2 Samuel Chapter 21


The Celebration of David’s Reign (21:1-24:25)

        • ESV Study Bible writes, “These last four chapters form an epilogue. There are six sections arranged concentrically. The first section deals with a drought, the last with a plague. The second and fifth talk about David’s heroes, and the middle two are psalms of David. They are not placed in chronological order with the rest of the book (note the vague expression ‘in the days of David’ in 21:1 [rendered ‘During David’s reign’ below]. The last section is climactic, describing the events to the purchase of land on which Solomon would build the temple.”

David Avenges the Gibeonites

      • During David’s reign there was a famine for three consecutive years, so he inquired of Yahweh. Yahweh answered, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and his house because he killed the Gibeonites.”

      • On when this famine occurred, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers writes, “It is plain from 2Samuel 21:7 that the events here narrated occurred after David had come to know Mephibosheth; and if in 2Samuel 16:7 there is (as many suppose) an allusion to the execution of Saul’s sons, they must have happened before the rebellion of Absalom. There is no more definite clue to the time, and the expression ‘in the days of David’ seems purposely indefinite. The narrative is omitted from the Book of Chronicles.”

      • On the possible link between Shimei’s cursing of David and this event, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Shimei’s outraged reference to ‘all the blood you shed in the household of Saul’ (16:8) may allude to the actions David takes in the present chapter to end the famine.”

      • On David ascribing this drought to divine causes, Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers says, “A famine in Palestine was always a consequence of deficient winter rains, and was not very uncommon; but a famine enduring for three successive years was alarming enough to awaken attention and to suggest some especial cause.”

      • Guzik explains, “This massacre isn’t recorded in 1 Samuel…Apparently at some time during his reign Saul attacked and killed many of the Gibeonites…In the days of Joshua – more than 400 years before David’s time – Israel swore not to harm the Gibeonites, a neighboring tribe (Joshua 9). God expected Israel to keep its promise, even though the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making the agreement. Saul’s crime was not only in killing the Gibeonites but also in breaking this ancient and important oath.”

      • Now the Gibeonites weren’t Israelites. Rather, they were a remnant of the Amorites. The Israelites had sworn an oath to spare them, but in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah, Saul had tried to kill them all. So the king summoned the Gibeonites and asked them, “What can I do for you, and how can I make amends so that you will bless Yahweh’s inheritance?”

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible writes, “Saul’s actions had caused the Gibeonites to curse Israel (cp. Rom 2:24).”

    • The Gibeonites answered, “We aren’t asking for gold and silver from Saul or his family, and we don’t have the right to put anyone to death in Israel.” David asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” They answered the king, “As for the man who exterminated us and schemed against to keep us from having any place in all of Israel’s territory, hand seven of his male descendants over to us and we will execute them before Yahweh at Gibeon on the mountain of Yahweh.” The king replied, “I will hand them over.”

        • The Hebrew word used here to denote the type of execution Saul’s descendants were to receive isn’t very clear. NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “The exact nature of this execution is not altogether clear. The verb…(yaqaʿ) basically means ‘to dislocate’ or ‘alienate.’ In Gen 32:26 it is used of the dislocation of Jacob’s thigh. Figuratively it can refer to the removal of an individual from a group (e.g., Jer 6:8; Ezek 23:17) or to a type of punishment the specific identity of which is uncertain (e.g., here and Num 25:4); cf. NAB ‘dismember them’; NIV ‘to be killed and exposed.’”

        • There is also a textual discrepancy in v. 6 in which I have opted for the LXX reading- “at Gibeon on the mountain of Yahweh.” NLT Illustrated Study Bible footnotes document the Masoretic reading, “at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” The same source writes, “This probably refers to the high place at Gibeon that Solomon later visited (1 Kgs 3:3-4; 2 Chr 1:3). If the Hebrew reading is correct…, the Gibeonites were sarcastically referring to Saul as ‘the chosen of the Lord.’”

        • Again we have an instance where commentators flounder to come up with an explanation to reconcile the Deut 24:16 command, “nor shall children be put to death for their fathers,” with the unavoidable conclusion that this is precisely what is being described in the passage. ESV Study Bible even makes the statement, “In any case, the narrator never tells readers that God approved of David’s action here…” Of course, the fact that the relief from the famine did, indeed, result from David’s action (21:14) certainly seems to be an implicit approval of the very thing these commentators are trying to argue is ambiguous in the text- Yahweh’s approval. In this case, I believe the commentators of the NLT Illustrated Study Bible hit the nail on the head without stumbling into the usual cop-out:

          • Although the law codes of other ancient Near Eastern nations sometimes permitted members of a family to be punished for crimes a guilty individual had committed, Deut 24:16 prohibited such punishment among the Israelites. This penalty was God’s prerogative alone (Deut 5:9). The few instances in the Bible when offspring were punished were not regular criminal cases. Rather, they involved offenses against God, such as violation of the kherem (the taboo on goods in wars of total destruction ordered by God; Josh 7:24-25) or of national oaths (as here).

