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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for 2 Samuel 21

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Avenging the Gibeonites

A. David avenges the Gibeonites

1. (2Sa 21:1) A three-year famine prompts David to seek God.

Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, “It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites.”

a. And David inquired of the Lord: David wisely sought God in the face of chronic problems. David was concerned after the first year of famine, and even more after the second – but two years of famine didn’t make him look to a spiritual cause. Yet after three years of famine, David inquired of the Lord.

i. David didn’t see a spiritual reason in every problem but he did not shut his eyes to the hand of God in circumstances.

ii. “The first and second year he might look upon it as a punishment laid upon them for the common sins of the land: but when he saw it continuing a third year also, he thought there was something in it more than ordinary, and therefore, although he well knew the natural cause to be drought, yet he inquired after the supernatural, as wise men should do.” (Trapp)

b. It is because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites: This massacre isn’t recorded in 1 Samuel, but David didn’t question that it happened. Apparently at some time during his reign Saul attacked and killed many of the Gibeonites.

i. “The whole people suffered for Saul’s sin; either because they approved it, or at least bewailed it not; neither did what they could to hinder it; whereby they became accessory.” (Trapp)

c. He killed the Gibeonites: When David heard it was because of an attack against the Gibeonites, a chill probably ran up his back. He knew they were a people especially wrong for Saul to attack and kill.

i. 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.

ii. This emphasizes many important principles:

· God expects us to keep our promises.
· God expects nations to keep their promises.
· Time does not diminish our obligation to promises.
· God’s correction may come a long time after the offense.

iii. If God has such a high expectation that men keep their covenants, we can have great confidence that He will keep His covenant with us. There is an emerald rainbow around the throne of God to proclaim His remembrance to His everlasting covenant with His people (Revelation 4:3).

2. (2Sa 21:2) David speaks to the Gibeonites.

So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; the children of Israel had sworn protection to them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.

a. The king called the Gibeonites: David knew he had to do something about this and so he initiated a resolution with the Gibeonites.

b. Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah: We normally think of such zeal as something good. Yet Saul’s misguided zeal was a sin and brought calamity on Israel.

i. This is a good example of how good intentions don’t excuse bad actions. We often excuse bad actions in ourselves and in others because of what we think are good intentions. But God examines both our intentions and our actions.

3. (2Sa 21:3-6) David’s agreement with the Gibeonites.

Therefore David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?” And the Gibeonites said to him, “We will have no silver or gold from Saul or from his house, nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us.” So he said, “Whatever you say, I will do for you.” Then they answered the king, “As for the man who consumed us and plotted against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the territories of Israel, let seven men of his descendants be delivered to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord chose.” And the king said, “I will give them.”

a. What shall I do for you? In resolving this matter with the Gibeonites, David did not dictate terms to them. He came to them as a servant, not as a king.

b. That you may bless the inheritance of the Lord: David felt that if the Gibeonites could bless Israel then the reconciliation would be complete and God’s chastening of Israel would end.

c. We will have no silver or gold from Saul or from his house, nor shall you kill any man in Israel for us: The Gibeonites made it clear that they didn’t want money or direct retribution. Though Saul made a wholesale slaughter of the Gibeonites, they didn’t ask for the same among the people of Israel.

d. Let seven men of his descendants be delivered to us: In those ancient times the request of the Gibeonites was considered reasonable. Instead of money or an “eye for an eye” they only asked for justice against Saul through his descendants. David agreed to this (I will give them).

i. “Which God had now a purpose to root out, that they might not be further troublesome to David – who had lately suffered so much – in the quiet enjoyment of the kingdom.” (Trapp)

e. I will give them: David knew this was the right thing to do. Some believe he knew it was right because David knew that Saul’s descendants helped in or benefited directly from that massacre.

i. Obviously, we are not told everything about this incident; we must trust the principle stated by Abraham: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25)

4. (2Sa 21:7-9) David fulfills the agreement with the Gibeonites.

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. So the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the hill before the Lord. So 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.

a. The king spared Mephibosheth: Mephibosheth was the most notable living descendant of Saul and it made the most sense to put him as the first of the seven to be delivered to the Gibeonites for execution. Yet David promised to protect and bless Mephibosheth and he would not fulfill one promise at the expense of another.

b. They hanged them on the hill before the Lord: David chose seven male descendants of Saul to give over to the Gibeonites and they executed them by public hanging. The phrase before the Lord implies God approved of their execution.

i. The method of death was also important because it fulfilled the promise of Deuteronomy 21:23: he who is hanged is accursed of God. These descendants of Saul bore the curse Saul deserved and so delivered Israel from the guilt of their sin against the Gibeonites.

ii. This promise from Deuteronomy 21:23 explains why Jesus died the way He did. Galatians 3:13 explains:Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).

5. (2Sa 21:10-14a) Rizpah’s vigil.

Now Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until the late rains poured on them from heaven. And she did not allow the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. And David was told what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done. Then David went and took the bones of Saul, and the bones of Jonathan his son, from the men of Jabesh Gilead who had stolen them from the street of Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them up, after the Philistines had struck down Saul in Gilboa. So he brought up the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from there; and they gathered the bones of those who had been hanged. They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the tomb of Kish his father.

a. Spread it for herself on the rock... until the late rains poured on them from heaven: Rizpah – the mother of two of the seven delivered for execution – held a vigil over the bodies until the late rains came. The coming of rain showed that the famine was over, that justice was satisfied, and that Israel was delivered.

i. This means that the bodies of these men were deliberately left unburied. This was to emphasize the fact that these men were executed as an act of judgment.

b. They gathered the bones: David gave these seven a public burial, together with the remains of Saul and Jonathan.

6. (2Sa 21:14b) The famine ends.

So they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God heeded the prayer for the land.

a. They performed all that the king commanded: David directed all of this and he did it partly on the principle stated in Numbers 35:33: So you shall not pollute the land where you are; for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of him who shed it. The idea is that blood from unpunished murders defiles a land and God will one day require that blood from the nation.

b. After that God heeded the prayer for the land: It wasn’t as if from the time Saul massacred the Gibeonites until David’s day that God did not answer any of Israel’s prayers. Yet there came a time when God wanted to deal with this sin, and at that time He would not answer their prayers until they dealt with it.

i. There are many reasons for unanswered prayer. When we see that our prayers are not answered we should seek God to address the problem.

B. Defeat of the Philistine giants.

1. (2Sa 21:15-17) David retires from active duty.

When the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David and his servants with him went down and fought against the Philistines; and David grew faint. Then Ishbi-Benob, who was one of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose bronze spear was three hundred shekels, who was bearing a new sword, thought he could kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go out no more with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”

a. And David grew faint: Even a great man of God grows old. As the years went on, David became unable to fight as he once did. In this battle against the Philistines David’s life was endangered when he grew faint in battle against a descendant of Goliath.

i. Israel faced the challenge of what they would do when they saw weakness in their leader. Since it was a weakness that could be understood – David’s increasing frailty in old age – they should rally around their leader and supply what he cannot.

b. Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid: When David’s strength failed, God protected him through the strength of others. God will allow us to be in places where we need the strength of others.

i. Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, one will lift up his companion. But woe to him who is alone when he falls, for he has no one to help him up... Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

c. You shall go out no more with us to battle: In his advanced age, it was time for David to retire from the field of battle. His season as a warrior had passed.

i. “David is considered as the lamp by which all Israel was guided, and without whom all the nation must be involved in darkness.” (Clarke)

ii. “The body drowneth not whilst the head is above water; when that once sinketh, death is near: so here. Pray therefore for the preservation of good princes; we cannot pray for them, and not pray for ourselves.” (Trapp)

2. (2Sa 21:18-22) Killing three more Philistine giants.

Now it happened afterward that there was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbechai the Hushathite killed Saph, who was one of the sons of the giant. Again there was war at Gob with the Philistines, where Elhanan the son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. Yet again there was war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also was born to the giant. So when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea, David’s brother, killed him. These four were born to the giant in Gath, and fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.

a. Now it happened afterward: This description of victory over Philistine giants showed that Israel could slay giants without David.

i. Sibbechai... Elhanan... Jonathan: These men accomplished heroic deeds when David was finished fighting giants. God will continue to raise up leaders when the leaders of the previous generation pass from the scene.

ii. David’s legacy lay not only in what he accomplished, but also in what he left behind – a people prepared for victory. David’s triumphs were meaningful not only for himself but for others who learned victory through his teaching and example.

b. Who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot: Commentators like Adam Clarke can’t resist reminding us that this is a known phenomenon. “This is not a solitary instance: Tavernier informs us that the eldest son of the emperor of Java, who reigned in 1649, had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot... I once saw 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.”

c. Fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants: Part of the idea is that David conquers enemies in the present so it will be better for Solomon in the future. Our present victory is not only good for us now but it also passes something important on to the next generation.

i. The defeat of these four giants is rightly credited to the hand of David and the hand of his servants. David had a role in this through his example, his guidance, and his influence.

ii. “Let those who after long service find themselves waning in strength, be content to abide with the people of god, still shining for them as a lamp, and thus enabling them to carry on the same Divine enterprises. Such action in the last days of life is also great and high service.” (Morgan)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

Study Guide for 1 Samuel 1 ← Prior Book
Study Guide for 1 Kings 1 Next Book →
Study Guide for 2 Samuel 20 ← Prior Chapter
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