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II Samuel Chapter 21


Memory verses for this week:  Job 19:25  For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:

Job 19:26  And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:

Overview of II Samuel 21: This chapter presents the matter of the three year famine, David’s inquiry of the Lord about it, and the avenging of the Gibeonites. The chapter ends with record of another war with the Philistines.  

I.              The Three Years of Famine

2 Sam 21:1  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.

A famine over 3 years of time is highly unusual.   David realized this and asked God why.    God answered, perhaps through an unspecified prophet that He was chastening the land because of Saul’s unjust treatment of the Gibeonites.   Israel had made a covenant with the Gibeonites in Joshua 9:15 more than four hundred years earlier not to kill them.  

Josh 9:15  And Joshua made peace with them, and made a league with them, to let them live: and the princes of the congregation sware unto them.

Josh 9:16  And it came to pass at the end of three days after they had made a league with them, that they heard that they were their neighbours, and that they dwelt among them.

Josh 9:17  And the children of Israel journeyed, and came unto their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, and Chephirah, and Beeroth, and Kirjathjearim.

Josh 9:18  And the children of Israel smote them not, because the princes of the congregation had sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel. And all the congregation murmured against the princes.

Josh 9:19  But all the princes said unto all the congregation, We have sworn unto them by the LORD God of Israel: now therefore we may not touch them.


Saul broke that covenant.   Amazing in this is that God’s chastening upon Israel came more than forty years after     the fact.   The fact that God would deal with sin years later ought to be a sobering reminder to live unto righteousness continually.   Precisely when this event took place is not clear.   Jewish tradition holds that it was accomplished when Saul killed the priests at Nob.  It is presumed that the Gibeonites were the hewers of wood and drawers of water to them and that Saul slew them as well.  

2 Sam 21:2  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 Sam 21:3  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 Sam 21:4  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 Sam 21:5  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 Sam 21:6  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. 

The history of the Gibeonites here is briefly rehearsed.   David then asked them what they wanted done to rectify the matter.    In verse 6, we find the Gibeonites wanted no cash settlement nor did they want any general retribution of Israelites.  

David asked, what do you want then?   Their request was simple. They wanted seven descendants of Saul to be delivered for their execution.

And the king said, “I will give them.” 

Matthew Henry made some good comments about how sin may visit us many years past the time it is committed.


We find the nation of Israel chastised with a sore famine, long after, for this sin of Saul. Observe, 1. Even in the land of Israel, that fruitful land, and in the reign of David, that glorious reign, there was a famine, not extreme (for then notice would sooner have been taken of it and enquiry made into the cause of it), but great drought, and scarcity of provisions, the consequence of it, for three years together. If corn miss one year, commonly the next makes up the deficiency; but, if it miss three years successively, it will be a sore judgment; and the man of wisdom will by it hear God’s voice crying to the country to repent of the abuse of plenty. 2. David enquired of God concerning it. Though he was himself a prophet, he must consult the oracle, and know God’s mind in his own appointed way. Note, When we are under God’s judgments we ought to enquire into the grounds of the controversy. Lord, show me wherefore thou contendest with me. It is strange that David did not sooner consult the oracle, not till the third year; but perhaps, till then, he apprehended it not to be an extraordinary judgment for some particular sin. Even good men are often slack and remiss in doing their duty. We continue in ignorance, and under mistake, because we delay to enquire. 3. God was ready in his answer, though David was slow in his enquiries: It is for Saul. Note, God’s judgments often look a great way back, which obliges us to do so when we are under his rebukes. It is not for us to object against the people’s smarting for the sin of their king (perhaps they were aiding and abetting), nor against this generation’s suffering for the sin of the last God often visiteth the sins of the fathers upon the children, and his judgments are a great deep. He gives not account of any of his matters. Time does not wear out the guilt of sin; nor can we build hopes of impunity upon the delay of judgments. There is no statute of limitation to be pleaded against God’s demands. God may punish when he pleases.[1] 

2 Sam 21:7  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 Sam 21:8  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:

2 Sam 21:9  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.

Because of his oath made to Jonathan, David spared Mephibosheth.   Further insight into the family of Saul is provided.   Saul had a concubine by the name of Rizpah. Her two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth (not Jonathan's son, but Rizpah's son Mephibosheth) were delivered to the Gibeonites.   Though Michal had no children, she brought up her sister’s (Merab) five sons.   David delivered these to be executed as well.  

The Gibeonites hanged these seven grandsons of Saul evidently at the hill of Gibeah.   This was done in the Spring.    The beginning of the barley harvest was the day after Passover.  

2 Sam 21:10  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 Sam 21:11  And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.

2 Sam 21:12  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 Sam 21:13  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 Sam 21:14  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 entreated for the land. 

Precisely what Rizpah (the mother of two of those executed) did is not altogether clear.   Some have interpreted this to mean that she spread a tent of sackcloth over the bodies of her dead sons and nephews. (It may be they were left hanging.)   This is noted as being accomplished until it finally rained, abating the famine.   She, by doing so, prevented birds and animals of carrion to molest them.   This evidently moved David to do what is recorded next.


In verse 12, when Saul and Jonathan were killed at the battle of Mount Gilboa, men from Jabesh-Gilead came and buried them in Gilead.   David saw to it that the entire family of Saul was properly buried in Benjamin, his home tribe, in the family cemetery.   In seeing all of this, God brought relief from the drought and sent rain to the land.

 In the King James Study Bible, Jerry Falwell made note that Rizpah's actions affected King David.

Rizpah’s protection of Saul’s slain sons, so when the rain fell again the bodies could be properly buried, moved David to secure the remains of Saul and Jonathan and give them a proper burial.[2]


II.   Another War with the Philistines 

2 Sam 21:15  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 Sam 21:16  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.

2 Sam 21:17  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.

Age was catching up with David.   He no longer had the stamina and strength to be a field commander before his armies.   Goliath evidently had a son by the name of Ishbibenob who was determined to avenge the death of his father years before.   Record is made of him carrying a massive spear and a new sword with which he was determined to kill David.   The thought is that Abishai helped David and killed the Philistine.   That evidently was a close call David’s men did not wish to experience again.   They told David that they would not allow him to go into battle with them again.  

They likened him to the light of Israel as their leader.

2 Sam 21:18  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 Sam 21:19  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 Sam 21:20  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 Sam 21:21  And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimeah the brother of David slew him.

2 Sam 21:22  These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants. 

In II Samuel 12:10, the prophet Nathan had told David that the sword would never          depart from his house.   It is conceivable that the following is a continuation of that chastisement.   In this next battle with the Philistines, another son of Goliath was slain.   In yet another battle, Goliath’s brother came out to fight with a massive spear. (I Chronicles 20:5 notes this man as Goliath’s brother.)  

1 Chr 20:5  And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver's beam.

1 Chr 20:6  And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant.

1 Chr 20:7  But when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea David's brother slew him.

1 Chr 20:8  These were born unto the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants. 

It seems that the family of Goliath was determined to avenge their father’s (or brother's) death at the hand of David, though years earlier.   In an additional attempt to kill David  another son, a giant himself with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, defied Israel to fight him.   This time David’s nephew Shimea dispatched him.  

Though large in size, the giants of Philistia were no match for the fierce warriors of Israel.   David’s men, one by one, killed them.     In our lives, we face a lot of battles, and some may seem just as intimidating as these giants did to Israel.   But we have a God that is bigger than anything Satan can throw against us. 

1 John 4:4  Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.

1 John 4:5  They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

1 John 4:6  We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error. 

Conclusion : When we are under Gods judgment, we should inquire as to the grounds of the controversy. When the cause is revealed, we should go to all lengths to make right the wrongs of the past that Gods full blessing may be upon us.  

 I was reading one of Charles Spurgeon's sermons, and I think it really ties in well with the sin that caused the great famine there in Israel.   God is a jealous God, and he wants His people to be unique and separate from the world where sin is common place. 

Delivered on Sunday Morning, March 29th, 1863, by the Rev. C. H. SPURGEON, At the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington

For the Lord, whose name is jealous, is a jealous God.”—Exodus 34:14.

THE PASSION OF JEALOUSY IN MAN is usually exercised in an evil manner, but it is not in itself necessarily sinful. A man may be zealously cautious of his honor, and suspiciously vigilant over another, without deserving blame. All thoughtful persons will agree that there is such a thing as virtuous jealousy. Self-love is, no doubt, the usual foundation of human jealousy, and it may be that Shenstone is right in his definition of it as “the apprehension of superiority,” the fear lest another should by any means supplant us; yet the word jealous” is so near akin to that noble word zealous,” that I am persuaded it must have something good in it. Certainly we learn from Scripture that there is such a thing as a godly jealousy. We find the Apostle Paul declaring to the Corinthian Church, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I have espoused you to one husband that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.” He had an earnest, cautious, anxious concern for their holiness, that the Lord Jesus might be honored in their lives. Let it be remembered then, that jealousy, like anger, is not evil in itself, or it could never be ascribed to God; his jealousy is ever a pure and holy flame. The passion of jealousy possesses an intense force, it fires the whole nature, its coals are juniper, which have a most vehement flame; it resides in the lowest depths of the heart, and takes so firm a hold that it remains most deeply rooted until the exciting cause is removed; it wells up from the inmost recesses of the nature, and like a torrent irresistibly sweeps all before it; it stops at nothing, for it is cruel as the grave, it provokes wrath to the utmost, for it is the rage of a man, therefore he will not spare in the day of vengeance (Proverbs 6:34), and it over throws everything in the pursuit of its enemy, for “wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before jealousy?” For all these reasons jealousy is selected as some faint picture of that tender regard which God has for His own Deity, honor, and supremacy, and the holy indignation which he feels towards those who violate his laws, offend his majesty, or impeach his character.

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Prov 4:18  But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.


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[1]               Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Bible, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers) 1997.

[2]               Thomas Nelson, Inc., King James Version Study Bible [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1988  by Liberty University.