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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy BiblePoole's Annotations



A three years’ famine, declared by God to be for the Gibeonites’ sake, ceaseth by their hanging seven of Saul’s sons, 2 Samuel 21:1-9.

Rizpah preserveth the dead bodies, 2 Samuel 21:10,2 Samuel 21:11.

David burieth the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as also of them that were hung up, in his father’s sepulchre, 2 Samuel 21:12-14.

Four battles against the Philistines, wherein four valiants of David slay four giants, 2 Samuel 21:15-22.

Verse 1

Then there was a famine: when? Either, first, after Absalom’s and Sheba’s rebellion, as it is here related; or rather, secondly, in some other time before. It is well known and confessed that the particle then doth not always note that the thing was done in that order in which it is mentioned, but is oft of an indefinite signification; as also that the Scripture in its histories and relations doth not always observe the order of time, but the order of things, putting that after which was done before, as occasion requires. And so it seems to be here. The things related here and 2 Samuel 24:0 are by the most and best interpreters conceived to have been done long before Absalom’s rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds.

First, This particle then is here explained, in the days, i.e. during the life and reign of David; which general and indefinite words seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done after the next foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would rather have added, after these things, or some such expression, as it is 2 Chronicles 32:1, and in many other places.

Secondly, Here are divers passages which it seems very improbable to ascribe to the last years of David’s reign: such as these, first, That Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished. And indeed that this was done, and Saul’s seven sons hanged by David’s order before that time, seems plainly to be intimated by that passage, 2 Samuel 16:8, where he is charged with the blood of the house of Saul; for which there was not the least colour till this time.

Secondly, That David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place, here, 2 Samuel 21:12-14, till that time.

Thirdly, That the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, 2 Samuel 21:15, &c., so long after he had fully subdued them, 2 Samuel 8:1; and that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so.

Fourthly, That David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, 2 Samuel 24:1, &c., which being an act of youthful heat and vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation and great affliction in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order is plainly this, because David’s sin being once related, it was very convenient that David’s punishments inflicted for it should immediately succeed; this being very frequent in Scripture story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several times. And this is the more considerable, because it tends to the clearing of that great difficulty, 2 Samuel 15:7.

David inquired of the Lord concerning the reason of his displeasure, and this judgment.

Because he slew the Gibeonites; which was not only an act of cruelty, but also of perfidiousness and perjury, because it was a direct and public violation of that solemn oath given to them for their security by Joshua and the princes, in the name of all the Israelites, of that and of succeeding generations, and consequently a great scandal to the true religion, and the professors of it, and a mean to discourage others from embracing it, as the Gibeonites had done.

Quest. Why did not God punish Saul whilst he was alive for this fault, but his innocent children, and David, and the Israelites of this age?

Answ. First, God did severely punish Saul for this and his other sins.

Secondly, As God may justly inflict temporal punishments upon any offender, either in his person or in his posterity, when he pleaseth; so it is meet he should take his own time for it; and it is folly and wickedness in us to quarrel with God for so doing.

Thirdly, The Israelites might sundry ways make themselves guilty of Saul’s sin, though it be not particularly mentioned in Scripture; advising or encouraging him to it; or by assisting him in the execution of it; or by conniving at it; or by rejoicing in it for some worldly advantage which they received or expected from it; or by not repairing the injuries which Saul had done them as far as they might.

And some of these ways David himself might be involved in the guilt, although indeed this evil fell principally upon the people. And whereas many of the people probably were innocent of that crime, yet they also were guilty of many other sins, for which God might punish them, though he took this occasion for it. And it may be further observed, that God is pleased many times severely to punish lesser delinquents, and to suffer the greater for the present to go unpunished; and that not only to manifest his own sovereign power and liberty, but also to give the world thereby assurance of a future judgment, and punishments reserved for the next life.

Verse 2

Saul sought to slay them, i. e. he sought occasions and pretences how he might cut them off with some colour of law or justice, diligently searching out and aggravating their faults, and punishing them worse than they deserved; oppressing them with excessive labours, and openly killing some of them, and intending by degrees to wear them out.

