corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.10.16
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 21

 

 

Introduction

SECTION 10. A Final Summary (21:1-24:25).

This final summary of the Book of Samuel presents a fitting conclusion to the whole book and what it has been all about. Central to the summary, and at its core, is a vivid portrayal of the invisible power of the living God at work, presented in poetic form, which is assumed to have been active during all the incidents described in the book (2 Samuel 22:7-20). Together with this there is a description of His great faithfulness shown towards David in establishing the everlasting kingly rule of his house (2 Samuel 22:1 to 2 Samuel 23:6). Then, on either side of this glorious depiction of YHWH’s heavenly power at work, standing like earthly sentinels appointed to fulfil God’s purposes (the earthly equivalent of the Cherubim) are David’s mighty men, the men who were empowered by YHWH to watch over the purposes of God in David. They were the human instruments by which God’s purposes for David had been brought through to the end, the instruments who had always been there to aid him whenever the going got tough.

Acting as an outer layer to the sandwich are depictions of the failure of both the kings about whom the narratives have been speaking, depictions which bring out the reason for the failure and destiny of each, and which demonstrate what the consequences of such failures were. Saul is seen to have regularly failed because he never took sacred things seriously enough, imagining that he could shape them to suit his purpose or ignore them for his own convenience, and because he knew little of repentance, the consequence was the almost complete destruction of his house. David, in contrast, regularly failed after he had become king because of arrogance and apathy, but in he deepest heart he was concerned to please God, and he always deeply repented when he became aware of his sin. The end result was that he was always delivered from the final consequences of his sins, firstly because of the mercy and purposes of God, secondly as a result of temporary chastisement, and thirdly in consequence of the offering of a substitutionary and atoning offering. In the case cited here it resulted in the plague being stayed, and the consequence of their sin being removed from God’s people

The section also presents us with a brief overall summary of different aspects of David’s reign from its commencement, and it is no accident that the initial incident takes us back to the time of Saul. It thus begins with a description which summarises the sad legacy left by Saul, a legacy for which punishment had to come on Israel, in this case in the form of famine, together with a portrayal of the awful cost to Saul’s family of rectifying that error, something which almost leads to the destruction of his house (2 Samuel 21:1-14; compare 1 Samuel 9:1 to 2 Samuel 1:27). It continues on with a description of how once David was in power David’s mighty men had humiliated the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22; compare 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1), and then describes in song YHWH’s continuing faithfulness towards David and towards Israel, which includes a celebration of the fact of His great promises to David (2 Samuel 22:1-51; compare 2 Samuel 7:1-29), calling to mind in the last words of David YHWH’s everlasting covenant with him (2 Samuel 23:1-7; compare 2 Samuel 7:8-17). This is then followed by a listing in detail of the particulars of David’s mighty men, who were from then on continually the backbone of his kingdom (2 Samuel 23:8-19; compare 2 Samuel 2:3 and often), guaranteeing his successes and dealing with any contingencies that arose, and it ends on a sombre note with a reminder that David by his sinfulness could similarly bring judgment on an Israel who had also sinned, here in the form of pestilence, although in his case YHWH would demonstrate His mercy by chastening but stopping short of total judgment. That was the difference between David’s rule and Saul’s. And the result in this case was David’s offering of thanksgiving for YHWH’s mercy, made at YHWH’s command, as a result of the cessation of the plague (2 Samuel 24:1-25; compare 2 Samuel 11:1 to 2 Samuel 20:26).

As will be observed all this follows the usual chiastic form:

Analysis of 21:1-24:25.

a YHWH judges Israel with famine because of the sin of Saul, a judgment which is only removed at the cost of the blood of the house of Saul (2 Samuel 21:1-14).

b David’s mighty men humiliate the pride of the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

c The song of David (2 Samuel 22:1-15).

c The last words of David (2 Samuel 23:1-7)

b The list of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:8-19).

a YHWH judges Israel with pestilence because of the sin of David, a judgment which is only removed in his case by the cost of the blood of a substitute (2 Samuel 24:1-25).


Verses 1-14

The Legacy Of Saul. YHWH Judges Israel With Famine Because Of The Great Sin Of The House Of Saul, A Judgment Which Is Only Removed At The Cost Of The Blood Of Saulides (2 Samuel 21:1-14).

In this passage we are taken back to the time of Saul and learn of a major crime of Saul, which had not been mentioned previously, the attempted genocide of the Gibeonites who were under YHWH’s protection. It is a crime which summarises all his other crimes, for its seriousness (in ignoring an oath made to God) parallels his previous willingness to ignore both the importance of the sacredness of the Sanctuary (1 Samuel 13:5-14) and the importance of not appropriating to himself things which had been devoted to YHWH (1 Samuel 15). In this particular case he ignored the sacred oath made by Joshua to the Gibeonites, which had protected them from being driven out of Canaan or being subjected to death (Joshua 9:3-27). As ever Saul is seen as being prone, when it suited him, to deal lightly with sacred things of a most serious kind, even though he could at the same time be particular on matters of less importance. He offered the sacrifices without the obedience (1 Samuel 15:22).

It is apparent from what is said here that Saul and his house had determined to rid Israel of the Canaanite Gibeonites once and for all, and that he did it ‘in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah’. From his narrow religious viewpoint, and in his varying moods, he wanted to be rid of them for ever, because he saw them as a blot on his people. With that in view he had carried out a mass slaughter among them, and by doing so he and his followers had ignored Israel’s permanently sacred oath, made in the sight of YHWH, with regard to them. His actions were thus themselves a blot on the whole of Israel, and we must remember in this regard that many Israelites must have assisted him in the venture, while most of them must have gone along with him in it. There is certainly no evidence at any time of any major objections. Thus this must not be seen as just the sin of one man. It was a sin in which all partook. All knew that the Gibeonites were under YHWH’s direct protection, and must not be touched, and yet no one had seemingly lifted a finger to help them. |Most probably felt that they had had it coming to them, and mention of his house as ‘his bloody house’ almost certainly suggests that his family had continued the work that he had begun.

Oaths were considered to be a very serious matter in those days. We have already observed how firmly David considered himself bound by an oath made to YHWH, even when it was obtained under false pretences (2 Samuel 14:8-11), and how he had constantly spared Saul because he was YHWH’s Anointed and therefore protected by YHWH Himself. Such sacred oaths were considered inviolable, however obtained, and it is apparent that Joshua and Israel had previously also held the same view in Joshua 9. Thus we must not see Saul’s action as involving anything other than the gravest of crimes in terms of the thinking of those days. To slaughter a people protected by a sacred oath was an act which would have produced appalled horror even among non-Israelites. But what was worse was that, as a result of breaching the oath, he had shed innocent blood on YHWH’s very inheritance, the blood of people protected by an oath, and in view of that his, or his representatives’, blood would need to be shed in order to cleanse the land (compare Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 35:33. See also Deuteronomy 21:1-9, although the substitution with a heifer only applied when the culprit could not be found. If he was found he would himself die). Until that shedding of blood had occurred the land would remained uncleansed (it was a life for a life).

It is clear from this passage that the plight of the Gibeonites as a result of Saul’s activities had become so extreme that YHWH was deeply concerned for them, as He was for all who were weak and unprotected, and ill-used. The thoroughness with which Saul had in fact carried out his task comes out in the extreme bitterness still prevalent among the Gibeonites these many years afterwards, although reference to his ‘bloody house’ suggests that Saul’s descendants had continued the action that he had begun, thus stoking up the bitterness (21:4-6). The Gibeonites may well have been driven into the hills and have consequently been living in appalling conditions. Consequently when YHWH was consulted about the severe famine, which must have occurred some way into David’s reign (certainly after Mephibosheth had been drawn to his attention in chapter 9 but probably before Shimei’s accusation that he had spilt the blood of the house of Saul), He chose to use the occasion in order to draw attention to the plight of the Gibeonites.

Our modern minds necessarily recoil from the thought of a man’s family having to take responsibility for his sins (although in many ways they do often have to, even now), but in those days the law of blood vengeance was clear, a life was required for a life, and it was seen as applying to the whole family. The family accepted joint responsibility for each other. And it was treated as a very serious matter. We have already seen how Joab was presumably able to justify his assassination of Abner on the grounds of blood vengeance, without repercussions, and there is a clear instance of the same idea in the life of Gideon (Judges 8:18-21). Blood vengeance was not considered to be a question of personal revenge, or to be an option, but was seen as one of doing what was right and obtaining justice for the whole family. The man who failed to obtain blood vengeance was actually seen as having failed in his clear duty, for it was by enforcing the law of blood vengeance that lawlessness would be avoided. We should note, however, that while YHWH was Himself demanding that the Gibeonites receive justice, the solution decided on was not a solution actually demanded by YHWH. The demand was made by the Gibeonites themselves on the grounds of the universally recognised law of blood vengeance, a law so ancient that it preceded the Sinaitic covenant (e.g. Genesis 4:23-24; Genesis 9:6) and was already known to Cain (Genesis 4:14). In the view of everyone, therefore, they would simply have been seen as obtaining their legally deserved rights. YHWH in contrast would presumably have been satisfied with the offering of a substitute in order to cleanse the land, as He will be in 2 Samuel 24:25, together with an offer of compensation, if that had been acceptable to the Gibeonites. But there is no doubt that they were within their rights to demand what they did.