      • The king spared Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son and Saul’s grandson, because of the oath of Yahweh that had been taken between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. But he took Armoni and Mephibosheth, who were Saul’s sons by Aiah’s daughter Rizpah. He also took the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had born to Adriel, the son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He turned them over to the Gibeonites and they executed them on the hill in the presence of Yahweh. All seven of them died together. They were executed in the first days of the harvest at the beginning of harvest time.

        • NLT Illustrated Study Bible mentions some discrepancies in the Masoretic text here (listing the 5 sons as sons of Michal instead of Merab), which results in many translators opting for the LXX reading, “Armoni and Mephibosheth were Saul’s only two remaining sons… The NLT follows the Greek here because Michal remained childless (6:22-23). Also, Merab was married to Adriel (1 Sam 18:19), whereas Michal’s other husband was Palti (2 Sam 3:15).”

        • The same source notes, “Barzillai from Meholah (cp 1 Sam 18:19) should not be confused with Barzillai of Gilead (2 Sam 19:31).”

      • Aiah’s daughter Rizpah spread out sackcloth for herself on the rock at the beginning of the harvest and stayed there until the rain fell upon them from the heavens. She kept the birds of the sky away from the bodies by day and kept the wild animals away from them at 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 men of Jabesh Gilead. The men had stolen the bodies from the public square of Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them they day they killed Saul on Mount Gilboa. David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and he gathered up the bones of those who had been executed.

        • Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible remarks, “And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth,…. Both as a token of mourning for her sons, and as fittest to defend from the weather, the heat by day of cold by night: and spread it for her upon the rock…this she spread as a canopy or tent to sit under, and be covered with it; not to cover the bodies with it, but herself, and where she sat to mourn the loss of her sons, and to watch their bodies, that they might not be devoured by birds and breasts of prey, as after observed: and here she sat from the beginning of harvest until water dropped on them out of heaven; that is, as the Jews say (n), from the sixteenth of Nisan, when barley harvest began, to the seventeenth of Marchesvan, when the former rain fell; that is, from the beginning of April to the beginning of October: but it is not likely that she continued so long watching the bodies, nor would there be any need of it to keep the birds and beasts from them; for after they had hung so many months, there would be nothing left for them; but rather the meaning is, that she continued there until it pleased God to send rain from heaven, which had been restrained, and a famine came upon it, because of the ill usage of the Gibeonites…”

      • They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, which is located in Zela in the land of Benjamin. They did everything the king commanded, and after that, God responded to their prayers for the land.

        • ESV Study Bible says, “David also took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan…and presumably, buried them alongside the seven others of Saul’s family who had just been killed. Saul was apparently from Gibeah (1 Sam 11:4), but his family could have originally come from the Benjaminite town of Zela (Josh 18:28).”

Battles Against Philistine Giants

      • ESV Study Bible remarks, “This section recounts four fights of David’s men with Philistine giants. ‘There was war again’ suggests that this is an excerpt from some writing about David’s wars.”

    • There was another battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men and fought the Philistines, and David became exhausted. Now Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, had a spear that weighed over 7 pounds, and was armed with a new weapon. He had said that he would kill David. But Zeruiah’s son, Abishai, came to his rescue. He struck the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “You must never go out to battle with us again! You must not extinguish the lamp of Israel!”

      • Translation discrepancies abound in this passage: over whether or not Ishbi-benob is a name; who David’s assailant was a descendant of; and, what new thing he was armed with. We’ll take a look at these one at a time:

        • On Ishbi-benob, excerpts from various commentaries:

          • Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “The name is a strange one, and it is generally thought that some error has crept into the text, but none of the suggested emendations are free from difficulty. Perhaps the most probable is that in the Speaker’s Commentary, by which for Ishbi (the Hebrew margin) they halted is read, and benob, by a very slight change in one letter, becomes at Gob; then a clause is supplied, there was a man, so that the whole reads, “David waxed faint, and they halted at Gob. And there was a man which was of the sons,”; 2Samuel 21:18 (as well as 2Samuel 21:19) seems to imply a previous battle in Gob.”

          • Pulpit Commentary: “The Hebrew has Ishbo-benob, which Gesenius interprets as meaning “dweller upon the height.” But surely the man’s name would not be Hebrew; he was a Raphah, and we shall not be able to explain his name until we know the language of the Rephaim.”

