2 Samuel 21


The writer of 2 Samuel closes the history of David’s reign in 2 Samuel 20:23-26, and the remaining four chapters of 2 Samuel form a kind of appendix. We read about a series of events, seven of them, of which took place whilst David was still reigning as king but they aren’t necessarily in chronological order.

The Gibeonites Avenged

‘During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?’ The Gibeonites answered him, ‘We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.’ ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ David asked. They answered the king, ‘As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul—the LORD’s chosen one.’ So the king said, ‘I will give them to you.’ The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the LORD between David and Jonathan son of Saul. But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning. Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.’ 2 Samuel 21:1-14

This chapter begins by telling us that there was a famine for three years in a row as a result of Saul’s overzealous actions in putting the Gibeonites to death. He basically tried to wipe out the whole race of the Gibeonites, thinking that God’s instructions to Israel regarding their putting the nations of Canaan to death might still be implemented, Joshua 9:24.

However, God’s commandment in that instance was to Joshua, not to Saul. It was far too late for Israel to attempt to do that. Saul also ignored a very important fact and that was the Israelites had made a solemn covenant with the Gibeonites that they wouldn’t be harmed and that the Gibeonites would be slaves to Israel, Joshua 9:22. In other words, Saul sinned because he broke that covenant agreement with the Gibeonites.

David then calls the Gibeonites and makes the same mistake that Joshua and the elders did, in that they didn’t ask God what they should do, Joshua 9:14. Instead of asking God what to do, he asked a pagan king, and because he does, he was never going to receive the correct answer.

The Gibeonites were not of Israel, they were the remnant of the Amorites, they were actually Hivites, Joshua 9:7. Being called Amorites was a common Old Testament name for anyone who lived in Canaan before Israel moved there, Genesis 15:16 / Deuteronomy 1:37 / Joshua 5:1 / Joshua 24:15 / 1 Samuel 7:14.

The Gibeonites didn’t want gold or silver and so they ask David for seven of Saul’s descendants in order for them to hand them and expose them, Numbers 35:33 / Deuteronomy 24:16. Although we’re not sure what the word ‘hang’ means here, it’s obvious they wanted to torture them in some form and leave their bodies exposed for some time, Deuteronomy 21:22-23.

If you remember, David had promised to be kind to Saul’s son Jonathan and his family, 1 Samuel 20:12-17, this is why he spared Mephibosheth, who was Jonathan’s only son, 2 Samuel 9:7. Rizpah was Saul’s concubine, 2 Samuel 3:7 and their son Mephibosheth was the uncle of Jonathan’s son who had the same name.

Merab had married Adriel instead of David in 1 Samuel 18:19, and Adriel’s father was Barzillai, but not the same man who earlier helped David, 2 Samuel 19:31-39.

The Gibeonites put the men’s bodies on a hill, by doing this they were displaying that the punishment was complete and as a result, the Lord could bless Israel again. The crops had failed because there had been no rain and as a result, the Israelites had no crops to harvest. Understandably Rizpah was very upset and protects her son’s bodies until it rained.

Some Israelites thought that David hated King Saul’s family, Shimei accused David of this in 2 Samuel 16:5-8, but this event shows that the Gibeonites, not David, killed Saul’s sons and grandsons. David always gave honour to Saul and his family. It’s possible that David felt guilty, thinking he didn’t do enough to give enough honour to Saul and Jonathan’s bodies.

The citizens of Jabesh Gilead had at some point stolen the bodies of Saul and Jonathon, 1 Samuel 31:8-13, and so David takes the bones of Saul, Jonathan and the seven members of his family and buries them properly in the grave of Saul’s father.

The Israelites had done everything fair and right, hence why God now sends the rain. The prayer of David and the people brought the power of God to preserve the people and the land. When the foreign forces were settled, and under the reign of David, there was peace from those outside the land of Palestine.

Wars Against The Philistines

‘Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, ‘Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.’ In the course of time, there was another battle with the Philistines, at Gob. At that time Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha. In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod. In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimeah, David’s brother, killed him. These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.’ 2 Samuel 21:15-22

Here we read about the incredible bravery of Abishai, Sibbechai, Elhanan and Jonathan and how their actions changed the history of Israel. David’s deliverance by these four men must have happened early in David’s reign when Israel was at war against the Philistines, 1 Chronicles 20:4-8. Their loyalty to David is clearly seen in their courageous actions.

Notice the text says that ‘Elhanan killed Goliath’. For many, this appears to be a contradiction because 1 Samuel 17:50-51 tells us that David killed Goliath.

F Payne in his commentary suggests the following.

1. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles 20:5 states that Elhanan killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath.

2. Elhanan and David were names of the same individual, just as Solomon was also named Jedidiah, 2 Samuel 12:24.

3. It is also possible that Goliath was a name worn by more than one Philistine giant, or that it was a Philistine title, or that it described a certain type of Philistine soldier.

These four men mentioned here were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. Significantly, David is mentioned here as one who had a hand in killing these giants, which perfectly harmonises with 1 Samuel 17:50-51.

Go To 2 Samuel 22


"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline."