2 Samuel 21

A King’s Compassion

Discussion Question

This is copied from the BOM website issued 7th August 2019:

 The 31 months from January 2017 to July 2019 has been the driest on record averaged over the Murray-Darling Basin (32% below the 1961-1990 average), as well as over the northern Murray-Darling Basin (38% below average) and for the state of New South Wales (33% below average). All three regions rank second-driest on record, for the 25 months from July 2017 to July 2019, and the 19 months from January 2018 to July 2019; only the 1900-02 peak of the Federation Drought has been drier. The last 31 months have also been the driest on record averaged over the Macquarie-Bogan, Namoi, Gwydir and Castlereagh catchments, with the last three also driest on record for the last 19 months.

www.bom.gov.au/climate/drought/

What, therefore, should we pray?

Background (Context)

As we progress closer to the end of 2 Samuel we begin to hear how David has done, what God has done, and what is the status quo in the nation of Israel at around 1000 BC. It is curious to me that the books are named after Samuel who was so significant in the early chapters of 1 Samuel but died before God took the kingdom away from Saul. Samuel was the last Judge and was used by God to inaugurate kings in Israel. In a key verse we were once told that Samuel was sleeping in the same house as the ark of God and that the lamp of God had not yet gone out (1 Samuel 3:3). This expression seems to indicate that God had not yet given up on Israel (even after the violent years of the Judges).

The land that Israel lived in was theirs because the LORD had given it to them. The other nations that dwelt in Palestine were removed to make way for Israel. The Gibeonites were allowed to remain and an oath was made to them by Joshua that they would not be harmed. Joshua 9 describes the circumstances of this (See especially Verse 15). Israel was tricked into making this deal but the deal was real.

David had been anointed king in Israel and demonstrated his fearlessness toward men when he killed Goliath of Gath. He was a mighty warrior who won many victories but we know that he recognised that it was always the LORD who delivered. David had become, for Israel, a light from the LORD. For David, the LORD was his light (2 Samuel 22:29).

David had shown kindness to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathon, because of an oath that he had made to Jonathon.

So, we get to Chapter 21 of 2 Samuel. The episode with Ish-Bosheth is done. The drama with Uriah’s wife is over. The threat of Absalom is history. What type of king is David now? Chapters 21 to 24 form an epilogue to the whole storyline of 1 and 2 Samuel.

Read 2 Samuel 21

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • The Cursed Land (1-3)
  • The Redemption Price (4-6)
  • The Price Paid (7-9)
  • The Land Released (10-14)
  • The Four that Fell (15-22)

The Cursed Land (1-3)

“During the reign of David…” Not time specific but an episode during his reign. The epilogue of 1-2 Samuel runs through some events in David’s reign. It is indeed a story from the back-end of his reign as we’ll see. But we begin to draw back some themes, not simply within the pages of the Samuel books but from the greater storyline of the bible.

“…there was a famine for three successive years…” Famines are not good, although I’ve not lived through one, it doesn’t sound great. We’ve been in drought for a while now but, despite the hardships experienced by our farmers, we have plenty of food still in the aisles of our supermarkets. We really live in plenty. It’s been almost three decades since the last recession. For Israel though, they had food issues that was extending into a fourth year. Three harvests have come and gone with nothing or not enough to show. In the Promised Land, this means curse. Something is wrong. 

“…so David sought the face of the LORD…” The visible problems are clear but David knows that there is a deeper spiritual problem because God had promised to bring blessing on the land if Israel would walk with him in humility and obedience. So he talked to God about it. The details of how are not described. But we are told that God gave him and answer…

“It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” I’m unaware of this event being written down for us but we are being informed now of it. What we do know is why this is a problem. And the narrator fills us in on what we need to know in Verse 2.

“David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the LORD’s inheritance?”” See Joshua 9 regarding the history of the deal made with the Gibeonites and see 2 Sam 21:2 with the brief narration of the problem here. David knows that the famine is a direct result of the injustice dealt on the Gibeonites. He uses the language of atonement which we know to be important relational speak. With atonement made, the Gibeonites will be able to bless the LORD’s inheritance. So much is packed into this little verse! An injustice between two peoples has caused a curse on the land which is the means of grace of God to the people of Israel. That is, God blesses Israel, making them His own possession and gives them a land in which to show them blessing. When the Gibeonites are able to bless Israel again, the relationship will be restored. The land that is shared by Israel and the Gibeonites will receive God’s blessing again. We’ll look at the application of this in the application section below. Note that God told David what was the cause of the problem (the root) but not how to fix it. David went to the harmed party to ask what they required.

The Redemption Price (4-6)

“We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.” It would seem that the Gibeonites were well aware of what fits the crime and that they are in no position to enact the price for atonement. They didn’t want to sue. They wanted blood for blood. But they have no right to do this.

“What do you want me to do…” David seems to know what they are asking and is willing to get done what they feel is fair.

“As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel…” They begin with a summary of how they have been wronged and it comes back to one man who caused this. That man is dead, however, and it is not that he (Saul) killed another man, but he decimated a population. It might be clearer to understand that Saul did destroy them and consumed them in order to decimate them with not place in Israel. They clearly are not decimated and do have a place in Israel but radically reduced and harmed and afflicted.

“…let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul – the LORD’s chosen one.” They propose that a representative of seven males (a whole number maybe representing the whole household of Saul but also would be literally seven men) be put to death. Their dead bodies be displayed before the LORD and before the people of Saul’s hometown of Gibeah. This is not pictured as a killing of passion but a judicial execution before the LORD. Note that this was not prescribed by God but by the Gibeonites. Note the awkward similarity of the names here. The Gibeonites are from Gibeon – not Gibeah. They are two different places. What is proposed is a horrific suggestion. The descendants of Saul will be executed for the sins of their father. This is the requirement for atonement instructed by the offended party and they declare that this will be carried out in the sight of God. The matter will be dealt with. Atonement made. It is difficult to understand God’s point of view over this matter. I suggest that justice and atonement is an important issue and that many horrific things take place because of the failure of people to do right by one another. We may not be able to draw out a direct application for us in this but the striking and startling and horrific payment for wrong should shock us. The dead men will be ‘exposed before the LORD at Gibeah’. Wasn’t our LORD, the chosen one, exposed before God and all on Calvary? He died for the sins of all those who will put their trust in Him. There has been no greater misdirection of justice ever in the world. Let’s learn to be shocked at ‘new’ stories in the bible in order to get a better appreciation of the cross of Christ.

The Price Paid (7-9)

“The king spared Mephibosheth…because of the oath…” Remember that when David wanted to show favour on the house of Saul back in Chapter 4? And good old Ziba, a servant of Saul’s household, told Davi that there is only one descendant and that is Mephibosheth? It has become clear over the course of 2 Samuel that Ziba is not to be trusted. He wants the blessings of the king without the truth and justice of his household. Ziba aligned himself with David even when David was in exile – but his motives are for self reward. Ziba lied about the descendants of Saul in order to present to David a lame and useless person. Mephibosheth had no earthly value to give to the king but Ziba’s plan backfired and ‘Shebby” got everything. Ziba then betrayed Shebby during the exile story and gained everything for himself but lost the respect of the king. The story of Ziba and Shebby is a wonderful case study in these books. Shebby now wins again because his life is saved because of David’s oath. He is saved because the king had promised to protect him. Shebby has done nothing again to receive any blessing but enjoys the goodness of the king because of the promise of the king. Shebby always gives us a lesson on grace. This is the last we hear of Mephibosheth the lame.

“…two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah…” There is no significant history of Aiah but she is constantly mentioned in connection to Rizpah – it would distinguish her from another Rizpah so that we know who she is. Rizpah is the concubine who Abner had slept with in 2 Samuel 3. Her two sons are numbered among the seven and we see how this devastated her in the rest of this story.

“…together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab…” Merab was offered to be David’s first wife in 1 Samuel 18 but was married to Adriel the Meholathite instead.

“…killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together…” This was a very public execution. The time, the place are all described and the men were killed side by side. The bible doesn’t tend to draw out descriptions of things like a modern novelist would, so the point by point detail given here is enough for us to slow down and breath in the morbidness of this event.

The Land Released (10-14)

“Rizpah…took sackloth…from the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down…she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night.” Rizpah mourned and used her sackloth to aid her in preventing the bodies from being consumed by animals. The beginning of harvest is April and the rains are likely to be in October to November (Autumn). Can you imagine what that woman had to go through to keep up her devotion to those bodies? While atonement had been satisfied for the people of Gibeon, the respectful treatment of those bodies was yet to be performed.

“When David was told…” Unsure why it took so long for the news to get to David. Perhaps everyone imagined the woman would eventually go home and let nature deal with the dead. The duration of her grief had become newsworthy for the king.

“…he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan…and the bones of those who had been killed…” In Verses 12 and 13 we are reminded of how Saul and Jonathon had been struck down and left but that the people of Jabesh Gilead respectfully took the bodies to give them a more respectful resting place. David resolved to deal gracefully with the bodies of those seven men along with Saul and Jonathan.

“After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” ‘After that’ refers to the whole incident but the rain had begun pouring prior to the bodies being buried. There is a conclusion, however, when the bodies of the dead are buried respectfully. Let’s note the end of Verse 14 as the end to this story. The problem was famine. The cause was injustice or sin. The atonement for this sin was met and the blessing from God is restored.

The Four that Fell (15-22)

“Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel.” This can seem like every other weekend that the Philistines show up! But at the end of 1 and 2 Samuel, there is a battle between Israel and the Philistines. They were the greatest threat to Israel at the beginning of 1 Samuel. 1 Samuel 4-5 described their first attack which ended in the stealing of the ark! They were a nuisance, dealt with briefly by Samuel’s faithfulness but rose up again as we are introduced to Saul as King and David as the Philistine conqueror. David’s trust in the LORD and his strength in battle was, more times than not, with the Philistines as the backdrop. So, at the close of these two books, the Philistines reappear and we will see how the narrator wants us to remember that great battle between David and Goliath. What does the narrator want us to learn?

“David went down…to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted.” Nothing sinful about David being exhausted. He is older now and, like Barzillai the Gileadite (19:34-35), he has become too old for battle. But when we read that he went down to fight the Philistines, we may have pictured a younger David who stood one on one against a giant of a man named Goliath – and won. The issue now is that David is too old for battle, how will Israel be delivered from the Philistines?

“And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose brone spearhead weighed three hundred shekels…said he would kill David.” Dead set, we must be reminiscing over Goliath now!? Ishbi-Benob may not be a name that rolls off the tongue like Goliath but his description is familiar. A man from Rapha, we know is coming from the land of the Rephaim (see 5:17-25) which is known as the land of the giants. Rapha(h) in Hebrew means giant. Ishbi-Benob is descended from giants. We may remember that the Israelite spies described those living in the Promised Land as giants. David has gone up against the Philistines and this time, a giant is going to kill him.

“But Abishai…struck the Philistine down and killed him.” Super easy. The killing is on par with young David’s efforts with a slingshot.

“Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.” The people regarded David as a blessing to them. Not because of his ability in battle, but because he is the one through whom all Israel is blessed. The lamp of God was mentioned in connection to Samuel back in 1 Samuel 3. When David was made king over all Israel in 2 Samuel 2-5, he advised the people of Jabesh Gilead that God will bless them through David’s rule (2:6). Now, the men of Israel refer to David as the lamp of Israel. David himself regards the LORD as the lamp (22:29). See also 1 Ki 11:36; 15:4; 2 Ki 8:19; 2 Ch 21:7; Ps 132:17 for references on the lamp of David referring to David’s kingdom – the kingdom which God had established and promised to maintain forever. While the city of God (Jerusalem) and the lamp of God appears to be extinguished today (and for over 2000 years), the lamp of God burns forever in the LORD Jesus Christ. He is the forever King who never grows tired or weary. The kingdom of God is blessed forever because Jesus is the King. 

“…another battle with the Philistines…that time Sibbekai…killed Saph…one of the descendants of Rapha.” Another giant from the Philistines to fight. Killed by Sibbekai.

“…another battle with the Philistines…Elhanan…the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite…” Convinced of the repetition and the references back to the battle between David and Goliath. What was once a legendary battle has become a repeatable event. David has lead Israel for years and raised up people not to be afraid of giants anymore.

“…still another battle…a huge man with six fingers…descended from Rapha. When he taunted Israel…” Remember how Goliath taunted Israel every day (1 Samuel 17:8-10, 16).

“…David’s brother, killed him.” So, four giants taunting Israel and four men who were not David killed them. The old story of David and Goliath has become Groundhog Day for Israel. Every day a threat. Every day a victory. But look how the story ends…

“These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.” David is given the victory because his men have one the battle in his name. He is the lamp that burns for Israel. The men fight under the banner of the king – the true king of Israel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

Curses and blessings. The blessings on Israel were suspended while injustice had been unfinished. God chose this timing to provoke a query from David. The sufferings of life ought to drive us to prayer. The resolution is that the sin of the past must be paid for and once that happened, the blessings of the LORD were restored. This is a story about atonement. This is not a story about prosperity. The ultimate act of atonement was done at the cross for us. One man, the chosen one of God, was killed and held up as a public spectacle in the sight of God and all. It is horrific to read of a man being killed for something that he did not do. This is the story of the cross. The victory of the Messiah also means that although we continue to face battles, he has gone before us. He is the lamp or the light of the world. The forever king who reigns. His kingdom is pure and powerful.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: Does a drought mean that there is atonement needed in the land between those who live on it? We need to be careful in connecting what was happening in the Promised Land under the covenant of Abraham with things that have happened elsewhere around the world and even in Australia. That said, all natural disasters and hardships are a result of the fall and the curse of sin. You could certainly put a case forward that Australia is moving far away from God and we need to turn back to him in prayer. But to connect the drought to any one or a few things is a long stretch. We live under the curse of sin and every generation must hear the gospel – repent and believe for the kingdom of God is at hand. We can certainly turn conversations about water restrictions toward our need for restoration. Come to the Living Water!

Topic B: Atonement, sacrifice, justice, peace, blessing. We cannot escape the language of this story being about atonement for wrongdoing. For the wrath of God being propitiated (turned away) and the need for restoration. There is the language of sacrifice. That seven men die so that the land of Israel may bring forth fruit again. For justice. That the right penalty be inflicted on the right people. And for peace and blessing from God when the penalty of sin has been paid for. The story of the Lord Jesus Christ springs out of such Old Testament stories as this. Jesus said that all the scriptures are about him (John 5). A common error in reading the bible is that we may look for morals and rules for life so that we know how to respond but the pages of scripture are about our need for atonement which comes through sacrifice to satisfy the justice of God and therefore bring peace and blessing. We get blessings instead of curse because the curse we deserve is poured out on the blessed One.

Topic C: Fighting the good fight. The last phase of Chapter 21 is about the men of David’s kingdom fighting the same type of fight that David fought when he won the hearts of Israel to begin with. He stood up against Goliath because of his faith/trust in the Living God. His courage comes not from his own hands but from the One who has promised to bless Israel when they put their trust in Him. With David no longer physically in the battle, his men fight as though they are David. They regard the king as the lamp of Israel. Nobody is pushing David aside as irrelevant but as the light that gives Israel hope, strength and power. The Lord Jesus Christ has commissioned us to continue in the mission of spreading the kingdom of God. We do this by our words but we walk unafraid of any enemy because Jesus has already conquered death, given us life and shown us the way. So, fight the good fight with all of thy might…

…Christ is thy strength, and Christ thy right;
Lay hold on life, and it shall be
Thy joy and crown eternally.

Run the straight race through God’s good grace,
Lift up thine eyes, and seek His face;
Life with its way before us lies,
Christ is the path, and Christ the prize.

Cast care aside, lean on thy Guide;
His boundless mercy will provide;
Trust, and thy trusting soul shall prove
Christ is its life, and Christ its love.

Faint not nor fear, His arms are near,
He changeth not, and thou art dear;
Only believe, and thou shalt see
That Christ is all in all to thee.

Hymn: John Monsell: 1811-1875