In his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah; conceiving, or rather pretending, that it was not for the honour, nor comfort, nor advantage of God’s people, to nourish any of that viperous broad in their bosoms; and that howsoever Joshua and the princes which then were, had by their fraud been drawn into an oath to preserve them, Joshua 9:15, yet in truth that oath was contrary to God’s command, Exodus 23:32; Deuteronomy 7:2, and therefore (as he thought) not to be observed. This was his pretence. But how little zeal he had for God, or for the public good of his people, is evident by the whole course of his life; and therefore it is more than probable he had some particular motive or design in the case; either because some of them had highly provoked him, for whose sake he would be revenged of the whole race; or because, they being cut off, their estates might be forfeited to the crown; or for some other reason now unknown.

Verse 3

Unto the Gibeonites; to some of the chief of them, who were to impart it to the rest.

What shall I do for you? what satisfaction do you expect or require for the injuries formerly done to you?

That ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord; that by your acknowledgment of satisfaction received, the guilt and curse may be removed from the land and people of God, and by this means, as also by your prayers, God may be reconciled, and may restore his blessing of plenty to us, which hitherto he hath denied us.

Verse 4

Any man in Israel; except Saul’s family, as it here follows.

What you shall say, to wit, in any reason, and as far as God’s law will permit.

Verse 5

That we should be either killed, or banished from the land of Israel; which is as bad as death to us, because here, and here only, God is truly worshipped and enjoyed. Whereby it seems divers of them were hearty proselytes, and godly persons; and therefore God is more severe in punishing the injuries done to them. Compare 1 Samuel 26:19.

Verse 6

Unto the Lord; to vindicate his honour, which was injured by Saul’s violation of the oath and covenant of God, and to appease his wrath.

In Gibeah of Saul; Saul’s country, 1 Samuel 10:26; 1 Samuel 11:4, for their greater shame.

Whom the Lord did choose; this is added to aggravate Saul’s offence, that it was committed not only against them, but also against the Lord, who had chosen and advanced him, and therefore did little deserve this from Saul’s hand, to have his laws broken, and his name dishonoured by perjury.

I will give them; having doubtless consulted God in the matter, who as he had before declared Saul’s bloody house to be the causes of this judgment, so now commanded that justice should be done upon it, and that the remaining branches of it should be cut off; as sufficiently appears from hence, that God was satisfied and well pleased with the action; which he would not have been, if David had done it without his command; for then it had been a sinful action of David’s, and contrary to a double law of God, Deuteronomy 21:23; Deuteronomy 24:16, which none but God himself could dispense with.

Verse 7

The king spared Mephibosheth; for the Gibeonites desiring only such a number, without designing the persons, it was at David’s choice whom to spare. Or, he prevailed with the Gibeonites that they did not demand him; and with the Lord, that he might not be one of those who were devoted to destruction.

The son of Jonathan: this is expressly added, to distinguish him from the other Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 21:8.

Verse 8

Rizpah; Saul’s concubine, 2 Samuel 21:11; 2 Samuel 3:7.

The five sons of Michal, or, of Michal’s sister, to wit, Merab; for Michal had no children, 2 Samuel 6:23, nor was she married to this Adriel, but to Phalti, or Phaltiel, the son of Laish, 1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:15; and Merab her sister was married to this very Adriel the Meholathite, 1 Samuel 18:19. And it must be remembered, that the Hebrew language is very short, and full of ellipses or defects of words, which yet may be easily understood from the sense. Particularly relative words are oft lacking, and to be supplied; as Goliath is put for Goliath’s brother, here, 2 Samuel 21:19, and uncle for uncle’s son, Jeremiah 32:7,Jeremiah 32:12. Or, the sons of Merab are called the sons of Michal, to wit, by adoption; or, the near kindred and next heirs of Michal, and brought up by her; for upon that and such-like accounts the title of son is oft given in Scripture, as Genesis 48:5; Exodus 2:10; Deuteronomy 25:5,Deuteronomy 25:6; Ruth 1:11,Ruth 1:12; Ruth 4:17.

Quest. But why then are not these called the sons of Merab?

Answ. Because they were better known by their relation to Michal, who was David’s wife, and, it may be, alive at this time, and having no children of her own, took these, and bred them up as her own; when Merab was now a more obscure person, and possibly dead many years before this.

Whom she brought up; for so this Hebrew verb, which primarily and properly signifies to bear, is sometimes used, as Genesis 1:23; Ruth 4:17, because the education of children is a kind of bearing of them, as requiring frequently no less care and pains than the bearing doth; whence it is that nurses are reputed as mothers, and sometimes go under that name both in sacred and profane writers. See Ruth 4:16,Ruth 4:17; and compare Genesis 16:2; Genesis 30:3; Numbers 11:12; Galatians 4:19.

The Meholathite; of Abel-meholah in the tribe of Benjamin, Judges 7:22; so he is here called by way of distinction from Barzillai the Gileadite, 2 Samuel 19:31.

Verse 9

He delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites.

Quest. How could David do this, when he had sworn that he would not cut off Saul’s seed, 1 Samuel 24:21,1 Samuel 24:22?

Answ. Because he had special warrant and direction from God about it, who, as all confess, can dispense with men’s oaths and with his own laws when he sees fit. And that he did so here is manifest, because God was pleased with it, and removed the judgment upon it; whereas otherwise David had been guilty of the same sin with Saul, to wit, of the breach of his oath and covenant, for which this famine was inflicted.

See Poole "1 Samuel 24:22".

In the hill, or, in a hill, in or near Gibeah; in a conspicuous place, for their greater infamy, and for the caution and terror of others who should make any attempt upon the Gibeonites for the future.

Before the Lord; as a sacrifice offered up to God to appease his wrath; or, unto the Lord, as was said, 2 Samuel 21:6.

They fell, i.e. died; for so the word to fall is oft used, as Exodus 19:21; 1 Chronicles 21:14; Psalms 91:7; Jeremiah 39:18; Hosea 5:5; or were executed. The barley harvest was before the wheat harvest.

Verse 10

Spread it for her, as a tent to dwell in; being informed that their bodies were not to be taken away speedily, as the course of the law was in other and ordinary cases, Deuteronomy 21:23, but were to continue there until God was entreated, and did remove the present judgment. And God was herein pleased to dispense with his own law, that it might plainly appear that these were not put to death by David for politic reasons, as that he and his sons might be freed from competitors, which doubtless David’s enemies were ready to suggest; but by God’s special command, who was pleased to execute this judgment upon them, as partly and principally for the punishment of Saul’s sin, so secondarily for the stablishing of David’s throne to himself and to his seed for ever, as he had promised.

Upon the rock; in some convenient place in a rock, near adjoining.

Until water dropped upon them out of heaven, i.e. until they were taken down; which was not to be done till God had given rain as a sign of his favour, and a mean to remove the famine, which was caused by the want of it. To

rest on them, i.e. on their carcasses.

Nor the beasts of the field; from which she might preserve herself and them by divers methods.

Verse 11

It was told David; who heard it with so much approbation, that he thought fit to imitate her piety, being by her example provoked to do what hitherto he had neglected, to bestow an honourable interment upon the remains of Saul and Jonathan, and, with them, upon those that were now put to death, that the honour done to them herein might be some comfort to this dejected and disconsolate widow.

Verse 13

Having first burnt off the flesh which remained upon them when they were taken down. Compare 1 Samuel 31:10, &c.

Verse 14

Zelah; a place in Benjamin, mentioned Joshua 18:28.

After that; after those things were done which were before related, i.e. after they were hanged up; for by that God was pacified, and not by their burial. So the relative belongs to the remoter antecedent. Or if this relate to what was last mentioned, the meaning is, that God was pleased to restore the blessing of plenty to the land.

Verse 15

These wars, though here related, were transacted long before this time: of which See Poole "2 Samuel 21:1". For it is no way probable, either that the Philistines, being so fully and perfectly subdued by David, 2 Samuel 8:1, should in his days be in a capacity of waging war with the Israelites; or that David in his old age would undertake to fight with a giant, or that his people would permit him to do so.

