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We cannot say with certainty when the events of this chapter occurred, for they are not necessarily chronological, but spoken of as having taken place "in the days of David." God sent a famine in the land for three successive years before David finally inquired of the Lord for the reason of this. How insensitive even a believer may be to the reasons for God's dealing with him, -- in fact insensitive to the fact that his deeply felt trials are the dealings of God!
God answers David that the famine was His own governmental judgment because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house having killed some of the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites had been allowed by Joshua and the elders of Israel to live in the land, though they were Amorites. They had deceived Joshua into thinking they were from another territory, and Joshua swore by the Lord in making a league with them (Joshua 9:1-27). Once this was done, it could not be changed, but Saul was zealous for Israel and Judah, and decided he could kill off these people who were not Israelites. This was not zeal for God, for it involved breaking an oath of God, and though God delayed punishment for this, Israel had to feel the responsibility for it in the infliction of famine.
David then called the Gibeonites to inquire of them what ought to be done to make amends for this wrong treatment. it is most regrettable that David did not instead inquire of God as to this serious matter. A victim of a crime cannot be depended On to decide what punishment the criminal should suffer. This should certainly have been referred to the righteous Judge. This is another case of failure on David's part, of which there are too many in this later history of his kingdom.
At least the Gibeonites were not greedy of gain, like many present day lawyers who sue for millions of dollars over matters like this, but neither did they ask for the death of those who had actually killed the men of Gibeon. David promised to do whatever they asked before he knew what it would be. They ask that seven men of the descendants of Saul Should be given to them in order that they might hang them, as they say, "before the Lord." They consider this righteous retribution on the house of Saul, and David immediately agrees.
Was this right? David did not stop to think of two matters that should have stopped him cold. First, Deuteronomy 24:6; Deuteronomy 24:6 plainly declared that the children were not to be put to death for the sins of their fathers. Secondly, David himself had sworn to Saul that he would not cut off Saul's descendants (1 Samuel 24:21-22). Had he completely forgotten this? He did spare Mephibosheth because of his oath to Jonathan, but was his oath to Saul not just as binding?
However, David chose two sons of Saul borne to him by Rizpah, Saul's concubine, and five grandsons, borne to Saul's daughter Merab when she had been give to Adriel, though the children had been brought up by Michal for David. Merab must have died before she was able to bring her children up. One may wonder, if Michal had borne sons to David, would he have been so willing to have them put to death? The seven men were however delivered to the Gibeonites, who hanged them as they had desired. But all this was simply to ingratiate the Gibeonites on account of their hurt pride. If David had sought the guidance of God there would certainly had been a different solution.
David seems to have had little regard for the utter heartbreak of Rizpah. Her husband had been killed not long before, now her two sons are taken and executed with no proper reason. She took sackcloth (the sign of mourning) and spread it on a rock, rather than wearing it herself. She evidently intended to keep it there until the drought should be over the rain came.
In spreading sackcloth on a rock, Rizpah continued to keep the birds of prey and animals from resting on it, intending to do so until the rain came again. Was this intended in some way to speak to David's conscience? At least scripture tells us that David was told of it.
If there had been true mourning before God and self judgment on the part of David and Israel, continued until the drought was over, would this not have been a more appropriate solution than the public execution of Saul's sons? 'The birds of prey symbolize Satan's efforts to thwart true self judgment, by means of such drastic action as devouring the prey (as in the death of Saul's sons) and the wild animals would speak of men who act like beasts in defeating the purpose of self judgment, also by violent action. Rispah's keeping them away tells us that we should not allow ourselves to be diverted from true self judgment until God's government has achieved its purpose.
When David heard of Rispah's action he went and brought the bones of Saul and of Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead, then gathered the bones of the seven men who had been hanged. They then buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan in Zelah of Benjamin, in the tomb of Saul's father Kish. In this way David publicly identified himself with Saul and his house, acknowledging that his kingdom was really an extension of Saul's kingdom and therefore taking responsibility for Saul's previous wrong actions. This would no doubt ease some of Rizpah's distress, but more than that, it caused God to answer prayer in ending the drought. The slaughter of the seven men had not only been useless, but was disobedience to God's word. This following action of David was of more real value in the eyes of God.
War again takes place after this, and now the men of David's kingdom prove stronger than David. This is a great reversal from David's bold faith in going against Goliath when no-one else would think of it. Of course physical strength had waned with age, and he must learn his limitations while others become stronger. He had become faint, not able to move quickly and effectively, so that lshbi-Benob, son of the giant, was ready to kill him, and no doubt would have done so if Abishai had not been near to come to his rescue. Abishai was vigorous enough to kill the giant
This experience was sufficient to persuade David's men that David must not be allowed to go to battle again. In spite of this, David's men were able to accomplish significant victories over various giants. The faith of David in the first place in going against Goliath had no doubt had a lasting effect in encouraging his men to face these giants boldly. When we too see the Lord Jesus going fearlessly against the power of His enemies (during His life on earth and in all the circumstances surrounding the cross), does this not stimulate our courage of faith to meet enemies boldly?
The four giants we read of from verse 18 to 22 are all related, evidently all the sons of one man. A giant is really a monstrosity, not normal, but indicating the pride that exalts itself above the rank and file of mankind. They are Philistines, who typify the formal traditional religion that is determined to glorify itself in the eyes of the world. Those who have a lowly character of true devotion to the Lord Jesus are looked down upon by such high-minded, self-important champions of mere religion. They give to men honors and dignities that belong only to God, calling them by flattering religious titles, thus making them objects of virtual worship. They introduce doctrines that add to the word of God, but in result only subtract from the plain truth of that word. Their great, imposing buildings and their magnificent ceremonies all combine to persuade people how great they are.
No doubt each one of these giants pictures some particular aspect of this ritualistic religion, which is probably indicate in the meanings of their names. On the other hand, the four courageous men who defeated them typify various principles of truth by which faith overcomes the formidable opposition of unbelief. Abishai (v.17) meaning "father of gift" reminds us that God is the source of every good gift, not men's "ordination." The meaning of Sibbechai (v.18) is questionable, so that we cannot speak with certainty about this. Elhanan (v.19) means "God is a gracious giver," a great contrast to the way in which formal religion represents God as dealing with men on a legal, bargaining basis. Jonathan (v.21) was a nephew of David, and his name is similar in meaning to Elhanan, "Jehovah is giver." Therefore, whether we think of God as the great Originator of all things, or whether we look at Him as Jehovah, in relation to His dealings with mankind, He is always a giver, not a merchant seeking gain from others. Let us in faith stand firmly for this truth, and withstand the strong opposition of men who so boldly misrepresent the God of glory.
David had before killed Goliath. David's name means "beloved." When God has given us the assurance of His perfect love toward us (1 John 4:18), this casts Out fear and gives boldness of true faith in standing for Him. David's victory then was the first of five victories over the gigantic evils that threaten the people of God.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany