1 - 14 The Retaliation of the Gibeonites on Saul
1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah). 3 Thus David said to the Gibeonites, “What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the LORD?” 4 Then the Gibeonites said to him, “We have no [concern] of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “I will do for you whatever you say.” 5 So they said to the king, “The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel, 6 let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD” And the king said, “I will give [them].” 7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath of the LORD which was between them, between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. 8 So the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, Armoni and Mephibosheth whom she had borne to Saul, and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had borne to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the LORD, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest. 10 And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until it rained on them from the sky; and she allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. 11 When it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, 12 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 open square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them on the day the Philistines struck down Saul in Gilboa. 13 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. 14 They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the grave of Kish his father; thus they did all that the king commanded, and after that God was moved by prayer for the land.
With a description at the end of the previous chapter of the order that reigns in the realm of David, the general history of David has come to an end. What is described in this chapter concerns acts that God in His reign still allows to be performed by David. It is a crime of Saul for which retaliation was yet to take place, and the defeating of a remnant of giants.
God’s mills grind slowly, but surely. It can take a long time, but the day of the payment comes. With God crime is not time-barred. Every crime will be righteously retaliated. Often this just retribution will only take place in the resurrection, but sometimes also during life on earth. The latter is the case with what Saul has done with the Gibeonites. Although this crime was committed some time ago, the time has now come for God to call His people to account for it.
To draw the attention of His people, He sends a famine across the land for three consecutive years. The first year everyone will have seen the drought and the failure of the harvest as a more common phenomenon, although the God-fearing Israelite will realize that something is not good in the people. Famine in the land where God promised abundance, indicates that there is unfaithfulness among the people. David only understands at the third famine that this is the voice of God and asks Him about the occasion. When he prays, the answer comes immediately.
The reason is what Saul did with the Gibeonites. It is remarkable that God did not immediately punish Saul for this. Now comes this famine. David was not to blame for it, was he? It therefore appears to be not only Saul’s fault, but also that of his house and possibly also that of the house of Israel, the people who followed him. It is a common responsibility. It must bring us to the awareness that, even though we may be faithful ourselves, we may also be guilty of a situation of injustice and division. We have to make ourselves one with that, as Daniel, among others, did (Dan 9:1-6).
From the famine that God sends, we can learn another spiritual lesson. If we are spiritually deficient, we must ask the Lord why. Perhaps there is something in our lives that is not good. It may also be that we fail to do something that has yet to be done, like here. There is an evil to be judged here that had previously been committed by a leader of the people.
The Gibeonites should not have been killed. There was a covenant with them that the Israelites would not harm them (Jos 9:15-21). Saul, however, was not bothered by that covenant, but he was bothered by the presence of these Canaanites in their midst. Saul’s self-willed zeal for Israel has wronged a group of residents of Israel, who rightly lived there, and has been guilty of shedding the blood of allies. It is not known at which point this happened. We can only guess at Saul’s motive to do this. In any case, for us it means the warning that we must strictly observe the Lord’s command and only carry that out and no more.
The negative consequences of giving one’s own interpretation to a work for the Lord do not fail. In what Saul did, his attention was not on the LORD, but on people. It is always dangerous for someone who wants to do a service to the Lord if not the Lord, but people are standing before His attention. There will be chunks of it. The LORD comes back to what Saul did. David will ask the Gibeonites what he can do. There are two things on what he thinks: he wants to bring reconciliation and he wishes them to bless the inheritance of the LORD again.
If one of the people of God wrongs another who is not a member of the people of God, this will have a negative effect on their perception of the inheritance of the Lord. He will not be attracted to it. Therefore we should not justify the evil done in the Name of the Lord when disbelievers point it out. Our task is to find out how we can bring about reconciliation in the conscience of such a person.
When David knows the reason for the famine, he calls the Gibeonites. He asks them what they want as a compensation for Saul’s crime. The question is whether he is doing the right thing. Is it right for a king as the supreme judicial body to ask aggrieved people how they want justice to be done to the injustice done to them? Judging must be done by an independent judge. Yet it seems that God approves of his actions, for when everything is done as David has commanded, “that God was moved by prayer for the land” (verse 14).
What the Gibeonites want is not the result of anger towards Saul or his descendants. If they had wanted revenge, it is conceivable that they would have made this proposal much earlier. Their wish seems to come more from love for the people of Israel, where they live in the midst of and which is now suffering from the drought because of what was done to them. They asked for the judgment on Saul’s house, which was to be carried out on seven men from his house. The seven men will then be “hang … before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD”. Hanging “Hang before the LORD” means that they want to comply with His righteousness and do not act out of revenge.
The designation of the persons the Gibeonites leave for David. David chooses seven descendants, leaving Mephibosheth out of consideration. He does so because of Jonathan, whom he has sworn with an oath not to withheld his mercy from his house (1Sam 20:15-16). He gives them two sons and five grandsons of Saul. The two sons of Saul were conceived by him at Rizpah, one of his concubines (2Sam 3:7). The five grandsons of Saul are the children of Saul’s daughter Merab (cf. 1Sam 18:19).