Analysis.

a And there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year, and David sought the face of YHWH (2 Samuel 21:1 a)

b And YHWH said, “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites” (2 Samuel 21:1 b).

c And the king called the Gibeonites, and spoke to them Now 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 had sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah, and David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of YHWH?” (2 Samuel 21:2-3).

d And the Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house, neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.” And they said to the king, “The man who consumed us, and who devised against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered to us, and we will hang them up to YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of YHWH.” (2 Samuel 21:4-6 a).

e And the king said, “I will give them”. But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of YHWH’s oath which was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul (2 Samuel 21:6-7).

d But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite, and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before YHWH, and they fell all seven together (2 Samuel 21:8-9 a).

c And they were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured on them from heaven, and she allowed neither the birds of the heavens to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night (2 Samuel 21:9-10).

b And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, and David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines slew Saul in Gilboa, and he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son, and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father, and they performed all that the king commanded (2 Samuel 21:11-14 a).

a And after that God was entreated for the land (2 Samuel 21:14 b).

Note that in ‘a’ David sought the face of YHWH with regard to the severe famine, and in the parallel YHWH was entreated for the land. In ‘b’ YHWH’s verdict was that the whole house of Saul were blood guilty, and in the parallel David has mercy on the whole house of Saul, once they have been punished (the bones were seen as representing the whole man), because of the example set by Rizpah, with the result that he arranges for their proper burial. In ‘c’ we learn that the Gibeonites were under protection due to an oath made to YHWH, and in the parallel Rizpah protects the bodies of her sons, in the same way as the Gibeonites should have been protected by Saul. In ‘d’ the Gibeonites were asked what compensation they required, and they required the deaths of seven sons of the house of Saul, and in the parallel the seven sons of the house of Saul are given to them. Centrally in ‘e’ David fulfils his own oath and protects Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.

2 Samuel 21:1

And there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year, and David sought the face of YHWH. And YHWH said, “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he (or his house) put to death the Gibeonites.” ’

We are not told when this famine took place, although it was clearly some years into the reign of David over Israel, for it comes after Mephibosheth has come to his knowledge (2 Samuel 9). It was thus well over seven years after the death of Saul (for we know that David had reigned in Hebron for seven years before receiving the throne of Israel). All we know is that it was a protracted famine which had lasted for ‘three years, year after year’, and was thus severe enough to raise serious questions in David’s mind. The rains had not come, and the ground was bone dry and not producing its harvests, which meant misery and starvation for the people.

This caused David as the intercessor for Israel, to earnestly seek the face of YHWH in order to discover the reason for the famine. YHWH’s reply was that what was in His mind was Saul and his ‘bloody house’, because he (or ‘they’, but expressed in the singular in Hebrew because ‘house’ is singular. Compare the use of ‘I’ in 2 Samuel 21:4 speaking of the Gibeonites) had slaughtered the Gibeonites. The description of Saul’s house as a ‘bloody house’ would suggest that it was not only Saul himself who had slaughtered the Gibeonites, but that his house had continued to treat them in the same way, for many of the Gibeonites would be in Benjaminite territory (compare Joshua 18:25; Joshua 21:17) and would therefore still be on the lands of Saulides. Saul’s ‘bloody house’ would thus appear to have been continuing what Saul had begun. That would explain why they were seen as equally guilty with Saul, and why the famine came this late, God having given the family time for repentance. It was probably not just a case of the sons bearing the iniquity of their fathers, except in the sense that they were themselves being punished for doing what their fathers had taught them.

2 Samuel 21:2

And the king called the Gibeonites, and spoke to them Now 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 had sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.’

