II Samuel 21

The Word Made Fresh

1There was a three-year famine during David’s reign. When David inquired of the LORD, the LORD told him that the plague was the result of the bloodguilt that rested on Saul and his house because he had murdered the Gibeonites. 2So, the king summoned the descendants of the Gibeonites and spoke with them. The Gibeonites were not Israelites, but were remnants of the Amorites. And although the people of Israel had promised to protect them, Saul had tried to wipe them out, thinking that by doing so he was protecting Israel and Judah.

3David said to them, “What can I do to make amends with you that you may be friends with Israel?”

4They told him, “Our dispute with Saul cannot be settled with silver and gold, and we have no right to put anyone in Israel to death.”

“Then what can I do for you?” David asked.

“The man who ruined us,” they replied, “and plotted against us to bar us from having a place anywhere in Israel’s land — 6turn seven of his descendants over to us and we will hang them at Gibeon on the hilltop before the LORD.”

The king responded, “I will give them to you.”

7The king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and grandson of Saul, because of the oath he and Jonathan had sworn together. 8But he took Armoni and Mephibaal, the two sons of Rizpah, daughter of Aiah, whom she had born to Saul, and the five grandsons of Saul born to Saul’s daughter Merab and her husband Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9He turned all seven of them over to the Gibeonites and they impaled their bodies before the LORD on the hilltop overlooking Gibeon. The seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10Rizpah daughter of Aiah spread sackcloth out near a cliff and stayed there protecting the bodies from the birds during the day and the wild animals at night. She stayed there from the beginning of the barley harvest until the rains poured out from the sky on their corpses.

11When David learned what Rizpah had done, 12he took the bones of Saul and Jonathan from the people of Jabesh-Gilead. They had stolen their bodies from the Philistines who had hung them in the public square at Beth-Shan when they had killed Saul on Gilboa. 13He brought their bones and gathered the remains of those who had been impaled. 14He had the bones of Saul and Jonathan buried in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish. After they had done this at the king’s command, God began to answer prayers for the land.

15The Philistines attacked Israel again. David joined his men in the battle and was exhausted. 16Ishbenob, a descendant of the giants, whose spear head weighed seven and a half pounds and who was carrying a new sword, said he would kill David. 17But Abishai son of Zeruiah defended David and slayed the Philistine. Then David’s men said to him, “You can’t go into battle with us. We can’t risk the light of Israel being extinguished.”

18Another battle took place with the Philistines at Gob. Sibbecai the Hushathite killed Saph, another one who was descended from the giants. 19Then another battle took place at Gob, and Elhanan son of Jaare-Oregim from Bethlehem, killed Goliath the Gittite, whose spear shaft was like a weaver’s beam. 20Another battle was at Gath where a huge soldier with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot faced them, obviously another descendant of the giants. 21When he taunted the Israelites Jonathan, son of David’s brother Shimei, killed him. 22These four Philistine warriors were descendants of the giants of Gath, and all four fell at the hands of David and his men.


1-6: The land suffers a three-year-long famine. David finally “inquires of the LORD,” and is told that the famine has come because Saul put Gibeonites to death! Why would the famine come in David’s time instead of in Saul’s? What exactly is the incident in question, for we haven’t read anything about it up to now? An “explanation” is given in verse 2, but that is the first mention of it.

Gibeon was a settlement of an Amorite tribe known as Hivites (Joshua 11:19) a half dozen miles north of Jerusalem. Joshua 9 tells the story of how they tricked the Israelites into letting them remain in the land, and no trouble is recorded concerning them from the time of Joshua until now.

David is the only one who knows that Saul is at fault for the famine, which is suspicious. He takes it upon himself to negotiate a settlement with the Gibeonites, and they ask for 7 descendants of Saul to be handed over to them, and David agrees.

7-9: David rounds up two remaining sons of Saul (whom we haven’t met) and five grandsons (including one named Mephibosheth – aka Mephibaal – not to be confused with Mephibosheth the son of Jonathan) and hands them over to the Gibeonites, who execute them on their holy mountain in Gibeon. Thus, David effectively eliminates any challenge from the descendants of Saul without killing them himself.

10-14: Rizpah, mother of Saul’s two sons, publicly mourns the death of the 7 and guards their bodies for perhaps a week or more. David is touched by her devotion and brings the bones of Saul and Jonathan from Jabesh-Gilead and gives them and the 7 an honorable burial. The writer of this account remembers that after this, God “heeded supplications for the land,” meaning that the famine ended. Of course, he has already informed us in verse 10 that the harvest is past, and the rains have come

15-17: War erupts with the Philistines again, and we are surprised that David leads his troops into battle. A large Philistine warrior has it in for him, but Abishai (who wanted to kill Shimei when he cursed David — see 16:5) fells the giant before he can carry out his threats. David’s men insist that he no longer take the field for fear he will be killed.

18-22: More exploits of David’s men against large Philistine warriors are recorded, including one involving Goliath the Gittite, not to be confused with Goliath of Gath whom David killed when Saul was king.


David’s reign is winding down, now. He makes amends with the Gibeonites and solidifies his kingdom against the Philistines. David was the giant slayer; now his soldiers are the giant slayers. He also eliminates Saul’s descendants as possible future claimants to the throne and sets up his own descendants as future rulers, thus establishing a Davidic dynasty that will rule a long time in Jerusalem.