The two sons and the five grandsons of Saul are hanged “in Gibea of Saul” to show that they are killed for his sin. They are, as it were, hanged in front of their own door to reconcile the guilt of the house of Saul. Whether these men personally participated in Saul’s crime is not mentioned. An important lesson for us in this history is that things that are done wrong in the past by others have consequences for the people of God now. This means that we can do things that will later give the people of God the bitter fruits to reap.
After Saul’s offspring are killed, we are told what mother Rizpah does. Rizpah is a mother who misses her children very much. Her children couldn’t help being sons of Saul. They may also have made themselves guilty on the blood of the Gibeonites. For the LORD also speaks in verse 1 of the blood guilt of the house of Saul. But that does not change the love she as a mother has for her sons. We have seen in the previous chapters something of David’s love for a wicked son. If we could have some understanding therefore, then certainly for Rizpah as mother of these two sons.
She keeps watch for six months on the bodies she has not buried. She protects the bodies against birds and wild animals. She couldn’t do more, she didn’t want to do less. She gave birth and raised these boys. Now that they have died, she does not want to leave them. We don’t know why she did that.
Nor do we know what she thought all those six months that she took care of the corpses. Was she rebellious for the death of her sons because of what Saul did? Was she jealous that Mephibosheth was spared? He was also from Saul’s house, wasn’t he? All kinds of questions can have occupied her. Her sons were sacrificed to appease the wrath of heaven. Their lives had ended, but not her love for them. She could not take them in her lap, but she could prevent that what was precious to her was taken away by the birds and wild animals. With this she showed a love that is stronger than death.
If it starts raining, that is the sign that the curse has been ended. When water drips from the sky on the bodies, when God sends rain to moisten the earth, the bodies are taken away. Rizpa can let loose the bodies and have them buried. This happens as a result of her special act of love for those who have been killed. Of her deed is namely reported to David.
When David hears of it, he is reminded of the dead bodies of Saul and Jonathan. He decides to pick them up from the place where the men of Jabez in Gilead had buried them (1Sam 31:11-13). It is a late tribute, but it is never too late to put things right. He buried the bodies of the hanged together with the bones of Saul and Jonathan.
When justice is done on earth, the vengeance of heaven ends and blessing over the land comes instead of wrath. The rain is proof that God has let Himself be entreated, while the rain is the result of fulfilling the righteousness of God.
15 - 22 Victory over the Philistines
15 Now when the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David went down and his servants with him; and as they fought against the Philistines, David became weary. 16 Then Ishbi-benob, who was among the descendants of the giant, the weight of whose spear was three hundred [shekels] of bronze in weight, was girded with a new [sword], and he intended to kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah helped him, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall not go out again with us to battle, so that you do not extinguish the lamp of Israel.” 18 Now it came about after this that there was war again with the Philistines at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was among the descendants of the giant. 19 There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. 20 There was war at Gath again, 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 had been born to the giant. 21 When he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. 22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.
At the end of David’s reign, when he is old, old enemies from the beginning, the Philistines, appear again. For us, it means that our old enemy, the flesh, remains active, no matter how old we are. In pictures we can also see how attacks are made on the ancient gospel and on Him Who is the Center of it. We may put ourselves at the disposal of the Lord Jesus to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3).
David and his men defeat the four giants of the Philistines. David started his fame with the victory over a giant, and here he concludes that victory with the victory over four giants. Their impressive statures and armor do not frighten the men of David. They defeat them in the power of the LORD, as David has defeated Goliath.
A giant symbolizes pride, self-esteem, arrogance and oppressive power. We are not dealing with literal giants of flesh and blood, but with the spiritual powers in the heavenly places (Eph 6:12). We see that in the name of the first giant. His name is “Ishbi-benob”, which means “his residence is in the high”. This is reminiscent of “destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God” (2Cor 10:5a). To break down these heights – in the picture: kill that giant – we cannot fight with carnal weapons, but we must use the weapons that are “divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses” (2Cor 10:3-4). The result is that “[we are] taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2Cor 10:5b).
David is old here and his strength has been diminished by everything he has experienced. His men come to his aid when he is in danger of being killed. This shows their love for David. We may have the same love for each other and come to each other’s aid when someone is in danger of being overrun by the enemy, while he himself has no strength to resist.
That David, for most of his later life, is not a picture of the Lord Jesus, we also see here. Here we read of an exhausted David. This is a great opportunity for the enemy to knock him down. Luckily God makes sure that Abishai is nearby. Abishai comes to his aid and kills the Philistine. This threat of death resulting from David’s diminished strength leads his men to implore him to stop go for fighting together with them.
The reason they give is that he provides light in Israel. He is their hope. They don’t say he’s too old. We sometimes do that when someone is very burdensome. Here it is to protect. Elderly people must learn to leave or surrender things to young people. Ageing brings with it limitations and of these they must be aware of or made aware of. It’s not always easy to be old. Being old can sometimes be a burden for others.
The giants are incorrigible optimists. The fact that Goliath was defeated by David does not matter to them. They think they can defeat David. We see in them the great folly to glory in own strength. They do not know the secret of the power of David and his men. David’s men are not bigger or stronger than other people, but with the help of God, they defeat one giant after another. God prefers the weak to shame thereby the strong (1Cor 1:27b).