Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 21:20

There was war at Gath again, where there was a man of great stature who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also had been born to the giant.
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Concordances:
Nave's Topical Bible - Armies;   Championship;   David;   Finger;   Goliath;   Rapha;   Toe;   Thompson Chain Reference - Giants;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Feet, the;   Hands, the;   Philistines, the;   Rephaim, or Giants, the;  
Dictionaries:
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Gath;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Anak;   Gath;   Easton Bible Dictionary - Anakim;   Giants;   Philistines;   Fausset Bible Dictionary - Anakim;   Gath;   Giants;   Gob;   Philistia;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Disabilities and Deformities;   Giants;   Samuel, Books of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - David;   Giant;   Haggai;   Israel;   Rephaim;   Samuel, Books of;   Shamgar;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Giant;   Rapha ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Giants;   Wilson's Dictionary of Bible Types - Finger;   Toe;  
Encyclopedias:
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Hebrew Monarchy, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Gath;   Giants;   Heredity;   Ishbi-Benob;   Rapha;   Samuel, Books of;   Shammah;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Giants;   Jonathan, Jehonathan;   Shamgar;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

On every hand six fingers - This is not a solitary instance: Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in 1648, had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot. And Maupertuis, in his seventeenth letter, says that he met with two families near Berlin, where sedigitism was equally transmitted on both sides of father and mother. I saw once a young girl, in the county of Londonderry, in Ireland, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, but her stature had nothing gigantic in it. The daughters of Caius Horatius, of patrician dignity, were called sedigitae, because they had six fingers on each hand. Volcatius, a poet, was called sedigitus for the same reason. See Pliny's Hist. Nat., lib. xi., cap. 43.

There are evidently many places in this chapter in which the text has suffered much from the ignorance or carelessness of transcribers; and indeed I suspect the whole has suffered so materially as to distort, if not misrepresent the principal facts. It seems as if a Gibeonite has had something to do with the copies that are come down to us, or that the first fourteen verses have been inserted from a less authentic document than the rest of the book. I shall notice some of the most unaccountable, and apparently exceptionable particulars: -

  1. The famine, 2 Samuel 21:1, is not spoken of anywhere else, nor at all referred to in the books of Kings or Chronicles; and, being of three years' duration, it was too remarkable to be omitted in the history of David.
  • The circumstance of Saul's attempt to exterminate the Gibeonites is nowhere else mentioned; and, had it taken place, it is not likely it would have been passed over in the history of Saul's transgressions. Indeed, it would have been such a breach of the good faith by which the whole nation was bound to this people, that an attempt of the kind could scarcely have failed to raise an insurrection through all Israel.
  • The wish of David that the Gibeonites, little better than a heathenish people, should bless the inheritance of the Lord, is unconstitutional and unlikely.
  • That God should leave the choice of the atonement to such a people, or indeed to any people, seems contrary to his established laws and particular providence.
  • That he should require seven innocent men to be hung up in place of their offending father, in whose iniquity they most likely never had a share, seems inconsistent with justice and mercy.
  • In 2 Samuel 21:8, there is mention made of five sons of Michal, which she bore (ילדה yaledah ) unto Adriel. Now,
  • 1. Michal was never the wife of Adriel, but of David and Phaltiel.

    2. She never appears to have had any children, see 2 Samuel 6:23; this I have been obliged to correct in the preceding notes by putting Merab in the place of Michal.

    1. The seven sons of Saul, mentioned here, are represented as a sacrifice required by God, to make an atonement for the sin of Saul. Does God in any case require human blood for sacrifice? And is it not such a sacrifice that is represented here? Dr. Delaney and others imagine that these seven sons were principal agents in the execution of their father's purpose; but of this there is no proof. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, certainly had no hand in this projected massacre, he was ever lame, and could not be so employed; and yet he would have been one of the seven had it not been for the covenant made before with his father: But the king spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan - because of the Lord's oath that was between them, 2 Samuel 21:7.
    2. The circumstance of Rizpah's watching the bodies of those victims, upon a rock, and probably in the open air, both day and night, from March to October, or even for a much less period, is, as it is here related, very extraordinary and improbable.
    3. The hanging the bodies so long was against an express law of God, which ordained that those who were hanged on a tree should be taken down before sunset, and buried the same day, lest the land should be defiled, ( Deuteronomy 21:22, Deuteronomy 21:23;). Therefore,
    1. God did not command a breach of his own law.

    2. David was too exact an observer of that law to require it.

    3. The people could not have endured it; for, in that sultry season, the land would indeed have been defiled by the putrefaction of the dead bodies; and this would, in all likelihood, have added pestilence to famine.

    1. The story of collecting and burying the bones of Saul and Jonathan is not very likely, considering that the men of Jabesh-gilead had burned their bodies, and buried the remaining bones under a tree at Jabesh, 1 Samuel 31:12, 1 Samuel 31:13; yet still it is possible.
    2. Josephus takes as much of this story as he thinks proper, but says not one word about Rizpah, and her long watching over her slaughtered sons.
  • Even the facts in this chapter, which are mentioned in other places, (see 1 Chronicles 20:4, etc.), are greatly distorted and corrupted; for we have already seen that Elhanan is made here to kill Goliath the Gittite, whom it is well known David slew; and it is only by means of the parallel place above that we can restore this to historical truth.
  • That there have been attempts to remove some of these objections, I know; and I know also that these attempts have been in general without success.

    Till I get farther light on the subject, I am led to conclude that the whole chapter is not now what it would be, coming from the pen of an inspired writer; and that this part of the Jewish records has suffered much from rabbinical glosses, alterations, and additions. The law, the prophets, and the hagiographa, including Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc., have been ever considered as possessing the highest title to Divine inspiration; and therefore have been most carefully preserved and transcribed; but the historical books, especially Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles, have not ranked so high, have been less carefully preserved, and have been the subjects of frequent alteration and corruption. Yet still the great foundation of God standeth sure and is sufficiently attested by his own broad seal of consistency, truth, and holiness.

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    Bibliographical Information
    Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/2-samuel-21.html. 1832.

    John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

    And there was yet a battle in Gath,.... Besides the battles in the above place or places; for this does not necessarily suppose that one of the said battles had been there, only that this, which was another battle, had been there:

    where was a man of great stature; for so the sense of the word appears to be from 1 Chronicles 20:6; though here it signifies a man of strife and contention, a man of war, and both were true of him:

    that had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number; twelve fingers on his two hands, and twelve toes on his two feet. PlinyF1Nat. Hist. l. 11. c. 43. speaks of one M. Curiatius, a patrician, who had two daughters that had six fingers on an hand, and were called "Sedigitae", six-fingered; and of Volcatius, a famous poet, called "Sedigitus", or six-fingered, for the same reason; and elsewhere, from other writersF2Megasthenes apud ib. l. 7. c. 2. he makes mention of a people that had eight toes each foot; so CtesiasF3In Indicis, c. 31. speaks of a people in the mountains of India, which have eight fingers on each hand, and eight toes on each foot, both men and women:

    and he also was born to the giant; a son of a giant.

    Copyright Statement
    The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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    Bibliographical Information
    Gill, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/2-samuel-21.html. 1999.

    John Trapp Complete Commentary

    2 Samuel 21:20 And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of [great] stature, that 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.

    Ver. 20. A man of treat stature.] Yet not so great, likely, as he of whom Pliny writeth, that he was found in Crete, in the opening of a monument by an earthquake, to have been forty-six cubits long. Fides sit penes Authorem.

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    Bibliographical Information
    Trapp, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". John Trapp Complete Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jtc/2-samuel-21.html. 1865-1868.

    Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

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

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

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    Bibliographical Information
    Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/2-samuel-21.html. 1685.

    Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

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

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    Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/2-samuel-21.html. 1874-1909.

    George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

    Fourth. Josephus says this was the last war with the Philistines; and Tostat supposes, that they wished to retake the city of Geth. (Salien) --- Statute, or "of contradiction." (Aquila) --- Hebrew Madon. Septuagint leave it as the proper name of a place, "Madon," specified [in] Josue xi. 1., and xii. 19. Capel would read, "a man of Madian." --- Six. Such people were styled Sedigiti, among the Romans. The daughters of Horatius were thus distinguished, as well as the poet Volcatius. (Pliny, [Natural History?] xi. 43.)

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    Bibliographical Information
    Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hcc/2-samuel-21.html. 1859.

    Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

    And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that 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 there was yet a battle in Gath. It is evident that the battlefield of these successive encounters was Gath and its neighbourhood, to which David marched his army (2 Samuel 21:15), and to recover which from the possession of the Hebrew king (see the notes at 2 Samuel 8:1; 2 Chronicles 18:1) was the object of their frequent insurrections.

    Where was a man of great stature, [ 'iysh (Hebrew #376) maadown (Hebrew #4067) (Khethib); 'iysh maadiyn, a man of measures a tall man (cf. 1 Chronicles 20:6); Septuagint, aneer Madoon] (whether this rendering was intended to be a mere repetition of the original, as is frequently done in that version, where the meaning was not understood, or to mark that be was a native of Madon (Joshua 11:1; Joshua 12:19), it is impossible to say). He was presumably a Rephaite, like those mentioned in the preceding verses; but, in addition to his extraordinary height, he was a lusus naturas, because he had 24 fingers and toes, 6 on each hand and foot.

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    Bibliographical Information
    Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/2-samuel-21.html. 1871-8.

    Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

    And there was yet a battle in Gath, where was a man of great stature, that 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.
    yet a battle
    1 Chronicles 20:6
    the giant
    or, Rapha.
    16,18; *marg:
    Reciprocal: Numbers 13:32 - men of a great stature;  Numbers 13:33 - saw the giants;  Isaiah 45:14 - men of stature

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    Bibliographical Information
    Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21:20". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tsk/2-samuel-21.html.