New European Commentary

 

About | PDFs | Mobile formats | Word formats | Other languages | Contact Us | What is the Gospel? | Support the work | Carelinks Ministries | | The Real Christ | The Real Devil | "Bible Companion" Daily Bible reading plan


Deeper Commentary

2Sa 21:1 There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of Yahweh. Yahweh said, There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put to death the Gibeonites-
The record in 2 Samuel is not necessarily chronological but follows themes. This material may be inserted here to follow on from the mention of Gibeon in 2 Sam. 20:8, where Joab had killed Amasa. The seven victims were all young and unmarried, which would suggest a date earlier in the reign of David. And it would be more appropriate that judgment for Saul's misbehaviour came early on in David's reign, rather than as it were being remembered much later.

2Sa 21:2 The king called the Gibeonites and said to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn to them: and Saul sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah)-
Joshua 9 records how the Gibeonites had been promised security by Joshua, although they were Hivites who were to have been destroyed (Josh. 9:7; Dt. 7:2). Saul's apparent zeal to obey part of God's word whilst ignoring the covenant made by Joshua recalls how he murdered or expelled all witches (1 Sam. 28:9), in almost fanatic obedience to Ex. 22:18; Lev. 20:6. Saul's zeal to punish the apostate was really a classic case of psychological transference. He knew, subconsciously, that he was a sinner and deserved punishment for his sins. So he transferred those sins on to others, and punished them, revelling in it. But he was picking up verses from the Bible out of context, and with the witches, he himself used one. It was this attitude which was deeply displeasing to God. And the fact all Israel had known of this and done nothing to honour the covenant made in their name with the Gibeonites... meant that all Israel had to suffer the results of the famine.


2Sa 21:3 and David said to the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of Yahweh?-
"Atonement" is not used here in a religious sense but simply meaning a covering, which the Gibeonites understand as hinting at a financial payment (:4). For David personally had not sinned against them, and atonement in the religious sense was only appropriate towards God. But the Gibeonites like to use it in a religious sense, playing God by demanding that without the shedding of blood there could be no reconciliation with them.


2Sa 21:4 The Gibeonites said to him, It is no matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel-
The law of Moses forbad the payment of money as compensation for murder (Num. 35:31). That David had apparently hinted at this possibility in :3 would therefore suggest that he was willing to break the letter of the law of Moses, a feature of David's which was largely an outcome of his understanding so well the spirit of the law. And yet it was to lead him into the sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. And yet it has to be said that this was a difficult legal situation. God had shown that the sin of Saul needed some atonement, but Saul was dead. The Gibeonites were asking for blood as atonement, although they accept it is not within their power to execute this.

He said, Whatever you say, that will I do for you-
This was unwise, because David was to be asked to break the law. But he perhaps lacks the humility to pull out of this blanket promise he has now made.

2Sa 21:5 They said to the king, The man who consumed us, and who devised against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel-
This implies Saul's campaign against them had been widespread and systematic. See on :2.


2Sa 21:6 let seven men of his sons be delivered to us, and we will hang them up to Yahweh in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of Yahweh. The king said, I will give them-
Their allusion is to Num. 25:4, where the bodies of the leaders in the worship of Baal were hung up to turn away Yahweh's anger (cp. :1). But the seven sons of Saul were not personally responsible for the sin. And David had solemnly vowed before Yahweh to Saul and Jonathan on at least two occasions that he would not destroy their seed. David's acquiescence therefore was wrong, and like Herod and other kings trapped by their own pride to fulfil their promises, so David agrees to the death of Saul's sons. He ought to have said something like "I have vowed a vow not to do this, I believe in grace, and will not allow this to happen. I will throw myself down before Yahweh and beg for this situation to be resolved another way". But pride stops him. Yet David generally was humble in this kind of thing. So as with the sin with Bathsheba, I take this to be an out of character failing of David.


2Sa 21:7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of Yahweh’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul-
As noted on :6, David had made a similar oath before Yahweh to Saul (1 Sam. 24:21,22). But he seems to justify breaking that by arguing that he was honouring a similar oath he had made to Jonathan. I suggested on :6 what his response ought to have been.


2Sa 21:8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite-
David comes over as wrong all around in this matter. Michal was his former wife. He had broken up Michal's marriage with Paltiel even though Paltiel wept over it. And now he slays Michal's five sons. If this is the same Barzillai who was later so kind to David at the time of Absalom's rebellion, then we see that man's grace, forgiving David for slaying his five grandchildren. And it contrasts with David's low estimate of the value of human life which we again see.

