some one be raised up able to make it retrace its steps and regain the rightful direction. But this famine was a direct interference of Providence, and to justify it the sin must be still fresh in the national remembrance. Had it been an old crime long ago forgotten, instead of leading men to repentance, this long and terrible punishment would have hardened men's hearts, and made them regard the Deity as vindictive. It is even probable that the sin was still being committed; for though commenced and approved by Saul, his oppression and purpose of gradually destroying the native races was too much in accord with men's usual way of acting not to be continued, unless stopped by the justice of the ruler. We all know how the Red Indian, the Bushman, the Maori, and the Australian disappear before the advance of the white man. It needs only apathy on the part of the government, and rougher methods for clearing them off are practised than men would care to own. So with Gibeonites and Perizzites and other native races, a similar process would be going on. The lands they held, their little villages, their pastures, and above all their strongholds, would be coveted by the dominant race, and entrenchments would lead to quarrels, in which the natives would find any resistance on their part punished as rebellion. Even David seized the hill fortress of Jebus for his capital, though he still left Araunah the nominal title of king (2 Samuel 24:23). Saul had lent all the weight of the royal authority to the extermination of the natives, and this chapter records the Divine condemnation of wrong done by the dominantrace to the aborigines. It remains to this day the charter for their protection, and not only forbids their extinction, but requires that they shall be treated with fair and even justice, and their rights respected and maintained. It has been objected that the execution of Saul's seven sons was a political crime committed to render David's throne secure. If at all to his advantage, it was so only to a very slight extent. The sons of Rizpah could never have become pretenders to the throne; nor were the sons of Merab likely to be much more dangerous. In a few years they would have married, and formed other ties, and been merged in the general population. Mephibosheth was the heir of Saul, and David protected him and Micha his son. It was quite in the spirit of the times to visit upon Saul's house the sins of its chief. The principle was the same as when all Israel stoned Achan, his sons and his daughters, his oxen and his asses, his sheep and his tent, for brining iniquity upon the people (Joshua 7:24, 25). We keep chiefly in view the doctrine of personal responsibility; in the Old Testament the other doctrine of the collective responsibility of a family, a city, a nation, was made the more prominent It was the Prophet Ezekiel who in ch. 18. stated clearly and with Divine force that "the soul that sinneth it shall die;" but that the sinner's son, if he walk in God's statutes, shall not die for the iniquity of his father he shall surely live. But the collective responsibility enacted in the second commandment is still God's law. In the philosophic jargon of our times the two factors which form human character and decide our fortunes are "heredity and environment." Heredity was the prevailing sentiment in David's days; and it seemed right to the Gibeonites that the sons of the man who had slaughtered them should die for their father's sins; and it seemed just to David also. But he spared the heir to Saul's throne. There is no adequate reason for supposing that David was influenced by political motives, and the more important lesson of the narrative is the emphatic condemnation given in it of wrong and cruelty to aboriginal tribes. David inquired of the Lord; Hebrew, David sought the face of Jehovah. The phrase is remarkable, and not found elsewhere in Samuel. Probably it means that he went to Gibeon to pray in the sanctuary, and consult God by Urim and Thummim. His bloody house. The Hebrew means "the house on which rested the guilt of murder."
And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)
Verse 2. - Saul sought to slay them in his zeal. We gather from various incidental circumstances that Saul, in some part of his reign, manifested great zeal in an attempt to carry out literally the enactments of the Levitical Law; but he seems to have done so with the same ferocity as that which he displayed in slaughtering the priests at Nob with their wives and children. Thus he had put to death wizards and all who dealt with familiar spirits (1 Samuel 28:9), in accordance with Exodus 22:18 and Leviticus 20:6. In the same way he seems to have tried to exterminate the aboriginal inhabitants of Palestine, in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:2, and had especially massacred a large number of Gibeonites, in violation of the covenant made with them by Joshua and all Israel (Joshua 9:3, 15-27). And as he would thus acquire "fields and vineyards" robbed from them to give to his captains, his conduct was probably popular, and the cause of a general system of wrong and oppression practised upon all the natives. It had thus become a national sin, and as such was punished by a national calamity. Amorites; that is highlanders, mountaineers. Strictly they were Hivites (Joshua 9:7).
Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?
Verse 3. - Wherewith shall I make the atonement, etc.? Literally the verb means to "cover up," the idea being that of a veil drawn over the offence to conceal it by means of a gift or offering. Thence gradually it attained to its religious idea of an expiation.
And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you.
Verse 4. - No silver nor gold. It is a common practice in most semi-civilized nations for a fine to be accepted as compensation for the shedding of blood. As no distinction was drawn between murder and homicide, and as the nearest relative was bound in every case to revenge the blood shed, the custom of receiving a money compensation gradually grew up to prevent the tribe or nation being torn to pieces by interminable revenge. The Arabs still retain this usage, but it was forbidden by the Levitical Law (Numbers 35:31), and rightly so, because a distinction was there made between murder and accidental bloodshed, and precautions taken for the rescue of one who had not acted with malice. Neither for us shalt thou kill any turn in Israel. The singular is used at the beginning of their answer, in the same way as in 2 Samuel 19:42, 43. Literally their words are, It is not to me a matter of silver and gold with Saul and his house, nor is it for us to put to death any one in Israel; that is, "We refuse a money compensation, and it is beyond our power to exact the blood penalty which would gratify our anger." They make it quite plain that they do want blood, while the Authorized Version makes them say that they do not. The Revised Version more correctly translates, "Neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel."
And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel,
Verse 5. - The man that consumed us, etc. The strong language of this verse makes it plain that Saul had been guilty, not merely of some one great act of cruelty, but of a long series of barbarities intended to bring about their utter extirpation.
Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.
Verse 6. - We will hang them. The punishment indicated here really was impalement, but in Numbers 25:4, where the same verb is used, we find that the criminals were put to death first, and that the impalement was for the purpose of exposing their bodies to view, like the practice a century ago of gibbeting. But the Gibeonites were probably very barbarous, and, when David had delivered the seven lads into their hands, would perhaps wreak upon them a cruel vengeance. Seven were chosen, because it is the perfect number, with many religious associations; and unto the Lord means "publicly." So among the Romans sub Jove meant "in the open air" (comp. Numbers 25:4). In Gibeah. This was Saul's native place and home, and was selected by the Gibeonites as the spot where the bodies should be exposed, to add to the humiliation and shame of the fallen dynasty. Saul, whom the Lord did choose. If this reading is correct, the phrase can only be used as a taunt. But in ver. 9 we find bahar, "on the hill," instead of behir, "chosen," and the right reading probably is, "in Gibeah, or, the hill of Jehovah."
But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD'S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.
But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:
Verse 8. - Michal. It was Merab who became the wife of Adriel the Meholathite (1 Samuel 18:19). Michal was childless (see 2 Samuel 6:23). Whom she brought up for. This is one of the many cases of untrustworthiness in the renderings of the Authorized Version. We have noticed a very flagrant instance before in 2 Samuel 5:21. The object of these mistranslations is always the same, namely, to remove some verbal discrepancy in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew says here "five sons of Michal, whom she bare to Adriel;" but Michal never bore a child, therefore something must be substituted which will save the Hebrew from this verbal inaccuracy, and Michal must be represented as having taken Merab's place (perhaps at her death), and been foster mother to her children. This explanation is, it is true, taken from the Jewish Targum; but the Targum never professes to be an exact translation, and constantly perverts the meaning of the plainest passages for preconceived reasons.
And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.
Verse 9. - The beginning of barley harvest. The barley became ripe in April, about the time of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:9). The wheat was not. ripe till Pentecost.
And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.
Verse 10. - Rizpah ... took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock; rather, against the rock, so as to form a little hut or shelter to protect her from the glaring blaze of the sunshine. The word "upon" has led many commentators to suppose that she used it as a bed; but this is not the meaning of the Hebrew, though given by the Vulgate. The sackcloth was the loose wrapper or cloak which formed the outer dress of mourners. As regards the bodies of those crucified or impaled, the Law required that they should be taken down and buried that same evening (Deuteronomy 21:23). Here they remained exposed for six months, as a grim trophy of Gibeonite vengeance. Until water dropped upon them out of heaven; Hebrew, was poured upon them; until copious and heavy rains came. The outpouring of these rains would put an end to the famine, and be regarded as a proof that the wrath of Heaven was appeased. There is no reason for supposing that these rains came before the usual period, in autumn, which was about the middle of October. Thus, for six months, with no other protection than her mantle of sackcloth hung against the rock, this noble woman watched the decaying bodies of her loved ones, until at last her devoted conduct touched David's heart, and their remains were honourably interred.
And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.
And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:
Verse 12. - The street of Beth-shan; Hebrew, the broad place, or square, just inside the gate, where the citizens met for business. It was upon the wall of this square that the Philistines had hanged the bodies of Saul and of his sons (1 Samuel 31:12). The men of Jabesh-Gilead; Hebrew, the lords or owners of Jabesh-Gilead. The phrase occurs also in 1 Samuel 23:11, 12 of the citizens of Keilah, and is found also in the Books of Joshua and Judges. (For the brave exploit of these men in rescuing the bodies of their king and his sons, see 1 Samuel 31:11-13; and for David's generous approval, 2 Samuel 2:5.)
And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.
And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land.
Verse 14. - The bones of Saul and Jonathan. The Septuagint adds, "and the bones of them that were hanged." As it is expressly said in ver. 13 that these bones were collected, we cannot doubt but that the remains of the seven grandsons were interred with those of Saul and Jonathan, in the tomb of Kish, their common ancestor. But whether the Septuagint has preserved words that have dropped out of the Hebrew text, or has added them to make the fact plain, is more than we can answer. Zelah. Nothing more is known of this place than that it was in the tribe of Benjamin.
Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint.
Verse 15. - Moreover. A new narrative begins here, and the heroic acts related in it are taken probably from some record of the martial deeds of David and his mighties. We have already seen that the Book of Jasher (2 Samuel 1:18) was a national anthology, full of ballads and songs in praise of glorious exploits of Israel's worthies. The source of the narratives recorded here apparently was a history in prose, and commenced, perhaps, with David's own achievement in slaying Goliath - a deed which celled forth the heroism of the nation, and was emulated by other brave men. These extracts were probably given for their own sake, and are repeated in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8, where they are placed immediately after the capture of Rabbah; but they here form an appropriate introduction to the psalm of thanksgiving in ch. 22. It was usual in Hebrew, in making quotations, to leave them without any attempt at adapting them to their new place; and thus the "moreover" and "yet again," which referred to some previous narrative in the history, are left unchanged.
And Ishbibenob, which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David.
Verse 16. - Ishbi-benob. The Hebrew has Ishbo-benob, which Gesenius interprets as meaning "dweller upon the height." But surely the man's name would not be Hebrew; he was a Raphah, and we shall not be able to explain his name until we know the language of the Rephaim. Of the sons of the giant; Hebrew, of the children of the Raphah; that is, he belonged to the race of the Rephaim, the word not signifying "sons," but the members of a stock. It is translated "children" in Numbers 13:22, 28, etc. (For the Rephaim, see note on 2 Samuel 5:18.) "The Raphah" may be the mythic progenitor of the Rephaim, but more probably it is simply the singular of "Rephaim," and "children of the Raphah" a more poetic way of describing the race. Three hundred shekels. It weighed, therefore, about eight pounds; the spearhead of Goliath was just twice as heavy (1 Samuel 17:7). Girded with a new. The Vulgate supplies "sword," which the Authorized Version has adopted. The Septuagint reads a "mace" instead of "new;" others think that he had a new suit of armour. If the narrator had thought it of sufficient importance to let us know that the article was new, he would scarcely have left the thing itself unspecified. It is evident, however, that the Septuagint did not read hadasha, "new," but the name of some strange warlike instrument, which being unknown to the scribes, they substituted for it a word which they did know, but which makes no sense. We cannot, however, depend upon the translation of the Septuagint, "mace." The want of special knowledge on the part of the translators of the Septuagint, though partly accounted for by the long absence from Palestine of its authors, and their having to depend entirely upon such knowledge of their language as survived at Alexandria, is more than we should have expected or can quite understand. Here, however, there is nothing remarkable in their not knowing the exact meaning of this carious weapon of the Rephaite; but plainly it could not be a mace, but must have been something that could be gift upon him. The Authorized Version, moreover, gives a look of probability to the insertion of "sword," which is wanting in the Hebrew; for it does not connect his purpose of killing David with the hadasha. The Hebrew is, "And Ishbo-benob, who was a Rephaite, and whose spear weighed three hundred shekels, and who was girt with an hadasha; and he thought to smite David."
