Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
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.IV. THE APPENDIX TO THE HISTORY OF DAVID
1. The Famines and the Wars with the Philistines
1. The Famine and the Gibeonites (2Samuel 21:1-14)
2. The Wars with the Philistines (2Samuel 21:15-22)
The fourth section of the second book of Samuel is an appendix to the history of David. When the great famine happened in the days of David we do not know. After the famine had returned year after year, for three years, David inquired of the Lord. Why did he not inquire in the first year? It is an evidence of the low spiritual state which prevailed at that time. The answer which David received revealed the cause of the judgment which rested upon the land. It was Saul and the blood-guilt in having slain the Gibeonites. The story of the Gibeonites is recorded in Joshua 9. They got in among Israel through deception and Joshua had made peace and a league with them. Though they belonged to the nations doomed to death they were permitted to live and became the hewers of wood and the drawers of water (Joshua 9:26-27). Jehovah’s name and an oath assured them of their safety. Saul had violated this covenant and slain some of them. This wrong is now to be righted--David did not inquire again of the Lord what he should do but consulted the Gibeonites instead. And the Gibeonites demand not silver nor gold of Saul and of his house, “neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel.” After that they asked that seven men of his sons be delivered unto them and they would hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah. And again in haste the king promised to do so. Their demand, though piously worded, was not according to the law of God. Children were not to be put to death for the sins of their fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16). Saul was the guilty one and he had died. How atonement for the broken covenant and the blood guilt was to be made remained for the Lord to say. David, not asking direction from Him, but turning to the Gibeonites, had failed again. And still the Gibeonites in their awful demand shared the bloodthirsty cruel character of the Canaanites. David carried out the awful request. He spared Mephibosheth. Two sons of Rizpah, a concubine of Saul, and five sons of Merab (Michal in the Authorized Version is incorrect), Saul’s eldest daughter, are the victims. They were hanged by the Gibeonites and then left hanging. Sad it is to think that the horrible deed might have been averted if but David had again turned to the Lord and inquired of Him. And another law is broken, when these bodies were kept hanging for months. “And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day.” Surely the Lord could not sanction the deed so opposite to His own law. One of the most terrible scenes recorded in the Bible follows. Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, watched by her dead from April till fall, when it began to rain again. Six months she abode there, the only resting place the coarse sackcloth, above her the putrefying corpses of the seven men, including her two sons. While the hot oriental summer lasted she kept her awful watch and chased away by day the screeching birds of prey, while her nights were disturbed by the hungry howls of wolves and jackals. Could there be a more pathetic picture! And she gained something by it. When David hears of it he is stirred to action. The bones of Saul and Jonathan and the seven men who had been hanged were buried. And after that God was entreated for the land. It seems then that David turned to God and He was favorable to the land.
In the record of the battles with the Philistines four giants are mentioned. They represent the power of darkness, which the people of God must overcome. (For a full typical application we refer the reader to the Numerical Bible.)