2 Samuel Chapter 21
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Go to Bible: 2 Samuel 21
“in the days of David.” The time of this famine is not given. Many commentators think that this is fairly early in David’s reign.
“the House of Bloodguilt.” “The House of Bloodguilt” is set in opposition to the “House of Saul,” and further describes it. Thus, in God’s eyes, “the House of Saul” was also “the House of Bloodguilt,” and Saul’s house certainly had much bloodguilt associated with it. Besides putting Gibeonites to death, something that is not recorded in the Word, Saul put to death an entire village of priests (1 Sam. 22:16-19); tried to kill David; tried to kill his own son and crown prince Jonathan (1 Sam. 20:33), and almost certainly put to death others who are not recorded in the Bible. Then again, when called upon to kill the Amalekite Agag, an enemy of Yahweh, Saul spared him and Samuel had to do it (1 Sam. 15:20, 33).
For the translation “bloodguilt” see HALOT Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament; the Schocken Bible by E. Fox; and the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament.(top)
“sworn an oath to them.” The oath and the circumstance of its being sworn between Israel and the people of Gideon is in Joshua 9:1-15.
“zeal.” This is a great example of misplaced zeal which is sin in the eyes of God. There is both godly and ungodly zeal.(top)
“the inheritance of Yahweh.” In this context, the “inheritance of Yahweh” is both the land and the people on it.(top)
“nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” The Gibeonites did not have the right to avenge themselves, but needed David, the king of Israel, to hear and approve their request.(top)
“destroyed us.” The Hebrew verb can also be used of an attempt. Saul tried to destroy the Gibeonites.(top)
“seven men of his sons.” The seven who were killed were Saul’s grandsons, but in Hebrew, the word “sons” includes all male descendants.
“Gibeah of Saul.” Gibeah was Saul’s hometown and capital city.(top)
|2Sm 21:7||- (top)|
“the two sons of Rizpah.” Rizpah is one of the many sad stories in the Bible and in life. She must have been born a beautiful but lower-class woman, or perhaps even a slave, because she was a concubine of Saul’s. Then when Saul died, Abner took her and slept with her (2 Sam. 3:7), but then Abner was killed also, and what happened to her after that is lost in history. Now her two sons, certainly the light of her life and her support in old age, were executed for something her ungodly husband king Saul had done.
“Merab the daughter of Saul.” Merab was the oldest daughter of Saul and was promised to David in marriage, but when it came time for the wedding Saul changed his mind and gave Merab to Adriel (1 Sam. 18:17-19). Now, in a terrible twist of fate, her five sons are sentenced to death for something their grandfather did. The Masoretic Hebrew text has an error in copying and says “Michal” instead of “Merab,” but there are ancient Hebrew texts that read “Merab,” including the Samaritan Pentateuch and an Aramaic Targum. Unless something unfortunate had happened to Merab, she would have been alive at this time and experienced this terrible tragedy.(top)
“they impaled them.” Although most English versions say “hanged” instead of “impaled,” this hanging was not like our Western idea of “hung by the neck” but was an act of impaling. We see this with Jesus, who the Bible says was “hung on a tree,” but he was actually nailed to it; thus impaled on it.
It was the general custom in the Old Testament that the person would be killed first, and then the dead body was impaled and hung up for public display. The Assyrians, who were a very cruel people, often impaled people on upright stakes while they were still alive, and the Romans modified the act of impaling such that it became the horrible torture of crucifixion. The translation “impaled” is used in the NRSV; Tanakh; and Schocken Bible. Rotherham’s Emphasized Bible actually says, “crucified” here, but that is a historic anachronism when compared to Roman crucifixion.
“fell.” An idiom for died. Also, this may refer to the way they were killed before they were impaled. If they were stoned, which would have been customary, then they fell down after they were stoned to death.