God sees to the end of a man’s history, to the end of human history, He weighs men, and weighs them up in grace. Further, we all likely struggle with the unspirituality of others against us. We ponder how brother X or sister Y can really be a Christian, can have any real relationship with God, because of how we see them act. This struggle over these kinds of issues is, in my experience, the number one reason why people leave Christian communities. The raw anger, hatred and viciousness they see in others disillusions them, and they walk. The pull of materialism, of false doctrine etc., are actually not significant reasons in the majority of cases I know of where a believer has quit the community of believers. It’s nearly always personal disillusion with the evil side of their brethren. All I can say is, Consider David’s poorer side. Think of men like Adriel and Phaltiel, women like Rizpah, the mothers of Moab and Edom, who all likely considered David a sadistic maniac- given their experience of him. And, of course, Uriah, who surely knew all along what was going on. They saw the weaker side of David. Thanks to the extent of Biblical revelation about David, we see a wider picture. And even if that wider picture remains invisible to us concerning brother A and sister B, try to imagine that they have a prayer life, read Scripture, are loved by God, and probably in some ways and to some extent do respond to that love… and leave the final analysis of human character to the God who judges, weighs and knows far deeper, more graciously, more hopefully, than we ever can in this life.


David had loved Jonathan's sister Michal, and she loved him; only for her to come to despise David's spirituality, and to be unfaithful to him (2 Sam. 21:8 implies she had even more relationships than just with Paltiel). But then David killed her five sons. She was part of the ineffable sadness of David's personal life.


2Sa 21:9 He delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before Yahweh, and all seven of them fell together. They were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest-
That is, at Passover (Dt. 16:9). At the time when David ought to have been celebrating God's deliverance from death by grace, he was putting to death innocent young people, who may have been no more than children.


2Sa 21:10 Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock-
To form a tent for her to live in whilst she protected the bodies day and night from wild animals.

From the beginning of harvest until water was poured on them from the sky-
The heavy rains usually came about six months after the beginning of harvest.

She allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day, nor the animals of the field by night-
The idea of blood sacrifice being required to bring rain suggests that the Gibeonites believed in a rain god. Yet when David is asked to give seven men of the family of Saul as a blood sacrifice to appease the rain god who was not sending rain, David agrees. He doesn’t make the Biblical argument that rain being withheld indicates the need for repentance before Yahweh, and that sacrificing humans is wrong and won’t change anything in this context. He gives in to the false understanding of the Gibeonites, breaking his undertakings to Saul and Jonathan by doing so, and selects seven men to be slain and hung up. We read of the mother of two of them, Rizpah, lovingly watching over the bodies of her sons day and night, with all the distraction of true love (2 Sam. 21:10). David didn’t have to do this. But he did. We get the impression this was another example of his wrong attitude to the shedding of blood (1 Chron. 22:8). He doesn’t seem to have cared for the mother’s feelings, nor for the lives of her sons. And note that David makes up the total of seven men by having the five foster sons of his own estranged wife Michal slain. Was this not David somehow hitting back at Michal, who had mocked him for his style of worship in 2 Sam. 6? And how did Adriel, the father of those five sons, feel? He wasn’t of the house of Saul, but because of David’s desire to placate someone else, he lost all his sons, just because his wife had died and Saul’s daughter had raised them. And yet this same David is recorded as saying soon afterwards: “I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his ordinances were before me; And as for his statutes, I did not depart from them. I was also perfect toward him; And I kept myself from mine iniquity. Therefore hath the Lord recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to my cleanness in his eyesight” (2 Sam. 22:22-25).


2Sa 21:11 It was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done-
It seems it took David the six months alluded to in :10 to respond. He gathers up the bones of the men or boys, along with those of Saul and Jonathan, and gives them a decent burial.


2Sa 21:12 David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh Gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines killed Saul in Gilboa-
The last mention of the David : Jonathan relationship is in 2 Sam. 21:12-14, where we read that David personally ("he" cp.  they" ) took and carried the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their final resting place. The love of David for Jonathan is apparent. We are invited to imagine David carrying the bones of his best friend, perhaps just the ashes of them (1 Sam. 31:12,13), cradling them (or the container) in his arms, weeping as he walked. How about this for pathos. The words of David's lament in 2 Sam. 1 would have surely come to his mind. It is almost certain that David memorized them, seeing it was taught as a song of remembrance (2 Sam. 1:18). There would have been the restimulation of so much. So that is how the Spirit concludes the story, David walking off into the sunset with the bones of Jonathan. It should be remembered that this occurred after David's disgrace with Bathsheba. The thought must surely have gone through his mind: It's a good thing dear Jonathan isn't here to see it. The very name of the prophet Nathan, the exposer of David's sin, would have restimulated David. For 'Jonathan' means 'Yahweh-Nathan'. It is quite likely that in practice David would not have pronounced the 'Yah' prefix; he would have called Jonathan 'Nathan' (how many 'Jonathan's do you know whose name isn't abbreviated by their friends?). The reason why there is so much pathos in the story, so powerfully expressed, is to set us a standard of love and feeling towards Christ; for Jonathan represents us, and the love of David for him really is a reflection of the love of Christ for us. Truly do we sing that "Thou art far above / dearest of human love".


2Sa 21:13 and he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son: and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged-
The extreme grief of Rizpah is intentionally contrasted with this symbolic gesture from David in at least giving the sons an honourable burial, although it took David six months to do so. He is presented as callous in the face of very genuine grief caused by his pride and refusal to honour his covenant before Yahweh that he had made with Saul.


2Sa 21:14 They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. After that God responded to the prayer for the land-
David was wrong in killing those seven men or boys. God is not appeased by blood sacrifice in that sense. After the horror of what he had done was brought to his attention, David buried the bones of Saul as if he felt he should have been more respectful to the house of Saul (2 Sam. 21:12) and only then God responded to the prayer for the famine to be lifted (:14)- as if He sought respect for the house of Saul and not the disrespect of killing seven random relatives of Saul's on the say-so of mere men. If indeed God wanted the sacrifice of those men, we would surely read that immediately after their murder He lifted the famine; but He did so only after David had subsequently shown respect to the house of Saul as a token of regret and repentance for what he had authorized.

2Sa 21:15 The Philistines had war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines. David grew faint-
The material in 2 Samuel isn't chronological. The material we have now at the end of the book appears to be various cameos of the life of David which are for some reason not incorporated into the book as a whole. Perhaps the common theme in them all is that they mention David's weaknesses in various ways. We now read of how David was "faint", physically weak during a battle. It is one of a number of hints that he did not enjoy good health. We think of him laying sick at Mahanaim during Absalom's rebellion, and the copious evidence in the Psalms that he had a breakdown of his health soon after the sin with Bathsheba. These events are located in  1 Chron. 20:4-8 immediately after the capture of Rabbah, which was again not David at his spiritually strongest.

2Sa 21:16 and Ishbibenob, who was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear was three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being armed with a new sword, was about to have slain David
We wonder therefore whether David's faith failed him at this point, or whether he did not have the level of faith he showed when he triumphed over Goliath. David had mocked armour as a source of strength, and yet this suggests David almost perished because of the weaponry of this Philistine. I suggested on :15 that the cameos from the life of David which conclude 2 Samuel all have the common theme of David's weakness. 

2Sa 21:17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah helped him, and struck the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him saying, You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you don’t quench the lamp of Israel-
The significance of this is that David is harking back to how he had not gone out to war with his armies at the time of 2 Sam. 11:1, and it had led him into the sin with Bathsheba. At every point we find him repentant and playing along with how God too was referring him back to previous points in his life. It seems that after the sin, David insisted on going out with his troops to battle even when he was too old to effectively do so (2 Sam. 18:2).


2Sa 21:18 It came to pass after this, that there was again war with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was of the sons of the giant-
We note that the Rephaim had children like other human beings (2 Sam. 21:16,18; Dt. 3:11), inhabiting an area known as the valley of Rephaim (Josh. 15:8). The "giants" of Gen. 6:2-4 were therefore humans and not celestial beings. "Gob" is LXX Gath; see on :20 for the significance.

 
2Sa 21:19 There was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite’s brother, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam-
Elhanan was from the small village of Bethlehem, and therefore was likely a childhood friend of David's. He like us with the Lord Jesus was inspired by David's victory over Goliath. He saw what was potentially possible for man in faith, just as we are shown through the Lord's victory on the cross what is possible for men apparently saddled with human nature.


2Sa 21:20 There was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, twenty four in number; and he also was born to the giant-
David fought the Philistines at Gath (see on :18), and yet we note that he lived with Achish at Gath for over a year, and some of his most loyal followers were Philistines from Gath like Ittai. His victories over them therefore elicited humility and faith from some of the Philistines there. They realized that David and his men won their victories not in their own strength, but because of Yahweh. And they humbly came into covenant relationship with the God of their enemies, and fellowship with their one time enemies and murderers of their friends and families. It is humility which is the critical requirement in coming to the true God, and no amount of apparently high powered intellectual argument and slick presentation can replace that.


2Sa 21:21 When he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, killed him-
Goliath's defiance of Israel is a major theme (1 Sam. 17:10,25,26,36,45). Later Philistine defiance is described with the same word (2 Sam. 21:21; 23:9). David's victory over Goliath was inspirational to other Israelites, just as the Lord's triumph on the cross should be to us. Jonathan was brother to the crafty Jonadab, who led Absalom into major sin by his subliminal suggestions. We see how faith and unbelief can exist within the same family.


2Sa 21:22 These four were born to the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants
-
David took five stones to kill Goliath but used only one. Was he faithless and doubting that the first one would hit home? Or did he aim to use the other four on Goliath's four giant sons (2 Sam. 21:16-22)?  Do those five stones represent the five books of Moses which Ps. 119 tells us was Christ's study all the day, it being through the word that Jesus overcame the mind of sin? If he did aim to use the other four on Goliath's four giant sons, that shows supreme spiritual ambition. In reality those four were killed later by David's closest followers- and they must have their counterparts amongst us.