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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

2 Kings (2 Samuel) Chapter 21

2 Kings (2 Samuel)

sa2 21:0

IV. Close of David's Reign - 2 Samuel 21-24

After the suppression of the rebellion headed by Sheba, David spent the remaining years of his reign in establishing the kingdom upon a firmer basis, partly by organizing the army, the administration of justice, and the general government of the realm, and partly by making preparations for the erection of the temple, and enacting rules for the service of the Levites; that he might be able to hand over the government in a firm and satisfactory state to his youthful son Solomon, whom the Lord had appointed as his successor. The account of these regulations and enactments fills up the whole of the last section of the history of David's reign in the first book of Chronicles. But in the book before us, several other things - (1) two divine punishments inflicted upon Israel, with the expiation of the sins that occasioned them (Sa2 21:1-14, and 2 Samuel 24); (2) David's psalm of praise for deliverance out of the hand of all his enemies (2 Samuel 22), and his last prophetic words (Sa2 23:1-7); and (3) a few brief notices of victorious acts performed in the wars with the Philistines (Sa2 21:15-22), and a longer list of David's heroes (2 Samuel 23:8-39) - form, as it were, a historical framework for these poetical and prophetic portions. Of the two divine visitations mentioned, the pestilence occasioned by the numbering of the people (2 Samuel 24) occurred undoubtedly in the closing years of David's reign; whereas the famine, and the expiation connected with it (Sa2 21:1-14), happened most probably at an earlier period, and are merely introduced here because no fitting opportunity had presented itself before. The kernel and centre of this last section of the history of David is to be found unquestionably in the psalm of thanksgiving in 2 Samuel 22, and the prophetic announcement of an exalted and blessed king. In the psalm of thanksgiving David looks back at the close of his life upon all the mercy and faithfulness which he had experienced throughout his reign, and praises the Lord his God for the whole. In his "last words" he looks forward into the time to come, and on the strength of the promise which he has received, of the eternal duration of the dominion of his house, sees in spirit the just Ruler, who will one day arise from his seed, and take the throne of his kingdom for ever. These two lyrical and prophetic productions of David, the ripest spiritual fruit of his life, form a worthy conclusion to this reign. To this there is appended the list of his heroes, in the form of a supplement (2 Samuel 23:8-39); and finally in 2 Samuel 24 the account of the numbering of the people, and the pestilence which fell upon Israel, as a punishment for this fault on the part of David. This account is placed at the close of the books of Samuel, merely because the altar which was built to expiate the wrath of God, together with the sacrifices offered upon it, served to consecrate the site for the temple, which was to be erected after David's death, in accordance with the divine promise (Sa2 7:13), by his son and successor Solomon.

2 Kings (2 Samuel) 21:1

sa2 21:1

Three Years' Famine. - A three years' famine in the land, the occasion of which, as Jehovah declared to the king, was Saul's crime with regard to the Gibeonites, was expiated by David's delivering up to the Gibeonites, at their own request, seven of Saul's descendants, who were then hung by them upon a mountain before Jehovah. This occurrence certainly did not take place in the closing years of David's reign; on the other hand, it is evident from the remark in Sa2 21:7, to the effect that Mephibosheth was spared, that it happened after David had received tidings of Mephibosheth, and had taken him to his own table (Sa2 9:1-13). This is mentioned here as a practical illustration, on the one hand of the manner in which Jehovah visited upon the house of Saul, even after the death of Saul himself, a crime which had been committed by him; and, on the other hand, of the way in which, even in such a case as this, when David had been obliged to sacrifice the descendants of Saul to expiate the guilt of their father, he showed his tenderness towards him by the honourable burial of their bones.

Sa2 21:1-6

A famine, which lasted for three successive years, induced David to seek the face of Jehovah, i.e., to approach God in prayer and ask the cause of this judgment which had fallen upon the land. The Lord replied, "Because of Saul, and because of the house of blood-guiltiness, because he hath slain the Gibeonites." The expression "because of the house of blood-guiltiness" is in apposition to "Saul," and determines the meaning more precisely: "because of Saul, and indeed because of the blood-guiltiness which rests upon his house." הדּמים בּית signifies the house upon which blood that had been shed still rested as guilt, like הדּמים עיר in Eze 22:2; Eze 24:6, Eze 24:9, and דּמים אישׁ in Psa 5:7; Psa 27:9, etc. Nothing further is known about the fact itself. It is simply evident from the words of the Gibeonites in Sa2 21:5, that Saul, in his pretended zeal for the children of Israel, had smitten the Gibeonites, i.e., had put them to death. Probably some dissatisfaction with them had furnished Saul with a pretext for exterminating these Amoritish heathen from the midst of the people of God.

Sa2 21:2-3

In consequence of this answer from God, which merely indicated in a general manner the cause of the visitation that had come upon the land, David sent for the Gibeonites to ask them concerning the wrong that had been done them by Saul. But before the historian communicates their answer, he introduces an explanation respecting the Gibeonites, to the effect that they were not Israelites, but remnants of the Amorites, to whom Joshua had promised on oath that their lives should be preserved (vid., Jos 9:3.). They are called Hivites in the book of Joshua (Jos 9:7); whereas here they are designated Amorites, according to the more general name which is frequently used as comprehending all the tribes of Canaan (see at Gen 10:16 and Gen 15:16). David said to the Gibeonites, "What shall I do for you, and wherewith shall I expiate" (sc., the wrong done you), "that ye may bless the inheritance (i.e., the nation) of Jehovah?" On the use of the imperative וּברכוּ to denote the certain consequences, see Ewald, 347.

Sa2 21:4-5

The Gibeonites answered, "I have not to do with silver and gold concerning Saul and his house" (lit. it is not, does not stand, to me at silver and gold with Saul and his house), i.e., I have no money to demand of Saul, require no pecuniary payment as compensation for the blood which he shed among us (vid., Num 35:31). The Chethib לי is not to be touched, notwithstanding the לנוּ which follows. The use of the singular may be explained on the simple ground that the speaker thought of the Gibeonites as a corporation. "And it does not pertain to us to put any one to death in Israel" (sc., of our own accord). When David inquired still further, "What do you mean, then, that I should do to you?" they replied, "(As for) the man who consumed us, and who thought against us, that we should be destroyed (נשׁמדנוּ without כּי, subordinately to דּמּה, like אעשׂה in the previous verse), so as not to continue in the whole of the territory of Israel, let seven men of his sons be given us, that we may crucify them to Jehovah at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of Jehovah." וגו אשׁר אישׁ is placed at the head absolutely (cf. Gesenius, 145, 2). On crucifixion as a capital punishment, see at Num 25:4, where it has already been observed that criminals were not impaled or fastened to the cross alive, but were first of all put to death. Consequently the Gibeonites desired that the massacre, which had taken place among them by the command of Saul, should be expiated by the execution of a number of his sons - blood for blood, according to Num 35:31. They asked for the crucifixion for Jehovah, i.e., that the persons executed might be impaled, as a public exhibition of the punishment inflicted, before the face of the Lord (vid., Sa2 21:9), as the satisfaction required to expiate His wrath. Seven was a sacred number, denoting the performance of a work of God. This was to take place in Gibeah, the home and capital of Saul, who had brought the wrath of God upon the land through his crime. There is a sacred irony in the epithet applied to Saul, "chosen of the Lord." If Saul was the chosen of Jehovah, his actions ought to have been in accordance with his divine election.

Sa2 21:6-10

David granted the request, because, according to the law in Num 35:33, blood-guiltiness when resting upon the land could only be expiated by the blood of the criminal; but in delivering up the members of Saul's house for whom they asked, he spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, for the sake of the bond of friendship which he had formed with Jonathan on oath (Sa1 18:3; Sa1 20:8, Sa1 20:16), and gave up to the Gibeonites two sons of Rizpah, a concubine of Saul (vid., Sa2 21:11 and Sa2 3:7), and five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had borne to Adriel of Meholah. The name of Michal, which stands in the text, is founded upon an error of memory or a copyist's mistake; for it was not Michal, but Merab, Saul's eldest daughter, who was given to Adriel the Meholathite as his wife (Sa1 18:19). The Gibeonites crucified those who were delivered up to them upon the mountain at Gibeah before Jehovah (see the remarks on Sa2 21:6). "Thus fell seven at once." The Chethib שׁבעתים, at which the Masoretes took such offence that they wanted to change it into שׁבעתּם, is defended by Bttcher very properly, on the ground that the dual of the numeral denotes what is uniformly repeated as if by pairing; so that here it expresses what was extraordinary in the even tin a more pictorial manner than the Keri: "They fell sevenfold at once," i.e., seven in the same way. The further remark, "they were slain in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of the barley harvest," belongs to what follows, for which it prepares the way. The two Keris, והמּה for והם, and בּתחלּת for תּחלּת, are needless emendations. תּחלּת is an adverbial accusative (vid., Ges. 118, 2). The harvest began with the barley harvest, about the middle of Nisan, our April.

Sa2 21:10

And Rizpah took sackcloth, i.e., the coarse hairy cloth that was worn as mourning, and spread it out for herself by the rock - not as a tent, as Clericus supposes, still less as a covering over the corpses of those who had been executed, according to the exegetical handbook, but for a bed - "from the beginning of the harvest till water was poured out upon them (the crucified) from heaven," i.e., till rain came as a sign that the plague of drought that had rested upon the land was appeased; after which the corpses could be openly taken down from the stakes and buried, - a fact which is passed over in the account before us, where only the principal points are given. This is the explanation which Josephus has correctly adopted; but his assumption that the rain fell at once, and before the ordinary early rain, has no foundation in the text of the Bible. "And suffered not the birds of heaven to settle upon the corpses by day, or the wild beasts by night." Leaving corpses without burial, to be consumed by birds of prey and wild beasts, was regarded as the greatest ignominy that could befal the dead (see at Sa1 17:44). According to Deu 21:22-23, persons executed were not to remain hanging through the night upon the stake, but to be buried before evening. This law, however, had no application whatever to the case before us, where the expiation of guilt that rested upon the whole land was concerned. In this instance the expiatory sacrifices were to remain exposed before Jehovah, till the cessation of the plague showed that His wrath had been appeased.

Sa2 21:11-14

When this touching care of Rizpah for the dead was told to David, he took care that the bones of the whole of the fallen royal house should be buried in the burial-place of Saul's family. He therefore sent for the bones of Saul and Jonathan, which the men of Jabesh had taken away secretly from the wall of Beisan, where the Philistines had fastened the bodies, and which had been buried in Jabesh (Sa1 31:10.), and had the bones of the sons and grandsons of Saul who had been crucified at Gibeah collected together, and interred all these bones at Zela in the land of Benjamin, in the family grave of Kish the father of Saul. גּנּב, to take away secretly. בּית־שׁן מּרחב, from the market-place of Bethshan, does not present any contradiction to the statement in Sa1 31:10, that the Philistines fastened the body to the wall of Bethshan, as the rechob or market-place in eastern towns is not in the middle of the town, but is an open place against or in front of the gate (cf. Ch2 32:6; Neh 8:1, Neh 8:3,Neh 8:16). This place, as the common meeting-place of the citizens, was the most suitable spot that the Philistines could find for fastening the bodies to the wall. The Chethib תּלוּם is the true Hebrew form from תּלה, whereas the Keri תּלאוּם is a formation resembling the Aramaean (cf. Ewald, 252, a.). The Keri פלשׁתּים שׁמּה is correct, however, as פלשׁתּים, being a proper name, does not take any article. In הכּות בּיום the literal meaning of יום (day) must not be strictly pressed, but the expression is to be taken in the sense of "at the time of the smiting;" for the hanging up of the bodies did not take place till the day after the battle (Sa1 31:8.). - In Sa2 21:14 the account is abridged, and the bones of the crucified persons are not mentioned again. The situation of Zela is unknown (see at Jos 18:28). After this had been carried out in accordance with the king's command, God suffered himself to be entreated for the land, so that the famine ceased.

2 Kings (2 Samuel) 21:15

sa2 21:15

Heroic Acts Performed in the Wars with the Philistines. - The brief accounts contained in these verses of different heroic feats were probably taken from a history of David's wars drawn up in the form of chronicles, and are introduced here as practical proofs of the gracious deliverance of David out of the hand of all his foes, for which he praises the Lord his God in the psalm of thanksgiving which follows, so that the enumeration of these feats is to be regarded as supplying a historical basis for the psalm.

Sa2 21:15-16

The Philistines had war with Israel again. עוד (again) refers generally to earlier wars with the Philistines, and has probably been taken without alteration from the chronicles employed by our author, where the account which follows was attached to notices of other wars. This may be gathered from the books of the Chronicles, where three of the heroic feats mentioned here are attached to the general survey of David's wars (vid., Ch1 20:4). David was exhausted in this fight, and a Philistian giant thought to slay him; but Abishai came to his help and slew the giant. He was called Yishbo benob (Keri, Yishbi), i.e., not Yishbo at Nob, but Yishbobenob, a proper name, the meaning of which is probably "his dwelling is on the height," and which may have been given to him because of his inaccessible castle. He was one of the descendants of Raphah, i.e., one of the gigantic race of Rephaim. Raphah was the tribe-father of the Rephaim, an ancient tribe of gigantic stature, of whom only a few families were left even in Moses' time (vid., Deu 2:11; Deu 3:11, Deu 3:13, and the commentary on Gen 14:5). The weight of his lance, i.e., of the metal point to his lance, was three hundred shekels, or eight pounds, of brass, half as much as the spear of Goliath (Sa1 17:7); "and he was girded with new armour." Bttcher has no doubt given the correct explanation of the word חדשׁה; he supposes the feminine to be used in a collective sense, so that the noun ("armour," כּליו) could be dispensed with. (For parallels both to the words and facts, vid., Jdg 18:11 and Deu 1:41.) ויּאמר, he said (sc., to himself), i.e., he thought.

Sa2 21:17

The danger into which the king had been brought in this war, and out of which he had been rescued solely by Abishai's timely help, induced his attendants to make him swear that he would not go into battle any more in person. לו נשׁבּע, administered an oath to him, i.e., fixed him by a promise on oath. תכבּה ולא תכבּ, "and shalt not extinguish the light of Israel." David had become the light of Israel from the fact that Jehovah was his light (Sa2 22:29), or, according to the parallel passage in Psa 18:29, that Jehovah had lighted his lamp and enlightened his darkness, i.e., had lifted him out of a state of humiliation and obscurity into one of honour and glory. The light (or lamp) is a figure used to represent the light of life as continually burning, i.e., life in prosperity and honour. David's regal life and actions were the light which the grace of God had kindled for the benefit of Israel. This light he was not to extinguish, namely by going into the midst of war and so exposing his valuable life to danger.

Sa2 21:18

(compare Ch1 20:4). In a second war, Sibbechai and Hushathite slew Saph the Rephaite at Gob. According to Ch1 27:11, Sibbechai, one of the gibborim of David (Ch1 11:29), was the leader of the eighth division of the army (see at Sa2 23:27). החשׁתי is a patronymic from חוּשׁה in Ch1 4:4. The scene of conflict is called Gob in our text, and Gezer in the Chronicles. As Gob is entirely unknown. Thenius supposes it to be a slip of the pen for Gezer; but this is improbable, for the simple reason that Gob occurs again in Sa2 21:19. It may possibly have been a small place somewhere near to Gezer, which some suppose to have stood on the site of el Kubab, on the road from Ramleh to Yalo (see at Jos 10:33). The name Saph is written Sippai in the Chronicles.

Sa2 21:19

(vid., Ch1 20:5). In another war with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan the son of Yaare-Orgim of Bethlehem smote Goliath of Gath, whose spear was like a weaver's beam. In the Chronicles, however, we find it stated that "Elhanan the son of Jair smote Lahmi the brother of Goliath of Gath, whose spear," etc. The words of our text are so similar to those of the Chronicles, if we only leave out the word ארגים, which probably crept in from the next line through oversight on the part of a copyist, that they presuppose the same original text, so that the difference can only have arisen from an error in copying. The majority of the expositors (e.g., Piscator, Clericus, Michaelis, Movers, and Thenius) regard the text of the Chronicles as the true and original one, and the text before us as simply corrupt. But Bertheau and Bttcher maintain the opposite opinion, because it is impossible to see how the reading in 2 Samuel. could grow out of that in the Chronicles; whereas the reading in the Chronicles might have arisen through conscious alteration originating in the offence taken by some reader, who recalled the account of the conflict between David and Goliath, at the statement that Elhanan smote a giant named Goliath, and who therefore altered את הלחמי בית into אחי לחמי את. But apart from the question whether there were two Goliaths, one of whom was slain by David and the other by Elhanan, the fact that the conjecture of Bertheau and Bttcher presupposes a deliberate alteration of the text, or rather, to speak more correctly, an intentional falsification of the historical account, is quite sufficient to overthrow it, as not a single example of anything of the kind can be adduced from the whole of the Chronicles. On the other hand, the recollection of David's celebrated officer Elhanan of Bethlehem (Sa2 23:24; Ch1 11:26) might easily lead to an identification of the Elhanan mentioned here with that officer, and so occasion the alteration of לחמי את into הלחמי בית. This alteration was then followed by that of גלית אחי into גליה את, and all the more easily from the fact that the description of Lahmi's spear corresponds word for word with that of Goliath's spear in Sa1 17:7. Consequently we must regard the reading in the Chronicles as the correct one, and alter our text accordingly; since the assumption that there were two Goliaths is a very improbable one, and there is nothing at all strange in the reference to a brother of Goliath, who was also a powerful giant, and carried a spear like Goliath. Elhanan the son of Jairi is of course a different person from Elhanan the Bethlehemite, the son of Dodo (Sa2 23:24). The Chronicles have יעוּר, instead of Jairi (the reading according to the Chethib), and the former is probably the correct way of writing the name.

Sa2 21:20-21

(cf. Ch1 20:6-7). In another war at Gath, a Philistian warrior, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot,

(Note: Men with six fingers and six toes have been met with elsewhere. Pliny (h. nat. xi. 43) speaks of certain sedigiti (six-fingered) Romans. This peculiarity is even hereditary in some families. Other examples are collected by Trusen (Sitten, Gebruche, und Krankheiten der alten Hebrer, pp. 198-9, ed. 2) and Friedreich (zur Bible, i. 298-9).)

defied Israel, and was slain by Jonathan the son of Shimeah, the brother of David (see at Sa2 13:3). The Chethib מדין is probably to be read מדּין, an archaic plural ("a man of measures, or extensions:" de Dieu, etc.); in the Chronicles we find the singular מדּה instead.

Sa2 21:22

(cf. Ch1 20:8). This verse contains a postscript, in which the previous verses are summed up. The accusative את־ארבּעת may be explained from a species of attraction, i.e., from the fact that the historian had יכּהוּ (Sa2 21:21) still in his mind: "As for these four, they were born to Rapha," i.e., they were descendants of the Rephaite family at Gath, where remnants of the aboriginal Canaanitish tribes of gigantic stature were still to be found, as in other towns of the Philistines (vid., Jos 11:22). "They fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants." "By the hand of David" refers to the fact that David had personally fought with Yishbobenob (Sa2 21:16).

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