2 Samuel 21:1
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.
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(1) Then there was.—Read, and there was, there being no indication of time in the original. It is plain from 2Samuel 21:7 that the events here narrated occurred after David had come to know Mephibosheth; and if in 2Samuel 16:7 there is (as many suppose) an allusion to the execution of Saul’s sons, they must have happened before the rebellion of Absalom. There is no more definite clue to the time, and the expression “in the days of David” seems purposely indefinite. The narrative is omitted from the Book of Chronicles.

Three years.—A famine in Palestine was always a consequence of deficient winter rains, and was not very uncommon; but a famine enduring for three successive years was alarming enough to awaken attention and to suggest some especial cause.

Enquired of the Lord.—Literally, sought the face of the Lord. The phrase is a different one from that often used in Judges and Samuel, and agrees with other indications that this narrative may have been obtained by the compiler from some other records than those from which he drew the bulk of this book. David turned to the true Source for a knowledge of the meaning of this unusual affliction.

2 Samuel 21:1. Then there was a famine, &c. — The things related here, and chap. 24., are, by the best interpreters, conceived to have been done long before Absalom’s rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds. For, first, this particle, then, is here explained, in the days, that is, during the reign of David: which general words seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done next after the foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would have said, after these things, as it is in many other places. Secondly, Here are divers particulars which cannot, with probability, be ascribed to the last years of David’s reign: such as, that Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished; that David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place till that time; that the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, 2 Samuel 21:15, &c., so long after he had fully subdued them, 2 Samuel 8:1; that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so; that David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, 2 Samuel 24:1, which, being an act of youthful vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order is plainly this; because David’s sin being once related, it was very proper that his punishments should immediately succeed: this being very frequent in Scripture story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several different times.

David inquired of the Lord — It is possible that David, for the first, and even second year, might have ascribed this calamity to natural causes; but in the third year, being well convinced that the visitation was judicial, he applied himself to the sacred oracle of God, to learn the cause of this extraordinary and continued calamity. And God soon informed him that this punishment was on account of the blood shed by Saul and his family. Because he slew the Gibeonites — The history of the Gibeonites is well known: they were a remnant of the Amorites, but by an artful contrivance, related Joshua 9:9, obtained a league for their lives and properties from the children of Israel. And, forasmuch as Joshua and the elders had confirmed it by an oath, they thought themselves bound to keep it, only tying them down to the servitude of supplying the tabernacle with wood and water for the public sacrifices, and the service of those who attended upon them. This unhappy people, notwithstanding it is probable that they had renounced their idolatry, and performed the other conditions of their covenant, Saul sought all occasions to destroy; and did so to such a degree of guilt as drew down the divine judgment upon the land. But upon what occasion, or in what manner Saul destroyed them, is not mentioned in the Scriptures, except those that may be supposed to have been slain with the priests in the city of Nob, as being hewers of wood and drawers of water for the tabernacle. But undoubtedly there was some more general destruction of them for which this punishment was inflicted, although the Scripture is silent about it.21:1-9 Every affliction arises from sin, and should lead us to repent and humble ourselves before God; but some troubles especially show that they are sent to bring sin to remembrance. God's judgments often look a great way back, which requires us to do so, when we are under his rebukes. It is not for us to object against the people's smarting for the sin of their king; perhaps they helped him. Nor against this generation suffering for the sin of the last. God often visits the sins of the fathers upon the children, and he gives no account of any matters. Time does not wear out the guilt of sin; nor can we build hopes of escape upon the delay of judgments. If we cannot understand all the reasons of Providence in this matter, still we have no right to demand that God should acquaint us with those reasons. It must be right, because it is the will of God, and in the end it will be proved to be so. Money is no satisfaction for blood. It should seem, Saul's posterity trod in his steps, for it is called a bloody house. It was the spirit of the family, therefore they are justly reckoned with for his sin, as well as for their own. The Gibeonites did not require this out of malice against Saul or his family. It was not to gratify any revenge, but for the public good. They were put to death at the beginning of harvest; they were thus sacrificed to turn away the wrath of Almighty God, who had withheld the harvest-mercies for some years past, and to obtain his favour in the present harvest. In vain do we expect mercy from God, unless we do justice upon our sins. Executions must not be thought cruel, which are for the public welfare.There is no note of time whatever, nor any clue as to what part of David's reign the events of this chapter ought to be assigned.

Enquired of the Lord - Hebrew "sought the face of the Lord," quite a different phrase from that so often used in Judges (e. g. Judges 1:1) and the Books of Samuel, and probably indicating that this chapter is from a different source; an inference agreeing with the indefinite "in the days of David," and with the allusion to the slaughter of the Gibeonites, which has not anywhere been narrated.

And for his bloody house - literally, "the house of blood," i. e., the house or family upon which rests the guilt of shedding innocent blood.


2Sa 21:1-9. The Three Years' Famine for the Gibeonites Cease by Hanging Seven of Saul's Sons.

1. the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites—The sacred history has not recorded either the time or the reason of this massacre. Some think that they were sufferers in the atrocity perpetrated by Saul at Nob (1Sa 22:19), where many of them may have resided as attendants of the priests; while others suppose it more probable that the attempt was made afterwards, with a view to regain the popularity he had lost throughout the nation by that execrable outrage.A three years’ famine, declared by God to be for the Gibeonites’ sake, ceaseth by their hanging seven of Saul’s sons, 2 Samuel 21:1-9. Rizpah preserveth the dead bodies, 2 Samuel 21:10,11. David burieth the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as also of them that were hung up, in his father’s sepulchre, 2 Samuel 21:12-14. Four battles against the Philistines, wherein four valiants of David slay four giants, 2 Samuel 21:15-22.

Then there was a famine: when? Either, first, after Absalom’s and Sheba’s rebellion, as it is here related; or rather, secondly, in some other time before. It is well known and confessed that the particle then doth not always note that the thing was done in that order in which it is mentioned, but is oft of an indefinite signification; as also that the Scripture in its histories and relations doth not always observe the order of time, but the order of things, putting that after which was done before, as occasion requires. And so it seems to be here. The things related here and 2Sa 24 are by the most and best interpreters conceived to have been done long before Absalom’s rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds.

First, This particle then is here explained, in the days, i.e. during the life and reign of David; which general and indefinite words seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done after the next foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would rather have added, after these things, or some such expression, as it is 2 Chronicles 32:1, and in many other places.

Secondly, Here are divers passages which it seems very improbable to ascribe to the last years of David’s reign: such as these, first, That Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished. And indeed that this was done, and Saul’s seven sons hanged by David’s order before that time, seems plainly to be intimated by that passage, 2 Samuel 16:8, where he is charged with the blood of the house of Saul; for which there was not the least colour till this time.

Secondly, That David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place, here, 2 Samuel 21:12-14, till that time.

Thirdly, That the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, 2 Samuel 21:15, &c., so long after he had fully subdued them, 2 Samuel 8:1; and that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so.

Fourthly, That David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, 2 Samuel 24:1, &c., which being an act of youthful heat and vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation and great affliction in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order is plainly this, because David’s sin being once related, it was very convenient that David’s punishments inflicted for it should immediately succeed; this being very frequent in Scripture story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several times. And this is the more considerable, because it tends to the clearing of that great difficulty, 2 Samuel 15:7.

David inquired of the Lord concerning the reason of his displeasure, and this judgment.

Because he slew the Gibeonites; which was not only an act of cruelty, but also of perfidiousness and perjury, because it was a direct and public violation of that solemn oath given to them for their security by Joshua and the princes, in the name of all the Israelites, of that and of succeeding generations, and consequently a great scandal to the true religion, and the professors of it, and a mean to discourage others from embracing it, as the Gibeonites had done.

Quest. Why did not God punish Saul whilst he was alive for this fault, but his innocent children, and David, and the Israelites of this age?

Answ. First, God did severely punish Saul for this and his other sins.

Secondly, As God may justly inflict temporal punishments upon any offender, either in his person or in his posterity, when he pleaseth; so it is meet he should take his own time for it; and it is folly and wickedness in us to quarrel with God for so doing.

Thirdly, The Israelites might sundry ways make themselves guilty of Saul’s sin, though it be not particularly mentioned in Scripture; advising or encouraging him to it; or by assisting him in the execution of it; or by conniving at it; or by rejoicing in it for some worldly advantage which they received or expected from it; or by not repairing the injuries which Saul had done them as far as they might.

And some of these ways David himself might be involved in the guilt, although indeed this evil fell principally upon the people. And whereas many of the people probably were innocent of that crime, yet they also were guilty of many other sins, for which God might punish them, though he took this occasion for it. And it may be further observed, that God is pleased many times severely to punish lesser delinquents, and to suffer the greater for the present to go unpunished; and that not only to manifest his own sovereign power and liberty, but also to give the world thereby assurance of a future judgment, and punishments reserved for the next life.

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year,.... That is, three years running, one after another; some think this, though here related, was before the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba, and not after, and there are several things which may incline to it, as that the sin of Saul should otherwise be so long unpunished, and that the bones of Saul and Jonathan were not sooner removed, here related; and that there should be so many battles the Philistines after they were subdued, as recorded in this chapter; and in one of the Jewish (e) writings it is said, that this was the year after Saul was slain; though, in other copies of the same book, it is said to be thirty years after; and so in that Abarbinel used, and who is of the mind that what is here related stands in the order in which it was, and of the same opinion are some of our best chronologers (f):

and David inquired of the Lord; before the high priest by Urim and Thummim, what should be the cause of the famine perhaps suspecting it was some sins of his; the first year he might take no notice of it, hoping for a more fruitful season the next year, it arising, as he might suppose, from some natural cause; the second year he might begin to think it was for some national sins, but might be remiss in his inquiry into them; but the third year he was alarmed, and concluded there was something extraordinary and special, and feared it was on his account, and this put him on making inquiry:

and the Lord answered, it is for Saul, and for his bloody house; on account of the blood shed by him and his family; which answer must in a good measure relieve the mind of David, if he was fearful it was for his sins:

because he slew the Gibeonites: which was contrary to the oath that Joshua and all Israel had given them not to slay them, but save them alive, Joshua 9:15. When this was done is not certain; the Jews commonly say (g) that he slew them when he slew the priests at Nob, they being hewers of wood and drawers of water to them, and were slain with them; or because their maintenance depended on the priests, they being slain, it was in effect slaying them; but rather this refers to another time, and to other action or actions of Saul, who sought by various means to destroy these people, and root them out of the land. The Heathens had a notion that barrenness, unfruitfulness, and famine, were inflicted by God for murder. Philostratus (h) reports of the Ethiopian Indians, that for the murder of their king, Ganges, their ground was unfruitful, their cattle starved, their wives abortive, and their cities and houses fell to ruin, until the murderers were destroyed.

(e) Pirke Eliezer, c. 17. (f) Usser. Annal. Vet. Test. p. 55. Bedford's Scripture Chronology, p. 558. (g) T. Bab. Bava Kama, fol. 119. 1.((h) Vita Apollon. Tyanei, l. 3. c. 6.

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the {a} Gibeonites.

(a) Thinking to gratify the people, because these were not of the seed of Abraham.

Chap. 2 Samuel 21:1-11. A Three Years Famine for Saul’s massacre of the Gibeonites. The Execution of Saul’s sons

1. Then there was a famine] Render, And there was a famine. There is no adverb of time marking chronological connexion with the foregoing narrative. In Palestine a famine was the almost certain consequence of a failure of the winter rains, on which both cornfields and pasturage depend. See 1 Kings 18:2; Joel 1:8-20; for famine as the result of drought; and cp. Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 42:5; Ruth 1:1; 2 Kings 8:1-2.

in the days of David] This famine must have occurred after David became acquainted with Mephibosheth (ch. 2 Samuel 9:1 ff.), for it is expressly stated that he spared Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:7); and in all probability before Absalom’s rebellion, in the account of which we may trace one, if not two allusions to the execution of Saul’s sons (ch. 2 Samuel 16:7-8, 2 Samuel 19:28); but its date cannot be fixed more exactly, and the phrase in the days of David seems designedly indefinite.

For a discussion of some questions connected with the famine and the surrender of Saul’s sons for execution see Additional Note II., p. 234.

inquired of the Lord] Sought the face of Jehovah: a phrase not found elsewhere in Samuel, and perhaps indicating that this chapter was taken by the compiler from a different source. Cp. Psalm 24:6; Psalm 27:8. David sought to ascertain the cause of this judgment; for famine was one of the “four sore judgments” of God (Ezekiel 14:21; cp. 1 Kings 8:35-37).

his bloody house] His blood-guilty house: upon which rested the guilt of shedding innocent blood. Cp. Psalm 5:6; Ezekiel 22:2. Unexpiated murder “defiled the land,” and involved the nation in punishment. See Numbers 35:33-34; Deuteronomy 21:7-9. The Sept. text differs slightly, reading: “Upon Saul and upon his house is blood-guiltiness.”

the Gibeonites] On Gibeon see note on ch. 2 Samuel 2:12.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." "It is not so (sc., as thou sayest), but a man of the mountains of Ephraim (which extended into the tribe of Benjamin: see at 1 Samuel 1:1), Sheba the son of Bichri, hath lifted up his hand against the king David. Only give him up, and I will draw away from the city." The woman promised him this: "Behold, his head shall be thrown out to thee over the wall."
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