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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 21

Verses 1-14

Miscellaneous Data: An Appendix (21:1-24:25)

The Famine and the Gibeonites (21:1-14)

A prolonged and severe famine led David to perform one of his most tragic acts. Apparently he consulted the oracle to learn the cause of the famine and was advised that guilt still rested upon the nation because of Saul’s massacre of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were a people indigenous to Canaan, a remnant of the original inhabitants. Saul had slain some of them, despite the oath of the Israelites to spare them. We have no other account of this slaughter. The Gibeonites were asked to name compensation, and they demanded, not money, or the death of any man in Israel, but the hanging of seven of Saul’s descendants. It was thought that a blood curse could be removed only by the shed blood of the man who had shed the blood originally. David delivered up seven descendants of Saul, but, because of his covenant with Jonathan, spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. Among those whom the Gibeonites hanged were Saul’s two sons by Rizpah. She watched by the exposed bodies of the seven victims to keep off the wild beasts and birds of prey. Informed of what she had done, David had the bones buried with the bones of Saul and Jonathan in Zela of Benjamin, the burying place of Saul’s family. The bones of Saul and Jonathan were removed from Jabesh-gilead, whose men had rescued them from the Philistines and respectfully cared for them.

These events must have happened prior to the story of Mephibosheth recorded earlier, since he is described there as Saul’s sole descendant. This story of revenge has no justification before the living God. It can be accepted only as conforming to the custom of the time.

Verses 15-22

The Prowess of David’s Heroes (21:15-22)

In a brief section we are told of David’s heroes in the war with the Philistines. The emphasis falls on individuals and their prowess, not on campaigns. One interesting variation causes controversy. We are told that Goliath of Gath was slain by Elhanan (vs. 19). Some students have suggested that this is historical and that David slew a nameless giant, the name "Goliath" slipping into the David story by editorial interpolation.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-21.html.