The king therefore summoned the Gibeonite elders in order to discuss matters with them, and we are reminded by the writer that the Gibeonites were not true Israelites, but were in fact Canaanites (Amorites), who had been spared from slaughter because they had obtained a treaty under false pretences (Joshua 9). Nevertheless, false pretences or not, a sacred treaty had been made, with the result that the Gibeonites had thereby come under the protection of YHWH. In consequence for Saul to seek to commit genocide by slaughtering them was not only a major crime, but was also a breach of a most sacred oath made before YHWH. However, as we know, Saul in fact tended to ride lightly over what was most sacred, even though at the same time he was particular about less important religious issues. He therefore appears to have considered, and to have taught the same to his family, that the Gibeonites, as Canaanites, were a blot on the landscape, a fact which counted for more than any oath. In his view, therefore, they had to be purged.

2 Samuel 21:3

And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of YHWH?” ’

As a result of all this David asked the Gibeonites what he could do in order to put right their wrongs, so that they would ‘bless the inheritance of YHWH’. (They had no doubt been calling down curses on it). He wanted to ‘make atonement’ and remove the curse from the land. ‘Making atonement’ primarily involved removing the antipathy of YHWH against the sin by the shedding of blood. But it also included propitiating the Gibeonites.

2 Samuel 21:4

And the Gibeonites said to him, “It is no matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house, neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.” ’

Their reply was that it was not monetary compensation that they were seeking, and that they were in no position to put anyone to death in Israel, because of who they were. This was typical oriental understatement and the indication to be gathered from this was that they would only be satisfied with the application of the law of blood vengeance, which they looked to David to ensure. David consequently assured them that whatever they required he would do for them (as long, of course, as it was within the Law). “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.”

2 Samuel 21:5

And they said to the king, “The man who consumed us, and who devised against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel,” ’

The reply of the Gibeonites was immediate and simple. They wanted blood vengeance on the household of Saul, for Saul was the man who had ‘eaten them up’ and had devised plans against them so as to ensure that they could not remain within the borders of Israel, in other words in their ancient home, and whose ‘bloody house’ was presumably continuing with the same policy.

2 Samuel 21:6

Let seven men of his sons be delivered to us, and we will hang them up to YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of YHWH.” And the king said, “I will give them.”

They therefore requested that seven sons of Saul be handed over to them. In terms of what had happened to them their request was not in fact unreasonable. A large number of their own people had been slaughtered, and yet all that they asked in return was seven of Saul’s descendants as compensation. The number seven would indicate to them divine completeness and perfection. This would therefore be sufficient to satisfy their sense of justice. Then they would hang them up before YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the place out of which their persecution had been organised and where much of the blood would have been shed, in order to display to YHWH that they had obtained ‘satisfaction’ so that Israel might no longer be seen as guilty. And this Saul, they reminded the king in deep irony, was the Saul who had declared himself to be the ‘the chosen of YHWH’. The phrase ‘the chosen of YHWH’ was probably intended to be sarcastic. They were declaring that he had claimed to be ‘the chosen of YHWH’ and yet had acted directly contrary to YHWH’S will (which was the theme of the latter part of 1 Samuel). David acknowledged their right and promised that their request would be granted. The purpose of this was in order to ‘cleanse the land’ by ensuring that justice was done (Numbers 35:33; and see Deuteronomy 21:1-9).

2 Samuel 21:7

But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of YHWH’s oath which was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.’

David knew, however, that Mephibosheth must be spared, and be exempted from the seven, because he was protected by a counter-oath, an oath made between himself and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:3; 1 Samuel 20:8; 1 Samuel 20:16). He did not consider that he could break one oath in order to fulfil another. To him it was important that every oath made before YHWH should be observed. It is noteworthy from this that YHWH had so led the Gibeonites in making their request that it enabled Mephibosheth to be spared.

2 Samuel 21:8

But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite,’

The king consequently took two sons of Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul whom Abner had slept with when he had offended Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 3:7), and five sons of ‘Michal, the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel’. In fact we know that it was Merab, Saul’s eldest daughter, who was married to Adriel (1 Samuel 18:19). This may therefore suggest:

1). That Merab also bore the name Michal, that being a family name, and a name then also given to her younger sister as a first name.

2). That Merab had died (possibly in childbirth) and that Michal had been called on to bring up her children, becoming their substitute mother, with the description ‘which she bore to Paltiel’ simply abbreviating the situation in order to bring in the name of the natural father (such an idea of adoption by a woman is not, however, testified to elsewhere. But it must have been very common given the uncertainties of life in those days).

3). That it was a copyist’s error. That, however, does not seem very likely for it was a mistake that would not be likely to have been made by a copyist familiar with Israel’s history, simply because the correct name would have been too well known to have allowed such an error to occur. (Although it must be admitted that even modern scholars can occasionally make such mistakes).

It is quite possible that some, if not all, of these seven had themselves been involved in direct activities against the Gibeonites, thus following in their ‘father’s’ footsteps. It would be less likely that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth had been involved.

2 Samuel 21:9

And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before YHWH, and they fell all seven together. And they were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest.’

These sons were handed over to the Gibeonites who hung them (or ‘impaled’ them) in the mountain before YHWH, all seven at the same time. Gibeah (which means ‘the hill’) was, of course, itself in mountainous country so that this was clearly a ‘mountain’ closely connected with Gibeah, possibly the hill of Gibeah itself. The continual stress on their being hung up ‘before YHWH’ suggests that the Gibeonites were equally concerned about the drought and with how to satisfy YHWH. They too would be suffering through the lack of harvest. They were among the poor and there would be few gleanings at such a time.

We then learn that this was done ‘in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest.’ At such a time the barren conditions would be most obvious to all due to the failure of the harvests. Their deaths could have been seen as to some extent replacing the lack in the firstfruits, as well as atoning for the land.

2 Samuel 21:10

And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured upon them from heaven, and she allowed neither the birds of the heavens to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.’

Rizpah was naturally broken-hearted at what was happening to her sons, and being totally distraught, was determined that while they might execute her sons and display their bodies openly, no scavenging animals or birds would be able to ravage them. So she spread sackcloth (probably indicating mourning) on a rock near the execution site, on which she lay and herself provided the bodies with constant protection. As she acted in this way from the commencement of harvest in the month of Nisan (March/April) up to the time when the rains actually came (October/November), she was clearly there for some considerable time. Note the confirmation from this that that year the rains did actually come, demonstrating that, as a result of justice having been obtained, the drought was ended.

But we do Rizpah less than justice if we do not pause and consider the intensity of this brave woman’s ordeal. It was almost beyond the bounds of human bearing. Day after day she had to watch the decaying bodies of her two beloved sons impaled to the city wall, and was constantly called on to approach them, whether by day and by night, in order to drive away the scavengers who would have torn their decaying flesh, but her mother love was so great that she would not desert them however long and intense her ordeal. Indeed her ordeal was such that it would even move the heart of the king. But if this woman was willing to go through such trauma for love of her sons, how much more should we be willing to go through hardship for love of the One Who was impaled for us. She shames our very prayerlessness and our inactivity. ‘Could you not watch with Me one hour?’ (Matthew 26:40-41). Her flesh too was weak, and yet her spirit did not give way, and she watched for many hours, and days, and weeks, and months. Will she not stand up before the Judgment Seat of Christ and be a rebuke to us for our apathy?

We should note that the requirement in Deuteronomy 21:22-23 did not apply to this case because the impaling was seen as having the purpose of drawing YHWH’s attention to the fact that justice had been done and that ‘a life had been given for a life’. Their bodies would thus be required to hang there until the rains came.

2 Samuel 21:11

And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.’

News reached David of what Rizpah had done, and he was so moved by it that he determined that he also would act so as to ensure the protection and decent burial of the bodies of her sons, and of Saul and all his household, for he too felt that he was involved in this ordeal. It was, after all, because of his initial activity and his zeal for YHWH that her sons were there.

2 Samuel 21:12-13

And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines slew Saul in Gilboa, and he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son, and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged.’

The bones of Saul and Jonathan themselves had been hanged (or ‘impaled’) as an act of shaming, by the Philistines, on the wall in the marketplace or street (the space around the gatehouse) and had not been decently buried, but rather had been sneaked away by the men of Jabesh-gilead who had given them a hurried burial in a secret place. So David arranged for the collection of their bones, along with the bones of those recently hanged (or ‘impaled’), in order to give them proper burial, a privilege won for them by the love of a faithful mother. All had suffered the same fate, but they were to enjoy a proper burial, a fitting reward for Rizpah’s sacrificial love. The whole house of Saul was thus seen to be involved, first in being punished, and then in being restored because of the love of a lowly concubine, and the loyalty of a king.

“In the day (yom)” means ‘at the time that’. It does not restrict the event to a particular day. ‘Yom’ has a wider meaning than just ‘day’.

2 Samuel 21:14 a

‘And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father, and they performed all that the king commanded.’

The assumption must be made here that along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan were buried the bones of their newly slain relatives. Thus all the ‘bloody house’ were buried together in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul’s father, in Zela in Benjamin, having suffered the penalty of impalement. Justice was wholly satisfied. The importance of the bones lay in the fact that the bones were seen as representing the whole man (an idea also found in the fact that the skull and crossbones flag, later taken over by pirates, initially indicated the hope of the resurrection).

2 Samuel 21:14 b

‘And after that God was entreated for the land.’

The due processes of the Law having been carried out, and justice having been done, ‘God was entreated for the land’, and the rains came (2 Samuel 21:10). With the execution and burial of the Saulides Israel’s famine was over. Proper retribution had been made. Now all depended on David maintaining true justice in the land.


Verses 15-22

David’s Final Victory Over The Philistines Portrayed In Terms Of The Defeat Of The Philistine ‘Giants’ By David’s Mighty Men (2 Samuel 21:15-19).

The defeat of the Philistines at the commencement of David’s reign over all Israel has already been depicted in 2 Samuel 5:17-25; 2 Samuel 8:1. Now it is re-emphasised and we learn that there were in fact periods of continual on and off warfare leading up to their being finally subdued. But the great emphasis is on the part played by David’s mighty men. This is depicted here in terms of battles between the ‘giants’ (rapha -indicating overlarge warriors) of the Philistines with the ‘mighty men’ of David. Compare also 2 Samuel 23:8-17. Each ‘giant’ was to meet his ‘David’ (compare 1 Samuel 17). It is testimony to David’s prowess and YHWH’s watch over His people that this time (in contrast with 1 Samuel 17) there were such men to challenge and overcome the ‘giants’.

Analysis.

a And the Philistines had war again with Israel, and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15).

b And David grew faint, and Ishbibenob, who was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spearhead was three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with new armour, thought to have slain David, but Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you quench not the lamp of Israel” (2 Samuel 21:16-17).

c And it came about after this, that there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, then Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Saph, who was of the sons of the giant (2 Samuel 21:18).

c And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam (2 Samuel 21:19).

b And there was again war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, who had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number, and he also was born to the giant, and when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, slew him (2 Samuel 21:20-21).

a These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants (2 Samuel 21:22).

Note that in ‘a’ David and his servants fought against the Philistines, and in the parallel the four ‘giants’ fell by the hands of David and his servants. In ‘b’ the impressive Ishbibenob was slain by David’s nephew, and in the parallel the ‘giant’ of Gath was slain by Jonathan, another of David’s nephews. In ‘c’ there was war with the Philistines at Gob, and in the parallel there was war with the Philistines at Gob.

2 Samuel 21:15-16

And the Philistines had war again with Israel, and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines. And David grew faint, and Ishbibenob, who was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spearhead was three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with new armour, thought to have slain David.’

In a war which presumably came some time after the battles described in 2 Samuel 5:17-25 David and his men again fought against the Philistines. During the battle David, who was presumably by this time much older, and had no doubt fought hard, grew faint, and the result was that the Philistine ‘giant’ Ishbibenob, whose spearhead was so heavy that it weighed the equivalent of 300 shekels of bronze (only, however, half that of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17:7), saw his opportunity and advanced on him in order to finish him off, aided by his ‘new armour’ or ‘new sword’ (the Hebrew text has no noun, but the point is that he was newly equipped). Everything was in his favour.

These were not, of course, giants in the modern fairy-tale sense, but simply overlarge warriors. It is simply that LXX translated raphah as ‘giantes’. The Hebrew has in mind the Rephaim which was the Hebrew word for certain huge and mighty warriors who originally inhabited the Canaanite coastal plain (compare Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:19-21; Deuteronomy 2:11; Deuteronomy 3:11; Deuteronomy 3:13). If we identify them with the Anakim (see Deuteronomy 2:21) they terrified ten out of the twelve scouts whom Joshua sent out from Kadesh Barnea (Numbers 13:33). The word indicates overlarge men, who simply terrified their opponents by their size. They were reputedly descended from Anak (Numbers 13:33; Deuteronomy 9:2; compare Joshua 15:13) and were also known as the Anakim. A group of them had settled in Philistia (Joshua 11:21 ff). There was a well known saying, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ (Deuteronomy 9:2), and the answer given here is that David’s mighty men can.

2 Samuel 21:17 a

‘But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and smote the Philistine, and killed him.’

