The Gibeonites punish Saul’s family

Chapter 21

The Gibeonites punish Saul’s family

v1 For three years while David was king, the people did not have enough to eat. So David prayed to the *Lord. The *Lord said, ‘This has happened because Saul and his family are murderers. They killed the *Gibeonites.’ v2 (The *Gibeonites were not *Israelites. The *Gibeonites were a small group that remained from the people called Amorites. The *Israelites had promised to protect them but Saul tried to destroy them. Saul had been too eager to help the people of *Israel and *Judah.) So, the king called the *Gibeonites together and he spoke to them. v3 He asked, ‘What can I do for you? I want to make matters right. Then you can *bless the *Lord’s people.’

v4 The *Gibeonites answered, ‘We do not want Saul and his family to pay us with silver and gold. And we do not want to kill anyone in *Israel.’

So David asked, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’

v5 They said to David, ‘Saul plotted against us. He tried to destroy all our people in the country of *Israel. v6 So hand over to us 7 men from his family. We will kill them. Then we will hang up their bodies in front of the *Lord in Gibeah. Gibeah was Saul’s town and the *Lord chose Saul as king.’

So King David said, ‘I will hand them over to you.’

When the *Israelites obeyed the *Lord, he *blessed them. When they did not obey the *Lord, he did not *bless them (Leviticus 26). Sometimes the crops failed for one year. But after three years, David knew that something was wrong. The *Lord probably spoke to David by a *prophet or a priest. This was the *Lord’s punishment. Joshua chapter 9 records the story about the *Gibeonites. Joshua promised that they could live safely in *Israel. But King Saul had not *kept that promise. The Bible does not record what Saul had done. But the *Lord knew about Saul’s cruel actions. The people called Amorites lived in Canaan (Joshua 12:1-3). This was the name of the country of *Israel before the *Israelites arrived. Gibeon was near Saul’s city, called Gibeah.

Leviticus 24:17-22 says that a murderer should die. In those days, people thought that a person’s family was responsible for the *sin of that person. (Compare this with Numbers 14:18 and Jeremiah 31:29-30.) If the family did not punish the guilty person, someone could punish the family. This still happens in some societies today. The *Gibeonites could not punish Saul because he was dead. They did not want Saul’s family to pay them money. And the *Gibeonites did not want to kill anyone in *Israel except Saul’s family. But the *Gibeonites wanted to kill 7 of Saul’s sons or grandsons. This meant that they wanted to punish Saul’s family completely. (For the *Israelites, the number 7 meant that something was complete. For example, 7 days make one complete week.) David agreed with the punishment that the *Gibeonites asked for.

The *Lord used this situation to protect David from Saul’s family. David did not want to attack Saul’s family. So the *Lord arranged for the *Gibeonites to carry out this punishment. Otherwise, Saul’s family would oppose David. And they might try to plot a revolution.

v7 Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan and the grandson of Saul. But Jonathan and David had made a serious promise to the *Lord. So, King David did not hand over Mephibosheth to the *Gibeonites.v8 David took Armoni and Mephibosheth who were the sons of King Saul and Rizpah. Rizpah was the daughter of Aiah. David also took the 5 sons of Saul’s daughter Merab. Their father was Adriel, the son of Barzillai from Meholah. v9 David gave them to the *Gibeonites. They killed the men and they hung their bodies on a hill in front of the *Lord. The 7 men died together. The *Gibeonites killed them during the beginning of the harvest. This was the start of the harvest of barley (a type of grain).

v10 Rizpah, who was the daughter of Aiah, took a rough cloth. This showed that she was very sad. She put it on a rock for herself. She stayed there from the beginning of the harvest until it rained on the bodies. During the day, she did not allow the birds to touch the bodies. And she did not allow the animals to touch them during the night. v11 Aiah’s daughter Rizpah was Saul’s *concubine. David heard what she had done. v12 So David took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh Gilead. (The men had taken them in secret from the square in the town of Beth Shan. The *Philistines had hung the bodies there after they killed Saul. Saul died on the mountain called Gilboa.) v13 David brought the bones of Saul and Jonathan (Saul’s son) from there. And David’s men also gathered the bones of the 7 men from Saul’s family.

v14 David’s men went to Zela in the region of Benjamin. They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan in the grave of Kish, Saul’s father. They did everything that King David told them to do. After that, God answered the prayers for their country.

David had promised to be kind to Saul’s son Jonathan and his family (1 Samuel 20:12-17). Mephibosheth was Jonathan’s only son. David *kept his promise (chapter 9).

Rizpah was Saul’s *concubine (3:7). Their son Mephibosheth (verse 8) was the uncle of Jonathan’s son who had the same name. Merab had married Adriel instead of David in 1 Samuel 18:19. Adriel’s father Barzillai was not the same man who helped David in 19:31-39.

The *Gibeonites put the men’s bodies on a hill. This showed the *Lord and the *Israelites that the punishment was complete. So the *Lord could *bless the *Israelites again. The crops had failed because there had been no rain. The *Israelites had no crops to harvest. So, verse 9 refers to the time in the year when this event usually happened. This was during the month of April. Rizpah was very sad. She protected her son’s bodies until it rained. The rain showed that the *Lord was *blessing the land again.

Some *Israelites thought that David hated King Saul’s family. Shimei accused David of this in 16:5-8. But this story shows that the *Gibeonites, not David, killed Saul’s sons and grandsons. David always gave honour to Saul and his family. But perhaps David felt guilty that he had not given enough honour to Saul and Jonathan’s bodies. Verse 12 refers to the account in 1 Samuel 31:8-13. So, David took the bones of Saul, Jonathan and the 7 members of his family. David buried them properly in the grave of Saul’s father. The *Israelites had done everything that was fair and right. So, God sent the rain.

The most important lesson to learn from this story is that the *Lord cares about our promises. The *Lord always *keeps his promises. He is not happy when we, or our nation, do not *keep our promises. So if we have many troubles we should always ask the *Lord about them.

Wars with the *Philistines

v15 Again there was a war between the *Philistines and *Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the *Philistines. But David became very tired. v16 Ishbi-Benob was one of the sons of Rapha. He had a *spear with a sharp *bronze point at the end. It weighed about three and a half kilos (about 7 and a half pounds). He also had a new sword. He said that he would kill David. v17 But Abishai, the son of Zeruiah, rescued David. Abishai attacked the *Philistine and he killed him. Then David’s men made a promise and said, ‘You will never go to a battle with us again. Nobody will put out the light of *Israel.’

v18 Later, there was another battle with the *Philistines at Gob. Sibbecai, who came from Hushah, killed Saph, one of the sons of Rapha.

v19 There was another battle with the *Philistines at Gob. Elhanan was son of Jaare-Oregim who came from Bethlehem. Elhanan killed Goliath who came from Gath. The wooden handle of his *spear was as thick as the pole that a weaver (man who makes cloth) uses.

v20 There was another battle in Gath. There was a huge man. He had 6 fingers on each hand and he had 6 toes on each foot. That was a total of 24 fingers and toes. He also came from the family of Rapha. v21 He insulted *Israel. So, Jonathan, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, killed him.

v22 These 4 men came from the family of Rapha in Gath. David and his men killed them.

(Verses 15-22 See also 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.)

These verses are like a brief official list. It refers to 4 *Philistine battles. The family of Rapha were giant men. They were famous because they were so big and strong. But 4 brave *Israelite men killed 4 of the giant *Philistine men.

The battle in verses 15-17 was David’s last battle as the leader of the army. Verse 15 suggests that he was older and weaker by this time. Ishbi-Benob’s *spear was only half the size of Goliath’s *spear (1 Samuel 17:7). But David nearly died in the battle and this worried David’s army. They called David the light (or lamp) of *Israel (verse 17). To ‘put out the light’ meant to kill him. David was the most important person in *Israel. He was the king that the *Lord had chosen. The nation depended on him. So, the men wanted to protect David.

In verse 19, Goliath may be a family name. But 1 Chronicles 20:5 says that Elhanan killed Lahmi, the brother of Goliath. Some Bible teachers think that verse 19 may refer to David and Goliath (1 Samuel chapter 17). David’s brother Shimeah is called Shammah in 1 Samuel 16:9.