“at the beginning of barley harvest.” So this would be very near the Feast of Passover.(top)
“until water was poured on them from heaven.” That is, until the autumn rains came. The barley harvest started in April, often mid-April, and the autumn rains started in late October or early November, and it was getting colder by then too. So Rizpah watched over her dead sons for at least six months. Some scholars believe that the famine was due to no rain and that therefore the rain that came was not the regular autumn rain but was special and ended the famine, but there is no indication of that in the text. There are lots of times famines occur for other reasons than there being no rain. According to the Mosaic Law (Deut. 21:27), dead bodies should be taken down from being impaled before nightfall. It seems these bodies were left on the stake, but we have no explanation as to why.
“the birds of the air.” The Hebrew is literally, “the birds of the heavens,” but the Hebrew word “heavens” is always plural, there is no singular word “heaven” in Hebrew.
“or the animals of the field by night.” Rizpah kept her vigil day and night, napping on the sackcloth on the rock, and thus she protected the bodies and bones of her beloved sons. This is one of the most profound acts of a mother’s love in the Bible. Eventually, the men’s flesh would decay and mostly waste away, leaving the bones. In the biblical culture, it was very important to protect and properly bury the bones of the deceased, and Rizpah no doubt wanted to see her sons get a proper burial. She had to keep vigil over the bones, which would have been taken by animals if not guarded. Her diligence and love paid off and eventually, her sons got an honorable burial.(top)
|2Sm 21:11||- (top)|
“the public square of Beth-shan.” This does not contradict 1 Samuel 31:10, which says the Philistines fastened Saul’s body to the wall. The public square was usually near the city gate (2 Chron. 32:6), and even could be outside it (Neh. 8:1). The Philistines would have wanted Saul’s body where everyone could see it, and on the wall near the public square would be the perfect place. The fact that the people would tolerate a rotting body near their public square shows how insensitive people of that time period were to what we today would consider intolerable stench.(top)
|2Sm 21:13||- (top)|
“at Zela.” This could be a place, or the Hebrew can refer to a side chamber in a tomb.a
“God allowed Himself to be entreated.” The verb is in the passive tense. The sense and translation should not be uncomfortable. We know from many Scriptures that sin separates God from people, and God opposes the proud (James 4:6; 1 Pet. 5:5) and turns his ear away from people’s prayers (see commentary on Amos 5:5). So when people repent and make amends for their sin, God then opens his eyes and ears to the people and thus allows Himself to be entreated by them. The same passive tense verb occurs in 2 Samuel 21:14; 24:25 and Isaiah 19:22.
E. Fox, The Schocken Bible.
|2Sm 21:15||- (top)|
“Rapha.” Rapha was one of the Nephilim, the “Fallen Ones.” Rapha is mentioned four times in this chapter: 2 Sam. 21:16, 18, 20, and 21:22 and in other places in the Old Testament as well.
[For more on the Nephilim and the connection between them and Rapha, see commentary on Gen. 6:4.]
“spear.” The Hebrew word for “spear” is uncertain, but “spear” is a likely candidate for the word.
“300 shekels.” 300 shekels is roughly 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg). A shekel was roughly .4 ounces (11 or 11.5 grams), (see commentary on Gen. 24:22, “shekel”). A spear point that heavy would make the spear very slow when used in battle unless the person was incredibly big and strong, which Ishbi-benob was.
“being armed with a new sword,” The Hebrew does not have an object, and the scholars are divided. Some say “sword,” others “armor,” and others mention other possibilities.(top)
|2Sm 21:17||- (top)|
“Hushathite.” Hush is a site just to the west of Bethlehem, on the ridge going down to the Valley of Elah.(top)
“Goliath the Gittite’s brother.” The word “brother” is supplied from the record in Chronicles (1 Chron. 20:5). Goliath was from the Philistine city of Gath (1 Sam. 17:4, 23) and the inhabitants of Gath were referred to as “Gittites” (see commentary on Josh. 13:3; cp. 2 Sam. 15:18).(top)
|2Sm 21:20||- (top)|
|2Sm 21:21||- (top)|
“by the hand of David.” Although David did not kill any of the four descendants of Rapha, he is credited with killing them along with his mighty men because of his leadership and the motivation he provided.(top)