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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

 

 

Verses 1-22

EXPOSItION

2 Samuel 21:1

There was a famine in the days of David; Hebrew, and there was. There is an entire absence of any mark of time to show in what part of David's reign this famine took place. It does not even follow, from the mention of Mephibosheth's name, that it must have happened at a time subsequent to the sending for that prince from Machir's house; for it may have been the search after the descendants of Saul which made David remember the son of his old friend. The burial, however, of the bones of Saul and Jonathan as an act of respect to the slaughtered king makes it probable that the narrative belongs to the early part of David's reign, as also does the apparent fact that the seven victims were all young and unmarried. Mephibosheth, we read, had a young son when David sent for him. Now, he was five years old when his father was slain (2 Samuel 4:4), and thus at the end of David's reign of seven years and a half at Hebron, he would be twelve and a half years of age. The famine lasted three years, and if David had been king four or five years when the famine began, Mephibosheth, at the age of twenty, might well have a "young son" in a country where men marry early. We cannot believe that the famine occurred long after David had been king of all Israel, because manifestly it would have been unjust and even monstrous to punish a nation for the sins of a king who had long passed away. The sins of its rulers are visited upon a nation constantly through a long series of years, but it is always in the way of natural development. A statesman may put a nation upon a wrong track, and may involve it in serious difficulties, and even in irretrievable disaster, unless some one be raised up able to make it retrace its steps and regain the rightful direction. But this famine was a direct interference of Providence, and to justify it the sin must be still fresh in the national remembrance. Had it been an old crime long ago forgotten, instead of leading men to repentance, this long and terrible punishment would have hardened men's hearts, and made them regard the Deity as vindictive. It is even probable that the sin was still being committed; for though commenced and approved by Saul, his oppression and purpose of gradually destroying the native races was too much in accord with men's usual way of acting not to be continued, unless stopped by the justice of the ruler. We all know how the Red Indian, the Bushman, the Maori, and the Australian disappear before the advance of the white man. It needs only apathy on the part of the government, and rougher methods for clearing them off are practised than men would care to own. So with Gibeonites and Perizzites and other native races, a similar process would be going on. The lands they held, their little villages, their pastures, and above all their strongholds, would be coveted by the dominant race, and entrenchments would lead to quarrels, in which the natives would find any resistance on their part punished as rebellion. Even David seized the hill fortress of Jebus for his capital, though he still left Araunah the nominal title of king (2 Samuel 24:23). Saul had lent all the weight of the royal authority to the extermination of the natives, and this chapter records the Divine condemnation of wrong done by the dominantrace to the aborigines. It remains to this day the charter for their protection, and not only forbids their extinction, but requires that they shall be treated with fair and even justice, and their rights respected and maintained. It has been objected that the execution of Saul's seven sons was a political crime committed to render David's throne secure. If at all to his advantage, it was so only to a very slight extent. The sons of Rizpah could never have become pretenders to the throne; nor were the sons of Merab likely to be much more dangerous. In a few years they would have married, and formed other ties, and been merged in the general population. Mephibosheth was the heir of Saul, and David protected him and Micha his son. It was quite in the spirit of the times to visit upon Saul's house the sins of its chief. The principle was the same as when all Israel stoned Achan, his sons and his daughters, his oxen and his asses, his sheep and his tent, for brining iniquity upon the people (Joshua 7:24, Joshua 7:25). We keep chiefly in view the doctrine of personal responsibility; in the Old Testament the other doctrine of the collective responsibility of a family, a city, a nation, was made the more prominent It was the Prophet Ezekiel who in Ezekiel 18:1-32. stated clearly and with Divine force that "the soul that sinneth it shall die;" but that the sinner's son, if he walk in God's statutes, shall not die for the iniquity of his father he shall surely live. But the collective responsibility enacted in the second commandment is still God's law. In the philosophic jargon of our times the two factors which form human character and decide our fortunes are "heredity and environment.'' Heredity was the prevailing sentiment in David's days; and it seemed right to the Gibeonites that the sons of the man who had slaughtered them should die for their father's sins; and it seemed just to David also. But he spared the heir to Saul's throne. There is no adequate reason for supposing that David was influenced by political motives, and the more important lesson of the narrative is the emphatic condemnation given in it of wrong and cruelty to aboriginal tribes. David inquired of the Lord; Hebrew, David sought the face of Jehovah. The phrase is remarkable, and not found elsewhere in Samuel. Probably it means that he went to Gibeon to pray in the sanctuary, and consult God by Urim and Thummim. His bloody house. The Hebrew means "the house on which rested the guilt of murder."

2 Samuel 21:2

Saul sought to slay them in his zeal. We gather from various incidental circumstances that Saul, in some part of his reign, manifested great zeal in an attempt to carry out literally the enactments of the Levitical Law; but he seems to have done so with the same ferocity as that which he displayed in slaughtering the priests at Nob with their wives and children. Thus he had put to death wizards and all who dealt with familiar spirits (1 Samuel 28:9), in accordance with Exodus 22:18 and Le Exodus 20:6. In the same way he seems to have tried to exterminate the aboriginal inhabitants of Palestine, in accordance with Deuteronomy 7:2, and had especially massacred a large number of Gibeonites, in violation of the covenant made with them by Joshua and all Israel (Joshua 9:3, Joshua 9:15-27). And as he would thus acquire "fields and vineyards" robbed from them to give to his captains, his conduct was probably popular, and the cause of a general system of wrong and oppression practised upon all the natives. It had thus become a national sin, and as such was punished by a national calamity. Amorites; that is highlanders, mountaineers. Strictly they were Hivites (Joshua 9:7).

2 Samuel 21:3

Wherewith shall I make the atonement, etc.? Literally the verb means to "cover up," the idea being that of a veil drawn over the offence to conceal it by means of a gift or offering. Thence gradually it attained to its religious idea of an expiation.

2 Samuel 21:4

No silver nor gold. It is a common practice in most semi-civilized nations for a fine to be accepted as compensation for the shedding of blood. As no distinction was drawn between murder and homicide, and as the nearest relative was bound in every case to revenge the blood shed, the custom of receiving a money compensation gradually grew up to prevent the tribe or nation being torn to pieces by interminable revenge. The Arabs still retain this usage, but it was forbidden by the Levitical Law (Numbers 35:31), and rightly so, because a distinction was there made between murder and accidental bloodshed, and precautions taken for the rescue of one who had not acted with malice. Neither for us shalt thou kill any turn in Israel. The singular is used at the beginning of their answer, in the same way as in 2 Samuel 19:42, 2 Samuel 19:43. Literally their words are, It is not to me a matter of silver and gold with Saul and his house, nor is it for us to put to death any one in Israel; that is, "We refuse a money compensation, and it is beyond our power to exact the blood penalty which would gratify our anger." They make it quite plain that they do want blood, while the Authorized Version makes them say that they do not. The Revised Version more correctly translates, "Neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel."

2 Samuel 21:5

The man that consumed us, etc. The strong language of this verse makes it plain that Saul had been guilty, not merely of some one great act of cruelty, but of a long series of barbarities intended to bring about their utter extirpation.

2 Samuel 21:6

We will hang them. The punishment indicated here really was impalement, but in Numbers 25:4, where the same verb is used, we find that the criminals were put to death first, and that the impalement was for the purpose of exposing their bodies to view, like the practice a century ago of gibbeting. But the Gibeonites were probably very barbarous, and, when David had delivered the seven lads into their hands, would perhaps wreak upon them a cruel vengeance. Seven were chosen, because it is the perfect number, with many religious associations; and unto the Lord means "publicly.'' So among the Romans sub Jove meant "in the open air" (comp. Numbers 25:4). In Gibeah. This was Saul's native place and home, and was selected by the Gibeonites as the spot where the bodies should be exposed, to add to the humiliation and shame of the fallen dynasty. Saul, whom the Lord did choose. If this reading is correct, the phrase can only be used as a taunt. But in verse 9 we find bahar, "on the hill," instead of behir, "chosen," and the right reading probably is, "in Gibeah, or, the hill of Jehovah."

2 Samuel 21:8

Michal. It was Merab who became the wife of Adriel the Meholathite (1 Samuel 18:19). Michal was childless (see 2 Samuel 6:23). Whom she brought up for. This is one of the many cases of untrustworthiness in the renderings of the Authorized Version. We have noticed a very flagrant instance before in 2 Samuel 5:21. The object of these mistranslations is always the same, namely, to remove some verbal discrepancy in the Hebrew text. The Hebrew says here "five sons of Michal, whom she bare to Adriel;" but Michal never bore a child, therefore something must be substituted which will save the Hebrew from this verbal inaccuracy, and Michal must be represented as having taken Merab's place (perhaps at her death), and been foster mother to her children. This explanation is, it is true, taken from the Jewish Targum; but the Targum never professes to be an exact translation, and constantly perverts the meaning of the plainest passages for preconceived reasons.

2 Samuel 21:9

The beginning of barley harvest. The barley became ripe in April, about the time of the Passover (Deuteronomy 16:9). The wheat was not. ripe till Pentecost.

2 Samuel 21:10

Rizpah … took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock; rather, against the rock, so as to form a little hut or shelter to protect her from the glaring blaze of the sunshine. The word "upon" has led many commentators to suppose that she used it as a bed; but this is not the meaning of the Hebrew, though given by the Vulgate. The sackcloth was the loose wrapper or cloak which formed the outer dress of mourners. As regards the bodies of those crucified or impaled, the Law required that they should be taken down and buried that same evening (Deuteronomy 21:23). Here they remained exposed for six months, as a grim trophy of Gibeonite vengeance. Until water dropped upon them out of heaven; Hebrew, was poured upon them; until copious and heavy rains came. The outpouring of these rains would put an end to the famine, and be regarded as a proof that the wrath of Heaven was appeased. There is no reason for supposing that these rains came before the usual period, in autumn, which was about the middle of October. Thus, for six months, with no other protection than her mantle of sackcloth hung against the rock, this noble woman watched the decaying bodies of her loved ones, until at last her devoted conduct touched David's heart, and their remains were honourably interred.

2 Samuel 21:12

The street of Beth-shan; Hebrew, the broad place, or square, just inside the gate, where the citizens met for business. It was upon the wall of this square that the Philistines had hanged the bodies of Saul and of his sons (1 Samuel 31:12). The men of Jabesh-Gilead; Hebrew, the lords or owners of Jabesh-Gilead. The phrase occurs also in 1 Samuel 23:11, 1 Samuel 23:12 of the citizens of Keilah, and is found also in the Books of Joshua and Judges. (For the brave exploit of these men in rescuing the bodies of their king and his sons, see 1 Samuel 31:11-13; and for David's generous approval, 2 Samuel 2:5.)

2 Samuel 21:14

The bones of Saul and Jonathan. The Septuagint adds, "and the bones of them that were hanged." As it is expressly said in 2 Samuel 21:13 that these bones were collected, we cannot doubt but that the remains of the seven grandsons were interred with those of Saul and Jonathan, in the tomb of Kish, their common ancestor. But whether the Septuagint has preserved words that have dropped out of the Hebrew text, or has added them to make the fact plain, is more than we can answer. Zelah. Nothing more is known of this place than that it was in the tribe of Benjamin.

2 Samuel 21:15

Moreover. A new narrative begins here, and the heroic acts related in it are taken probably from some record of the martial deeds of David and his mighties. We have already seen that the Book of Jasher (2 Samuel 1:18) was a national anthology, full of ballads and songs in praise of glorious exploits of Israel's worthies. The source of the narratives recorded here apparently was a history in prose, and commenced, perhaps, with David's own achievement in slaying Goliath—a deed which celled forth the heroism of the nation, and was emulated by other brave men. These extracts were probably given for their own sake, and are repeated in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8, where they are placed immediately after the capture of Rabbah; but they here form an appropriate introduction to the psalm of thanksgiving in 1 Chronicles 22:1-19. It was usual in Hebrew, in making quotations, to leave them without any attempt at adapting them to their new place; and thus the "moreover" and "yet again," which referred to some previous narrative in the history, are left unchanged.

2 Samuel 21:16

Ishbi-benob. The Hebrew has Ishbo-benob, which Gesenius interprets as meaning "dweller upon the height." But surely the man's name would not be Hebrew; he was a Raphah, and we shall not be able to explain his name until we know the language of the Rephaim. Of the sons of the giant; Hebrew, of the children of the Raphah; that is, he belonged to the race of the Rephaim, the word not signifying "sons," but the members of a stock. It is translated "children" in Numbers 13:22, Numbers 13:28, etc. (For the Rephaim, see note on 2 Samuel 5:18.) "The Raphah" may be the mythic progenitor of the Rephaim, but more probably it is simply the singular of "Rephaim," and "children of the Raphah" a more poetic way of describing the race. Three hundred shekels. It weighed, therefore, about eight pounds; the spearhead of Goliath was just twice as heavy (1 Samuel 17:7). Girded with a new. The Vulgate supplies "sword," which the Authorized Version has adopted. The Septuagint reads a "mace" instead of "new;" others think that he had a new suit of armour. If the narrator had thought it of sufficient importance to let us know that the article was new, he would scarcely have left the thing itself unspecified. It is evident, however, that the Septuagint did not read hadasha, "new," but the name of some strange warlike instrument, which being unknown to the scribes, they substituted for it a word which they did know, but which makes no sense. We cannot, however, depend upon the translation of the Septuagint, "mace." The want of special knowledge on the part of the translators of the Septuagint, though partly accounted for by the long absence from Palestine of its authors, and their having to depend entirely upon such knowledge of their language as survived at Alexandria, is more than we should have expected or can quite understand. Here, however, there is nothing remarkable in their not knowing the exact meaning of this carious weapon of the Rephaite; but plainly it could not be a mace, but must have been something that could be gift upon him. The Authorized Version, moreover, gives a look of probability to the insertion of "sword," which is wanting in the Hebrew; for it does not connect his purpose of killing David with the hadasha. The Hebrew is, "And Ishbo-benob, who was a Rephaite, and whose spear weighed three hundred shekels, and who was girt with an hadasha; and he thought to smite David."

2 Samuel 21:17

The men of David sware unto him. David's men were specifically the mighties, who had so long been his friends and companions. They now bound him by an oath never again to fight in person, lest he should be singled out for combat by some warrior among the enemy and slain. The light of Israel. The lamp in the dwelling was the proof that there was life there, and so it became the symbol of prosperity. In Job 18:5, Job 18:6 the extinction of the lamp signifies the destruction of the family. David was evidently now king, and under him Israel was advancing to freedom and empire. His death would have plunged the nation back into weakness and probable ruin.

2 Samuel 21:18

Gob. In the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 20:4) this place is called Gezer, and the Septuagint has Gath. It was probably some unimportant spot, except as being the site of this battle, and the scribes, knowing nothing about it, made corrections at their fancy. Sibbechai the Hushathite. The name is spelt in the same way in 1 Chronicles 11:29 and 1 Chronicles 20:4, but in the list of the mighties he is called Mebunnai (2 Samuel 23:27). In 1 Chronicles 27:11 we find that he had the command of the eighth division of the army, consisting of twenty-four thousand men. He is called "the Hushathite," as being a descendant of Hushah, of the family of Judah, in 1 Chronicles 4:4. Saph, which was of the sons of the giant; Hebrew, of the Raphah: He is called Sippai in 1 Chronicles 20:4.

2 Samuel 21:19

Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, a Beth-lehemite, slew Goliath the Gittite. The words "the brother of" are inserted by the Authorized Version in order to bring this place into verbal agreement with 1 Chronicles 20:5, where we read that "Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite." The Jewish Targum had the same reading as that still found in the text, but regards Elhanan, "God is gracious," as another name for David, and, instead of Jair or Jaare, reads Jesse. Its translation is as follows: "And David the son of Jesse, the weaver of veils for the sanctuary, who was of Bethlehem, slew Goliath the Gittite." Possibly the Authorized Version is right in concluding that the present text is a corruption of that in 1 Chronicles 20:5. For, first, the repetition of oregim, "weavers," is suspicious, the Hebrew being, not "weaver's beam," but the plural "weavers' beam," menor oregim. Next, Jaare is a transposition of the letters of Jair (in the Hebrew) made probably in order that the compound Jaare-oregim may obey the rules of Hebrew grammar. More important is it to notice that Lahmi is part of the word "Bethlehemite" (Hebrew, Beth-hallahmi), and might thus easily suggest to the eye of a scribe the completion of so well known a word. We must add that among the thirty Gibborim is "Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem." Whoever slew Goliath's brother would certainly attain to high rank among the heroes, but if the name Jair is right, the Elhanan there spoken of is not the person who slew Lahmi.

2 Samuel 21:21

Jonatham. He was brother to the subtle Jonadab who helped Amnon on his way to ruin. The spelling of the father's name shows how little importance we can place on the Hebrew text in the matter of names. He is called here in the Hebrew Shimei, which the Massorites have changed into Shimeah. In 2 Samuel 13:3 we have Shimeah, in 1 Samuel 16:9 Shammah, and in 1 Chronicles 2:13 Shimma.

2 Samuel 21:22

These four were born to the giant; Hebrew, were born to the Raphah; that is, belonged to the race of the Rephaim, who seem to have settled in Gath in large numbers, and to have been a fine race of men. (For their antiquity, see Genesis 14:5.) By the hand of David. Not necessarily in personal conflict, though the Hebrew in 2 Samuel 21:17 would admit of the translation that, with the aid of Abishai, David himself slew Ishbi-benob. But the glory of all that the Gibborim did belonged also to David their king.

HOMILETICS

2 Samuel 21:1-14

A story of deferred retribution.

The facts are:

1. A famine continuing for three years, and inquiry being made of the Lord by David, he is informed that it was in consequence of Saul's sin in slaying the Gibeonites.

2. David, asking of the Gibeonites what he shall do for them by way of atonement for the wrong done, is informed that they seek not gold or the life of any man of Israel, but require that seven of Saul's family should be put to death, and hung up in Gibeah of Saul.

3. David at once yields to the demand, but spares Mephibosheth in consequence of the special bond between himself and Jonathan.

4. On the seven men being put to death, Rizpah spreads out sackcloth on a rock, and keeps watch by the corpses against beasts and birds of prey till the rain falls.

5. David is told of the deed of Rizpah, and he soon after obtains the bones of Saul and Jonathan from Jabesh-Gilead, and causes the remains of the seven sons to be collected, and has the bones of Saul and Jonathan interred in the family burying place in Zelah of Benjamin. We assume that the record in this chapter refers to an earlier period in the life of David than does the narrative in the few preceding chapters, which evidently are designed to set forth the connection of David's great sin with its punishment. The story relates the incidents connected with an otherwise unrecorded sin of Saul's, and the retribution which came in due course upon his house. The varied questions and topics of interest and difficulty suggested by the narrative may be best seen and considered by taking them in their natural order.

I. PROVIDENTIAL CALLS TO THE CONSIDERATION OF FORGOTTEN SINS. Whatever physical account may be possible of the famine referred to, looked at in its relation to God's education and discipline of his ancient people, it is here to be viewed as a providential call to the nation to reflect on sins committed during the reign of Saul. The conduct of Saul was a most scandalous sin (Joshua 9:8-17). When the sin was committed we know not; probably in the latter part of his reign, when all was in confusion. His family were, it would seem from 2 Samuel 21:1, 2 Samuel 21:4-6, implicated in the deed. It is obvious that the nation had condoned the action of Saul, and for some years subsequent to his death there was no conscience in the people with respect to this great sin. It was for the purpose of arousing the public conscience and giving occasion for bringing this sin to mind that the famine was permitted to arise. Even though the famine was by natural causes, yet it was used by God for this special moral end. There is a tendency in nations especially to be unmindful of their sins, and individuals also are liable to the same danger. The eager rush of affairs and absorption of energy in new lines divert attention from the moral character of acts. The forgotten sins of men are countless. But God does not forget, and now and then events arise—calamities, personal troubles, and disagreeable consequences of former deeds—which are practically God's calls to us to remember our transgressions. The prophet no longer proclaims, but God reaches the conscience in manifold ways, and to many an easy-going soul the words will come some day, "Son, remember."

II. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN MORAL AND PHYSICAL EVIL. The mention of famine in the land, and the public sin of the late king as being related the one to the other, establishes in this instance, on the authority of God, the close connection of moral and physical evil. Whether famines do not arise where there is no special moral evil of which they are the chastisements or reminders, is not the question, and makes no difference to the fact in this case. God would have his people know that their past sins were now bearing fruit in physical form. Nor is there anything really wonderful or exceptional in the truth here established. To man, physical evil is, as a whole, the fruit of sin. Man's moral nature is in contact with the physical order by means of a material vehicle, and as his moral nature is supreme and cannot but affect, by its deterioration and wrong direction, the vehicle by which it acts, so the lesser must be disordered by the disorder of the greater. The miseries of human life would not have come had man kept his first estate, All our painful struggles in commerce and war, our diseases and poverty, are the outcome of a heart not as the heart of God. That Sodom should fall under fire, that Pharaoh should be swept into the sea, that Jerusalem should be trodden down, were but physical facts consequent on sin, bold and striking, yet not different in essence from the general connection of sin and suffering. Hence, Christ's mission to make man's physical environment forever helpful and not hurtful to him, by rendering his moral nature perfect, and therefore his whole nature in perfect adjustment to all that is.

III. THE DUTY OF SEARCHING OUT THE MORAL ELEMENTS CONNECTED WITH OUR PHYSICAL TROUBLES. The famine was a reality in the experience of every one; but it was the will of God that the people should notice its connection with national sin. They must consider its spiritual bearings; they must associate their difficulties with previous conduct. As a rule, there is an indisposition to do this. Physical law, fate, chance, almost anything, is referred to as being occasion or cause of present difficulties and sufferings, rather than personal sin. Of course, individual sin is not the cause of great public calamities, and not immediately of private sufferings. Yet we ought, as a matter of rigid thought, to trace back the physical troubles of the world, so far as man is sufferer, to the moral cause. In nations troubles are referred to the restlessness of other nations, or ignorance of political economy, or of sanitary laws, or decaying commerce; but we should go deeper, and see what pride and arrogance and defiant tone may have done to inflame other nations, and what sinful neglect in spending money on wars rather than on instruction of the people. In personal life we should search and see to what extent failures in business, in health, and enterprise are connected with persistent violation of some of the primary laws which God has given for our guidance.

IV. MISSING CLUES TO THE SOLUTION OF DIFFICULTIES. There are evident difficulties connected with this narrative which press upon the ordinary reader at once. The demand for seven lives, and the yielding to the demand, both perplex us. The pressure of a famine on a whole people, and the use of that famine for purposes of chastisement for a sin of years past, do not lessen the perplexity. Apart from this narrative, we know nothing of any act done by Saul toward the Gibeonites. Now, if instead of this abrupt declaration of the existence of a national sin, and of the retribution for it in the terrible form of seven deaths, we were told of the precise circumstances under which Saul violated the national compact of Joshua 9:15-17, we should then certainly see the wisdom and appropriateness of the famine to arouse the national conscience, and the justice of the terrible retribution on Saul's family. The clue here missing because of the incompleteness of history is but an instance of what constantly occurs. In the Bible there are many facts which doubtless would lose all their strangeness and seeming discrepancies and moral difficulties did we but know the details left unrecorded. Historians are guided by this remembrance of missing clues in their estimate of men and characters. In our judgment on conduct we often fail or are in suspense because a clue to some strange feature is lacking. Especially are we at present lacking the clue to many events in the government of God. When we know more perfectly, we shall see that to be just which is now perplexing, and, as a rule, we may say that our ignorance of hidden facts ought to count in our judgments on revealed truth as much as our knowledge.

V. GOD HAS IN RESERVE AGENCIES FOR BRINGING THE FACT OF SIN STRAIGHT HOME TO THE CONSCIENCE. The famine aroused conscience. The men of Gibeon were God's agents in bringing all the facts home to the conscience of the nation. The confusion and change of government in the last days of Saul and early years of David, before he left Hebron to be king over the entire people, will explain why the Gibeonites did not press their suit earlier. Although the sin was so grievous, it must have appeared to any who now and then reflected on it as though it were being passed by, and that no means were at hand to bring the new king face to face with the wrong done. But at the proper Reason God found means for calling forth the Gibeonites to declare the full facts and to bring the sin home to the national conscience. They proved what the famine only indicated. According to Scripture, all sin is to be brought home to the sinner. The time may pass, and means for so doing may seem to be lacking; but the universe is God's, and he has in reserve agencies by which the guilty will be found out and the claims of a violated law will be vindicated (Ecclesiastes 11:9).

VI. THE PRINCIPLE OF RETRIBUTION IN HUMAN AFFAIRS. The charge of the Gibeonites against the house of Saul was that he, contrary to the solemn compact with Israel, had cruelly slain their countrymen, and the demand was that for this wicked violation of a treaty the lives of his sons should be forfeited. Here was an appearance of hardship on the sons; but, had we the missing clue, it would probably appear that they were parties to the deed. The deed, however, was national, being wrought by the representative of the nation; and, acting on the usage of the age in such matters, the Gibeonites demanded that the lives of the representatives of the nation of that date should be sacrificed. The principle was that of lex talionis—"an eye for an eye." We are not called upon to pronounce a harsh judgment on their demand. It may, however, be said, in extenuation, that if Saul and his family were the real murderers of the Gibeonites, there was no more wrong in their execution than in the execution of any modern murderer. The principle on which the claim proceeded was that of all criminal law in relation to human life. The Law of Moses was based on it. "An eye for an eye" (Exodus 21:24) is but a statement of the principle that runs through all the Mosaic laws (cf. Le Joshua 24:17-22). Ox for ox, sheep for sheep, life for life,—this was the form of the old jurisprudence. It is also, so far as circumstances permit, the principle of modern law and modern punishment. According to a man's crime so is his punishment. With us the loss of liberty is the form punishment takes, but its degree depends on the degree of the crime. Proportion is kept in view in every sentence. The words of our Saviour (Matthew 5:38, Matthew 5:39) are not intended to set aside the administration of justice by the state, but to indicate that the personal feeling of his followers is not to be vindictive. In the spiritual kingdom all are brethren beloved, and love is to be the dominant feeling. Moses was speaking of what "judges," administrators of the public laws of the state, should do (Deuteronomy 19:16-21), and in the discharge of official duty they were to be impartial, and not pity or spare. Christ speaks of what his individual followers should do and be in their personal relations to brethren in the new spiritual kingdom; they must not imagine, with the Pharisees, that a principle of action designed for "judges" in a state is to be transferred to their private relationships in his kingdom. Moses distinguishes between the rigid execution of justice on crime and the individual cherishing of tender and pitiful feelings (Deuteronomy 19:16-21; cf. Exodus 22:21-27). The rules for a state are not to be confounded with rules for individual life.

VII. THE DUE MAINTENANCE OF NATIONAL HONOUR. The honour of Israel was at stake in the deed of Saul. Kings compromise the nation. David was quick to see that the wrong done in cruelly violating a national treaty must be atoned. Apart from the form of atonement in this case, the principle recognized is most important. When nations lose faith in nations, trouble must come in terrible form. A nation's word should be sacred, and in relation to the weakest and most barbarous as to the mightiest and most civilized. The methods adopted for upholding national honour will vary with the conceptions of what that honour is. To keep faith, to be courteous and considerate to the weak, to allow of no unjust concessions to the great because they are great, and to promote peace and righteousness in all relationships,—this is that in which honour lies. There is no true glory, no maintenance of honour, in creating wars, in mere military triumphs, or in vaunting of greatness.

VIII. THE SACREDNESS OF PROMISES MADE BY RELIGIOUS MEN. The promises made to the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua differed from all engagements entered into by other people, in that they were the promises of the chosen race, whose conduct towards others was based on higher principles. David felt at once that it would be shocking to allow heathen men to imagine that the servants of the covenant keeping God could break their vows. The possession Of a religious character or the adoption of religious professions lends a special sacredness to our engagements. It is no wonderful thing if one who believes in no eternal morality easily sets aside what others hold to be binding engagements; and a careless man of the world, whose religion is only a name, may not excite surprise if he sometimes violates his word or does a mean action. But to be a follower of Christ lends an unusual sanctity to everything in life. The Apostle Peter has suggested "what manner of persons" we ought to be by virtue of our holy profession, and our Lord himself expects more of his followers than can be looked for from others (Matthew 5:43-48). We should not forget that we may compromise the honour of our Lord in our words and deeds.

IX. THE CONFLICTING OF PUBLIC OBLIGATIONS WITH PRIVATE ENGAGEMENTS. David, acting according to the light and usage of the age, felt bound to give up the male members of the house of Saul; but he had made a personal promise to Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:14 17; 1 Samuel 23:16-18) to spare the members of his house, and had especially taken Mephibosheth under his care out of love for his father. Here, then, was a conflict of opposing obligations. The solution was obvious. He had kept his promise, and had not, as kings too often were accustomed to do with the families of rivals, cut off the house of Saul on ascending the throne. If he gave them up now it was not a personal act, but an act in the administration of law. But, further, he seems to have regarded the oath to Jonathan as relating to his own immediate descendants, and hence he spared Mephibosheth in order to keep his kingly promise while making acknowledgment for the sin of Saul. Rulers are bound to be true to national obligations, though at the cost of much feeling, and sometimes it will require more than mere casuistry to be true to private sentiments and obligations while discharging public duties. Self is never to be degraded in public affairs. If in nation or Church the rulers cannot conscientiously discharge obligations involved in the office, the proper alternative is to vacate the office.

X. THE HONOUR DUE TO MORTAL REMAINS. The conduct of Rizpah in keeping off birds and beasts of prey from the corpses, and of David in collecting the bones and placing the remains of Saul and Jonathan in their family burying place, was worthy of their character; it indicated a refined feeling, a reverence for the dead, a deep sense of the sanctity of all that pertains to human life and human destiny. The mortal remains of friend and foe are touchingly suggestive of the greatness and littleness of man, of his checkered lot on earth, and the strange unknown experience on which his higher nature enters while his perishable remains abide with us.

2 Samuel 21:15-22

The difficulty of establishing the kingdom of God in the world.

The facts are:

1. In one of his wars with the Philistines David waxes faint in personal conflict with a giant, and is succoured by the intervention of Abishai.

2. Observing the failing strength of the king, his people deprecate his going forth with them to battle, lest by personal failure he should be a means of general discouragement.

3. On each of three subsequent occasions of battle, a Philistine giant is slain respectively by Sibbechai, Elhanan, and Jonathan son of Shimeah. It is of no moment as to what precise period in David's life the battles with the Philistines belonged. The first impression on reading the narrative and, at the same time, remembering the promise that Israel was to subdue and hold the land, is the tediousness of the process by which the complete subjugation of the heathen was effected, and the imperfection of the result even at this late period in the national history. Israel all along had represented the principles of true religion as against idolatry, and the special object of David's wars was to render the cause he represented triumphant over all enemies, and so establish the theocracy on an enduring basis. The difficulties of achieving the end in view are suggested by the necessity of these successive conflicts with a most active and stubborn foe. In general outline we have here an analogy with the work which the Christian Church has in hand, and the difficulties attending its speedy and complete accomplishment. The difficulties attending the subjugation of all opposing forces to the kingdom of Christ, and so permanently establishing a reign of righteousness in the earth, may be indicated as follows.

I. THERE IS A WIDESPREAD AND TENACIOUS PREOCCUPATION BY EVIL. The Philistines were a numerous people, spread over a considerable area of country, bold, resolute, powerful, and therefore very tenacious of their possessions and of their local influence. They did not always wait to be subdued, but became active in their assaults on the kingdom ordained of God. As compared with them, the Israelites were not so hardy, so desperate in fighting, and so strongly influenced by the thought of ancient pre-eminence. It is not surprising that the conflict should extend through long and weary years. And is there not some resemblance here to modern facts? The earth is preoccupied by forces of evil—numerous, strong, tenacious. The power of sin has laid hold of every form of human activity, and has entered into all the public and private ramifications of life. Our preachers at home and missionaries abroad have to face evils hoary with age, and yet strong with the vigour of youth. Nothing is more conspicuous to Christian workers than the terrible grip with which sin holds the human soul to prevent the enthronement there of the King of righteousness.

II. THERE ARE MANY IMPERFECTIONS INHERITED WITH THE WORK WE HAVE TO DO. David's people had not been as true to God as was required of Israel by the great Law laid down for their guidance; and much of this imperfection of character was an inheritance from the generations which had also failed to fulfil the moral conditions of conquest as laid down by the great lawgiver (Deuteronomy 28:1, Deuteronomy 28:7-10, Deuteronomy 28:15, Deuteronomy 28:25). Because Israel of the past had not been fully faithful, Israel of David's age found many conquests unachieved. Failure in moral character ensured to posterity an inheritance of difficulty and sorrow. The work which a thoroughly righteous people could have accomplished remains unfinished, with the additional difficulties created by unfaithfulness. Unfortunately, the Christian Church has too closely followed the example of ancient Israel. There has been, in ages past, sometimes a deviation from the principles laid down by Christ for the casting out of sin and the subjugation of the world to himself, and sometimes a very inefficient application of his instructions. Instead of pure truth, love, faith, holiness of life, prayer, and unity of spirit, there has been a blending of the truth with human errors, and a manifestation of a worldly, time serving spirit. This age inherits not only the honour of subduing the world to Christ, but the results of the imperfect work done in days gone by. Our own spirit is not so pure and fit as it otherwise would have been; unfinished undertakings are on hand, and the prejudice created by the sins and errors of the Church has to be overcome in addition to the ordinary power of sin.

III. THERE ARE OCCASIONALLY PRESENT GIANT FORMS OF EVIL WHICH, BESIDES BEING ACTIVE CAUSES, TEND ALSO INDIRECTLY TO EMBARRASS THOSE WHO OPPOSE THEM. Philistine giants not only had stout arms wherewith to slay, but their proportions, striking on the senses of men, had the effect of rendering the existing means of resistance and attack less easily available. Giant forms excite fear and awaken self-distrust. The indirect influence on good men of great evils is helpful to the perpetuation of those evils. The monstrous forms of idolatry in vast populations, the magnitude of the influence of Mohammed, the terrible hold of intemperance on multitudes, and the greatness of evil as a whole in the world, when looked at with ordinary eyes, at once bring on a temporary paralysis of energy. Many a brave heart faints in contemplation of the dreadful forms of evil that afflict the world. The Apostle Paul felt this when he reminded his friends to "put on the whole armour of God" (Ephesians 6:11-13), seeing that they had to wrestle with "principalities and powers."

IV. THE VARIABLE CHARACTER OF PROFESSING CHRISTIANS INJURIOUSLY AFFECTS THE PROGRESS OF THEIR ENTERPRISE. There was a day when David, fresh, young, pure, full of faith and courage, without after thoughts concerning himself, could calmly face and slay a giant (1 Samuel 17:39 47). But David, passing the meridian of life, sensible of failing powers, and moreover not free from the remembrance of sad departures from his God, could not perform exploits as of old, and was even in need of succour from another in the field. A true picture is this of many in the Christian warfare. They do not retain all the old vigour. The freshness and power of godliness fail. Were every Christian to grow in spiritual strength from first to last, were the spiritual forces in our religious life to gain momentum the longer we live, and none to become weak, what a mighty army would the Church become! The difficulty of subduing the world to Christ lies very much in the variability of spiritual strength in those who form the Church. Many are feeble who ought to be strong.

V. THE NEGATIVE INFLUENCE OF LEADERS IS WIDESPREAD. The friends of David were wise in wishing him not to go out to battle. The negative effect of his weakness would be so much positive advantage to the Philistines. If he could no longer positively inspire by his courage and exploits, that very circumstance would tell against the cause he and they had at heart. Leaders have great power by virtue of their position; and when, by any failure of character, or wisdom, or knowledge, any inaptitude for the special circumstances of the time, they dishearten those who expect example and guidance, they really, by such negation of good, add to the difficulties of the situation, and unwittingly strengthen the position of evil in the world. It would form an instructive study to trace in history the connection of the slow progress of Christianity with the negative influence of its leaders.

HOMILIES BY B. DALE

2 Samuel 21:1-14

(GIBEON, GIBEAH.)

Famine.

"And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year" (2 Samuel 21:1). [Summary of the remaining portion (or appendix) of this book:

1. The famine.

2. Victorious acts in wars with the Philistines (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

3. David's song of thanksgiving (looking backward); 2 Samuel 22:1-51

4. 2 Samuel His last prophetic words (looking forward); 2 Samuel 23:1-7. These two lyrical and prophetic productions of David, the ripest spiritual fruit of his life, form a worthy conclusion to his reign (Keil).

5. List of his heroes (forming, with 2, an historical framework for 3 and 4); 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

6. The pestilence (with the famine, "two Divine punishments inflicted upon Israel, with the expiation of the sins that occasioned them"); 2 Samuel 24:1-25.] This famine took place after Mephibosheth was brought to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 24:7; 2 Samuel 9:1-13.); and, perhaps, about seventeen years after the death of Saul (2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 9:12). It is mentioned here "as a practical illustration, on the one hand, of the manner in which Jehovah visited upon the house of Saul, even after the death of Saul himself, a crime which had been committed by him; and, on the other hand, of the way in which, even in such a case as this, when David had been obliged to sacrifice the descendants of Saul to expiate the guilt of their father, he showed his tenderness towards him by the honourable burial of their bones." After long prosperity and plenty there came adversity and destitution. No rain "out of heaven" (2 Samuel 24:10) for three successive years! What a scene of general, intense, and increasing distress must have been witnessed (Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 47:13; Ruth 1:1; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Kings 6:25; 2 Kings 25:5; Jeremiah 14:1-10; Acts 11:28). Nor has it been unknown in modern times. Consider it (with its attendant circumstances) as—

I. CALLING FOR SPECIAL INQUIRY. "And David sought the face of Jehovah" (2 Samuel 24:1), equivalent to "inquired of Jehovah" (2 Samuel 5:19), by means of the Urim and Thummim through the high priest (the last recorded instance of this method of ascertaining the Divine will, henceforth more fully revealed through the prophets); urged by the cry of distress, especially among "the poorest sort of the people of the land" (2 Kings 24:14), on whom the famine pressed with peculiar severity.

1. The misery of the poor and afflicted produces in every faithful ruler and in every right hearted man a feeling of compassionate and anxious concern.

2. Physical calamities are often due to moral causes; they follow human disobedience to moral laws; being in some cases manifestly connected with such disobedience (as when famine follows desolating wars, agricultural neglect, etc.), in others, however, not directly and apparently so connected. This connection is evident

3. These causes should be diligently searched out, by proper means—observation, consideration, prayer—in order to their removal. "It is not superstition, but rather the highest piety and the highest philosophy, which leads a people, under such a visitation as that of famine, to turn to Jehovah, saying, 'Show us wherefore thou contendest with us '" (W.M. Taylor). "Let us search and try our ways," etc. (Lamentations 3:40; 1 Samuel 4:3).

II. LEADING TO UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY. "And Jehovah said (through the oracle), Concerning Saul and concerning the blood guilty house, because he slew the Gibeonires." A crime which had been committed, not recently, but twenty or even thirty years before, was brought to remembrance, and set before the national conscience, quickened in its sensibility by the experience of affliction. "David must hitherto have ruled in a very irreproachable manner to render it necessary to go further back to find a cause for the calamity" (Ewald).

1. Its iniquity was great. An attempt was made to exterminate (consume and destroy, 2 Samuel 24:5) a poor, dependent, and helpless people; of the original inhabitants of the laud (2 Samuel 24:2; Joshua 9:3-27), spared by solemn oath, devoted to the service of the sanctuary (now at Gibeon), for more than four hundred years dwelling peaceably among "the children of Israel and Judah" (Joshua 9:17; 2 Samuel 4:3), professing the same faith, and guilty of no offence; many of them being ruthlessly slain, others escaping by flight.

2. Its effects were still felt by the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Nethinim, bondmen), who survived, in bitter grief, popular odium, heavier servitude. Their cries "entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth "(James 5:4).

3. Its guilt was unacknowledged and unexpiated; the wrong unredressed, the sin unrepented of, and even ignored and well nigh forgotten. "It would seem that Saul viewed their possessions with a covetous eye, as affording him the means of rewarding his adherents (1 Samuel 22:7) and of enriching his family; and hence, on some pretence or other, or without any pretence, he slew large numbers of them, and doubtless seized their possessions. It is said that he did this in his zeal for Israel and Judah, and this cannot be explained but on the supposition that the deed was done in order to give the tribes possession of the reserved territories of the Gibeonites. And there is no doubt this would be, as it was designed, a popular and acceptable act (Joshua 9:18). Saul's own family must have been active in this cruel wrong, and must have had a good share of the spoil; for we find them all, when reduced to a private station, much better off in their worldly circumstances than can else be accounted for" (Kitto). Here lay the secret of the famine, which was interpreted as a sign of Divine wrath.

"He turneth a fruitful land into a salt marsh,

Because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein."

(Psalms 107:34.)

III. INVOLVING IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES; not merely that sin and crime are followed by Divine punishment, and the wrongs of the poor and needy avenged (1 Samuel 30:15-17), but also that men are dealt with by God (in the way of chastisement) as communities, as well as separate souls (Ezekiel 18:2-4).

1. The guilt incurred by individuals is participated in by the nation to which they belong when their wrongdoing is connived at, profited by, and not repudiated; and especially when the wrongdoer is its recognized representative.

2. The infliction of suffering on a whole nation, on account of the sins of one or more persons therein, is often needful for the vindication of public justice, the reparation of wrong doing, and the general welfare.

3. Although a nation may be exempted for a season, through the forbearance of God, from the chastisement due to sin, it does not escape altogether, but is surely called to account in this world. "Nations as nations will have no existence in another world, and therefore. they must look for retribution in this" (Wordsworth). "I can perceive in the story a recognition of the continuance of a nation's life, of its obligations, of its sins from age, to age. All national morality, nay, the meaning and possibility of history, depends upon this truth, the sense of which is, I fear, very weak in our day" (Maurice). "Time does not wear out the guilt of sin, nor can we build hopes of impunity on the delay of judgments" (Matthew Henry).

IV. EVOKING RECOGNIZED OBLIGATION. "And the king called the Gibeonites, and said … What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement [expiation, satisfaction, means of reconciliation], that ye may bless [and no more curse] the inheritance of Jehovah?" (2 Samuel 24:2, 2 Samuel 24:3); "What ye say, I will do for you" (2 Samuel 24:5). Whilst acknowledging the national wrong, he also acknowledged the national obligation, and expressed his purpose:

1. To redress their grievance, satisfy their claim for justice, and secure their favour and intercession.

2. To respect the justice of God (by whom their cause was manifestly maintained), so that prayer might be heard, and the famine removed. Unless right is done, prayer is vain (Psalms 66:18).

3. And to do whatever might be possible and necessary for these ends. "The land must expiate the king's wrong. This is rooted in the idea of the solidarity of the people, and the theocratic king as representative of God's people, whence comes solidarity of guilt between king and people" (Erdmann). David herein acted wisely and in a theocratic spirit.

V. REQUIRING ADEQUATE SATISFACTION. (2 Samuel 24:7-9.) The expiation was made by the crucifixion of the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Merab (Hebrew, Michal), "whom she bare to Adriel," according to the demand and by "the hands of the Gibeonites" (verse. 9), under the authority and sanction of the king (and doubtless with the approval of the nation). The demand:

1. Could be satisfied with nothing short of this. "We will have no silver nor gold," etc. (2 Samuel 24:4); no private compensation could atone for such a public crime and wilful sin "before the Lord."

2. Accorded with the requirements of the Law (Genesis 9:5, Genesis 9:6; Numbers 35:31); or at least with the custom of blood vengeance, and the then prevalent ideas of justice. If (as is probable, 2 Samuel 24:1) the hands of the sons of Saul were stained with blood, the Law demanded their death; if they were personally guiltless, they suffered from their intimate relationship to the murderer, as a "vicarious sacrifice," and for the benefit of the nation. "To understand this procedure, we must bear in mind the ancient Oriental ideas of the solidarity of the family, strict retaliation and blood revenge—ideas that, with some limitation, remained in force in the legislation of the old covenant" (Kurtz).

3. Was restricted by merciful consideration for the assuredly innocent and steadfast fidelity to a solemn engagement. "And the king spared Mephibosheth," etc. (2 Samuel 24:7). "The obscurities of this narrative probably may never be entirely cleared up. One thing, however, is certain—these seven descendants of Saul were not pretenders to the crown; and David cannot be suspected of having embraced such an opportunity to put them out of the way. Neither is it to be supposed that David delivered up the innocent contrary to the Law (Deuteronomy 24:16). They were, therefore, delivered up to the avengers of blood and punished with death, not on account of the crimes of Saul, but for the murders which they themselves, with the connivance of Saul, had committed on the Gibeonites, and for which they had hitherto remained unpunished" (Jahn, 'Heb. Com.,' 32.).

VI. AFFORDING SALUTARY INSTRUCTION (whether the victims be regarded as having actually taken part in the crime or not). "As seen by the people, the execution of Saul's sons (who were not charged with being in any way personally accessory to their father's crime) was a judicial act of retribution; but this aspect of the transaction was only an 'accommodation' to the current ideas of the age. Viewed in its essential character as sanctioned by God, it was a didactic act, designed to teach the guilt of sin" (Kirkpatrick); to produce repentance, and prevent its recurrence. That melancholy spectacle of a sevenfold crucifixion "on the mountain before Jehovah," in "Gibeah of Saul" (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 22:6), declared:

1. The exceeding culpability of unrighteous zeal, of the wanton violation of sacred pledges, of the unjust taking away of human life. "Let us here learn the danger of trifling with oaths and solemn engagements. Four hundred years had elapsed since the treaty made with the Gibeonites; and yet in the sight of God it was as sacred as ever; so that he who presumed to infringe it drew down a severe judgment on the whole nation" (Lindsay).

2. The inevitable, rigorous, and impartial execution of Divine justice. Princes are not above its correction, nor bondsmen below its protection.

3. The far reaching consequences of transgression; to the children and children's children of the transgressor. "The evident intention of God in ordering the death of so many of Saul's family" (which, however, is not expressly stated) "was to give public attestation of the abhorrence of Saul's perfidy and cruelty, and to strike into the hearts of his successors on the throne a salutary dread of committing similar offences. The death of these seven persons, therefore, is not to be regarded as a punishment inflicted upon them for personal offences, even though they might have a share in their father's persecution of the Gibeonites, but an act commanded by God in virtue of his sovereign rights over the lives of all men, to teach princes moderation and equity, and to prevent the perpetration of enormous crimes, which are inconsistent with the welfare of the civil government as well as incompatible with the principles of true religion" (Chandler).

VII. FOLLOWED BY MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE. "And after that [the expiation] God was entreated for the land" (2 Samuel 24:14). "Long forgotten sin had been brought to mind and acknowledged and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness had been touchingly displayed; a long forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and after that God was entreated for the land. The generous heavens poured down their showers, the languishing life of field and vineyard revived, and the earth was clothed with beauty and teemed with fruitfulness again. There was one more proof of the everlasting truth, 'Righteousness exalteth a nation'" (C. Vince).—D.

2 Samuel 21:2

(GIBEON.)

Unrighteous zeal.

"And Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah." When his attempt was made is not certainly known; possibly soon after his sparing Amalek (and to make amends for it); or at the time of his massacre of the priests at Nob (where the Gibeonites then assisted the Levites, before the removal of the altar and tabernacle to Gibeon); more probably at the time of his expulsion of the necromancers and soothsayers (1 Samuel 28:3); being "one of those acts of passionate zeal in which he tried to drown the remorse of his later years." His zeal (like that of others in later times) was:

1. Religious and patriotic in intention and profession; to purge the land of the remnant of the heathen (Deuteronomy 7:2, Deuteronomy 7:24), to honour God, to benefit his people. Good intentions are not enough to constitute good actions.

2. Blind and wilful, "not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2; Acts 26:9).

3. Irreverent and ungodly; in violation of a solemn compact in the name of God, and against those who were consecrated to his service. His humblest ministers should be held in respect.

4. Unjust and ungrateful; for they bad done no wrong, but had performed useful service.

5. Proud. and tyrannical; regarding them with contempt, and taking advantage of their defenceless condition (1 Samuel 22:6-19).

6. Cruel and murderous.

7. Selfish and covetous; to appropriate the spoil to his family and adherents.

8. Popular and acceptable. The people never forgave the crafty manner in which they had originally been induced to spare their lives, looked upon them with suspicion and dislike, and readily sympathized with Saul's attack upon them (as they did not in the case of the priests at Nob), and consented to share the plunder.

9. Restrained and unsuccessful. Some survived. It is seldom that persecutors are able to do all they endeavour to do.

10. Infectious and disastrous, in its influence on his family and the nation.—D.

2 Samuel 21:8-14

(GIBEAH.)

Rizpah.

"And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth," etc. (verse. 10; 2 Samuel 3:7). The days of harvest had come; but not the fruits of harvest. The heaven was brass, and the earth iron (Deuteronomy 28:23). The misery of famine was accompanied by a sense of Divine wrath on account of sin. The guilt of blood was on the land, and especially on "the house of Saul," for the destruction of the Gibeonites. Nothing would satisfy the demand of the sorrowing bondservants of Israel, or (as it was believed) restore Divine favour, save the death of seven men of Saul's family (John 11:50). These, therefore, two of them being sons of Rizpah, were taken and crucified (Numbers 25:4) at once on the hill before Jehovah, and their remains left unburied, a prey to ravenous birds and beasts. And in her maternal grief and affection, spreading sackcloth on the rocky floor (either for her bed or as a rough tent to shelter her), she watched them there, under the scorching sun by day and the drenching dews by night, and protected them from molestation until they received an honourable burial. "They were accounted as accursed and unworthy of the burial of dogs; but she would not cast them out of her heart. The more they were shunned by others, the more she clung to them; and the deeper the disgrace, the deeper her compassion." Observe—

I. HER SPECIAL DESIRE AND AIM; for it was more than an instinct of natural affection that prompted her watching near the dead. Regarding their unburied condition as one of ignominy (Psalms 79:2), and perhaps as, in some way, affecting their happiness in the future life, she was desirous of their being honourably interred. It was deemed necessary (unlike what was required in other instances, Deuteronomy 21:22, Deuteronomy 21:23) that they should remain exposed before Jehovah till assurance was given, by the fall of rain, that the satisfaction was accepted. If she could not do what she would, she would do what she could (Mark 14:8); and, by preventing further injury, render the fulfilment of her desire possible. Her intense maternal love led her to seek the safety and honour of the dead; well may a similar love lead others to seek the safety and honour of the living!

II. HER EXTRAORDINARY DEVOTION; as it appears in:

1. Her unquenchable attachment. Others might despise them as criminals, but she could only regard them and cling to them as children (So 2 Samuel 8:7).

2. Her humble submission and resignation to what was unavoidable. "Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it" (Jeremiah 10:19).

3. Her entire self-surrender and self-sacrifice. If she could not remove their reproach, she could share it with them.

4. Her patient endurance of suffering; through long and lonely nights, and dark and dreary days.

5. Her ceaseless vigilance, zeal, and courage.

6. Her unwearied, faithful, hopeful perseverance. "The emotions in woman act as powerful motives on the will, and, when strongly called forth, produce a degree of vigour and determination which is very surprising to those who have usually seen the individual under a different aspect" (Carpenter).

7. Her importunate prayers for the fulfilment of her desire. "She refrained from all violent and illegal methods of gaining her object. She used no force or stratagem to secure for her beloved ones a safe and decent burial; but waited watchfully, meekly, and humbly, for the time appointed by the Lord. Neither did she give way to despondency, and quit the melancholy scene in wild despair; but did what she could to alleviate the dreadful evil. Though her heart was broken and her grief too bitter for utterance, she still hoped in God, still looked for his merciful interposition, and waited day after day, and night after night until the rain of heaven came down and released the bodies of her beloved ones" (Hughes, 'Female Characters of Holy Writ').

III. HER EFFECTUAL ENDEAVOUR. At length (how long is not stated) "showers of blessing" fell, and her wish was accomplished. Loving, faithful, devoted service:

1. Exerts an undesigned influence on others. "And it was told David," etc. (2 Samuel 21:11).

2. Fails not, sooner or later, to receive its due reward.

3. Is followed by effects greater than any that were desired or expected. "David was pleased with her tenderness, and was excited by her example to do honour to the bodies of Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 31:12, 1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 2:5-7), and thus showed that he did not war with the dead, and that his recent act in delivering up Saul's sons was not one of personal revenge, but of public justice" (Wordsworth). She did more than she intended;. and what she did is to this day "told for a memorial for her."—D.

2 Samuel 21:15-22

(1 Chronicles 20:4-8).—

Giants: a sermon to young people.

"As for these four, they were born to the giant (Ha-rapha) in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants" (2 Samuel 21:22). Of the age before the Flood it is said, "In those days were the giants [Nephilim, men of lofty stature and ferocious character] upon the earth" (Genesis 6:4; Numbers 13:32, Numbers 13:33). At a subsequent period there was a like formidable race called Rephaim (Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20), to which belonged the Emim, the Zuzim (Zamzummim), and the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10, Deuteronomy 2:11, Deuteronomy 2:20, Deuteronomy 2:21; Deuteronomy 9:2). One of this race, of extraordinary stature, was Og, King of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:10; Joshua 12:4). Others, more recently, dwelt among the Philistines (Joshua 11:12), like Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4-11) and the four here mentioned, who were either sons of a celebrated giant (the Rapha) or descendants of the original founder of the tribe. They were all idolaters and formidable opponents of Israel. And there are giants among us now. I do not mean such ogres as children read of in story books; or such harmless persons of exceptional height as are sometimes seen; or even such as appear in any bodily form; but, nevertheless, real, powerful, and terrible giants, aptly represented by "these four" slain by David and his heroes.

I. THEY BELONG TO ONE FAMILY. It is:

1. An ancient family; as old as sin, and came into the world with it. It survived the Deluge; spread, among the dispersed nations, over all the earth; had one of its principal settlements in Canaan; and, amidst all the conflicts and changes of mankind, has continued to this day.

2. An ungodly family. None of its members believe in the living and true God or obey his commandments; yet they have many gods (1 Samuel 17:43).

3. A selfish family. They all seek their own, and often contend against one another.

4. A numerous, mighty, and destructive family. They have their walled cities and strongholds, defy the armies of the living God (2 Samuel 21:21), and sometimes terrify them (1 Samuel 17:1-11) by their imposing appearance and evil doings (Psalms 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-18). What is this giant Family? You have doubtless already discovered that it consists of sins, vices, and wickedness of all kinds.

II. THEY ARE KNOWN BY VARIOUS NAMES. Here are long lists of them (Matthew 15:19; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9). But notice especially these four:

III. THEY MUST BE FOUGHT AGAINST AND OVERCOME; in their onslaught upon ourselves and others. If we do not conquer them, they will conquer us. And we can conquer them only by:

1. Faithfully following "the Captain of our salvation;" obeying his commands, and depending on his might.

2. Incessant vigilance and firm resistance.

3. Ever renewed and courageous effort.

4. Confident assurance of victory, inspired by many promises, the presence of our Divine Leader, and the success which has been already achieved. "These conflicts of David's servants are typical of the spiritual combats of Christ's soldiers with the family of the evil one" (Wordsworth). "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Samuel 13:1-7; 1 Samuel 14:1-15).—D.

2 Samuel 21:17

The lamp of Israel.

In the view of his followers, David was the lamp (Hebrew, naer) or glory of the nation, and the continuance of his life and reign was essential to its welfare. This is a striking testimony to their estimate of his personal character and faithful and prosperous rule. Similar language is used of others. "He was the lamp that burueth and shineth," etc. (John 5:35; John 8:12; Matthew 5:14). And every faithful servant of God is "a light giver in the world" (Philippians 2:15). Such a lamp is—

I. KINDLED BY THE GRACIOUS HAND OF GOD, the true Glory of Israel, the Father of lights, the Fountain of life and light (Psalms 36:9). None are so ready to recognize dependence upon God for life and all good as the devout man himself.

"Thou art my Lamp, O Jehovah,

And Jehovah enlightens my darkness."

(2 Samuel 22:29;Psalms 18:28; Psalms 27:1.)

"David's regal life and actions were the light which the grace of God had kindled for the benefit of Israel." Whatever his gifts, his graces, his position, his success, they am all humbly, gratefully, and constantly ascribed to their Divine Source by the faithful servant; and, whilst we admire him, we should "glorify God in him" (1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 1:24).

II. CONDUCTIVE TO THE REAL WELFARE OF MEN. "Neither do men light a lamp and put it under the bushel," etc. (Matthew 5:15).

"Heaven does with us as we with torches do,

Not light them for themselves," etc.

('Measure for Measure,' act 1 sc. 1.)

By his counsel, his example, his endeavours, his prayers, he renders invaluable service to others in directing them in perplexity and peril; preserving them from error and evil; stimulating them to effort and conflict; and contributing to their safety, prosperity, and lasting happiness.

III. EXPOSED TO IMMINENT DANGER OF EXTINCTION. The light is liable to be quenched. Life is always precarious; the life of some peculiarly so; like that of David when he went down into the conflict (2 Samuel 21:15, 2 Samuel 21:16; 2 Samuel 5:17-25), waxed faint, and was set upon by the giant Ishbi-benob, in a new suit of armour. And it is not only natural life, but also moral and spiritual life, that is beset by danger. The part which a good man takes in the conflict between good and evil attracts the attention of his adversaries, makes him a special object of attack (1 Kings 22:31); his efforts are exhausting, and his zeal is apt to consume him (Psalms 69:9; Psalms 119:139). "Ernestus, Duke of Luneburg, caused a burning lamp to be stamped on his coin, with these four letters, A.S.M.C by which was meant, Aliis serviens meipsum contero, 'By giving light to others I consume myself'" (Spencer).

IV. WORTHY OF BEING HIGHLY ESTEEMED, carefully sustained, and zealously guarded. "And Abishai succoured him, and he [Abishai, or perhaps David, 2 Samuel 21:22] killed him," etc. The preserving care of God (2 Samuel 8:14) does not render needless human sympathy, assistance, prudence, resolution (2 Samuel 18:3). He who freely spends his strength and risks his life for others ought to be esteemed, considered, defended, and helped by them (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; Hebrews 13:17); and, herein, they also benefit themselves and the whole community. "If any man serve me, let him follow me," etc. (John 12:26-28).—D.

HOMILIES BY G.WOOD

2 Samuel 21:1

Seeking God's face.

"David sought the face of the Lord" (Revised Version). The Authorized Version has here "inquired of the Lord," as in 2 Samuel 2:1, where it is the translation of a different phrase. Doubtless the substantial meaning is the same. But, as with words, so with phrases, two are seldom wholly synonymous; and the differences are often instructive, suggesting each its own train of thought. So it is with these two phrases. That in the Revised Version leads us to think of—

I. THE NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP. It is seeking the face of God, to realize his presence, behold his glory, be made sensible of his majesty, holiness and loving kindness. Or, in greater strictness, this may he said to be preliminary to the worship of him. We come into his presence that we may present to him our adoration, praises, confessions, and prayers. We must not be content with coming into his house, seeing his servants, joining in ceremonies—leaving, as it were, our names and messages, engaging and depending on the intercession of those who are supposed to approach nearer to him. Our heavenly Father does not keep such state as to exclude or repel any one from coming near to him. He wishes to see his children, to smile upon them, to embrace them, to speak with them. Any methods of worship which keep men at a distance from him are contrary to his will. The mediation of Christ is not a substitute for intimate converse with God, but a means of attaining it, as we may see by considering—

II. THE POSSIBILITY AND WARRANT OF SUCH WORSHIP. There are, doubtless, difficulties in the way of the approach of men to God. These are removed pre-eminently by the mediation of our Lord.

1. Ignorance separates from God; Christ makes him known. By his teaching, by his own character, and by the Spirit he imparts to his disciples. "In the face of Jesus Christ" we see that of the Father (2 Corinthians 4:6; John 14:8, John 14:9).

2. Sin separates from God; Christ delivers from sin.

3. Not only the putting away of sin, but certain positive dispositions are necessary in seeking the face of God. Christ has secured and he imparts these. To his disciples is given "the Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15), and thus they come to God with confidence, affection, and self-surrender. Thus Christ is "the Way" by which we "come to the Father" (John 14:6). "Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18).

III. THE NECESSITY OF SUCH WORSHIP. We must seek God's face if we would behold it with joy. He sometimes surprises men by sudden and unexpected manifestations of himself to them; but this will ordinarily be to those who love him and are in the habit of seeking him (see John 14:19-23). Hence the exhortations, "Seek the Lord, … seek his face evermore" (Psalms 105:4); "Seek, and ye shall find".

IV. GODLY MEN ARE DISTINGUISHED BY SUCH WORSHIP. "This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O God of Jacob" (Psalms 24:6). "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (Psalms 27:8).

1. The godly are impelled to this:

2. Hence they seek God's face daily; and with special earnestness in times of special difficulty or danger. David felt how much he needed Divine guidance in reference to the famine which for three years had harassed the country; hence he "sought the face of the Lord." In trouble the Divine call may be heard, "Seek ye my face;" and many begin to do so when trouble is upon them.

V. SUCH WORSHIP IS FRUITFUL OF BLESSING. It is never in vain (Isaiah 45:19), although at times it may appear to be so (Job 23:3-9). "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13) is a promise of universal applicability. And to gain the vision of God's face is to be blessed indeed. The sight of him:

1. Calms and soothes and comforts the heart. As a mother's face soothes the suffering child,

"Sorrow and fear are gone,

Whene'er thy face appears:

It stills the sighing orphan's moan,

And dries the widow's tears:

It hallows every cross;

It sweetly comforts me,

Makes me forget my every loss,

And find my all in thee."

2. Encourages to pray. When his face is seen, we are enabled to tell him all that is in our heart, with the assurance of success in our suit.

3. Sheds light into the soul. The "light of his countenance" scatters the darkness. Perplexities are half solved as soon as we have caught sight of the face of God.

4. Produces likeness to him. "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) is a promise partially fufilled in the present life.

5. The crowning result is to "see his face" in the fulness of its glory, and forever. (Revelation 22:4.) But to those who refuse to seek him, turning to him their back, and not their face (Jeremiah 2:27), he says, "I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity" (Jeremiah 18:17); and they will at length say "to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16).—G.W.

2 Samuel 21:10

A mother's love and grief.

This verse is part of a narrative full of difficulty and darkness. It stands out a bright light in the midst of the darkness—a grand exhibition of a mother's love.

I. A MOTHER'S LOVE IS MUCH TRIED. Not often as Rizpah's was; but always in some way or other; as:

1. By the conduct of her children.

2. By the conduct of others towards them.

3. By their troubles.

4. By their deaths;

especially when untimely or by violence; and most of all when their untimely or violent deaths are the penalty of their misconduct, which was, however, not the case with the sons of Rizpah.

II. IT OCCASIONS HER MUCH SORROW. Love, in this world, always brings grief, through making the sorrows of others our own, as well as rendering us sensitive to their treatment of ourselves. The more deep and tender the love, so much the more poignant the grief. And, as a mother loves most, she is most susceptible of sorrow. She is often pained by her children when they do not think it; and every stroke inflicted on them strikes her to the heart.

III. IT IS UTTERLY UNSELFISH. She loves because it is her nature—freely, spontaneously, making no calculation, asking for no return. Not without hope, indeed, that she may one day be rewarded by her children's welfare and affection; but far from regulating her love by this: rather she lavishes it most on those from whom she cannot expect recompense—the weakest, the most sickly, those most likely to die; yea, as Rizpah, those who are dead. "Death might bereave her of them, not them of her love" (Bishop Hall).

IV. IT IS MOST SELF-DENYING. Prompting to and sustaining in arduous labours, long and wearisome watchings, self-inflicted privations, for the good of her children. For the sake of their health, she willingly hazards, and even sacrifices, her own. For the sake of their education and advancement, she cheerfully gives up, not only luxuries, but comforts, and even necessaries. And when they have gone beyond her reach into the unseen world, their mortal remains are dear to her, and she will spare nothing that may honour them or prevent dishonour to them. Of such affection Rizpah is a signal instance.

V. IT IS MOST PERSISTENT. Through six months Rizpah continued watching day and night (with the aid, doubtless, of her servants) by the crosses on which the bodies of her sons and other relatives hung, that neither vulture, nor jackal, nor any other "bird of the air" or "beast of the field" might devour, or mangle, or even "rest on" them, until she had gained her point in their honourable burial. A striking example of the persistence of a mother's love. But this was only the crowning proof of her affection. A mother's love is lifelong. "A mother's truth keeps constant youth." It endures through years of toil, hardship, and suffering; when feebly responded to, or quite unappreciated, or requited by neglect, hardness, or cruel wrong. When son or daughter is utterly debased and degraded, the mother clings and hopes; when cast off by all the world, she does not abandon them.

"Years to a mother bring distress,

But do not make her love the less."

(Wordsworth.)

VI. IT IS SOMETIMES BROUGHT INTO NOTICE AND HONOURED. Thus it was with Rizpah. What she had done was reported to the king; it aroused his attention to his neglect to give honourable burial, in the family sepulchre, to the bones of Saul and Jonathan. He now repaired the neglect, and buried, not only them, but (as is implied) the remains of the seven which had so long been hanging exposed, "in the sepulchre of Kish his (Saul's) father." Thus a mother's love, in this case, exercised a powerful beneficial influence. Moreover, it received honourable mention in the holy records, and wherever the Bible comes, "there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Matthew 26:13). And although usually the light of a mother's love shines chiefly in the privacy of home, and she neither asks nor expects applause or record, it is impossible that she can act a noble part without exercising an influence for good which may widen and ramify far more than she could have imagined, and may secure her an honour she never desired. And if no others, "her children arise up, and call her blessed" (Proverbs 31:28), and tell of her character and works to their children.

In conclusion:

1. If human love be so deep and strong, what must be the love of God, from whom it springs, and of which it is one great sign and proof? All the love of all parents, of all human beings, flows from this original Fountain. The Fountain is greater than the streams.

2. Mothers should seek to have their love perfected, by being sanctified and elevated by the love of God, and directed supremely to the ends which he seeks—the moral, spiritual, and eternal welfare of their children. With this view, they should watch carefully their living children (as Rizpah her dead ones), and especially whilst they are young, that they may not be defiled or injured by foul bird or beast.

3. How strong and constant should be the love of children for their mothers! Prompting them to all that would gratify and honour them and promote their happiness; to self-denial and self-sacrifice for their good, should they live to need the help of their children; and to patience and forbearance towards them, should they, under the infirmities of old age, make demands on these virtues. "Despise not thy mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22).

4. How base the conduct of many children (especially of many sons) to their mothers! Selfishly wasting their resources, imposing on their credulity, abusing their indulgence, disgracing their name, breaking their hearts. "A foolish [wicked] son is the heaviness of his mother" (Proverbs 10:1).—G.W.

2 Samuel 21:16-22

Giant killers.

These huge monsters were dangerous enemies. To slay them was to do valuable service to king and country. To assail them required much courage. Those who killed any of them gained great renown; and their names and deeds were recorded in the chronicles of the kingdom, and, as to some of them, have found a place in the Book of books.

I. SOME GIANT FOES OF THE DIVINE KING AND KINGDOM THAT NEED TO BE DESTROYED. We may name superstition, whether pagan, papal, or protestant; infidelity; selfishness; pride; tyranny, ecclesiastical or political; slavery; sensuality; intemperance; war; mammon. Singly, or in partial union, they assail the subjects of Christ, and oppose them in their endeavours to extend his kingdom. And behind lie the devil and his angels, ever active and formidable (Ephesians 6:11, Ephesians 6:12).

II. TO BATTLE AGAINST THESE MONSTERS IS THE DUTY OF ALL CHRIST'S SERVANTS.

1. It is involved in their Christian calling. The new nature which is given to them is instinctively hostile to Satan and his works. The endeavour to serve God and benefit men necessarily brings them into conflict with these powers of darkness. The attacks made on themselves compel them to fight in self-defence (1 Peter 5:8, 1 Peter 5:9).

2. They are supplied with arms and armour for the purpose. (Ephesians 6:11-17.)

3. The enslaved and degraded condition to which these giant evils have reduced their victims appeals to and stimulates them.

4. Their own happy condition under the reign of Christ supplies them with a powerful motive.

5. Regard for him impels and strengthens them. Loyalty, desire for his glory, the hope of his approval, and of the honours and rewards he bestows.

III. HEROES IN THE FIGHT ATTAIN TO DISTINCTION AND REWARD.

1. Who are the heroes? Not those who engage these giants (nominally) as a profession and for the sake of earthly rewards. But such as

2. Their honours and rewards.

2 Samuel 21:17

The unquenchable Light.

"That thou quench not the light of Israel." "The men of David" who thus speak, and doubtless the multitude of his subjects, regarded him as the light (literally, as in Revised Version, "the lamp") of the nation—its guiding mind, its safety, glory, and joy. His death would involve the nation in darkness—in perplexity, confusion, peril, and trouble. Such was likely enough to be the consequence of his death at that period. Nevertheless, David, as a moral and spiritual light, burns on still for all peoples and generations. Death did not quench this light. More emphatically is this true of Jesus Christ our King.

I. HE IS THE LIGHT OF MEN. Intended ultimately to "lighten every man;" actually enlightening those who receive him. He is their:

1. Teacher and Guide. Through whose revelations they know God and himself and themselves; sin and righteousness; heaven, and the way to it; perdition, and how to escape it; the real worth of things; the wisdom needful for the guidance of life. Christ sheds light upon all things—the light by which their true character and relations are made apparent.

2. Safety and Salvation. In darkness is peril; in light security.

3. Glory. Imparting to them of his own lustre.

4. Joy. In knowledge and conscious safety are peace and happiness and hope; in ignorance, doubt, and perplexity, is unhappiness.

II. HIS LIGHT CANNOT BE QUENCHED.

1. Not the light of his personal glory In the battle with his foes and ours, he fell and died; but he rose again, and to a greater brightness of glory, in consequence of his death. His cross itself is a great light for men. He lives above all the power of his enemies. He goes with his people to battle, but cannot be touched by the foe.

2. Nor the Light he has become to men through the knowledge he has given to the world. Great and formidable and persistent have been the efforts to extinguish the light; but it burns on unquenched and unquenchable. It may be obscured here and there, and for a time, but it can never go out. It will yet shine forth over the whole earth, and scatter all the darkness of error and sin.

3. Nor the Light he is to each of his believing people. Through life, and in death, and forever, he remains their Light. His presence in their hearts is their wisdom and joy under all circumstances.

Then:

1. Be grateful for him.

2. Accept the light he sheds.

3. "Walk as children of light."

4. Be lights yourselves. Shine by speech, and especially in your lives.—G.W.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/2-samuel-21.html. 1897.

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