Abishai, who was fighting alongside David, saw the threat to David and came to his aid, smiting the Philistine and killing him. As we have already seen Abishai regularly tended to be alongside David (compare 2 Samuel 20:6; 1 Samuel 26:6-11). He was a mighty warrior and captain of the second ‘Three’, and was at one time responsible (no doubt with his men) for the slaying of three whole units of Philistines (2 Samuel 23:18). To such a man a ‘giant’ was easy meat. But we are intended to recognise that he was such a man because YHWH was with him.

2 Samuel 21:17 b

‘Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you quench not the lamp of Israel.” ’

The consequence arising from this incident was that David’s men would no longer allow him to go out with them into the heat of battle, lest ‘the lamp of Israel’ be quenched. In the Tabernacle the lamp was never allowed to go out (Leviticus 24:2-3), and his men clearly saw David in similar terms. He was ‘the Anointed of YHWH’, thus he represented, outside the Tabernacle, what the lamp represented inside, the symbol of God’s presence, justice and truth among His people. He could not therefore be allowed to be extinguished. Compare Lamentations 4:20 where the Anointed of YHWH was seen as ‘the breath of our nostrils’. Thus he was seen as both their light and their very life. It was therefore fitting that from him would one day be descended the One Who would claim, ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8:12; compare John 12:46) and ‘I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25; compare John 14:6), although in a much fuller and more literal sense.

2 Samuel 21:18

And it came about after this, that there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, then Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Saph, who was of the sons of the giant.’

A further war with the Philistines followed at Gob (near Gezer), and in this war another ‘giant’ named Saph was slain by Sibbecai the Hushathite (1 Chronicles 11:29; compare 1 Chronicles 23:27 where he (or his replacement) is called Mebunnai). It is from this point on that we have a partially parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8, which sets this incident in the area of Gezer, and names the ‘giant’ as Sippai (which is Saph with the addition of a yod), but it is by no means the case that one account is simply copied from the other, for there are sufficient differences between them to indicate that the information in both is independently taken from a more detailed account which both have summarised.

2 Samuel 21:19

And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.’

This further example of the victory of David’s mighty men over the ‘giants’ of the Philistines again took place at Gob and involved the slaying of ‘Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam’ (compare 1 Samuel 17:4; 1 Samuel 17:7). It is quite clear that this occurred many years after David slew the original ‘Goliath’ and ‘Goliath’ thus appears to have been the title of honour given at any particular time to the current recognised Philistine champion. Compare how, in a similar way, Abimelech and Phicol were titles of honour for the king and the commander-in-chief passed down among the Philistines through the generations (see Genesis 20; Genesis 21:22-34; Genesis 26:26; Psalms 34 heading where Achish is called Abimelech), and compare Rabshakeh, Rabsaris and Tartan, all titles of honour among the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:17). Alternately this may have been a son or grandson of the previous Goliath. The previous Goliath may well be ‘the giant (rapha) of Gath’ of 2 Samuel 21:22.

Note On Goliath The Gittite.

The probable explanation of what appears to be a coincidence of names is that the Philistines gave the title ‘Goliath’ to whoever was their current champion. Thus David slew ‘Goliath the Gittite’ in 1 Samuel 17, and here, many years later, a ‘Goliath the Gittite’ is slain by Elhanan. An alternative possibility is that this was the former Goliath’s son or grandson per 2 Samuel 21:22.

However, in view of 1 Chronicles 20:5 (although, as we have noted, the passages are not exact parallels), many have sought to deal with the problem by suggesting corruption of the text. Such corruption did sometimes tend to take place, especially when names were being dealt with, because the Hebrew text was written without spaces or word divisions or vowels, and the names might be unknown and non-Hebraic. While writing in this way did not usually cause a problem with the normal text because of the way Hebrew is constructed, (to a person familiar with them the constructions did in most cases immediately point to the right significance of the letters), it did cause a special problem with names, especially foreign ones, which were unknown to the writer and which might not tie in with the usual constructions. In order to present the case for this viewpoint let us parallel the two passages where this subject is dealt with:

· 2 Samuel 21:19. 'Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Bethlehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam ('oregim).'

· 1 Chronicles 20:5. 'Elhanan the son of Yair slew Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam'.