Verse 16

The giant; so called by way of eminency. Or, of Rapha, a giant so called.

The weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels: see 1 Samuel 17:5.

With a new sword, or rather, with a new girdle or belt; for, first, This was the usual habit of soldiers, 1 Samuel 18:4; 2 Samuel 18:11; 1 Kings 2:5; Isaiah 5:27, and when it was of an extraordinary fashion and price, an ensign of dignity and command in the army, Ezekiel 23:15. So this may be mentioned to note that this was the first time either of his going out to fight, or of his advancement to some eminent place in the army; which made him desirous to signalize himself with some great action. Secondly, This supplement is more natural and usual, the word girdle being easily supplied from the word

being girded; such ellipses of conjugate words being frequent in the Hebrew tongue, as Numbers 11:14; Psalms 76:12; Matthew 20:12. Thirdly, The newness of the sword seems to have no emphasis nor significancy for the present purpose, seeing an old and tried sword would seem more considerable for his encouragement than one new and unproved.

Verse 17

Lest thou be slain, and thereby thy people be ruined. Good kings are in Scripture justly called the light of their people, as 1 Kings 11:36; 1 Kings 15:4; Psalms 132:17, because the beauty and glory, the conduct and direction, the comfort, and safety, and welfare of a people depend upon them, and come from them.

Verse 18

After this; after the battle last mentioned.

At Gob, or, in Gezer, as it is 1 Chronicles 20:4; whereby it seems Gob and Gezer were neighbouring places, and the battle fought in the confines of both.

Sibbechai the Hushathite; one of David’s worthies, 1 Chronicles 11:29.

Verse 19

Elhanan. The brother of Goliath the Gittite: the relative word brother is not in the Hebrew text, but is fitly supplied out of the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 20:5, where it is expressed. And such defects of relatives are not unusual in Scripture. Thus the word wife is understood, Matthew 1:6; John 19:25; and father or mother, Mark 15:40,Mark 15:47, compared with Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; and son, Matthew 4:21; Mark 2:14; John 21:15; and brother, Luke 6:16, compared with Jude 1:1. And such ellipses do also frequently occur in profane authors. Although the place may be and is otherwise rendered, Elhanan, the son of Jaare-oregiro, slew Beth-halachmi, or Lahmi, (as he is called by way of abbreviation, 1 Chronicles 20:5, which is very frequent in the Hebrew tongue,) who was (which words are frequently understood in the Hebrew text) with (so eth is oft rendered, as hath been noted before) Goliath the Gittite, i.e. in his company, bred up with him to the war, and related to him as his brother. Or, he slew Beth-halachmi, a Goliath (or another Goliath) of Gath, or the Gittite. So the name of the giant was Beth-halachmi, who may be here called Goliath, not only for his near relation to him, being his brother, but for his exact resemblance of him in feature, or in stature and strength, or in courage and military skill; as John the Baptist was called Elias for the like reason. Peradventure also, after the death of the first and famous Goliath the Gittite, 1 Samuel 17:0, that name was either given to him by others, or taken by himself.

Like a weaver’s beam, in thickness. See 1 Samuel 17:7.

Verse 20

In Gath, i. e. in the territory of the city of Gath; which circumstance intimates that this, and consequently the other battles here described, were fought before David had taken Gath out of the hands of the Philistines, which he did 2 Samuel 8:1, compared with 1 Chronicles 18:1, and therefore not in the last days of David, as some conceive from their mention in this place.

A man of great stature, or, a man of Middin or Madon, as the LXX. render it; so called from the place of his birth, as Goliath is said to be of Gath for the same reason.

Verse 22

Fell by the hand of David; either because they were slain by his conduct, and counsel, or concurrence; for he contributed by his hand to the death of one of them, whilst maintaining a fight with him, he gave Abishai the easier opportunity of killing him, 2 Samuel 21:16,2 Samuel 21:17; or because what is done by the inferior commanders is commonly ascribed to the general, both in sacred and profane writers.

Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/mpc/2-samuel-21.html. 1685.
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