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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-9

Second Samuel - Chapter 21

(This chapter also contains commentary on 1 Chronicles)

The Wrong Solution to a Problem, vs. 1-9

Some scholars believe this event of David’s reign is out of its chronological setting, and that it occurred earlier than it appears, closer to the time of Saul’s reign. It is another example of David’s failure to always see the will of the Lord in his decisions. In fact, except for the initial event David’s handling of the Gibeonite affair is a series of errors to the end. It is rather in keeping with the error of Joshua and the elders in Israel’s first encounter with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:1 ff). David leaned on his own understanding (Proverbs 3:5).

The (amine which came on the land persisted for three years before David ever sought the Lord to find out the reason. He was informed that it was for the bloody house of Saul because he had slain the Gibeonites contrary to the oath Joshua and the elders had sworn to them. While it is debatable whether the Israelites were originally bound by the oath which they made, which was contrary to God’s command relative to extinction of the Canaanites, they had honored it for many years. The Gibeonites had become servants of the tabernacle and the priests, and seem to have become adherents to Israel’s God.

The reason for Saul’s attempted extinction of the Gibeonites is said to have been his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah, or a desire to rid the land of all who were not of Israel and Judah. Saul may have felt vengeful toward the Gibeonites, as servants of the tabernacle, because of his animosity toward the priests, whom he slaughtered for their befriending David in his flight (1 Samuel 22:6 ff).

It is certainly strange that David would seek the Lord to know the reason for the famine, then not ask His. will concerning the remedy. ­Instead of this, however, he called in the Gibeonites and asked them what he should do, and agreeing before hand to do whatever they required. The Gibeonites did not ask for silver and gold, nor that the Israelites be slain for the crime, but that David surrender to them seven sons of Saul that they might hang them and make public display of their bodies in their own hometown of Gibeah.

True to his promise David rounded up seven sons and grandsons of Saul and turned them over to the Gibeonites for execution. Yet David would not give up Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, because of the treaty of friendship he had made with Jonathan before he became king. He did give two of Saul’s sons by Rizpah, Armoni and another Mephibo­sheth, and five sons of Adriel who had been married to Merab, the eldest daughter of Saul (1 Samuel 18:19). However these sons had been brought up by Michal, Merab’s younger sister, for Adriel. Michal had no children (2 Samuel 6:23), and Merab must have died when the children were small, so Michal took them and reared them. The Gibeonites took them and slew all seven as the barley harvest was beginning.

Verses 10-14

Right Solution Reached Belatedly, vs. 10-14

In these verses is recorded one of the most pathetic scenes of distraught motherhood to be found in the annals of literature. Rizpah bereft of her children, forbidden even to bury their bodies, lovingly spreads her sackcloth pallet on the rock in the open air to keep vigil day and night. In the day she warded off the carrion eating birds from the decaying bodies and by night she fought off the wolves and jackals. Some commentators speak of a period of near two months in which Rizpah was thus occupied. It seems to have lasted from the barley harvest through the wheat harvest to the rainy season which ordinarily followed.

When David heard of what Rizpah was doing he seems to have taken pity and considered that he had not rendered proper respect toward Saul and his family since becoming king. Consequently he sent to Jabesh-gilead and took the bones- of Saul and his sons who had been slain by the Philistines at the battle of Mount Gilboa, and whose bodies had been stolen from them and brought by the men of Jabesh to their city and buried. These with the carcasses of those whom the Gibeonites had executed were then buried in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul’s father, in the land of Benjamin.

The Scriptures then note, "After that God was intreated for the land." This indicates the Lord was not properly sought until David had recognized his error, or errors, and made all restitution possible by burying the abused bodies, when He at last restored His blessing to the land.

David was guilty of several infractions of God’s law relative to this sorry affair. His initial error was, of course, not seeking the Lord’s will. Then he set aside the law which said the sons should not be put to death for the sins of their fathers (De 24:16) and ignored the law which stated that the dead should not be left hanging on a tree after sundown (De 21:22-23). By leaving them so hanging David was guilty, according to this same law, of defiling the land. Also, David abrogated his solemn promise to Saul in slaying his sons. Though he had made special covenant with Jonathan, because of which he refused to give Mephibosheth up for execution, he had made a similar promise to Saul concerning all his descendants (1 Samuel 24:20-22). No wonder it was so long before the Lord was entreated for the land.

Verses 15-22

Some Military Heroes, 2 Samuel 21:15-22 AND 1 Chronicles 20:4-8

These several incidents which occurred in skirmishes of the Israelites with the Philistines, probably transpired in David’s early reign when the war of subjugation against them was underway. The first one has to do with the battle in which David became battle-fatigued and was faint. Ishbi-benob, one of the Gittite giants thought he saw an oppor­tunity to slay the king who long before had killed his relative, Goliath. His military prowess is stressed by the reference to the brass head he had on his spear which weighed three hundred shekels, or nearly ten pounds, He might have succeeded in slaying the king had not Abishai come to his aid and killed Ishbi-benob. It was this incident which deter­mined the mighty men against allowing David to go to battle, lest he be killed, and the "light of Israel" be quenched.

The rest of the Samuel’s account of the Philistine battles is paral­lel to that of Chronicles, and tells how three other members of the giants were killed. Two of these engagements took place at Gob, or Gezer, as it is also called, in the Philistine foothills about twenty-five straight-line miles northwest of Jerusalem. The last engagement was at Gath, the capital of the Philistine cities, which was farther south.

The second of the giants slain was Saph (in Samuel), or Sippai (according to different Hebrew pointing, in Chronicles). The hero was Sibbechai the Hushathite, which probably means he was of the family of Hushah, a descendant of Hur, of the tribe of Judah. Josephus says he was a Hittite, but this seems unlikely. The third giant was unnamed in the Samuel account, called Lahmi in the Chronicles account. Both accounts say he was the brother of Goliath. He wielded a spear with a staff like a weaver’s beam. He was slain by Elhanan of Bethlehem. His father was Jair, or Jaare-oregim, as it varies in the two accounts.

The last giant subdued was a freakish character having 24 fingers and toes, six on each hand and foot. His name is not given. Like his fore­father, Goliath, he issued a challenge to Israel. It was David’s nephew, Jonathan, who accepted the challenge and slew the giant. Jonathan was the son of Shimeah (or Shimea, also called Shammah), David’s third brother. Jonathan was the brother of the wicked Jonadab who plotted with Amnon to rape Tamar, then forsook him to aid Absalom in the ass­assination of Amnon. He appears to have been numbered among the mighty men, and was probably the same Jonathan who was David’s counsellor (1 Chronicles 27:32), where it is thought the translators mistak­enly applied "uncle" to Jonathan, rather than to David.

Some lessons for study: 1) Partial adherence to the Lord’s will leads to mistakes and sorrow; 2) disrespect for the dead is not pleasing to God; 3) God’s fullness of blessing will not be restored until all is right with Him; 4) God enables His people to overcome spiritual giants just as David and his men defeated the physical giants.

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-21.html. 1985.
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