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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 21

Verse 1

2 Samuel 21:1. Three years, year after year Houbigant reads it, for three successive years. The crime for which the three years of famine were sent, was the murder of many of the Gibeonites by Saul, with a determined purpose utterly to destroy the remainder; and this contrary to the public oath and faith, which had been given them for their security, in cold blood, in time of peace, when the Gibeonites were unarmed and destitute of assistance, only to shew how zealous he was to oblige the people. This crime was therefore enormous, and highly aggravated; a crime which, if any could be so, was worthy the peculiar interposition of a just God; and which, though the punishment was long deferred, through a train of intervening occurrences, was nevertheless worthy to be retaliated by Providence, upon the first opportunity that was favourable for the purpose. The persons employed with Saul in perpetrating these murders, were those of his own house. He thought the destruction of these Gibeonites so popular a thing, that he was resolved that himself, his family, and relations, should have the whole credit of it. It was for Saul and his bloody house; 2Sa 21:1 for which reason the Gibeonites justly said, for us thou shalt not kill any man in Israel; but demanded seven of the sons of Saul, who was the man that consumed them, to be delivered up to them; 2 Samuel 21:4-10.21.6. And it is probable, from the choice David made, that the very persons whom he gave up were employed in this butchery, and enriched by the spoils of the Gibeonites, and that for this reason David selected them as a sacrifice to the public justice. The circumstance of Saul's death could be no reason against bringing to justice those of his bloody house who had been the instruments of his cruelty in the destruction of the poor Gibeonites, if any of them were alive after his death, whatever might be the number of years between the commission of the crime, and the inflicting of the vengeance it deserved. The reason why the oracle expressly dictated no act of expiation, was because David only inquired for what reason the famine was sent. When this was known, it was also as well known, that the Gibeonites were to have some proper satisfaction made to them; so that though the oracular response did not dictate in express words any act of expiation, yet it was of such a nature as that David was immediately led to think of an expiation; for he knew, that the shedding of blood was only to be atoned for by the shedding of his or their blood on whom the murder was chargeable; so that the oracle did really dictate, though not in words, the necessity of an expiation, by pointing out the crime for which the famine was sent. See Genesis 9:6. It is not easy to say when the slaughter of the Gibeonites was committed: the Jews indeed pretend, that Saul had taken it into his head, in one of his phrenetic fits of zeal, to cut them all off; but they give us no authority for it. It is therefore generally, and with greater probability, believed to have happened when he slew all the priests and inhabitants of Nob. For the Gibeonites, as we have seen elsewhere, were a kind of servants to the priests, employed in some of the lowest and most laborious offices. See the Univ. Hist.

Verse 6

2 Samuel 21:6. In Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose Whom the Lord had chosen, says Houbigant; or, according to the word of the Lord: for when David asks the Gibeonites, 2 Samuel 21:3. What shall I do for you? it seems, God had commanded that the wickedness of Saul should be expiated with that blood which the Gibeonites should require; otherwise David would have consulted God only, and would not have gone to the Gibeonites to inquire of them what they would choose.

Verse 8

2 Samuel 21:8. And the five sons of Michal Or, Merab. From the parallel passage, 1Sa 18:19 it appears that Merab, not Michal, was married to Adriel; and therefore, as Houbigant has very fully shewn, we should read Merab in this place, instead of Michal.

Verse 9

2 Samuel 21:9. And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites David had given Saul his oath, that "he would not cut off his seed after him, nor destroy his name out of his father's house." Had Saul's family committed crimes worthy of death, David's oath would have been no reason against punishing them according to their deserts; and such punishment, if deserved, had been no breach of his oath. If David did not cut off his seed after him, so as to destroy his name out of his father's house, he did not violate his oath to Saul. Now David did not cut off one single person of Saul's family, whose death had a tendency to destroy his name out of his father's house. The seed is always reckoned by the males, and not the females of a family; and the name in a father's house could only be preserved by the male descendants. But David gave up only two bastards, the sons of Rizpah, Saul's concubine, who were not the legal seed of Saul; and five of the sons of his eldest daughter by Adriel, (who could only keep up Adriel's name, and not Saul's;) and hereby observed, without the least violation, his oath to Saul. Not one of the persons whom he surrendered was capable of succeeding Saul, especially whilst any of the male branches were alive. Now at this time he spared Mephibosheth, who had a son named Micha, that was now old enough to have children, and had four sons, from whom descended a numerous posterity, amounting to about one hundred and fifty, sons and grandsons. This is a second proof, that David did not violate his oath to Saul in his treaty with the Gibeonites. Those who are inclined to enter more fully into a discussion of this difficult question, will find ample satisfaction in Dr. Waterland's Scripture Vindicated, part 2: page 102.

REFLECTIONS.—We have here,

1. The cause of this famine; namely, the sin of Saul. Three years the famine had continued, before David inquired of the Lord. At last, the continuance of it awakens his solicitude to examine into the cause, and God informs him. Note; (1.) Sin soon makes a fruitful land barren. (2.) God's judgments should bring us to our knees, that we may find why he contendeth with us. (3.) Sins are not forgotten of God, because they are old: though not immediately visited, the time of recompence will come, if pardon be not obtained.

