2 Samuel 21


A famine taking place three successive years in Israel, David

inquired of the Lord the cause; and was informed that it was

on account of Saul and his bloody house, who had slain the

Gibeonites, 1.

David inquires of the Gibeonites what atonement they require,

and they answer, seven sons of Saul, that they may hang them

up in Gibeah, 2 6.

Names of the seven sons thus given up, 7-9.

Affecting account of Rizpah, who watched the bodies through the

whole of the time of harvest, to prevent them frown being

devoured by birds and beasts of prey, 10.

David is informed of Rizpah's conduct, and collects the bones of

Saul, Jonathan, and the seven men that were hanged at Gibeah,

and buries them; and God is entreated for the land, 11-14.

War between the Israelites and Philistines, in which David is

in danger of being slain by Ishbi-benob, but is succoured by

Abishai, 15-17.

He, and several gigantic Philistines, are slain by David and his

servants, 18-22.


Verse 1. Then there was a famine] Of this famine we know

nothing; it is not mentioned in any part of the history of David.

Because he slew the Gibeonites.] No such fact is mentioned in

the life and transactions of Saul; nor is there any reference to

it in any other part of Scripture.

Verse 2. The remnant of the Amorites] The Gibeonites were

Hivites, not Amorites, as appears from Jos 11:19: but

Amorites is a name often given to the Canaanites in general,

Ge 15:16; Am 2:9, and elsewhere.

Verse 3. Wherewith shall I make the atonement] It is very

strange that a choice of this kind should be left to such a

people. Why not ask this of God himself?

Verse 6. Seven men of his sons] Meaning sons, grandsons, or

other near branches of his family. It is supposed that the persons

chosen were principal in assisting Saul to exterminate the

Gibeonites. But where is the proof of this?

Verse 8. Five sons of Michal-whom she brought up] Michal, Saul's

daughter, was never married to Adriel, but to David, and

afterwards to Phaltiel; though it is here said she bore

yaledah, not brought up, as we falsely translate it: but we

learn from 1Sa 18:19, that

Merab, one of Saul's daughters, was married to Adriel.

Two of Dr. Kennicott's MSS. have Merab, not Michal; the Syriac

and Arabic have Nadab; the Chaldee has properly Merab; but

it renders the passage thus:-And the five sons of Merab which

Michal the daughter of Saul brought up, which she brought forth to

Adriel the son of Barzillai. This cuts the knot.

Verse 9. In the beginning of barley harvest.] This happened in

Judea about the vernal equinox, or the 21st of March.

Verse 10. Rizpah-took sackcloth] Who can read the account of

Rizpah's maternal affection for her sons that were now hanged,

without feeling his mind deeply impressed with sorrows?

Did God require this sacrifice of Saul's sons, probably all

innocent of the alleged crime of their father? Was there no other

method of averting the Divine displeasure? Was the requisition of

the Gibeonites to have Saul's sons sacrificed to God, to be

considered as an oracle of God? Certainly not; God will not have

man's blood for sacrifice, no more than he will have swine's

blood. The famine might have been removed, and the land properly

purged, by offering the sacrifices prescribed by the law, and by a

general humiliation of the people.

Until water dropped upon them] Until the time of the autumnal

rains, which in that country commence about October. Is it

possible that this poor broken-hearted woman could have endured

the fatigue, (and probably in the open air,) of watching these

bodies for more than five months? Some think that the rain

dropping on them out of heaven means the removal of the famine

which was occasioned by drought, by now sending rain, which might

have been shortly after these men were hanged; but this by no

means agrees with the manner in which the account is introduced:

"They were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days,

in the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah-took sackcloth, and

spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest,

until water dropped upon them out of heaven." No casual or

immediately providential rain can be here intended; the reference

must be to the periodical rains above mentioned.

Verse 12. Took the bones of Saul] The reader will recollect that

the men of Jabesh-gilead burned the bodies of Saul and his sons,

and buried the remaining bones under a tree at Jabesh. See

1Sa 31:12, 13. These David might have digged up again, in order

to bury them in the family sepulchre.

Verse 15. Moreover the Philistines had yet war] There is no

mention of this war in the parallel place, 1Ch 20:4, &c.

David waxed faint.] This circumstance is nowhere else mentioned.

Verse 16. Being girded with a new sword] As the word sword is

not in the original, we may apply the term new to his armour in

general; he had got new arms, a new coat of mail, or something

that defended him well, and rendered him very formidable: or it

may mean a strong or sharp sword.

Verse 17. That thou quench not the light of Israel.] David is

here considered as the lamp by which all Israel was guided, and

without whom all the nation must be involved in darkness. The lamp

is the emblem of direction and support. Light is used in this

sense by Homer:-



Iliad, lib. xviii. ver. 102.

"I have neither been a LIGHT to Patroclus nor to his

companions, who have been slain by the noble Hector."

Verse 18. A battle-at Gob] Instead of Gob, several editions, and

about forty of Kennicott's and De Rossi's MSS., have nob;

but Gezer is the name in the parallel place, 1Ch 20:4.

Verse 19. Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim-slew-Goliath the

Gittite] Here is a most manifest corruption of the text, or gross

mistake of the transcriber; David, not Elhanan, slew Goliath. In

1Ch 20:5, the parallel place, it stands thus: "Elhanan, the son

of Jair, slew Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose

spear-staff was like a weaver's beam." This is plain; and our

translators have borrowed some words from Chronicles to make both

texts agree. The corruption may be easily accounted for by

considering that oregim, which signifies weavers, has

slipped out of one line into the other; and that beith

hallachmi, the Beth-lehemite, is corrupted from eth

Lachmi; then the reading will be the same as in Chronicles. Dr.

Kennicott has made this appear very plain in his First

Dissertation on the Hebrew Text, p. 78, &c.

Verse 20. On every hand six fingers] This is not a solitary

instance: Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor

of Java, who reigned in 1648, had six fingers on each hand, and

six toes on each foot. And Maupertuis, in his seventeenth

letter, says that he met with two families near Berlin, where

sedigitism was equally transmitted on both sides of father and

mother. I saw once a young girl, in the county of Londonderry, in

Ireland, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each

foot, but her stature had nothing gigantic in it. The daughters of

Caius Horatius, of patrician dignity, were called sedigitae,

because they had six fingers on each hand. Volcatius, a poet, was

called sedigitus for the same reason. See Pliny's Hist. Nat., lib.

xi., cap. 43.

THERE are evidently many places in this chapter in which the

text has suffered much from the ignorance or carelessness of

transcribers; and indeed I suspect the whole has suffered so

materially as to distort, if not misrepresent the principal facts.

It seems as if a Gibeonite has had something to do with the copies

that are come down to us, or that the first fourteen verses have

been inserted from a less authentic document than the rest of the

book. I shall notice some of the most unaccountable, and

apparently exceptionable particulars:-

1. The famine, 2Sa 21:1, is not spoken of anywhere else, nor at

all referred to in the books of Kings or Chronicles; and, being of

three years' duration, it was too remarkable to be omitted in the

history of David.

2. The circumstance of Saul's attempt to exterminate the

Gibeonites is nowhere else mentioned; and, had it taken place, it

is not likely it would have been passed over in the history of

Saul's transgressions. Indeed, it would have been such a breach of

the good faith by which the whole nation was bound to this people,

that an attempt of the kind could scarcely have failed to raise an

insurrection through all Israel.

3. The wish of David that the Gibeonites, little better than a

heathenish people, should bless the inheritance of the Lord, is

unconstitutional and unlikely.

4. That God should leave the choice of the atonement to such a

people, or indeed to any people, seems contrary to his established

laws and particular providence.

5. That he should require seven innocent men to be hung up in

place of their offending father, in whose iniquity they most

likely never had a share, seems inconsistent with justice and


6. In 2Sa 21:8, there is mention made of

five sons of Michal, which she bore ( yaledah) unto Adriel.

Now, 1. Michal was never the wife of Adriel, but of David and

Phaltiel. 2. She never appears to have had any children, see

2Sa 6:23; this I have been obliged to correct in the preceding

notes by putting Merab in the place of Michal.

7. The seven sons of Saul, mentioned here, are represented as a

sacrifice required by God, to make an atonement for the sin of

Saul. Does God in any case require human blood for sacrifice? And

is it not such a sacrifice that is represented here? Dr. Delaney

and others imagine that these seven sons were principal agents in

the execution of their father's purpose; but of this there is no

proof. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, certainly had no hand in

this projected massacre, he was ever lame, and could not be so

employed; and yet he would have been one of the seven had it not

been for the covenant made before with his father: But the king

spared Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan-because of the Lord's oath

that was between them, 2Sa 21:7.

8. The circumstance of Rizpah's watching the bodies of those

victims, upon a rock, and probably in the open air, both day and

night, from March to October, or even for a much less period, is,

as it is here related, very extraordinary and improbable.

9. The hanging the bodies so long was against an express law of

God, which ordained that those who were hanged on a tree should be

taken down before sunset, and buried the same day, lest the land

should be defiled, (De 21:22, 23.) Therefore, 1. God did not

command a breach of his own law. 2. David was too exact an

observer of that law to require it. 3. The people could not have

endured it; for, in that sultry season, the land would indeed have

been defiled by the putrefaction of the dead bodies; and this

would, in all likelihood, have added pestilence to famine.

10. The story of collecting and burying the bones of Saul and

Jonathan is not very likely, considering that the men of

Jabesh-gilead had burned their bodies, and buried the remaining

bones under a tree at Jabesh, 1Sa 31:12, 13; yet still it is


11. Josephus takes as much of this story as he thinks proper,

but says not one word about Rizpah, and her long watching over her

slaughtered sons.

12. Even the facts in this chapter, which are mentioned in other

places, (see 1Ch 20:4, &c.,) are greatly distorted and corrupted;

for we have already seen that Elhanan is made here to kill Goliath

the Gittite, whom it is well known David slew; and it is only by

means of the parallel place above that we can restore this to

historical truth.

That there have been attempts to remove some of these

objections, I know; and I know also that these attempts have been

in general without success.

Till I get farther light on the subject, I am led to conclude

that the whole chapter is not now what it would be, coming from

the pen of an inspired writer; and that this part of the Jewish

records has suffered much from rabbinical glosses, alterations,

and additions. The law, the prophets, and the hagiographa,

including Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, &c., have been ever

considered as possessing the highest title to Divine inspiration;

and therefore have been most carefully preserved and transcribed;

but the historical books, especially Samuel, Kings, and

Chronicles, have not ranked so high, have been less carefully

preserved, and have been the subjects of frequent alteration and

corruption. Yet still the great foundation of God standeth sure

and is sufficiently attested by his own broad seal of consistency,

truth, and holiness.

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