Adam Clarke Commentary
2 Samuel 21
A famine taking place three successive years in Israel, David inquired of the Lord the cause; and was informed that it was on account of Saul and his bloody house, who had slain the Gibeonites, 2 Samuel 21:1. David inquires of the Gibeonites what atonement they require, and they answer, seven sons of Saul, that they may hang them up in Gibeah, 2 Samuel 21:2-6. Names of the seven sons thus given up, 2 Samuel 21:7-9. Affecting account of Rizpah, who watched the bodies through the whole of the time of harvest, to prevent them from being devoured by birds and beasts of prey, 2 Samuel 21:10. David is informed of Rizpah‘s conduct, and collects the bones of Saul, Jonathan, and the seven men that were hanged at Gibeah, and buries them; and God is entreated for the land, 2 Samuel 21:11-14. War between the Israelites and Philistines, in which David is in danger of being slain by Ishbi-benob, but is succoured by Abishai, 2 Samuel 21:15-17. He, and several gigantic Philistines, are slain by David and his servants, 2 Samuel 21:18-22.
Then there was a famine - Of this famine we know nothing; it is not mentioned in any part of the history of David.
Because he slew the Gibeonites - No such fact is mentioned in the life and transactions of Saul; nor is there any reference to it in any other part of Scripture.
The remnant of the Amorites - The Gibeonites were Hivites, not Amorites, as appears from Joshua 11:19: but Amorites is a name often given to the Canaanites in general, Genesis 15:16; Amos 2:9, and elsewhere.
Wherewith shall I make the atonement - It is very strange that a choice of this kind should be left to such a people. Why not ask this of God himself?
Seven men of his sons - Meaning sons, grandsons, or other near branches of his family. It is supposed that the persons chosen were principal in assisting Saul to exterminate the Gibeonites. But where is the proof of this?
Five sons of Michal - whom she brought up - Michal, Saul‘s daughter, was never married to Adriel, but to David, and afterwards to Phaltiel; though it is here said she bore ילדה (yaledah), not brought up, as we falsely translate it: but we learn from 1 Samuel 18:19, that Merab, one of Saul‘s daughters, was married to Adriel.
In the beginning of barley harvest - This happened in Judea about the vernal equinox, or the 21st of March.
Rizpah - took sackcloth - Who can read the account of Rizpah‘s maternal affection for her sons that were now hanged, without feeling his mind deeply impressed with sorrows?
Until water dropped upon them - Until the time of the autumnal rains, which in that country commence about October. Is it possible that this poor broken-hearted woman could have endured the fatigue, (and probably in the open air), of watching these bodies for more than five months? Some think that the rain dropping on them out of heaven means the removal of the famine which was occasioned by drought, by now sending rain, which might have been shortly after these men were hanged; but this by no means agrees with the manner in which the account is introduced: “They were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah - took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest, until water dropped upon them out of heaven.” No casual or immediately providential rain can be here intended; the reference must be to the periodical rains above mentioned.
Took the bones of Saul - The reader will recollect that the men of Jabesh-gilead burned the bodies of Saul and his sons, and buried the remaining bones under a tree at Jabesh. See 1 Samuel 31:12, 1 Samuel 31:13. These David might have digged up again, in order to bury them in the family sepulcher.
Moreover the Philistines had yet war - There is no mention of this war in the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 20:4, etc.
David waxed faint - This circumstance is nowhere else mentioned.
Being girded with a new sword - As the word sword is not in the original, we may apply the term new to his armor in general; he had got new arms, a new coat of mail, or something that defended him well, and rendered him very formidable: or it may mean a strong or sharp sword.
That thou quench not the light of Israel - David is here considered as the lamp by which all Israel was guided, and without whom all the nation must be involved in darkness. The lamp is the emblem of direction and support. Light is used in this sense by Homer: -
A battle - at Gob - Instead of Gob, several editions, and about forty of Kennicott‘s and De Rossi‘s MSS., have Nob; but Gezer is the name in the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 20:4.
Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim - slew - Goliath the Gittite - Here is a most manifest corruption of the text, or gross mistake of the transcriber; David, not Elhanan, slew Goliath. In 1 Chronicles 20:5, the parallel place, it stands thus: “Elhanan, the son of Jair, slew Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear-staff was like a weaver‘s beam.” This is plain; and our translators have borrowed some words from Chronicles to make both texts agree. The corruption may be easily accounted for by considering that ארגים (oregim), which signifies weavers, has slipped out of one line into the other; and that בית הלחמי (beith hallachmi), the Beth-lehemite, is corrupted from את לחמי (eth Lachmi); then the reading will be the same as in Chronicles. Dr. Kennicott has made this appear very plain in his First Dissertation on the Hebrew Text, p. 78, etc.
On every hand six fingers - This is not a solitary instance: Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in 1648, had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot. And Maupertuis, in his seventeenth letter, says that he met with two families near Berlin, where sedigitism was equally transmitted on both sides of father and mother. I saw once a young girl, in the county of Londonderry, in Ireland, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, but her stature had nothing gigantic in it. The daughters of Caius Horatius, of patrician dignity, were called sedigitae, because they had six fingers on each hand. Volcatius, a poet, was called sedigitus for the same reason. See Pliny‘s Hist. Nat., lib. xi., cap. 43.
1.The famine, 2 Samuel 21:1, is not spoken of anywhere else, nor at all referred to in the books of Kings or Chronicles; and, being of three years‘ duration, it was too remarkable to be omitted in the history of David.
2.The circumstance of Saul‘s attempt to exterminate the Gibeonites is nowhere else mentioned; and, had it taken place, it is not likely it would have been passed over in the history of Saul‘s transgressions. Indeed, it would have been such a breach of the good faith by which the whole nation was bound to this people, that an attempt of the kind could scarcely have failed to raise an insurrection through all Israel.
1. Michal was never the wife of Adriel, but of David and Phaltiel.
7.The seven sons of Saul, mentioned here, are represented as a sacrifice required by God, to make an atonement for the sin of Saul. Does God in any case require human blood for sacrifice? And is it not such a sacrifice that is represented here? Dr. Delaney and others imagine that these seven sons were principal agents in the execution of their father‘s purpose; but of this there is no proof. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, certainly had no hand in this projected massacre, he was ever lame, and could not be so employed; and yet he would have been one of the seven had it not been for the covenant made before with his father: But the king spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan - because of the Lord‘s oath that was between them, 2 Samuel 21:7.
1. God did not command a breach of his own law.
10.The story of collecting and burying the bones of Saul and Jonathan is not very likely, considering that the men of Jabesh-gilead had burned their bodies, and buried the remaining bones under a tree at Jabesh, 1 Samuel 31:12, 1 Samuel 31:13; yet still it is possible.
12.Even the facts in this chapter, which are mentioned in other places, (see 1 Chronicles 20:4, etc.), are greatly distorted and corrupted; for we have already seen that Elhanan is made here to kill Goliath the Gittite, whom it is well known David slew; and it is only by means of the parallel place above that we can restore this to historical truth.
That there have been attempts to remove some of these objections, I know; and I know also that these attempts have been in general without success.
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