Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.2 Samuel 21:1. Then there was a famine, &c. — The things related here, and chap. 24., are, by the best interpreters, conceived to have been done long before Absalom’s rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds. For, first, this particle, then, is here explained, in the days, that is, during the reign of David: which general words seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done next after the foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would have said, after these things, as it is in many other places. Secondly, Here are divers particulars which cannot, with probability, be ascribed to the last years of David’s reign: such as, that Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished; that David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place till that time; that the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, 2 Samuel 21:15, &c., so long after he had fully subdued them, 2 Samuel 8:1; that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so; that David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, 2 Samuel 24:1, which, being an act of youthful vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order is plainly this; because David’s sin being once related, it was very proper that his punishments should immediately succeed: this being very frequent in Scripture story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several different times.
David inquired of the Lord — It is possible that David, for the first, and even second year, might have ascribed this calamity to natural causes; but in the third year, being well convinced that the visitation was judicial, he applied himself to the sacred oracle of God, to learn the cause of this extraordinary and continued calamity. And God soon informed him that this punishment was on account of the blood shed by Saul and his family. Because he slew the Gibeonites — The history of the Gibeonites is well known: they were a remnant of the Amorites, but by an artful contrivance, related Joshua 9:9, obtained a league for their lives and properties from the children of Israel. And, forasmuch as Joshua and the elders had confirmed it by an oath, they thought themselves bound to keep it, only tying them down to the servitude of supplying the tabernacle with wood and water for the public sacrifices, and the service of those who attended upon them. This unhappy people, notwithstanding it is probable that they had renounced their idolatry, and performed the other conditions of their covenant, Saul sought all occasions to destroy; and did so to such a degree of guilt as drew down the divine judgment upon the land. But upon what occasion, or in what manner Saul destroyed them, is not mentioned in the Scriptures, except those that may be supposed to have been slain with the priests in the city of Nob, as being hewers of wood and drawers of water for the tabernacle. But undoubtedly there was some more general destruction of them for which this punishment was inflicted, although the Scripture is silent about it.
And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)2 Samuel 21:2. In his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah — When Joshua and the princes made a league with the Gibeonites, the people were greatly offended with them, as appears, Joshua chap. 9. Whatever the pretences of this resentment might be, the true reason seems sufficiently apparent; they were, by this league, deprived of the lands and spoils of the Gibeonites. Did these reasons cease in the days of Saul? Or rather, did they not still subsist, and with more force, in proportion as the people of Israel and their wants increased, in a narrow land? But however this may be, why did Saul slay them? The text plainly saith, that he did it in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah. But the question still returns: How could the destroying these poor people manifest his zeal for Israel and Judah? There is seemingly but one imaginable way how this could be done. The Gibeonites had one city in the tribe of Judah, and three in Benjamin; and when they were destroyed out of these cities, who could pretend any right to them but Israel (that is, Benjamin) and Judah? So that Saul destroyed the Gibeonites, as the most obliging thing he could do for his people. See Delaney.
Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?2 Samuel 21:3. David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? — Josephus supposes that when God acquainted David what was the occasion of the famine, he likewise declared that it should be removed if he made the satisfaction which the Gibeonites themselves should require. That ye may bless the inheritance of the Lord — That, atonement being made, and God’s anger being turned away, his inheritance may be blessed, and plenty restored again to Israel.
And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you.2 Samuel 21:4. We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, &c. — Neither silver nor gold was a just equivalent for the loss they had sustained by Saul and his bloody house. Neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel — Except of Saul’s family, as it here follows. The marginal reading, however, seems preferable, Neither pertains it to us to kill any man, &c. They were in such a state of servitude as did not allow them to take the only proper retribution, blood for blood. This appears to be the meaning, because David immediately replies, What you shall say, that will I do.
And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel,2 Samuel 21:5-6. They answered, The man that consumed us, &c. — They desired no reparation of private damages, or revenge of injuries; all they required was that a public sacrifice should be made to justice, and to the divine vengeance inflicted upon the land. Let seven of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up before the Lord — As a satisfaction to his honour for an injustice and cruelty committed in defiance of a solemn oath given in his holy name. But it may be inquired, if Saul was thus wicked in destroying a people contrary to a solemn oath, ratified in the name of God, why should his sons and grandsons be punished for it? To this it may be answered, with great reason, and upon a good foundation, that they were not punished because Saul was guilty, but because they themselves were guilty, and had been the executioners of his unjust decrees. We have reason to conclude that his sons and his grandsons were among his captains of hundreds, and captains of thousands, as that was the practice of those days: and if so, undoubtedly they were employed in executing his cruel and unjust commands in regard to the Gibeonites, especially as the purpose of destroying them seems to have been to take their possessions; for we can scarcely suppose Saul to have been so solicitous to increase the fortunes of any, as those of his sons and grandsons. And this supposition the text before us seems to prove, as it not only entitles Saul bloody, but his house too: Saul and his bloody house. And it is likely that some of these still possessed some of the possessions of the Gibeonites, and that they defended and commended this action of Saul whenever there was any question about it: and, therefore, they very justly and deservedly suffered for it. See Delaney. In Gibeah of Saul — To make the punishment more remarkable and shameful, this being the city where Saul lived both before and after he was king. Whom the Lord did choose — This aggravated his guilt, that he had broken the oath of that God by whom he had been so highly favoured.
And the king said, I will give them — Having doubtless consulted God in the matter; who, as he had before declared Saul’s bloody house to be the cause of this judgment, so now commanded that justice should be done upon it, and that the remaining branches of it should be cut off; as sufficiently appears from hence that God was well pleased with the action; which he would not have been if David had done it without his command; for then it had been a sinful action of David’s, and contrary to a double law of God. Deuteronomy 21:23; Deuteronomy 24:16.
But here another question arises; supposing Saul’s sons and grandsons engaged in the fact, and therefore justly punished for it, how came it, or for what reason was it, that the whole people of Israel were afflicted with famine on that account? Undoubtedly because they were partakers too in Saul’s guilt, and had been abetting, aiding, and assisting in it; or, at least, had not opposed it, as they ought to have done. It is said expressly that Saul sought to slay the Gibeonites in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah. Is it not absurd to think that any thing was done in zeal for them which they did not approve of? Or is there much reason to doubt whether they did not lend their hand to it? Is there the least colour to believe that they in any degree remonstrated against or opposed this proceeding of their prince? as they had a right, nay, were obliged by all the laws of justice to do, as a nation bound to make good the public faith they had given, and sworn to preserve. And if this was the case, were they not guilty as well as Saul, and were they not with justice punished?
Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.
But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD'S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.2 Samuel 21:7-8. The king spared, &c. — For the Gibeonites desiring only such a number, it was at David’s choice whom to spare. The son of Jonathan — This is added to distinguish him from the other Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 21:8. Because of the Lord’s oath, &c. — This was a just reason for not delivering him up. The five sons of Michal, whom she brought up for Adriel — In the original it is, whom she bare to Adriel. And as Michal was not the wife of Adriel, but her elder sister Merab, it is probable that Michal’s name has here crept into the text by the mistake of some transcriber for Merab’s. Or else it should stand as the margin of our Bible has it, Michal’s sister.
But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite:
And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.
And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.2 Samuel 21:10. Rizpah took sackcloth — Or rather, hair-cloth, of which tents were commonly made. And spread it for her — As a tent to dwell in: being informed that their bodies were not to be taken away speedily, as the course of the law was in ordinary cases, but were to continue there until God was entreated, and removed the present judgment. On the rock — In some convenient place in a rock, near adjoining. Until water — Until they were taken down: which was not to be done till God had given rain as a sign of his favour, and a means to remove the famine, which was caused by the want of it. Thus she let the world know that her sons died not as stubborn and rebellious sons, whose eye had despised their mother: but for their father’s crime, and that of the nation in violating the public faith, in which crime, if they had participated, it had only been in common with others; and therefore her mind could not be alienated from them.
And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.2 Samuel 21:11. It was told David what Rizpah had done — And he heard it with so much approbation, that he thought fit to imitate her piety, being by her example provoked to do what hitherto he had neglected, to bestow an honourable interment on the remains of Saul and Jonathan, and, with them, upon those that were now put to death, that the honour done to them therein might be some comfort to this disconsolate widow.
And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabeshgilead, which had stolen them from the street of Bethshan, where the Philistines had hanged them, when the Philistines had slain Saul in Gilboa:2 Samuel 21:12. He defended it — So that the Philistines could neither burn the corn, nor carry it away, nor tread it down. The Lord wrought a great victory — By his hand. How great soever the bravery of the instruments is, the praise of the achievement is to be given to God. These fought, but God wrought the victory. It must be observed that this Shammah, although one of the three most mighty men, is not particularly named in the book of Chronicles; it being the manner of the Scriptures, as the Jews observe, to notice that briefly in one place, which hath been explained at large in another; as this action of Shammah is here in this book.
And he brought up from thence the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son; and they gathered the bones of them that were hanged.2 Samuel 21:13-14. He brought up the bones of Saul, &c. — From under the tree where they were buried in Jabesh, 1 Samuel 31:13. They gathered the bones of them that were hanged — Having first burned off the flesh which remained upon them: or, perhaps, this was done some time after they were taken down, when nothing but bones remained; and then they had all seven an honourable interment. The bones of Saul and Jonathan — Together with those now mentioned. And after that — After those things were done which were before related; that is, after they were hanged up; for by that God was pacified, and not by the burial. God was entreated — When satisfaction was given to the Gibeonites, God restored plenty to the country.
2 Samuel 21:13-14. Three of the thirty chief — Mentioned afterward: three captains over the thirty. Came to David in the harvest-time — Or rather, as the Hebrew is, at harvest. That is, saith Abarbinel, the Philistines came to destroy the fruits of the earth, that they might famish the Israelites: whereupon David raised an army to protect and defend them in reaping of their harvest, when they went about it. Unto the cave of Adullam — Where he had hid himself under the persecution of Saul; and where he now fortified himself against the Philistines; who in the beginning of his reign, came with great forces against him. And David was then in the hold — Namely, the cave of Adullam, a place very strong by its natural situation! The garrison of the Philistines was in Beth-lehem — They had possessed themselves of this place and put a garrison in it.
And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land.
Moreover the Philistines had yet war again with Israel; and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines: and David waxed faint.2 Samuel 21:15-16. The Philistines had yet war again with Israel — After, or besides the other wars with the Philistines mentioned in this book, they yet again disturbed David’s repose. David waxed faint — Being no longer in the vigour of youth, but probably in declining years, though not old in age. Ishbi-benob, of the sons of the giant — Either of Goliath, who, by way of eminence, is called the giant, or rather, as the Hebrew word, רפה, rapha, signifies, any giant. The words should rather be translated, Of the race of the giants, that is, of the Anakims, who fled into this country, particularly to Gath, when Joshua expelled them from Canaan, Joshua 11:22. Whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass — This is to be understood of the head of his spear, which weighed half as much as that of Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:7. He being girded with a new sword — One made on purpose for him, larger and heavier than those commonly used. Thought to have slain David — Thought he had a fair opportunity to do it.
2 Samuel 21:15-16. David longed, and said, O! &c. — Being hot and thirsty, he expresses how acceptable a draught of that water would be to him; but was far from desiring or expecting that any of his men should hazard their lives to procure it. He would not drink thereof — Lest, by gratifying himself upon such terms, he should seem either to set too high a price upon the satisfaction of his appetite, or too low a price upon the lives of his soldiers. He poured it out unto the Lord — As a kind of drink-offering, and acknowledgment of God’s goodness in preserving the lives of his captains in so dangerous an enterprise; and to show that he esteemed it as a sacred thing, which it was not fit for him to drink.
And Ishbibenob, which was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with a new sword, thought to have slain David.
But Abishai the son of Zeruiah succoured him, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David sware unto him, saying, Thou shalt go no more out with us to battle, that thou quench not the light of Israel.2 Samuel 21:17. That thou quench not the light of Israel — Lest thou be slain, and thereby thy people lose their glory and happiness, and even be utterly ruined. Good kings are, in Scripture, justly called the light of their people, because the beauty and glory, the conduct and direction, the comfort and safety, and welfare of a people depend greatly upon them. A noble image this of a king!
And it came to pass after this, that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob: then Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Saph, which was of the sons of the giant.2 Samuel 21:18. After this — After the battle last mentioned. There was again a battle at Gob — Or in Gezer, as in 1 Chronicles 20:4, whereby it seems Gob and Gezer were neighbouring places, and the battle was fought in the confines of both. Sibbechai the Hushathite — One of David’s worthies, 1 Chronicles 11:29; slew Saph — One of the same race of Rephaims, descended from the Anakims.
And there was again a battle in Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim, a Bethlehemite, slew the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam.2 Samuel 21:19. Elhanan, a Beth-lehemite — Another of David’s worthy and valiant commanders. Slew the brother of Goliath — The relative word, brother, is not in the Hebrew text, but is properly supplied out of the parallel place. 1 Chronicles 20:5, where it is expressed. The staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam — For thickness; that is, like the large roller on which the cloth is fastened in weaving.
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.2 Samuel 21:20-22. There was yet a battle in Gath — That is, in the territory of that city; 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 many years before this, 2 Samuel 8:1, compared with 1 Chronicles 18:1; and therefore not in the last days of David, as some conceive, from the mention of them in this place. A man of great stature — Or, a man of Medin, or Madon, as the Seventy render it; so called from the place of his birth, as Goliath is said to be of Gath for the same reason. Who had on every hand six fingers, &c. — Tavernier, in his relation of the grand seignior’s seraglio, p. 95, says, that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in the year 1648, when he was in that island, had six fingers on each hand, and as many toes on each foot, all of equal length. These four fell by the hand of David — That is, by his conduct and counsel, or concurrence. Indeed he contributed by his hand to the death of one of them; while maintaining a fight with him, he gave Abishai the easier opportunity of killing him. But what is done by the inferior commanders is commonly ascribed to the general, both in sacred and profane authors.
And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea the brother of David slew him.
These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.