        • Who was David’s assailant a descendant of- a man named Rapha, a race of giants, or some Canaanite god?

          • NET Bible renders the text as a man by the name of Rapha. Yet, their text critical notes add, “This name has the definite article and may be intended to refer to a group of people rather than a single individual with this name.”

          • Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: “of the sons of the giant] The word for sons is one specially used of the progeny of the giant races of Canaan (Numbers 13:22; Numbers 13:28; Joshua 15:14). Râphâh, or with the article ha-Râphâh, translated ‘the giant,’ may be a quasi proper-name for the father of the four giants here mentioned, or, more probably, for the founder of the tribe of Rephaim.”

          • HCSB notes: “…A recent suggestion is that the phrase ‘one of the descendants of the Rapha’ (the literal Hebrew phrase) means that Ishbi-benob was a member of a group that worshiped a god named Rapha.”

          • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible provides what I consider to be the most accurate discussion, “…Rapha is probably best understood not as the name of a deity in Gath, as some have suggested, but as a collective noun to be associated with the Rephaites- pre-Israelite inhabitants of the land of Canaan (Ge 14:5; 15:20; Dt 2:20; Jos 17:15). The Rephaites were noted for their gigantic proportions…Among the Rephaites were sometimes counted such peoples as the Emites, Zamzummites and Anakites (Dt 2:10-11, 20-21), all peoples distinguished for their strength and stature. According to Jos 11:21-22, the Anakites were driven out of the hill country of Israel and Judah by Joshua but were able to survive in the cities of Gaza, Gath and Ashdod- thus in the general area in view in the present context.”

      • He had a new what?

        • NET Bible’s text critical notes say, “The Hebrew text reads simply ‘a new [thing],’ prompting one to ask ‘A new what?’ Several possibilities have been proposed to resolve the problem: perhaps a word has dropped out of the Hebrew text here; or perhaps the word ‘new’ is the result of misreading a different, less common, word; or perhaps a word (e.g., ‘sword,’ so KJV, NAB, NASB, NIV, CEV, NLT) is simply to be inferred. The translation generally follows the last possibility, while at the same time being deliberately nonspecific (‘weapon’).”

    • Later there was another battle with the Philistines in Gob. On that occasion Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants.

    • Yet another battle with the Philistines took place at Gob. On that occasion Jair’s son, Elhanan, who was a Bethelehemite, killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite. The shaft of his spear was like a weaver’s beam.

      • The Masoretic text of this verse is corrupted, which has led to all kinds of wild leaps to reconcile the fact that the text is clearly at odds with itself. Rather than go through all of those, I’ll include NET Bible’s text critical notes on the two issues:

        • The first- Jair who?

          • Heb ‘Jaare-Oregim,’ but the second word, which means ‘weavers,’ is probably accidentally included. It appears at the end of the verse. The term is omitted in the parallel account in 1 Chr 20:5, which has simply ‘Jair.’”

        • The second infamous contradiction- who killed Goliath?

        • The Hebrew text as it stands reads, ‘Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite.’ Who killed Goliath the Gittite? According to 1 Sam 17:4-58 it was David who killed Goliath, but according to the MT of 2 Sam 21:19 it was Elhanan who killed him. Many scholars believe that the two passages are hopelessly at variance with one another. Others have proposed various solutions to the difficulty, such as identifying David with Elhanan or positing the existence of two Goliaths. But in all likelihood the problem is the result of difficulties in the textual transmission of the Samuel passage. The parallel passage in 1 Chr 20:5 reads, ‘Elhanan son of Jair killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath.’ Both versions are textually suspect. The Chronicles text appears to have misread ‘Bethlehemite (… bet hallakhmi) as the accusative sign followed by a proper name… (ʾet lakhmi). (See the note at 1 Chr 20:5.) The Samuel text appears to have misread the word for ‘brother’ (…ʾakh) as the accusative sign (… ʾet), thereby giving the impression that Elhanan, not David, killed Goliath. Thus in all probability the original text read, ‘Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath.’”

      • Yet another battle took place in Gath. On that occasion there was a huge man there who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot- 24 in all! He was also a descendant of the giants. When he taunted Israel, Jonathan, who was the son of David’s brother Shimei, killed him. These four were the descendants of the giants in Gath, and they were killed by David and his men.

        • NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible notes, “Polydactylism (extra digits on the hands or feet) was, like other physical abnormalities, a subject of considerable interest in antiquity…The prevalence of this genetic abnormality, particularly common in inbred societies, is masked in the modern Western world by cosmetic surgical intervention at birth.”

X- Ray of “Left foot with postaxial polydactyly of 5th ray” via wikipedia

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