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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

Verse 1


1. Then there was a famine The date of this occurrence cannot be exactly determined. It “certainly did not take place in the closing years of David’s reign; on the other hand, it is evident from the remark, in 2 Samuel 21:7, to the effect that Mephibosheth was spared, that it happened after David had received tidings of Mephibosheth, and had taken him to his own table.” Keil.

David inquired Rather, as in the margin, David sought the face of Jehovah; an expression noticeably different from the one so often previously used of inquiring by urim. He now sought the Lord by prayer and supplication, and perhaps was answered by a prophet rather than by urim. After the Israelitish monarchy became fully established, and the age of the great prophets approached, Jehovah communicated less and less by urim, and more and more by prophets.

And for his bloody house The family of Saul, as well as Saul himself, were implicated in the violation of Israel’s oath with the Gibeonites.

He slew the Gibeonites This fact is nowhere else recorded, and it is impossible to form a positive reason for Saul’s action in the case. From 2 Samuel 21:2; 2 Samuel 21:5 we infer that his ostensible reason was to rid Israel of the presence of such foreigners in their midst. In Joshua’s time the people murmured against the league which Joshua made with these Gibeonites; and probably similar murmuring was often heard in Saul’s time, and in his zeal for the peace of Israel he had endeavoured to destroy them from all the land. Or, as Ewald suggests, when the tabernacle was set up again at Gibeon, the ancient Amorite inhabitants may have claimed the right of doing the service of the house of God agreed upon with Joshua, (Joshua 9:23;) and a dispute may have arisen on this point, and Saul, with characteristic recklessness, may have driven matters to fearful violence by attempting the utter extermination of the Gibeonites. It has also been plausibly conjectured that in this way he came into possession of the lands and vineyards which he distributed to his brethren of the tribe of Benjamin. 1 Samuel 22:7. In this case the members of his own family doubtless shared largely in the plunder.

Verse 2

2. Of the Amorites They are called Hivites at Joshua 9:7; but the name Amorites is more general and often used of all the Canaanitish tribes.

Genesis 15:16; Amos 2:9.

Had sworn See Joshua 9:3-21.

Verse 3

3. Make the atonement Make the necessary satisfaction.

The inheritance of the Lord The land and people of Israel.

Verse 4

4. No silver nor gold The marginal reading is more liberal. The meaning is, The price of blood is not to be paid to us in silver or gold: we will have blood for blood. The law said: “Ye shall take no satisfaction for the life of a murderer.” Numbers 35:31.

Neither… any man in Israel That is, We wish not to take innocent blood, but the blood of those who helped devise our destruction, and now live upon the lands they violently took from us.

Verse 6

6. Seven men A sacred number, not only among the Israelites, but among other Oriental nations.

Hang them up Impale or crucify them. According to the Jewish interpreters the persons were first put to death, and then their bodies were impaled or tied upon a stake. Compare Joshua 8:29, note.

Unto the Lord That is, to expiate his wrath.

Gibeah of Saul See marginal references. The place of Saul’s residence was chosen to make the punishment of his crimes more signal.

Whom the Lord did choose Mark the sentiment and the terrible irony. Hang up unto the Lord the sons of him whom the Lord chose!

I will give them David dared not refuse the demand, for the penal famine pressed upon the land, and the law had said, “The land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein but by the blood of him that shed it.” Numbers 35:33. It has been asked why similar satisfaction was not required for the massacre of the priests at Nob. 1 Samuel 22:9-19. “The answer is, that the people, and even the family of Saul, had no sympathy with or part in this tragedy, which none but an alien (Doeg) 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.” Kitto.

Verse 8

8. Rizpah A concubine of Saul. 2 Samuel 3:7.

Michal Rather, Merab. See 1 Samuel 18:19. The insertion of Michal for Merab was, probably, the mistake of an early copyist.

Verse 9

9. In the hill See on 1 Samuel 10:5.

The beginning of barley harvest About the first of April.

Verse 10


This single verse contains a mournful tale, which none can read without emotion.

10. Took sackcloth The sign of mourning.

Spread it for her upon the rock For the purpose of a seat and bed.

Until water dropped Until rain came and ended the three years’ famine, which had probably been caused by drought; but how long she had to wait upon the rock beside the exposed bodies of her sons before the rain came is not quite clear.

Josephus says that it came soon after the execution, and Harmer thinks it was a late spring rain, which is sometimes known to fall as late as June in seasons when the usual rains of spring have failed. But the statement, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped, most naturally means that she kept up her sad and woful watching during all the summer season, from April until the early autumnal rains began.

Neither the birds… nor the beasts To be devoured by birds or beasts of prey was the foulest ignominy that could visit the dead. Compare 1 Samuel 17:44.

Verse 11


11. It was told David And it deeply touched his sensitive nature, and prompted him to the action next described.

Verse 12

12. Took the bones See 1 Samuel 31:10-13, and notes there.

Verse 14

14. Zelah This town, in the tribe of Benjamin, (Joshua 18:28,) was probably the native place of the family of Kish, and Saul’s early home. Its site is now unknown.

After that After the execution of Saul’s sons, and the decent burial of their bones.

God was entreated for the land He removed the plague of famine. But did God require the execution of Saul’s sons? Undoubtedly; otherwise he would not have scourged the land because of their and their father’s sins, (2 Samuel 21:1,) and removed the plague as soon as they were executed. And did he not the same in the case of Achan (Joshua vii;) and in his holy law declare that he would by no means clear the guilty, but visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate him? Exodus 20:5; Exodus 34:7.

Verse 15

15. Yet war again This expression indicates that the document here used by our author contained also accounts of other and earlier wars with the Philistines.

Went down From the heights of Judea to the great plain of Philistia.

Waxed faint Was becoming exhausted.

Verses 15-22


“The brief accounts contained in these verses of different heroic feats were probably taken from a history of David’s wars drawn up in the form of chronicles, and are here introduced as practical proofs of the gracious deliverance of David out of the hands of all his foes, for which he praises the Lord his God in the psalm of thanksgiving which follows, so that the enumeration of these feats is to be regarded as supplying an historical basis for the psalm.” Keil.

Verse 16

16. Ishbi-benob The name means, his dwelling on the hill, and was perhaps given him on account of some high citadel or castle which he occupied.

Sons of the giant Or, sons of Raphah. On the ancient giant race, Rephaim, compare Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20; and Deuteronomy 3:11. The word Raphah (or Rapha, as in 1 Chronicles 20:4) seems to have been the proper name of the father of a race of giants that dwelt among the Philistines, but he was doubtless related to the more ancient Rephaim.

Weight of whose spear The reference is doubtless to the metal head of his spear.

Three hundred shekels About nine pounds, half the weight of Goliath’s. See 1 Samuel 17:7.

New sword Better to supply the word armour in place of sword. His entire military garb was new.

Verse 17

17. Sware unto him The word נשׁבעו seems here to have rather a causative signification, made him swear; that is, administered an oath unto him.

Quench not the light of Israel David’s position as king over Israel and leader of the armies was like that of the sun in the heavens, or a lamp in a house. Let it be suddenly removed, and all would be involved in darkness and terror. Compare 2 Samuel 18:3.

Verse 18

18. Gob According to the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:4, the place of this battle was Gezer, on the situation of which see Joshua 10:33. The site of Gob is not known, but it was probably close by Gezer.

Sibbechai Probably identical with the Mebunnar of 2 Samuel 23:27, and one of David’s mighty men. 1 Chronicles 27:11.

Hushathite So called from Hushah, his native town.

Verse 19

19. Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim This text, in the Hebrew, is certainly corrupt. Our translators have partially emended it by inserting the brother of, from 1 Chronicles 20:5. The word oregim is transferred from the end of the verse, מנור ארגים , menor oregim, beam of weavers, בית הלחמי , beth hallachmi, the Beth-lehemite, is a corruption of את לחמי , eth lachmi, the name of Goliath’s brother, called Lahmi in Chronicles. We consider the text in Chronicles as the correct one, and this passage as corrupted by some early transcribers.

Verse 20

20. Six fingers… six toes Persons thus abnormal have been elsewhere met with. “Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in 1648, had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot. Maupertius, in his seventeenth letter, says that he met with two families near Berlin, in which sedigitism was equally transmitted on both the father’s and mother’s side. I once saw a young girl in the county of Loudonderry, in Ireland, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, but her stature had nothing gigantic in it. The daughters of Caius Horatius, of patrician dignity, were called sedigitae because they had six fingers on each hand.” Clarke.

Verse 22

22. These four Goliath was the fifth, and they were all sons of Raphah. See on 2 Samuel 21:16.

By the hand of David He had personally assisted in the slaughter of Ishbi-benob.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/2-samuel-21.html. 1874-1909.
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