2. The methods taken to give the Gibeonites satisfaction, and to turn away wrath from the land. Note; (1.) Though the poor oppressed may be without power to relieve themselves, God will plead their injured cause. (2.) Satisfaction must be made them, before we can hope for a blessing from God. (3.) The sin of parents often entails misery on their posterity. (4.) No execution must be pursued under the spirit of private revenge; for then, though the sentence be just on the offender, it would be murder in the prosecutor. (5.) They who maliciously design the ruin of others, often bring themselves and families into the pit that they have digged. (6.) A murderer, though of the blood royal, ought not to be spared. (7.) Severe executions for the public good, are sometimes a needful severity.

Verses 10-14

2 Samuel 21:10-10.21.14. And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, &c.— Commentators have justly observed from hence, that the hanging of these carcases for so long a time in the open air, could not be in consequence of any command from David, because it was an open violation of the law of God, Deu 21:22-23 which commanded that the carcases of all those who were hanged should not remain even one night upon the tree; and the reason of the law, namely, lest the land be defiled, held strong in the present case, inasmuch as the stench of so many carcases for so long a time in a malignant drought, and at the hottest season of the year, might have added a pestilence to the famine; a danger, which it is impossible to imagine that David would deliberately devise both against his people and himself, and consequently demonstrates itself imposed upon him by a superior power; confuting all the little cavils of mean men against the conduct of David upon this occasion; cavils, which are further confuted by the account of Rizpah's memorable maternal affection for these unhappy victims; which when David heard, did he resent this conduct, which might have been a natural means of propagating a pestilence? He rather emulated it; for he immediately went (2 Samuel 21:12.) to Jabesh Gilead, and caused the bones of Saul and Jonathan to be removed from thence, and deposited, together with the bones of Saul's seven sons now interred, in the sepulchre of Kish; himself attending them in person to the grave, as if Rizpah's kindness to the remains of these unhappy victims reproached his own neglect of doing honour to those of so excellent a man, and so valuable a friend as Jonathan. By a passage in La Roque's Travels through Syria, says the author of the Observations, it appears, that if the usual rains have failed in the spring, it is of great benefit to have a copious shower, though very late; for he tells us, that when he arrived at Sidon in the end of June, it had not rained there for many months, and that the earth was so extremely dry, that the cotton-plants and mulberry-trees, which make the principal riches of that country, were in a sad condition; and all other things suffered in proportion, so that a famine was feared, which is generally followed by a pestilence. However, after public prayers for rain had been put up by all the sects that lived there, he adds, the rain descended in great abundance, continuing all that day and part of the night. He does not exactly specify the day; but it could not be before the end of June, new style; for he did not arrive at Sidon till then; and it could not be so late as the usual time of the descent of the autumnal rains, for the cotton is ripe in September, till the middle of which month those rains seldom fall; often later; and this rain is supposed to be of great service to the growing cotton; consequently this account refers not to autumnal showers, but a late spring rain, which probably happened soon after his arrival, or about the beginning of July, old style; and though the harvest must have been over at Sidon by the time that this gentleman arrived there, and they had nothing to hope or fear as to that; yet, as the people of those countries depend so much on garden-stuff, the inspissated juice of grapes, olives, &c. they might notwithstanding be apprehensive of a scarcity; which they might hope this late rain would prevent. For the like reasons, such a rain must have been extremely acceptable in the days of David; the more so, if it came much earlier, though we must believe it to have been after all expectations of it in the common way were over: and such a one, I suppose, was granted. Dr. Delaney, indeed, tells us, that the Rabbins suppose the descendants of Saul to have hanged from March, from the very first days of barley harvest, till the following October; and he seems to approve their sentiments. Dr. Shaw mentions this affair but cursorily; however, he appears to have imagined that they hanged till the rainy season came in course. But surely we may much better suppose that it was such a rain as La Roque speaks of, or one rather earlier. Dr. Delaney founds his opinion on a supposition, that the bodies which were hanged up before the Lord, hung till the flesh was wasted from the bones, which he thinks is affirmed in the 13th verse. But no such thing appears to me to be there affirmed. The bodies of Saul and his sons, it is certain, hanged but a very little while on the wall of Beth-shan before the men of Jabesh Gilead removed them, which yet are called bones. 1 Samuel 31:13. The seven sons of Saul therefore might hang a very little time in the days of king David. And if it should be imagined, that the flesh of Saul was consumed by fire, (2Sa 21:12 of that chapter,) and that so the word bones came to be used in the account of their interment; can any reason be assigned why we should not suppose that these bodies were treated in the same manner? Besides, it appears, that the word bones frequently means the same thing with corpse, which circumstance also totally invalidates this way of reasoning. See Genesis 1:25-1.1.26. Exodus 13:19. 1 Kings 13:31.—Such a late spring rain as is above mentioned would have been attended, as the rain at Sidon was, with many advantages; and coming after all hope of common rain was over, and presently following the death of these persons, would be a much more merciful management of Providence, and a much nobler proof that the execution was the appointment of God, and not a political stratagem of David, than the passing of six months over without any rain at all, and then its falling only in the common course of things. This explanation also throws light on the last clause of the history, And after that, God was entreated for the land. Dr. Delaney seems to suppose, that the performing of these funeral rites was requisite to the appearing of God: but could that be the meaning of the clause? Were the ignominy of a death which the law of Moses pronounced accursed, and the honour of a royal funeral, both necessary mediums of appeasing the Almighty? Is it not a much easier interpretation of this clause, that the rain which dropped on these bodies was a great mercy to the country; and the return of the rains in due quantities afterwards in their season, proved that God had been entreated for the land? See the Observations, p. 31. Dr. Delaney observes, that the 65th Psalm was written upon this occasion, the five last verses of which, says he, are the most rapturous, truly poetic, and natural image of joy, that fancy can form. On reading them we shall discern, that when the divine poet had seen these desirable and refreshing showers falling from heaven, and the Jordan overflowing his banks, all the consequent blessings were that moment present to his quick poetic sight, and he paints them accordingly.

