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Sunday, December 10th, 2023
the Second Week of Advent
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 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.

Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year. For the first two seasons the scarcity did not cause much anxiety, since David and the officers of his government probably regarded it as the natural consequence of neglecting the cultivation of the land chafing the troubles occasioned by Absalom and Sheba, and hoped that the internal resources of the country would be sufficient to supply the wants of the population. But a famine which continued over three years in succession, and the severity of which was unceasingly felt, at length produced alarm, and drove those in authority to supplicate the counsel and aid of God.

It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites. It was declared not to have originated in any natural causes, but to have been inflicted by the immediate hand of God, and the moral cause of the judgment was made known to him. The sacred history has not recorded either the time or the reason of this massacre. Some I think that they were sufferers in the atrocity perpetrated by Saul at Nob (1 Samuel 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 afterward, with a view to regain the popularity he had lost throughout the probable that the attempt was made afterward, with a view to regain the popularity he had lost throughout the nation by that execrable outrage.

Verse 2

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.)

The king called the Gibeonites - i:e., David called the small remnant of them that survived, chiefly of the Beerothites (1 Samuel 22:7), and his addressing them was in consequence of the answer he had received from the oracle of Yahweh. Whether his consultation with the Gibeonites, as to the satisfaction they required was David's own spontaneous act, or commanded by God is not said; but the latter is most probable as a statue was involved which none but God Himself could dispense with (Deuteronomy 24:16).

In his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah. Under pretence of a rigorous and faithful execution of the divine law regarding the extermination of the Canaanites, Saul had set himself to expel or destroy those whom Joshua had been deceived into sparing. His real object seems to have been, that the possessions of the Gibeonites, being forfeited to the crown, might be divided among his own people (cf. 1 Samuel 22:7). At all events, his proceeding against this people being in violation of a solemn oath, and involving national guilt, the famine was, in the wise and just retribution of Providence, made a national punishment, since the Hebrews either assisted in the massacre or did not interpose to prevent it; since they neither endeavoured to repair the wrong nor express any horror of it; and since a general protracted chastisement might have been indispensable to inspire a proper respect and protection to the Gibeonite remnant that survived.

Verse 3

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?

Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? The king, having been apprised by the oracle of God that the moral cause of the grievous judgment which had so long scourged the land was the iniquity perpetrated by Saul upon the Gibeonites, forthwith communicated with that people, offering to make any atonement in his power, on condition of their forgiving the crime of the homicidal king. The case was a very special one; and the entire narrative shows that, though reduced like the Spartan zealots to a state of perpetual servitude, they were not an oppressed people. Having been brought by the direct interposition of God into the place of the go'el, or blood-avenger, they were bound to demand satisfaction for the death of their slaughtered brethren from the murderer or his representatives; and that satisfaction of course must be on a large scale, proportioned to the wholesale murders that had been committed. Pecuniary compensation, accepted by some of the Arab tribes and other Orientals, was prohibited to the Hebrew nation by the law of God. The manslayer must expiate his crime by his blood: and the high position of him who had ordered the slaughter of the Gibeonites, together with the aggravated circumstances that marked the commission of the outrage, called aloud that justice should be allowed to take its course.

Verses 4-5

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.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 6

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.

Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord. The practice of the Hebrews, as of most Oriental nations, was to slay first, and afterward to suspend on a gibbet [ wªhowqa`anuwm (H3363), we shall suspend on is stake or low cross, we shall impale them, the body being not left hanging after sunset (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)]. The king could not refuse this demand of the Gibeonites, who, in making it, were only exercising their right as blood-avengers; and although, through fear and a sense of weakness, they had not chimed satisfaction, yet, now that David had been apprised by the oracle of the cause of the long-prevailing calamity, he felt it his duty to give the Gibeonites full satisfaction; hence, their specifying the number seven, which was reckoned full and complete. And if it should seem unjust to make the descendants suffer for a crime which in all probability originated with Saul himself, yet his sons and grandsons might have been the instruments of his cruelty, the willing and zealous executioners of this bloody raid.

In Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose. Gibeah was Saul's place of residence, and consequently the capital of the kingdom during his reign (1 Samuel 10:26; 1 Samuel 11:4). It was situated on or near a round hill, as the term imports (cf. 2 Samuel 21:9) (now Tuleil el-Ful). The selection of this place, which had been the seat of his majesty, to be the scene of execution of his descendants, would be a public and indelible stigma on his memory and house. [ Shaa'uwl (H7586) bªchiyr (H972) Yahweh (H3069), Saul chosen of Yahweh.] This seems to have been added by the Gibeonites as an aggravation of the offence committed against them, that he, 'the Lord's anointed,' to whose kind providence and special arrangement he owed his royal elevation, had broken the divine law, and stained the honour of the Israelite nation by perjury. [The Septuagint considers 'the Lord's choosing' to refer to the victims surrendered to the Gibeonites:-exeeliasoomen autous too kurioo en too Gabaoon Saoul eklektous kurion, we shall hang them up in Gibeah of Saul, who are selected by the Lord]. "Unto the Lord" - in vindication of His honour and law. But this is contrary to the grammatical construction [ bªchiyr (H972)], chosen being in the singular. Grove (Smith's 'Dictionary') and others apply the epithet to Gibeah, the hill on which it stood being supposed consecrated to God, from the fact of Ahiah the priest there depositing the ark (1 Samuel 14:18: cf. 2 Samuel 6:3-4). But it is an objection to this view that Gibeah is nowhere depositing the ark (1 Samuel 14:18: cf. 2 Samuel 6:3-4). But it is an objection to this view that Gibeah is nowhere said to be a place which the Lord chose.

The king said, I will give them. David cannot be charged with doing this as an indirect way of ridding himself of rival competitors for the throne, for those delivered up were only collateral branches of Saul's family, and never set up any claim to the sovereignty. Moreover, David was only granting the request of the Gibeonites as God had bidden him do.

Verse 7

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 8

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:

The five sons of Michal ... whom she brought up for Adriel. Michal has by an error been substituted in the text for Merab, Saul's oldest daughter, who, as appears, 1 Samuel 18:19, was married to Adriel [Septuagint, Esdrieel]. Our translators, not daring to impugn the accuracy of the text, and yet finding it difficult to reconcile the passage before us with the one quoted from the First Book of Samuel, have suggested a conjectural solution by the use of the phrase "brought up," as if Adriel having become a widower by the death of his wife, his five young sons had been reared under the care of their aunt Michal. It is fatal however, to such a hypothesis that there is nothing in the original corresponding to "brought up." [The Hebrew text has yaalªdaah (H3205), bore, gave birth; which the Septuagint version renders by the equivalent Greek word eteke, produced, brought forth as a mother.] There is, therefore, prima facie evidence of an error having early crept into the text of this passage (for all the ancient versions have it); and Kennicott ('Dissertation') has proved this by showing that two Hebrew manuscripts read "Merab" instead of "Michal." Josephus, who admits that Michal was mother of the five lads, says that she bore them, after a second divorce from David, to Adriel.

Verse 9

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.

They hanged them in the hill before the Lord. Deeming themselves not bound by the criminal law of Israel (Deuteronomy 21:22-23), their intention was to let the bodies hang until God, propitiated by this offering, should send rain upon the land, because the lack of it had occasioned the famine. It was a pagan practice to gibbet men with a view of appeasing the anger of the gods in seasons of famine; and the Gibeonites, who were a remnant of the Amorites (2 Samuel 21:2), though brought to the knowledge of the true God, were not it seems, free from this superstition. God in His providence suffered the Gibeonites to ask and inflict so barbarous a retaliation, in order that they, having been injured, might obtain justice and some reporation of their wrongs, especially that the scandal brought on the name of the true religion, by the violation of a solemn national compact, might be wiped away from Israel, and that memorable lesson should be given to respect treaties and oaths.

Verse 10

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.

Rizpah ... took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, [ hasaq (H8242)] - the sackcloth garment of widowhood, and, reclining upon it, kept watch, as the relatives of executed persons were accustomed to do, day and night, to scare the birds and beasts of prey away from the remains exposed on the low-standing gibbets (Psalms 79:2: cf. Homer's 'Iliad,' and the story of the Ephesian matron). On that shadeless rock she would be exposed to the fierce heat of the sun during the whole of a Syrian summer; for the execution took place in spring, about the time, of the Passover.

The beginning of harvest. 'In Palestine the barley harvest precedes the wheat harvest about two weeks. At Jericho, in the depressed valley of the Jordan, the former takes place in the last half of April, and the latter in the first half of May (cf. Joshua 3:15). On the plain along the coast the harvest is usually a fortnight later; and on the mountains, at Jerusalem and Hebron, still later by another fortnight' (Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' 2:, pp. 99, 100).

Until water dropped upon them out of heaven - i:e., until the fall of the autumnal rains in October. Thus did Rizpah, with devoted assiduity, and regardless of personal discomfort, privation, and exhausting fatigue, keep her solitary watch by day and night before the painful spectacle of the wasting relics of what were once the beloved persons of her sons. This brief and simple narrative presents a picture of maternal tenderness far more affecting than any episode that has been interwoven in tales of poetry or romance.

Verse 11

And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 12

And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:

David went and took the bones of Saul ... Erelong the descent of copious showers, or perhaps an order of the king, gave Rizpah the satisfaction of releasing the corpses from their ignominious exposure; and, incited by her pious example, David ordered the remains of Saul and his sons to be transferred from their obscure grave in Jabesh-gilead to an honourable interment in the family vault at Zelah, or Zelzah (1 Samuel 10:2), now Beit-jala.

Verse 13

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 14

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.

After that God was entreated for the land. It has been conjectured, from various circumstances recorded in the course of this book, that the surrender of seven of Saul's descendants, as compensation for the blood of the Gibeonites, took place at an earlier period in David's reign over Israel than appears from the position which the incident holds in the inspired record. The allusion to Saul's violent rapacity toward the Gibeonites as recent (2 Samuel 21:1), the execration which the execution of Saul's family excited against David among the Benjamites, and which was embodied in the insults which Shimei poured upon him in the time of his flight (2 Samuel 16:7-8), together with the significant language of Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 19:28) concerning the violent extinction of all his family, all seem to indicate the date of the transaction to have been not long after the establishment of David at Jerusalem. Some have hinted the suspicion that his ready consent to deliver up the seven victim for execution arose from his secret wish and policy to rid himself, by the extirpation of the Sauline dynasty, of all rivals who might disturb his peaceful occupation of the throne. But such a suspicion is injurious to the memory of David, and totally inconsistent with his spontaneous act of generous kindness in removing the bones of Saul and Jonathan to the ancestral grave at Zelah.

The fact is, that the consignment of Saul's grandchildren to execution was a painful but inevitable necessity. According to the state of society and the customs of the age and country, David could not have withheld the persons of the youths, seeing that the Gibeonites had refused 'the price of blood.' The record of the severe punishment on the posterity of Saul, on account of the slaughter of the Gibeonites, affords a minute but interesting evidence of the truth of the narrative respecting the national league which was formed by Israel with that people. It must have led the ancient Israelites to inquire, if they had any doubt upon the subject, whether, and in what circumstances, such a league a was formed; and the undesigned coincidence between this passage and the relation given in the ninth chapter of Joshua should be sufficient to remove scepticism from the mind of the modern reader.

Verse 15

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.

Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel. Although the Philistines had completely succumbed to the army of David, yet the appearance of any gigantic champions among them revived their courage, and stirred them up to renewed inroads on the Hebrew territory. Four successive contests they provoked during the latter period of David's reign, in the first of which the king ran so imminent a risk of his life, that he was no longer allowed to encounter the perils of the battlefield.

Verse 16

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.

Ishbi-benob (Ishbe-benob, the Qeri') - his (my) dwelling is at Nob.

Which was of the sons of the giant, [ haa-Raapaah (H7497), with the article (cf. 1 Chronicles 20:4; 1 Chronicles 20:6; 1 Chronicles 20:8); Septuagint, en tois ekgonois tou Rafa (with the article also)] - the founder of a class or family remarkable for their strength and stature. In earlier times the Rephaim were a numerous race, inhabiting the regions east of Jordan and various parts in the south of Palestine; but in David's time only a few individuals of that description remained, and these were found among the Philistines.

Thought to have slain David. Although David in the early part of his reign had, by his military energy and signal victories, effectively humbled the power of the Philistines, the appearance of any powerful champion among them revived their hopes and stimulated the hostile spirit of those restless neighbours. It was on one of these occasions, when they had provoked a war, that David went at the head of his army to oppose their further turbulence, when, exhausted with fatigue and the infirmities of age, he was attacked during the contest, and nearly disabled by Ishbi-benob, when Abishai rushed to his aid and slew the monster. But such an occurrence created more than a momentary alarm; and his officers, determined not to expose so precious a life to a similar risk, exacted a solemn promise from the aged king that he would henceforth leave the command of the army to his generals.

Verse 17

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.

Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel. They show the importance attached to the preservation of the king's life by this beautiful and expressive image (cf. 1 Kings 11:36; Psalms 132:17).

Verse 18

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.

There was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob [ bª-Gowb (H1359), a pit or cistern]. The word is used here apparently as the name of a place which is called (1 Chronicles 20:4) Gezer, or (cf. Josephus, 'Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 12:, sec. 2) Gazara. [The Septuagint has: kai egeneto hoti polemos en Geth, in Gath.]

Sibbechal the Hushathite, [ Cibªkay (H5444) = cªkak Yaah, thicket of Yah(weh) - i:e., crowd of God's people (Gesenius) (see the notes at 2 Samuel 23:27)] - called "the Hushathite," from Hushah (1 Chronicles 4:4), indicating, not the name of his ancestor ("father" in that passage meaning 'founder'), but his birthplace or residence. [The Septuagint, the Vatican has: Sebocha ho Astatoothi; the Codex Alexandrinus, Sebochaei ho Aousastoonthei] Josephus calls him 'the Hittite' ('Antiquities,' b. 7:, ch. 12:, sec. 2).

Slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant - or of Rapha (see the notes at 2 Samuel 21:16); Saph, or, Sippai (1 Chronicles 20:4,). [Septuagint, Sef]. 'I saw' (says Miss Rogers, 'Domestic Life in Palestine,' p. 316) 'a number of Arabs belonging to the valley of Urtas, with their chief, a tall powerful man, called Sheikh Saph, whose family according to local tradition, has for ages been distinguished for the height and strength of its men.'

Verse 19

And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Ja'are-oregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.

There was again a battle in Gob. The scene of this contest is not mentioned (1 Chronicles 20:4). [The Septuagint has: en Rom; Alexandrine, en Gob.]

Where Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Beth-lehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, [ 'Elchaanaan (H445), God-bestowed] - one of David's warriors. [ Ya`ªreey-'Orgiym (H3296), forest of weavers. It is evident that 'irgiym, is spurious, and has been introduced by mistake from the eye of a transcriber catching the end of the following line, where oregim (weavers) stands.] This word being rejected, the clause is identical with that in the parallel passage, 1 Chronicles 20:5. Elhanan, the son of Jaur (Khethib), Jair (Qeri'), "slew ... Goliath the Gittite." Jerome ('Quest. Hebraicae,' in loco) considers Elhanan another name of David; Ewald has thrown out the conjecture that the name of David's opponent, who is commonly called "the Philistines" (1 Samuel 15:2), was borrowed from this. But modern criticism rejects these hypotheses, on various critical grounds, particularly for this region, that the incidents associated with the feat of Elhanan show it to have occurred in an advanced period of David's reign; and therefore, regarding the statement of the chronicler as the correct one, we consider the word "brother" as properly borrowed from that passage, and Beth-hal-lachma, a Beth-lehemite, as corrupt; so that the clause should be, 'Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite.'

Verse 20

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 there was yet a battle in Gath. It is evident that the battlefield of these successive encounters was Gath and its neighbourhood, to which David marched his army (2 Samuel 21:15), and to recover which from the possession of the Hebrew king (see the notes at 2 Samuel 8:1; 2 Chronicles 18:1) was the object of their frequent insurrections.

Where was a man of great stature, [ 'iysh (H376) maadown (H4067) (Khethib); 'iysh maadiyn, a man of measures a tall man (cf. 1 Chronicles 20:6); Septuagint, aneer Madoon] (whether this rendering was intended to be a mere repetition of the original, as is frequently done in that version, where the meaning was not understood, or to mark that be was a native of Madon (Joshua 11:1; Joshua 12:19), it is impossible to say). He was presumably a Rephaite, like those mentioned in the preceding verses; but, in addition to his extraordinary height, he was a lusus naturas, because he had 24 fingers and toes, 6 on each hand and foot.

Verse 21

And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him.

And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah, the brother of David, slew him, [ Yªhownaataan (H3083) (given by Yahweh); Shim`aah (H8093) or Shamaah (H8048), Shammah (1 Samuel 16:9; 1 Samuel 17:13: see other variations of the name, 1 Chronicles 2:13; 1 Chronicles 11:27; 1 Chronicles 27:8)]. This achievement of Jonathan almost rivalled the gallant exploit of his uncle in his encounter with Goliath.

The song contained in this chapter is the same as the 18th Psalm. Jewish writers, as well as modern critics, have noticed a great number of very minute variations, amounting to no less than seventy-four, in the language of the song as recorded in this passage from that embodied in the Book of Psalms. And this difference is to be accounted for, not, as Lengerke, Hitzig, and others have asserted, by the carelessness of transcribers, who have introduced great corruptions into the text, but by the fact that this, the first copy of the poem, was carefully revised corrected, and improved by its author afterward, when it was set to music for public worship in the sanctuary. This inspired ode was manifestly the effusion of a mind glowing with the highest fervour and gratitude; and it is full of the noblest imagery that is to be found within the range of sacred poetry. The universal verdict of criticism is, that it is a genuine production of David; with the exception of J. Olshausen, who, denying the Davidic origin of any of the Psalms, refuses, in the instance before us, the double testimony of history and the Book of Psalms. (See this subject discussed by Hengstenberg, 'Psalms,' vol. 1:, Psalms 18:1-50.) It was composed by David near the close of his life; and it is a grand hallelujah, or thanksgiving tribute, not for any particular benefit, bait for general and long continued marks of the divine favour, especially for deliverance from his numerous and malignant enemies, and establishing him in the power and glory of his kingdom. It is divisible into five parts, including the introduction, in which the royal worshipper declares his purpose to celebrate the praises of God as the large and inexhaustible theme of his song.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/2-samuel-21.html. 1871-8.
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