But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David sware unto him, saying, Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel.
Verse 17. - The men of David sware unto him. David's men were specifically the mighties, who had so long been his friends and companions. They now bound him by an oath never again to fight in person, lest he should be singled out for combat by some warrior among the enemy and slain. The light of Israel. The lamp in the dwelling was the proof that there was life there, and so it became the symbol of prosperity. In Job 18:5, 6 the extinction of the lamp signifies the destruction of the family. David was evidently now king, and under him Israel was advancing to freedom and empire. His death would have plunged the nation back into weakness and probable ruin.
And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant.
Verse 18. - Gob. In the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 20:4) this place is called Gezer, and the Septuagint has Gath. It was probably some unimportant spot, except as being the site of this battle, and the scribes, knowing nothing about it, made corrections at their fancy. Sibbechai the Hushathite. The name is spelt in the same way in 1 Chronicles 11:29 and 1 Chron 20:4, but in the list of the mighties he is called Mebunnai (2 Samuel 23:27). In 1 Chronicles 27:11 we find that he had the command of the eighth division of the army, consisting of twenty-four thousand men. He is called "the Hushathite," as being a descendant of Hushah, of the family of Judah, in 1 Chronicles 4:4. Saph, which was of the sons of the giant; Hebrew, of the Raphah: He is called Sippai in 1 Chronicles 20:4.
And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.
Verse 19. - Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Beth-lehemite, slew Goliath the Gittite. The words "the brother of" are inserted by the Authorized Version in order to bring this place into verbal agreement with 1 Chronicles 20:5, where we read that "Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite." The Jewish Targum had the same reading as that still found in the text, but regards Elhanan, "God is gracious," as another name for David, and, instead of Jair or Jaare, reads Jesse. Its translation is as follows: "And David the son of Jesse, the weaver of veils for the sanctuary, who was of Bethlehem, slew Goliath the Gittite." Possibly the Authorized Version is right in concluding that the present text is a corruption of that in 1 Chronicles 20:5. For, first, the repetition of oregim, "weavers," is suspicious, the Hebrew being, not "weaver's beam," but the plural "weavers' beam," menor oregim. Next, Jaare is a transposition of the letters of Jair (in the Hebrew) made probably in order that the compound Jaare-oregim may obey the rules of Hebrew grammar. More important is it to notice that Lahmi is part of the word "Bethlehemite" (Hebrew, Beth-hallahmi), and might thus easily suggest to the eye of a scribe the completion of so well known a word. We must add that among the thirty Gibborim is "Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem." Whoever slew Goliath's brother would certainly attain to high rank among the heroes, but if the name Jair is right, the Elhanan there spoken of is not the person who slew Lahmi.
And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant.
And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea the brother of David slew him.
Verse 21. - Jonatham. He was brother to the subtle Jonadab who helped Amnon on his way to ruin. The spelling of the father's name shows how little importance we can place on the Hebrew text in the matter of names. He is called here in the Hebrew Shimei, which the Massorites have changed into Shimeah. In 2 Samuel 13:3 we have Shimeah, in 1 Samuel 16:9 Shammah, and in 1 Chronicles 2:13 Shimma.
These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.
Verse 22. - These four were born to the giant; Hebrew, were born to the Raphah; that is, belonged to the race of the Rephaim, who seem to have settled in Gath in large numbers, and to have been a fine race of men. (For their antiquity, see Genesis 14:5.) By the hand of David. Not necessarily in personal conflict, though the Hebrew in ver. 17 would admit of the translation that, with the aid of Abishai, David himself slew Ishbi-benob. But the glory of all that the Gibborim did belonged also to David their king.

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