REFLECTIONS.—1. The bodies, contrary to the law of Moses, were left hanging on the tree. The case was extraordinary; and as it was a national crime, thus to violate the solemn oath made to the Gibeonites, it was, no doubt, by Divine command enjoined for the expiation of it, till the long withheld rain should be sent. 2. Thus was the Son of God crucified for sins not his own, suffering for the curse which lay upon our sinful souls; and having by an ignominious death expiated our guilt, the wrath of God was appealed, and he was taken down from the tree.

Verse 15

2 Samuel 21:15. Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel It appears from chap. 2Sa 15:18-19 that Ittai, an exile from Gath, arrived at Jerusalem with all his men on the very eve of David's flight before his son Absalom; whence it is probable, that the Philistines, hearing of Absalom's rebellion, took that opportunity to shake off the Israelite yoke; and to that purpose drove out all the friends and favourers of David's government over them; and among the rest Ittai and his followers, who arrived very providentially at Jerusalem, to support David in the extremity of his distress. And as this revolt of the Philistines was succeeded by a long famine in David's dominions, we could not reasonably expect to hear of any measures taken by the king to chastise that revolt, till after the ceasing of this calamity; and then we immediately hear of the wars now recounted.

Verse 19

2 Samuel 21:19. A battle in Gob with the Philistines Houbigant, with whom Calmet agrees, observes, that both here and in the next verse, the reading of the parallel place, 1Ch 20:4-5 is to be preferred. It is there read, in Gezur, a city on the borders of Israel, near the Philistines; and as David slew Goliath, our translators, 2Sa 21:19 have inserted the words, the brother of. There can be no question, we think, that the text must be corrected from the parallel place in Chronicles. Houbigant reads it, where Elhanam, the son of Jair, a Beth-lehemite, slew Lahmi, the brother of Goliath, a Gittite, &c. Commentators have collected various instances of men, who, like the giant mentioned in 2Sa 21:20 have had six fingers on their hands, and six toes on their feet. Tavernier, in his relation of the Grand Seignior's Seraglio, p. 95 tells us, that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in the year 1648, when he was in that island, had six fingers on each hand, and as many toes on each foot, all of equal length: and, not to be tediously prolix in recounting such instances, M. Maupertuis, in his 17th Letter tells us, that he met with two families at Berlin, where six-digitism, as he calls it, was equally transmitted both on the side of father and mother.

REFLECTIONS.—The Philistines, though subdued for a season, yet now, towards the latter end of David's reign, attempt to shake off their yoke and recover their liberty, emboldened in the attempt by those giants whose fall is here recorded.

1. David, though old, would himself lead his troops to battle. Being singled out by Ishbi-benob the giant, and not now, as in the days of youth and vigour, able to wield the shield and spear, he is in imminent danger of being slain, when Abishai bravely succours him, and enables him to slay the giant, or smites him himself (for the text will bear either sense). Struck with the danger that their king had escaped, the great officers and people about David resolve that he shall no more expose a life so valuable, lest, by any accident, this light of Israel should be extinguished. Note; (1.) Age creeps upon us so silently that we do not perceive it, till experience proves us unequal to our former undertakings. (2.) The enemies of God's people, confident of their power, think nothing can resist them; but they learn, to their cost, that it is in vain to fight against God. (3.) When we are ready to faint in our spiritual conflicts, Jesus, our captain, is near to succour us; and through his help we shall come off conquerors.

2. Three other battles soon followed, the Philistines making a desperate push to recover their losses: but in each they are defeated, and the mighty warriors who led them slain. And thus the race of the sons of Anak was rooted out by David and his servants. Note; (1.) While we are in this world, we must expect continual conflicts, with the enemies of our souls. (2.) The giant-like corruptions of our heart will fall before the victorious grace of Jesus.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/2-samuel-21.html. 1801-1803.