It is suggested that these two texts are so alike that they must be directly related, and in fact, in the Hebrew the two texts are much closer than they are in the English. Thus :

· In Samuel --------- elhnnan bn y'ry 'rgym byth hlchmy 'th glyth hgthy w'ts chnythy cmnwr 'rgym -

· In Chronicles ------ elhnnan bn y'wr 'th lchmy 'chy glyth hgthy w'ts chnythy cmnwr 'rgym

Indeed in Hebrew lettering the likeness is even closer for in Hebrew lettering 'ch' and 'th' are very similar and can easily be confused. Note also how the additional 'rgym in the name in Samuel parallels the same letters at the end of the sentence. It is therefore often suggested that that has crept into the text from the end of the sentence, or alternatively that Y'r was known as 'Y'r of the beam' being a weaver, something known by the writer in Samuel and therefore incorporated into the text as very apposite in view of the description of the spear. Furthermore, it is argued, the copyist in Samuel, reading the original text which lay behind the Chronicles account, and knowing that Elhanan was a Bethlehemite (2 Samuel 23:24; 1 Chronicles 11:26), may, in a poor copy, possibly have misunderstood 'eth Lachmi' as 'beth halachmi' (Bethlehem). But it will be appreciated that this is all necessarily pure speculation.

Alternately it has been suggested that the original text behind the two may have read 'Elhanan the son of Yair the Bethlehemite slew the brother of Goliath', the Chronicler then misconstruing Bethlehemite as a noun preceded by 'eth (which is a Hebrew accusative particle indicating that the noun is an accusative, but which is never translated). But it is not really easy to see how all this could have happened with a copyist who would already be very familiar with the actual wording of the Scriptures. The number of alternative suggestions made in seeking to amend the text brings out that such errors, if they do exist, do not follow a simple identifiable pattern. Thus it would have required an extremely careless copyist to make these errors, a copyist whose work was then allowed to affect all future official copies.

It must be seen as equally possible that the two sentences in fact stood side by side in the original records, with the intention of depicting the slaying of both the current ‘Goliath’ and his brother, and both being deliberately made similar in typical ancient fashion. The original aim would then be to bring out the slaying of both the current Goliath and his brother. In that case, in that original text, the description in Samuel would have come first (because it explains that Yair is a Bethlehemite, something not then needing to be repeated), and the one in Chronicles would have followed.

We can understand why neither writer wanted to include both, with the Chronicler wanting to dispense with what he saw as an error. But there is no good reason why Elhanan, a mighty warrior, should not have slain both the current Philistine champion and his brother, with both being originally stressed in the initial record. The Chronicler may well have dropped the first because he thought that it conflicted with 1 Samuel 17. The writer of Samuel, nearer to events and not having the same problem, may similarly have dropped mention of the success which he saw as the lesser victory. This may also explain why ‘the Bethlehemite’ was not included in Chronicles, not having been necessary in the statement taken from the original record because the information had already been given in the previous line. If the term ‘the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam' was by custom attached to whoever was Goliath, we can see why it might also be applied to Goliath’s brother once Goliath had been slain.

Our preference is thus for our original idea that the second Goliath was either the new champion or the son/grandson of the previous Goliath, and that Lachmi was his brother, with Elhanan being ‘Elhanan of the weaver’s beam’ who came from Bethlehem, and had gained victory over both.

(End of note.)

2 Samuel 21:20

And there was again war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, who had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number, and he also was born to the giant.’

In a further war at Gath there was a ‘giant’ whose name was apparently not known, and who was famed for having extra fingers and toes, who ‘defied Israel’, as the original Goliath had before him (1 Samuel 17:10; 1 Samuel 17:25-26; 1 Samuel 17:36). The description of the number of his fingers and toes is probably, like the ‘new armour’ of the first ‘giant’, intended to make us realise what an awesome prospect he was. The non-mention of his name is, however, strange, and the fact that he ‘defied Israel’, may well have indicated that he had now become the new champion of the Philistines, in which case he might also have been named ‘Goliath the Gittite whose spear was like a weaver’s beam’, the name and description being dropped by the writer in his case in order to avoid confusion.

2 Samuel 21:21

And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, slew him.’

When this ‘giant’ defied Israel, he was slain by Jonathan, David’s nephew (brother to Jonadab). This Jonathan may have been the same Jonathan as the one mentioned in the list of mighty men which would explain why no further detail is given there (1 Chronicles 23:32), but 1 Chronicles 11:34 counts against that idea.

2 Samuel 21:22

These four were born to the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.’

All four of these ‘giants’ were sons of ‘the giant in Gath’. This latter may well have been the original Goliath, with some of his sons becoming Goliaths as the previous one was killed. Alternately he may have named one of his sons Goliath. But the important fact was that all four fell at the hands of David and his men. The ‘giants’ of Gath were no match for the mighty men of David because YHWH was with them.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-21.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, October 16th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology