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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-22



Chaps. 21–24

Three Years’ Famine on account of Saul’s Crime against the Gibeonites, and Expiration of the Crime

2 Samuel 21:1-14

1Then [And] there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year. And David inquired [sought the face]1 of the Lord [Jehovah]; and the Lord answered [Jehovah said], It is for Saul and for his bloody house [for the blood-guilty house2], because he slew the Gibeonites. 2And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now [and3] 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 3and Judah.) Wherefore [And] 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 [Jehovah]? 4And the Gibeonites said unto him, We4 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. 5And they answered [said to] the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts [in any region] of Israel, 6Let seven men of his sons be delivered5 unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord [Jehovah] in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose [the 7chosen of Jehovah6]. And the king said, I will give them. But [And] the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s [Jehovah’s] oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of 8Saul. But [And] the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal [Merab7] the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for [bare to] Adriel the son 9of Barzillai the Meholathite; And he [om. he] delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord [Jehovah]; and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of the barley-harvest.8 10And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of the harvest until water dropped [poured] upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither [not] the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night. 11And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. 12And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men [citizens9] of Jabesh-gilead, which [who] had stolen them from the street [square] of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa; 13And 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. 14And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son10 buried they in the country [land] of Benjamin in Zelah in the sepulchre of Kish his father; and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was entreated [ = listened to entreaties] for the land.

Accounts of Victorious Battles against the Philistines

2 Samuel 21:15-22

15Moreover [And] the Philistines had yet [om. yet] war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines; 16and David waxed faint. And Ishbi-benob,11 which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed [was] three hundred shekels of brass in weight [om. in weight], he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David. 17But [And] Abishai the son of Zeruiah succored 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. 18And 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. 19And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where [and] Elhanan12 the son of Jaare-oregim [Jair], a [the] Bethlehemite, slew the brother of [om. the brother of] Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. 20And there was yet a battle in Gath, where [and there] was a man of great stature, that had on every [each] hand six fingers, and on every [each] foot six toes, four 21and twenty in number; and he also was born to the giant. And when [om. when] he defied Israel, [ins. and] Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him. 22These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.


On the section Chs. 21–24 and its relation to the preceding narration, see Introduction, p. 21 sqq. [Though Dr. Erdmann’s statement of his view—that these chapters present six sections arranged in elaborate symmetry, from the point of view of theocratic historiography—is very ingenious, a comparison between these sections and similar ones in “Chronicles” and “Judges,” makes it at least not improbable, that they constitute an appendix of materials for which no convenient place was found in the body of the history. This appendix is thus not accidental, is truly theocratic (since it gives various sides of David’s character and life, as theocratic king), only has not the somewhat artificial arrangement that Dr. Erdmann proposes.—Tr.].

1. 2 Samuel 21:1-14. The three years’ famine, and the expiation of a crime committed by Saul against the Gibeonites.

2 Samuel 21:1. In the days of David, an indefinite phrase, which does not help us to fix the date of the following occurrence.13 The mention of Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 21:7 shows that it must be subsequent to the narrative of 2 Samuel 9:0, where David’s first acquaintance with the young prince is described. It is to be put perhaps before Absalom’s conspiracy (Ew.), since Shimei’s words (2 Samuel 16:7-8) may refer to the execution here narrated, though also to the deaths of Abner and Ishbosheth.—And David sought the face of the Lord—by prayer he endeavored to learn the cause of this judgment. The answer is given by the oracle [Urim and Thummim] consulted through the high-priest: “concerning Saul and the house of blood-guilt,”14 the house on which rested blood-guiltiness; comp. the phrases “city of blood” Ezekiel 22:2; Ezekiel 24:6; Ezekiel 24:9, “man of blood” 2 Samuel 16:7-8.—Because he slew the Gibeonites, a fact of which we have no account.15 2 Samuel 21:2 states only the motive of this act of Saul.16 The Gibeonites are here termed a remnant of the Amorites. According to Joshua 9:3-27 an oath was sworn to these “Non-Israelites” that they should not be slain; comp. especially 2 Samuel 21:20. They are there called “Hivites,” while here they are designated by the general name “Amorites” (Ew.), under which all the Canaanitish tribes are often embraced (Keil) [though in other cases the Amorites are distinguished as a separate tribe from the Hivites.—Tr.] And Saul sought to slay them, that is, to exterminate them. Thenius regards this statement as contradictory of the fact narrated [since he would not incur blood-guiltiness by merely seeking to slay them], and proposes to read “exterminate” 17instead of “slay,”; but no contradiction exists, for, as Böttcher remarks, “it is intended in the words ‘in his zeal’ only to give the motive of the attempt [and it is not said that the attempt did not succeed.].” Saul’s zeal “for the children of Israel and Judah”18 consisted in an attempt (in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:2; Deuteronomy 7:24) to cleanse the Lord’s people from the remnant of the heathen, as He purified the land from the necromancers and soothsayers (1 Samuel 28:3) according to the law. He thus “sought” to exterminate the Gibeonites, but his attempt did not succeed, as the presence of these Gibeonites shows. Wherewith shall I appease? namely, the anger of the Lord against this deed, comp. Joshua 9:19-20. “So that ye may then bless the Lord’s inheritance,” literally: “bless ye.” The Imperative “is a curt and vigorous expression, indicating a certain result, a Future Imperative, as it were” (Ew. § 347 a).

2 Samuel 21:4. Literally: “there is not to me19 silver and gold with Saul and with his house,” that is, I have nothing to do with it, have no right to it, according to Numbers 35:31. [They would not take money as compensation for murder. The custom of so compensating by money was common in ancient times, and its existence is supposed in the law above quoted. See Art. Blood, Revenger of, in Smith’s Bib.-Dict.—Tr.]. And we have no right to kill any one in Israel, that is, it is not permitted us without more ado to execute blood-revenge for the murder of our people; their wrong, they thus intimate, must be expiated by blood, but they cannot proceed without the consent and command of the king.20 The king’s question: What say ye then that21 I shall do for you? assumes the necessity of blood-expiation, and asks them to explain themselves more distinctly, since it is His duty thus to make expiation, and so relieve the land of the famine. [We may also render, as in Eng. A. V.: “what ye say, I will do.”—Tr.].

2 Samuel 21:5. As to the man22 (Saul) that consumed us; it appears, then, that Saul had broken the power of this tribe by his bath of blood. “And who devised against us, that we should be destroyed,23 so as not to stand in all the territory of Israel.” Comp. Joshua 9:15; Joshua 9:26.

2 Samuel 21:6. The Apodosis. For the blood wrongfully shed by Saul, blood must flow from his house in return; according to Numbers 35:31; Numbers 35:33 homicide was to be expiated by death [but the death of the murderer, not of his kindred; it is, however, intimated in 2 Samuel 21:1 that Saul’s kindred had shared in the murderous act.—Tr.]. The execution was to be by hanging with extended limbs, crucifixion [impaling, So the term σταυρόω used for the crucifixion of Christ.—Tr.]. They demand seven men of Saul’s sons. The sacred number seven is determined by the significance of this punishment, as work in the service of God, whereby God’s wrath was to be appeased. They were to be hung up to the Lord (comp. 2 Samuel 21:9 “before the Lord,” Numbers 25:4), in God’s honor, to appease His anger, in Gibeah of Saul, because that was the home of Saul’s house, on which the blood-guilt rested. The anointed of the Lord need not be regarded as “holy irony” (Keil). Saul was really the anointed of the Lord; all the more must there be such expiation by blood to the Lord for his sin as the Lord’s Anointed. Exception has been taken to this designation of Saul by non-Israelites, and various conjectures24 made to set it aside: Böttcher makes the adjective plural: “we will hang them as the Lord’s chosen ones” (after the Sept.); Houbigant [and Dathe]: “according to the word (oracular utterance) of the Lord;” Then., Ew. [Bib.-Com.]: “in the mountain of the Lord,” the place of prayer on the mountain at Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:5); if any change is to be made, the last conjecture is preferable, because it demands only the dropping of a single letter.—David declares himself ready to satisfy this demand immediately.

2 Samuel 21:7. From the members of Saul’s house he excepts only Mephi-bosheth on account of his oath to his father Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3; 1Sa 20:8; 1 Samuel 20:16; 1 Samuel 23:18).

2 Samuel 21:8. Members of Saul’s house doomed to death: two sons of Rizpah25, Saul’s concubine (comp. 2 Samuel 21:11; 2 Samuel 3:7), and five sons of Merab. The name Michal in our text is obviously a copyist’s error, for Saul’s oldest daughter, given in marriage to the Meholathite Adriel of Abel-Meholah in Issachar, and named Merab, 1 Samuel 18:19. The Chald. has: “the sons of Merab, whom Michal had brought up,” a baseless attempt to retain the text-reading. [This is followed by Eng. A. V. Render: sons of Merab, whom she bare to Adriel.—Tr.].

2 Samuel 21:9. And they crucified them on the mountain, namely, near Gibeah (1 Samuel 10:5) before the Lord, at the place there devoted to the worship of God, which was indicated by an altar. Retaining the text26, render: “they fell sevenfold at once,” that is, “by sevens, in the same manner” (as the Dual denotes). [This rendering of the Kethib or text: “by sevens” is not appropriate here, since there was only one “seven,” and it is better to adept the Qeri or margin: “the seven of them” (Philippson) or “all seven” (Eng. A. V., Cahen).—Tr.].—The execution occurred at the time of the harvest27 (Keil, Bib. Arch. II. § 118,Winer I. 340 [Smith’s Bib.-Dict., Art. Agriculture]). This chronological statement serves to define the following procedure of Rizpah (Thenius).

2 Samuel 21:10. Touching picture of Rizpah’s maternal grief. She took the sackcloth, a rough, hairy cloth used in mourning (the Art. points out that it was the cloth usual on such occasions) and spread it out on the rock, for a bed for herself; she wished to remain all the time by the corpses, in order to protect them against beasts and birds; it was regarded as the greatest disgrace for corpses to be left unburied, a prey to ravenous birds and beasts, 1 Samuel 17:44.—The law (Deuteronomy 21:22 sq.) that the hanged were not to be left overnight on the stake, but to be buried before the evening, did not apply here, because the exhibition of the executed persons as a propitiatory offering was necessary till the appearance of the sign that the plague had ceased. From the beginning of harvest till water poured down on them from heaven, i. e., the bodies hung till rain descended on the parched land as sign that God’s anger was appeased. The text says neither that the rain came immediately after the execution (Josephus, Cler., Ew., Böttcher), nor that it did not come till the usual rain-season, October (Thenius). [We therefore do not know how long Rizpah kept her watch.—Tr.]

2 Samuel 21:11-14. Hearing28 of Rizpah’s touching care of the bodies, David provided for their burial together with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, which for this purpose he caused to be brought from Jabesh in Gilead. [He thus honored the maternal faithfulness and showed that he cherished no ill-will against the house of Saul (Patrick).—Tr.].

2 Samuel 21:12. [David takes part personally in the matter]. He took the bones of Saul and Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh, see 1 Samuel 31:8 sq. There it is said (2 Samuel 21:10) that the Philistines fastened the corpses on the wall of Bethshan. This is not contradicted by the statement here that the Jabeshites had stolen the corpses (i. e., taken them away secretly) from the square; for this “public square” (רִחֹבּ) is not the market-place in the middle of the city, but the open place at or before the gate (2 Chronicles 32:6; Nehemiah 8:1; Nehemiah 8:3; Nehemiah 8:16), where the people were accustomed to assemble, and where they might see the bodies hung29 on the wall.—“When (בְּיוֹם) the Philistines had slain Saul,” not “on the day when,” but “at the time,” since (1 Samuel 31:8 sqq.) the hanging up of the corpses did not take place till the day after the battle.

2 Samuel 21:14. They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan; from 2 Samuel 21:13 we must suppose that the bones of the seven executed men were also buried. [Sept. adds: “and the bones of the hanged,” which some critics insert in the Hebrew text; Dr. Erdmann thinks the insertion unnecessary, because the fact would be taken for granted. But it is not clear that the bones of the seven were interred along with those of Jonathan and Saul: they may have been put into a separate sepulchre.—Tr.]—In Zelah; the locality of this city is unknown. Comp. Joshua 18:28.

2. 2 Samuel 21:15-22. Individual heroic deeds in the Philistine wars. This chronicle-like section (and so the similar section 2 Samuel 23:8-39) is probably taken from a writing that contained a historical-statistical collection of David’s wars and of the exploits of his warriors. As the three deeds here described (2 Samuel 21:18-22) are attached in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8 to the history of the Ammonite-Syrian war (comp. 2 Samuel 12:26-31), this collection may be conjectured to belong to a fuller chronicle of David’s wars, to which may have belonged also the sections 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1-14; 2Sa 10:17-19; 2 Samuel 12:26-31, in which the wars against the Philistines and other nations are narrated.

a. 2 Samuel 21:15-17. Exploit of Abishai in a new war against the Philistines. The “again” cannot possibly refer chronologically to the immediately preceding narrative, but indicates that the following is a fragment from a history of Philistine wars. Comp. the “again” in 2 Samuel 5:22. Probably this fragment belongs chronologically in the group 2 Samuel 5:18-25, in favor of which is the fact that David is here already king of all Israel, since he is called (2 Samuel 21:17) the “light of Israel.” Comp. 2 Samuel 5:1-3.—And David was weary. A Philistine giant essayed to take advantage of this weariness of David, and kill him. His name was Ishbobenob, not Ishbo at Nob (De Wette), “for neither the fact that he was born at Nob, nor that the incident occurred at Nob (there is no third supposition) could be so expressed” (Thenius). The name (not to be read with Vulg. [and Eng. A. V.] Jisbibenob) perhaps means: “the dweller on the height” (Gesen.); he probably lived on a high, inaccessible rock. [The name, which has a strange appearance, is probably a corrupt reading, but it is difficult to restore the text. See “Text. and Gram.”—Tr.]—Who belonged to the scions of the Rapha, one of the giant-race of the Raphaites [Rephaim], who formed part of the primitive inhabitants of Canaan, comp. Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20; Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 2:20; Deuteronomy 3:11; Deuteronomy 3:13; Joshua 12:4; Joshua 13:12. The name the Rapha, “the giant” designates the ancestor of this race. [Rather the name Harapha seems here to designate simply the father of the four giants here mentioned, since it is said (2 Samuel 21:22) that they were born to him in Gath. On the old races of Canaan see Art. Giants in Smith’s Bib. Dict.—Tr.) The brazen head30 of his lance weighed three hundred shekels, = eight pounds, half the weight of Goliath’s, 1 Samuel 17:7.—He was girded with a new suit of armor—so with Böttcher we are to take the Feminine Adjective (חֲדָשָׁה“new”) in a collective sense; comp. Judges 18:11; Deuteronomy 1:41. [The Heb. has: “he was girt with a new,” to which Eng. A. V. supplies sword; Philippson renders as Böttcher: “he was newly armed,” and Wellhausen suggests that the word means not “new,” but some weapon, not otherwise known.—Te.] “And he thought [= purposed] to smite David” (Ew.§ 338 a).

2 Samuel 21:17. Abishai interposed, and slew31 the giant. Thereupon the men of Israel swore that David should not go into battle with them. Thou shalt not quench the light of Israel, thou shalt not abandon thyself to death, and so quench the light and well-being that the Lord has given Israel in thee. On the designation of David as the light of Israel, comp. 2 Samuel 22:29 and Psalms 18:29 (28).

b. 2 Samuel 21:18. The exploit of the Hushathite Sibbechai. Comp. 1 Chronicles 20:4. On Sibbechai, one of David’s heroes (1 Chronicles 11:29) comp. 1 Chronicles 27:11, where he is mentioned as leader of the eighth army-division. On “the Hushathi” as patronymic from Hushah comp. 1 Chronicles 4:4. [The “Mebunnai” of 2 Samuel 23:27 is probably (see Dr. Erdmann’s note there) corruption for “Sibbechai.”—Tr.].—Instead of Gob, an unknown place, the chronicler has Gezer, which Thenius adopts here. But as Gob is mentioned also in 2 Samuel 21:19 it is better to suppose (Keil) that Gob was perhaps a small place near Gezer, the old Canaanitish royal city (Joshua 10:32; Joshua 12:12). Perhaps the name may be recognized in El Kubab on the road from Ramleh to Yalo [Rob. III. 143, 144].—Saph = Sippai of Chron., which is the “older form” (Böttcher).

c. 2 Samuel 21:19. The exploit of Elhanan. He is called the son of Jaare-oregim. 1 Chronicles 20:5 has “son of Jair” without the “Oregim.” This latter is here evidently a repetition by error from the following line. Further, instead of “Elhanan, the Bethlehemite slew Goliath,” Chron. has “Elhanan slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath.”32 The question is, whether our text gives the original reading, and Chron. has changed it (Berth., Böttch., Ew., Then., the last against his former view), or Chron. has the original and our text has been changed (Piscator, Cler., Mich., Movers, formerly Then., Keil). In the former case, the change of text in Chron. is attributed to the difficulty felt in the statement that Elhanan killed a giant Goliath, in connection with David’s combat with Goliath (1 Samuel 17:0), it being maintained that our text could not have originated from that of Chron. But the supposition of a designed falsification of text by the Chronicler is to be rejected so long as the origination of our text admits of explanation. If the above-mentioned error [insertion of Oregim] crept into our text even in the statement of Elhanan’s descent, this favors the conjecture that the following words also (given correctly in Chron.) have undergone change. Now there is an Elhanan of Bethlehem, who is mentioned among David’s army-leaders, 2 Samuel 23:24 (comp. 1 Chronicles 11:26). When the error above-mentioned had gotten in, the result might easily be that a transcriber thinking of the Elhanan of 2 Samuel 23:24, would add the local designation Bethlehemite, and, having in mind the verbal agreement of the descriptions of Lahmi’s spear and Goliath’s (1 Samuel 17:7), would change the “brother of Goliath” into “Goliath.” Further, it is not probable that there were two giants named Goliath. As for the view that 2Sa 21:19; 2 Samuel 21:21 “contain the true old model of the elaborate description in 1 Samuel 17:0” (Then.), and that the latter (notwithstanding the historical fact that underlies it), has, it may be conjectured, borrowed especially the giant’s name from these verses (Ew., Then.)—against this is that (apart from the mention here of two giants, and the description of the giant in 2 Samuel 21:20, which does not suit the Goliath of 1 Samuel 17:0.) neither in 2 Samuel 21:19 or 2 Samuel 21:21 is David named as the victorious warrior, but two heroes, Elhanan and Jonathan, are the conquerors. [The old opinion (Chald.: “and David, son of Jesse the veil-weaver of the sanctuary, of Bethlehem, killed Goliath,” and so Rashi) that Elhanan is David, is adopted and pressed by Bött., who renders: “and Elhanan, son of Jesse, killed Goliath.” After referring to the fact that a man often had two names, he gives six reasons for his identification of Elhanan and David: 1) the mention of David in 2 Samuel 21:22 can not, he says, be otherwise explained.—But see note on 2 Samuel 21:17, and, further, this insertion of David does not necessarily imply more than a general sharing by him in the exploits. 2) Two other sons of Jesse have names containing El.—This proves nothing for the remaining sons. 3) Persons ill-disposed towards David call him simply “son of Jesse” (Ben-Jesse), having forgotten his old name (Elhanan), and avoiding his later, happier name (David). Here that an earlier name was forgotten is assumed without a shadow of evidence. 4) In our passage, something must have stood in the place of the corrupt Oregim, and what can it have been but: “he is David” (הוא דוד)?—There is no need to suppose that anything stood there. 5) In 2 Samuel 23:24 we find: “Elhanan the son of Dodo,” which, says Böttcher, is for “Elhanan, son of David,” and this (combining 1 Chronicles 11:26) is for: “Elhanan, son of Jesse, he is David of Bethlehem.”—But the change of Dodo into David is unwarranted, and the rest arbitrary. 6) The text of Chron. is corrupt, for ours could not have come from it.—Thus Böttcher builds his opinion on a series of arbitrary assumptions. As Thenius remarks, this sudden and isolated change of name (from David to Elhanan) would be in the highest degree strange and misleading.—The text is difficult, and no satisfactory account of it has been given. All that is clear is that Elhanan killed a giant. See “Text, and Gram.”—Tr.]

d. 2 Samuel 21:20-21. The exploit of Jonathan, David’s nephew. There was again a battle with the Philistines in Gath. According to the text33 probably: “there was a man of measures, extensions” [Eng. A. V.: of great stature], so De Dieu, Maurer, Movers, Ew., § 177 a. Bertheau and Thenius render: “a man of length;” Böttcher: “a man of strife,” a quarrelsome fellow, bully. Six fingers and six toes, an abnormity that has always occurred, and still occurs. Pliny (Hist. Nat. XI. 43) mentions sedigiti, six-fingered Romans.

2 Samuel 21:21. He was killed by Jonathan, son of Shimea (called Shimeah in 2 Samuel 13:3, and Shammah in 1 Samuel 16:9), Jesse’s third son.—[In our text he is called Shimei, in the margin Shimea.—Tr.]

2 Samuel 21:22. Concluding remark. These four. Literally: “as to these four (Accus.), they were the scions of the Rapha,” descendants of the race of Rephaim at Gath, remains of the pre-Canaanitish inhabitants, distinguished by their gigantic size. See Joshua 11:22.—The phrase: “by the hand of David,” refers, not to his personal conflict with Ishbobenob, 2 Samuel 21:16 (Then., Keil), but to the fact that his heroes killed these giants under him as commander.


1. The blood-guilt that Saul had brought on his house by slaying the Gibeonites was produced by his perverted zeal for the purity of God’s people and for the Lord’s honor; the means he chose thereto were violation of oath (Joshua 9:0) and murder. The result of this crime of the king of Israel, the representative of the people of God, was God’s wrath on the land announced in the famine. A dark shadow here passes from Saul’s time over into David’s, in the account of which the following fundamental thoughts are interwoven. 1) Zeal for the Lord and His cause must not be conjoined with sin; if the good end makes holy the bad means, the bad means makes unholy and void the good end. 2) God’s anger cannot fail against crime committed in ostensible zeal for the honor of His kingdom; in men’s eyes the evil may assume the appearance of the alleged holy end, in God’s eyes the evil impulses in the human heart are evident; the punishment may delay, but comes in its time in all its severity. 3) He who sheds man’s blood, by man shall His blood be shed (Genesis 9:5-6), because man is made in God’s image, and murder is therefore a crime against the holy God Himself. Such a crime Saul committed against the Gibeonites, for the law of extermination did not apply to them (Joshua 9:0), and if they were not members of God’s people, they were men, made in God’s image. 4) Saul’s guilt becomes also the guilt of his house and people. The land must expiate its king’s wrong. This is rooted in the idea of the solidarity of the people and the theocratic king as representative of God’s people, whence comes solidarity of guilt between king and people. If through the fault of an individual member of the theocratic people, the whole theocratic State is unhallowed and exposed to God’s anger, how much more must this be the result of a sin committed by their king. [Kitto: If it be asked—and it has been asked—why vengeance was exacted, rather for this slaughter of the Gibeonites, than for Saul’s greater crime, the massacre of the priests at Nob?—the answer is, that the people, and even the family of Saul, had no sympathy with or part in this latter tragedy, which none but an alien could be found to execute. But both the people and Saul’s family had made themselves parties in the destruction of the unhappy Gibeonites, by their sympathy, their concurrence, their aid—and above all, as we must believe, by their accepting the fruits of the crime. Yet, although this be the intelligible public ground on which the transaction rests, it is impossible to withhold our sympathy for these victims of a public crime in which it is probable that none of them had any direct part.—Tr.]

2. Blood-vengeance was ordered in the Law only in case of intentional killing. The fundamental law is given in Genesis 9:5-6; the preciser statements are made in Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 35:9-34; Deuteronomy 19:1-13. The Lord is the proper avenger of blood, Genesis 9:5-6; Psalms 9:13 [1]; [Romans 12:19]. And no other means of absolution or expiation may be substituted for the blood of the guilty. Numbers 35:31. For the intentional murderer there is no protection against blood-vengeance, not even at the altar, Exodus 21:14—in such case only the blood of the slayer can atone. And so in consequence of this crime Saul was exposed to blood-vengeance according to the divine Law.

3. According to the law, blood-vengeance was to be executed only on the criminal himself. “The legislation of the middle books of the Pentateuch [Ex., Lev., Numb.] never permits the avenger of blood to go beyond the murderer, and seize his family” (Oehler in Herzog, II. 262). Comp. 2 Samuel 14:6-11. When the Gibeonites demanded seven descendants of Saul (who was fallen under the divine judgment) David was under no legal obligation to yield to the demand. When now he nevertheless yielded, and no complaint was made against him, this points to the fact that custom had originated a practice going beyond the law, based on the oriental notion of the solidarity of the family, and on the idea (found in the law) of guilt inherited by children from parents—and that David acted in accordance with this practice; the words of Deuteronomy 24:16 (comp. 2 Kings 14:6), as supplement to earlier legislation, may be directed against this practice (Oehler, as above, Kleinert on Deuteronomy, 1872, p. 133). Kurtz (Herz. III. 305): “David yields to their request, and the persons delivered up are hanged. To understand this procedure, we must bear in mind the ancient oriental ideas of the solidarity of the family, strict retaliation and blood-vengeance, ideas that, with some limitation, remained in force in the legislation of the Old Covenant.” [David certainly did wrong, if he yielded to a mere custom against the prescriptions of the law; the custom was a cruel one. Nothing is said in the text, indeed, about a conflict between custom and law; it seems strange that neither priest nor prophet raises his voice against a public crime. But the brevity of the account withholds the circumstances that might throw light on the incident.—Tr.]


2 Samuel 21:1 sq. Schlier: A famine in the land is a sign of the divine wrath. The Lord our God has every thing in His hand, even natural phenomena depend on Him; even dew and rain come from Him. [Hall: Justly it is presupposed by David that there was never judgment from God where hath not been a provocation from men; therefore, when he sees the plague, he inquires for the sin. Never man smarted causelessly from the hand of divine justice. O that, when we suffer, we could ask what we have done, and could guide our repentance to the root of our evils.—Tr.]—J. Lange: God does indeed put off His judgments; but He does not therefore annul them, Exodus 32:34. [Henry: Time does not wear out the guilt of sin; nor can we build hopes of impunity upon the delay of judgments. There is no statute of limitation to be pleaded against God’s demands.… Let parents take heed of sin, especially the sin of cruelty and oppression, for their poor children’s sake, who may be smarting for it by the just hand of God, when they are in their graves. Guilt and a curse are a bad entail upon a family.—Tr.]

Fr. Arndt: A secret judgment of God goes through history, and he who is spared by time is certainly judged by eternity. That so many years lie between the sin and the punishment, and the expiation comes not in Saul’s, but in David’s time, is only a sign of the divine patience. God often waits long before He punishes; He not seldom makes the whole life a day of grace, and only in the day of judgment, long, long after the guilt was incurred, does the threatened punishment begin.—Osiander: It often happens that God in His righteous judgment visits a wicked man’s great sins not on him, but on His posterity.—Hall: Every sin hath a tongue, but that of blood over-cries and drowns the rest, Genesis 4:10.—Osiander: A common prayer and a common curse have very great power; for the sighing of them that suffer violence pierces through the clouds and draws divine vengeance. Sirach 35. [32.] 21–23.—Fr. Arndt: There are also well-founded complaints against us, occasioned by our behaviour, and woe to us if as secret and frightful accusers against us they go up before God’s throne of judgment. [Hall: Little did the Gibeonites think that God had so taken to heart their wrongs, that for their sakes all Israel should suffer. Even when we think not of it is the Righteous Judge avenging our unrighteous vexations.—Tr.]

2 Samuel 21:6 sq. Schlier: Our time does indeed think of the rights of the criminal; but of the rights of those whom the criminal maltreats or threatens, people no longer think much, and still less do they think now-a-days of duty towards the criminal himself.

2 Samuel 21:9. Mercy and righteousness do not exclude each other. He who fears God should exhibit both at the same time righteousness in mercy, and also mercy in righteousness.—[2 Samuel 21:10-11. “One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” The king is moved by the lowly mother’s devotion. The passage, 2 Samuel 21:1-14, is impressively treated by Taylor.—Tr.]

2 Samuel 21:15 sq. The conflict of the world-power against God’s kingdom Isaiah 1:0) A continual conflict, ever again renewed; 2) A conflict carried on with malicious cunning, frightful power and mighty weapons; 3) A conflict perilous to the people of God, demanding all the power given them by the Lord and their utmost bravery; 4) A conflict that by God’s help at last ends in the victory of His kingdom.

[2 Samuel 21:1-3. The solidarity of human society (comp. above, “Hist. and Theol.,” No. 3). 1) As to guilt. 2) As to punishments. 3) As to expiations.

2 Samuel 21:14. “And after that God was entreated for the land.” Reparation of wrong-doing a condition of being heard in prayer.—Tr.]


[1][2 Samuel 21:1. The phrase: “to seek the face” is simply “to go to one,” while “to inquire of God” (דרשׁ באלהים) is “to investigate, seek wisdom” at His hands. The two verbs בקש and דרש are often coupled.—Tr.]

[2][2 Samuel 21:1. It is better to express in the translation the idea of “guilt” contained in the דָּמִים. Sept. renders: “on (עַל) Saul and on his house (בֵּיתוֹ) is iniquity [in death] of blood,” where we may omit ἐν θανάτῳ and αὐτοῦ the הַדָּמיִם being taken as subject and rendered: “iniquity of blood.” Böttcher, Thenius and Wellhausen adopt this text, and render: “On Saul and on his house is blood-guiltiness.” This translation avoids the hard expression: “the house of blood-guiltiness,” where we should expect the possessive pronoun. On the other hand the אֶל = “concerning” (Eng. A. V.: “for”) is a correct expression, and the hardness of the phrase is not unsuitable to an oracular response; the Heb. text is supported also by Vulg., Syr. and Chald.—Tr.]

[3][2 Samuel 21:2. Böttcher’s view, that this parenthesis is a later insertion, may be correct, for ancient editors were accustomed to make such insertions. But there is no necessity for regarding it as an insertion (particularly, as a marginal gloss), because the Hebrew historical style permits such interposed remarks. Böttcher is unfortunate in charging a historical error on our text in that it has “Amorites” where Joshua 9:1 sqq. has “Hivites;” for the name “Amorite” is sometimes a general one, given to the dwellers over a large area (see Art. Amorite in Smith’s Bib.-Dict.). On the other hand Winer thinks that instead of “Hivites” in Joshua 9:7 should be read “Amorite.”—Tr.]

[4][2 Samuel 21:4. Properly: “There is not to us silver and gold with Saul and with his house, and there is not to us a man to kill in Israel,” that is, as some (Thenius, Erdmann): “we have no right to these things,” or, according to others (Böttcher, Bib.-Com., Eng. A. V.): “we lay no claim to them.”—The Qeri “to us” is better than the Kethib “to me.”—Tr.]

[5][2 Samuel 21:6. The Kethib is Niph. Impf., the Qeri Hoph. Impf.—Tr.]

[6][2 Samuel 21:6. This phrase is a strange one, and various attempts have been made to amend the text. Three are mentioned by Erdmann; Wellhausen proposes another, to read “Gibeon” instead of “Gibeah,” and to suppose the rest of the verse an insertion from the בהר י֞ of 2 Samuel 21:9. It is, however, impossible to say whether the Gibeonites would think Gibeon or Gibeah the fitter place for the execution, and the most natural emendation would seem to be to adopt the phrase of 2 Samuel 21:9, and read: “in Gibeah of Saul, in the mountain in the presence of Jehovah.” The phrase: “mountain of Jehovah,” would require us to suppose some particular mountain at Gibeah (or Gibeon) dedicated to Jehovah, and we do not know of such a one.—Tr.]

[7][2 Samuel 21:8. “Michal” is clerical error for “Merab,” perhaps, as Böttcher suggests, from the full form מירב.—The “brought up” of Eng. A. V. instead of “bare” is an unwarranted mistranslation, intended (after the Chaldee) to account for the name “Michal.”—Tr.]

[8][2 Samuel 21:9. As Sept. adds the word “barley” after “harvest” in 2 Samuel 21:10, Wellhausen would regard this last phrase in 2 Samuel 21:9 as a false repetition, especially as, if any preposition is to be supplied here, it would most naturally be מִן (since the preceding word ends with ם—but the Qeri supplies בְ), and this would not suit here. But the phrase is so natural a one that there is no good ground for rejecting it.—Böttcher’s explanation of the Kethib שִׁעְבָתַיִם as dual is accepted by Erdmann, though the resulting sense is not clear (see Ewald, § 269 b). The Qeri שְׁבַעְתָּם, “the seven of them” (Eng. A. V.: “all seven”) seems better.—Tr.]

[9][2 Samuel 21:12. The word בַעַל occurs in the sense of “citizen” in the Books of Joshua, Judges and Samuel only. As it in such cases means (in the plural) “possessors of the city,” it may throw light on the civil-political constitution of ancient city-life. It seems not to occur in this sense in any other Shemitic language.—Tr.]

[10][2 Samuel 21:14. Sept. here inserts: “and the bones of the exposed” (= impaled, hanged), a very natural insertion (and adopted by Böttcher, Thenius and Wellhausen), but suspicious from its naturalness. Böttcher thinks that the words were purposely omitted in what he calls the “priestly recension” of the Book of Samuel, because offence was taken at the burial of those persons (who were slain as an expiation) along with Saul and Jonathan; against which Thenius remarks that the omission would have been very unwise in the face of the preceding narrative. But the bones of the seven may have been gathered at the same time with those of Saul and Jonathan without being interred in the same place with them.—Tr.]

[11][2 Samuel 21:16. The strange form of this name has suggested emendations of the text. The Syriac (followed by its copyist the Arabic) omits it altogether, Vulg. and Chald. are as Heb., Sept. has Jesbi. Wellhausen proposes to read: ויּשבוּ בגב, “and they sat down in Gob” (taking Nob as error for Gob), and to place this after the “with him” in 2 Samuel 21:15; and in the וַיָּעַף דָּוִד he would see the name of the giant, and perhaps some verb, as “and he arose.” The sentence would then read: “David went down and his servants with him, and they sat down [ = took position] in Gob, and fought against the Philistines; and there arose [here the man’s name], who was of the sons,” etc. Similar to this is the emendation proposed in Bib.-Com.: “And David waxed faint. So they halted [ = sat down] in Gob. And there was a man (in Gob), which was of the sons,” etc.; instead of changing the “David waxed faint” (as Wellhausen does), this reading supplies the phrase: “and there was a man.” These are both ingenious, and to both there are objections. The dislocation of a phrase supposed by Wellhausen is not accounted for; and in the other reading the statement that the man was in Gob is unnatural (since he was not residing there, but had come with the army), and David’s weariness (which more naturally explains the giant’s attack on him) is given merely as the reason for the army’s halting. It is likely that the text is corrupt (and the corruption must have been made before the Sept. translation was made), the phrase: “David was weary” receives no explanation as it stands, and the ויאמר supposes another verb before it; but a satisfactory emendation has not yet been proposed, though Wellhausen’s seems the least objectionable.—Instead of the second מִשְׁקַל we should probably read שֶׁקֶל (so perhaps Sept.).—Tr.]

[12][2 Samuel 21:19. The text here is generally regarded as corrupt, the oregim being manifestly a repetition of the last word of the verse. Whether then we are to adopt the text of 1 Chronicles 20:5 : “And Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite,” or to regard the latter as a conjectural emendation of ours, or, finally, to consider them both as corruptions of one original, it is hard to decide. Böttcher reads: “Elhanan the son of Jesse the Bethlehemite slew Goliath,” etc., and identifies Elhanan with David, on which see translator’s note in the Exposition. Against the reading of “Chronicles” is the fact that it is the easier, against ours is the improbability of the existence of two Goliaths, or of the identity of Elhanan and David. But these presuppositions are all manifestly untrustworthy. See Erdmann’s discussion in the Exposition, and for various other views see Poole’s Synopsis.—Here and in 2 Samuel 21:18 some MSS. have Nob instead of Gob.—Tr.]

[13][The whole phrase rather indicates that the chronological order is here not observed (Bib.-Com.).—Tr.]

[14][Sept.: “on Saul and on his house is blood-guiltiness.” See “Text, and Gram.”—Tr.]

[15][Abarbanel (in Patrick) thinks they were slain when the priests were put to death (1 Samuel 22:0) in Nob; but there is no trace of this in the history.—Tr.]

[16][The way in which this statement is introduced: “And the Gibeonites were not Israelites,” shows not so much that the Book of Joshua was not a part of the same work as the Books of Samuel (Bib. Com.), as that the present Book of Joshua was not in existence when our narrative was written.—Tr.]

[17] לְחַכְרִתָם instead of לְהַכֹּתָם.

[18][The word “Judah” is perhaps a later addition after the division of the kingdom, since the phrase “children of Israel” would in Saul and David’s time include the whole nation.—Tr.]

[19]The Kethib Sing. “to me” (indicating the one person speaking for all) is to be preferred to the Qeri Plu. “to us” [as in Eng. A. V.], which is an imitation of the following “to us.”

[20][According to others (Bib.-Com.) their meaning is that it is not against the nation Israel, but against the individual Saul, that they cry for vengeance, which is better.—Tr.]

[21] כִּי is omitted before the Imperf., as sometimes occurs when the dependent sentence expresses a process or obligation; comp. Leviticus 9:6; Ew. § 336 b.

[22] הָאִישׁ is asyndetically preposed Accus. Absolute, defined by “his sons” in 2 Samuel 21:6. Ges. § 145, 2.

[23] נִשְׁמַּדְנוּ depends on דִּמָּה with omission of כִּי. It is unnecessary to supply the ו consec of the Perfect, (Then.), or to read לַשְׁמִידֵנוּ (Ew., Böttcher).

[24]Böttch.: בְּחִירֵי; Houb.;בִּדְבַר; Then.: בְּהַר; [See “Text. and Gram.”—Tr.]

[25][Bib Com. suggests that, as Aiah occurs as a [masculine] Horite name (in Genesis 36:24), Rizpah may have been a foreigner, and this may have been the reason for selecting her sons as victims.—Tr.]

[26]Kethib.: שִׁבְעֲתַיִם is with Böttcher to be retained against the Qeri שְׁבַעְתָּם, since the Dual properly denotes what is repeated in equal measure according to the number (Böttcher).

[27] תְּחִלָּה (not Qeri with בְּ) is adverbial Accusative; Ges. § 118. 2.

[28]On the construction of וַיֻּגַּד with אֵת see Ges. § 143, 1a. [According to Gesenius the אֵת here introduces the Accusative of limitation; according to others (not so well) the Nominative.—Tr.]

[29]Kethib תָּלוּם is the Heb. form (from תָּלָה), the Qeri תְּלָאוּם the Aramaizing form; see Ges. § 75, 22; Ew. § 252 a.—Instead of Keth. שָׁם הַפ׳ read Qeri שָׂמָּה פ֞ the Art. being out of place before פּ֞.

[30] קֵינוֹ = ferrum hastœ (Vulg).

[31][Patrick would render: “Abishai helped him, and he (David) slew the Philistine,” in order to explain the mention of David in 2 Samuel 21:22. The Heb. does not certainly decide this point, but more probably Abishai is said to be the slayer.—Tr.]

[32]Sam.: בֵּית הַלַּחְמִי אֵת גָּלְיִת; Chron.: אֶת־לַחְמִי אֲַחִי גָּלְיָת.

[33]Kethib: מָדִין probably = מִדִּין, as archaic or Aramaic Plural (for which Chron. has Sing. מִדָּה), “extensions;” Berth. and Then. take Qeri מָדוֹן (= מִדָּה of Chron), “length;” Böttcher: Kethib מָדוֹן = מָדִין “contention”

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/2-samuel-21.html. 1857-84.
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