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.
Two of Dr. Kennicott's MSS. have Merab, not Michal; the Syriac and Arabic have Nadab; the Chaldee has properly Merab; but it renders the passage thus: - And the five sons of Merab which Michal the daughter of Saul brought up, which she brought forth to Adriel the son of Barzillai. This cuts the knot.
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?
Did God require this sacrifice of Saul's sons, probably all innocent of the alleged crime of their father? Was there no other method of averting the Divine displeasure? Was the requisition of the Gibeonites to have Saul's sons sacrificed to God, to be considered as an oracle of God? Certainly not; God will not have man's blood for sacrifice, no more than he will have swine's blood. The famine might have been removed, and the land properly purged, by offering the sacrifices prescribed by the law, and by a general humiliation of the people.
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: -
Ουδε τι Πατροκλῳ γενομην φαος, αυδ ' ἑταροισιπ
Τοις αλλοις, οἱ δη πολεες δαμεν Ἑκτορι διῳ.
Iliad, lib. xviii. ver. 102.
"I have neither been a Light to Patroclus nor to his companions, who have been slain by the noble Hector."
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 הלחמי בית beith hallachmi, the Beth-lehemite, is corrupted from לחמי את 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.
There are evidently many places in this chapter in which the text has suffered much from the ignorance or carelessness of transcribers; and indeed I suspect the whole has suffered so materially as to distort, if not misrepresent the principal facts. It seems as if a Gibeonite has had something to do with the copies that are come down to us, or that the first fourteen verses have been inserted from a less authentic document than the rest of the book. I shall notice some of the most unaccountable, and apparently exceptionable particulars: -
2. She never appears to have had any children, see 2 Samuel 6:23; this I have been obliged to correct in the preceding notes by putting Merab in the place of Michal.
2. David was too exact an observer of that law to require it.
3. The people could not have endured it; for, in that sultry season, the land would indeed have been defiled by the putrefaction of the dead bodies; and this would, in all likelihood, have added pestilence to famine.
Till I get farther light on the subject, I am led to conclude that the whole chapter is not now what it would be, coming from the pen of an inspired writer; and that this part of the Jewish records has suffered much from rabbinical glosses, alterations, and additions. The law, the prophets, and the hagiographa, including Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc., have been ever considered as possessing the highest title to Divine inspiration; and therefore have been most carefully preserved and transcribed; but the historical books, especially Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, have not ranked so high, have been less carefully preserved, and have been the subjects of frequent alteration and corruption. Yet still the great foundation of God standeth sure and is sufficiently attested by his own broad seal of consistency, truth, and holiness.
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