2 Samuel 21
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
2 Samuel 21:1-14. - (GIBEON, GIBEAH.)
And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year (ver. 1). [Summary of the remaining portion (or appendix) of this book:

1. The famine.

2. Victorious acts in wars with the Philistines (vers. 15-22).

3. David's song of thanksgiving (looking backward); 2 Samuel 22

4. 2 Samuel His last prophetic words (looking forward); 2 Samuel 23:1-7. These two lyrical and prophetic productions of David, the ripest spiritual fruit of his life, form a worthy conclusion to his reign (Keil).

5. List of his heroes (forming, with 2, an historical framework for 3 and 4); 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

6. The pestilence (with the famine, "two Divine punishments inflicted upon Israel, with the expiation of the sins that occasioned them"); ch. 24.] This famine took place after Mephibosheth was brought to Jerusalem (ver. 7; ch. 9.); and, perhaps, about seventeen years after the death of Saul (2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 9:12). It is mentioned here "as a practical illustration, on the one hand, of the manner in which Jehovah visited upon the house of Saul, even after the death of Saul himself, a crime which had been committed by him; and, on the other hand, of the way in which, even in such a case as this, when David had been obliged to sacrifice the descendants of Saul to expiate the guilt of their father, he showed his tenderness towards him by the honourable burial of their bones." After long prosperity and plenty there came adversity and destitution. No rain "out of heaven" (ver. 10) for three successive years! What a scene of general, intense, and increasing distress must have been witnessed (Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 47:13; Ruth 1:1; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Kings 6:25; 2 Kings 25:5; Jeremiah 14:1-10; Acts 11:28). Nor has it been unknown in modern times. Consider it (with its attendant circumstances) as -

I. CALLING FOR SPECIAL INQUIRY. "And David sought the face of Jehovah" (ver. 1), equivalent to "inquired of Jehovah" (2 Samuel 5:19), by means of the Urim and Thummim through the high priest (the last recorded instance of this method of ascertaining the Divine will, henceforth more fully revealed through the prophets); urged by the cry of distress, especially among "the poorest sort of the people of the land" (2 Kings 24:14), on whom the famine pressed with peculiar severity.

1. The misery of the poor and afflicted produces in every faithful ruler and in every right hearted man a feeling of compassionate and anxious concern.

2. Physical calamities are often due to moral causes; they follow human disobedience to moral laws; being in some cases manifestly connected with such disobedience (as when famine follows desolating wars, agricultural neglect, etc.), in others, however, not directly and apparently so connected. This connection is evident

(1) from the common convictions of men who instinctively associate calamity with crime;

(2) from the plain teachings of Scripture (Deuteronomy 28:15, 23, 24; Ezekiel 14:21); and

(3) from the moral government of the living, personal God, wherein all things are ordered with a view to moral ends.

3. These causes should be diligently searched out, by proper means - observation, consideration, prayer - in order to their removal. "It is not superstition, but rather the highest piety and the highest philosophy, which leads a people, under such a visitation as that of famine, to turn to Jehovah, saying, 'Show us wherefore thou contendest with us '" (W.M. Taylor). "Let us search and try our ways," etc. (Lamentations 3:40; 1 Samuel 4:3).

II. LEADING TO UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY. "And Jehovah said (through the oracle), Concerning Saul and concerning the blood guilty house, because he slew the Gibeonires." A crime which had been committed, not recently, but twenty or even thirty years before, was brought to remembrance, and set before the national conscience, quickened in its sensibility by the experience of affliction. "David must hitherto have ruled in a very irreproachable manner to render it necessary to go further back to find a cause for the calamity" (Ewald).

1. Its iniquity was great. An attempt was made to exterminate (consume and destroy, ver. 5) a poor, dependent, and helpless people; of the original inhabitants of the laud (ver. 2; Joshua 9:3-27), spared by solemn oath, devoted to the service of the sanctuary (now at Gibeon), for more than four hundred years dwelling peaceably among "the children of Israel and Judah" (Joshua 9:17; 2 Samuel 4:3), professing the same faith, and guilty of no offence; many of them being ruthlessly slain, others escaping by flight.

2. Its effects were still felt by the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Nethinim, bondmen), who survived, in bitter grief, popular odium, heavier servitude. Their cries "entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth "(James 5:4).

3. Its guilt was unacknowledged and unexpiated; the wrong unredressed, the sin unrepented of, and even ignored and well nigh forgotten. "It would seem that Saul viewed their possessions with a covetous eye, as affording him the means of rewarding his adherents (1 Samuel 22:7) and of enriching his family; and hence, on some pretence or other, or without any pretence, he slew large numbers of them, and doubtless seized their possessions. It is said that he did this in his zeal for Israel and Judah, and this cannot be explained but on the supposition that the deed was done in order to give the tribes possession of the reserved territories of the Gibeonites. And there is no doubt this would be, as it was designed, a popular and acceptable act (Joshua 9:18). Saul's own family must have been active in this cruel wrong, and must have had a good share of the spoil; for we find them all, when reduced to a private station, much better off in their worldly circumstances than can else be accounted for" (Kitto). Here lay the secret of the famine, which was interpreted as a sign of Divine wrath.

"He turneth a fruitful land into a salt marsh,
Because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein."

(Psalm 107:34.)

III. INVOLVING IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES; not merely that sin and crime are followed by Divine punishment, and the wrongs of the poor and needy avenged (1 Samuel 30:15-17), but also that men are dealt with by God (in the way of chastisement) as communities, as well as separate souls (Ezekiel 18:2-4).

1. The guilt incurred by individuals is participated in by the nation to which they belong when their wrongdoing is connived at, profited by, and not repudiated; and especially when the wrongdoer is its recognized representative.

2. The infliction of suffering on a whole nation, on account of the sins of one or more persons therein, is often needful for the vindication of public justice, the reparation of wrong doing, and the general welfare.

3. Although a nation may be exempted for a season, through the forbearance of God, from the chastisement due to sin, it does not escape altogether, but is surely called to account in this world. "Nations as nations will have no existence in another world, and therefore. they must look for retribution in this" (Wordsworth). "I can perceive in the story a recognition of the continuance of a nation's life, of its obligations, of its sins from age, to age. All national morality, nay, the meaning and possibility of history, depends upon this truth, the sense of which is, I fear, very weak in our day" (Maurice). "Time does not wear out the guilt of sin, nor can we build hopes of impunity on the delay of judgments" (Matthew Henry).

IV. EVOKING RECOGNIZED OBLIGATION. "And the king called the Gibeonites, and said... What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement [expiation, satisfaction, means of reconciliation], that ye may bless [and no more curse] the inheritance of Jehovah?" (vers. 2, 3); "What ye say, I will do for you" (ver. 5). Whilst acknowledging the national wrong, he also acknowledged the national obligation, and expressed his purpose:

1. To redress their grievance, satisfy their claim for justice, and secure their favour and intercession.

2. To respect the justice of God (by whom their cause was manifestly maintained), so that prayer might be heard, and the famine removed. Unless right is done, prayer is vain (Psalm 66:18).

3. And to do whatever might be possible and necessary for these ends. "The land must expiate the king's wrong. This is rooted in the idea of the solidarity of the people, and the theocratic king as representative of God's people, whence comes solidarity of guilt between king and people" (Erdmann). David herein acted wisely and in a theocratic spirit.

V. REQUIRING ADEQUATE SATISFACTION. (Vers. 7-9.) The expiation was made by the crucifixion of the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Merab (Hebrew, Michal), "whom she bare to Adriel," according to the demand and by "the hands of the Gibeonites" (ver. 9), under the authority and sanction of the king (and doubtless with the approval of the nation). The demand:

1. Could be satisfied with nothing short of this. "We will have no silver nor gold," etc. (ver. 4); no private compensation could atone for such a public crime and wilful sin "before the Lord."

2. Accorded with the requirements of the Law (Genesis 9:5, 6; Numbers 35:31); or at least with the custom of blood vengeance, and the then prevalent ideas of justice. If (as is probable, ver. 1) the hands of the sons of Saul were stained with blood, the Law demanded their death; if (as may have been the case) they were personally guiltless, they suffered from their intimate relationship to the murderer, as a "vicarious sacrifice," and for the benefit of the nation. "To understand this procedure, we must bear in mind the ancient Oriental ideas of the solidarity of the family, strict retaliation and blood revenge - ideas that, with some limitation, remained in force in the legislation of the old covenant" (Kurtz).

3. Was restricted by merciful consideration for the assuredly innocent and steadfast fidelity to a solemn engagement. "And the king spared Mephibosheth," etc. (ver. 7). "The obscurities of this narrative probably may never be entirely cleared up. One thing, however, is certain - these seven descendants of Saul were not pretenders to the crown; and David cannot be suspected of having embraced such an opportunity to put them out of the way. Neither is it to be supposed that David delivered up the innocent contrary to the Law (Deuteronomy 24:16). They were, therefore, delivered up to the avengers of blood and punished with death, not on account of the crimes of Saul, but for the murders which they themselves, with the connivance of Saul, had committed on the Gibeonites, and for which they had hitherto remained unpunished" (Jahn, 'Heb. Com.,' 32.).

VI. AFFORDING SALUTARY INSTRUCTION (whether the victims be regarded as having actually taken part in the crime or not). "As seen by the people, the execution of Saul's sons (who were not charged with being in any way personally accessory to their father's crime) was a judicial act of retribution; but this aspect of the transaction was only an 'accommodation' to the current ideas of the age. Viewed in its essential character as sanctioned by God, it was a didactic act, designed to teach the guilt of sin" (Kirkpatrick); to produce repentance, and prevent its recurrence. That melancholy spectacle of a sevenfold crucifixion "on the mountain before Jehovah," in "Gibeah of Saul" (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 22:6), declared:

1. The exceeding culpability of unrighteous zeal, of the wanton violation of sacred pledges, of the unjust taking away of human life. "Let us here learn the danger of trifling with oaths and solemn engagements. Four hundred years had elapsed since the treaty made with the Gibeonites; and yet in the sight of God it was as sacred as ever; so that he who presumed to infringe it drew down a severe judgment on the whole nation" (Lindsay).

2. The inevitable, rigorous, and impartial execution of Divine justice. Princes are not above its correction, nor bondsmen below its protection.

3. The far reaching consequences of transgression; to the children and children's children of the transgressor. "The evident intention of God in ordering the death of so many of Saul's family" (which, however, is not expressly stated) "was to give public attestation of the abhorrence of Saul's perfidy and cruelty, and to strike into the hearts of his successors on the throne a salutary dread of committing similar offences. The death of these seven persons, therefore, is not to be regarded as a punishment inflicted upon them for personal offences, even though they might have a share in their father's persecution of the Gibeonites, but an act commanded by God in virtue of his sovereign rights over the lives of all men, to teach princes moderation and equity, and to prevent the perpetration of enormous crimes, which are inconsistent with the welfare of the civil government as well as incompatible with the principles of true religion" (Chandler).

VII. FOLLOWED BY MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE. "And after that [the expiation] God was entreated for the land" (ver. 14). "Long forgotten sin had been brought to mind and acknowledged and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness had been touchingly displayed; a long forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and after that God was entreated for the land. The generous heavens poured down their showers, the languishing life of field and vineyard revived, and the earth was clothed with beauty and teemed with fruitfulness again. There was one more proof of the everlasting truth, 'Righteousness exalteth a nation'" (C. Vince). - D.

David sought the face of the Lord (Revised Version). The Authorized Version has here "inquired of the Lord," as in 2 Samuel 2:1, where it is the translation of a different phrase. Doubtless the substantial meaning is the same. But, as with words, so with phrases, two are seldom wholly synonymous; and the differences are often instructive, suggesting each its own train of thought. So it is with these two phrases. That in the Revised Version leads us to think of -

I. THE NATURE OF TRUE WORSHIP. It is seeking the face of God, to realize his presence, behold his glory, be made sensible of his majesty, holiness and loving kindness. Or, in greater strictness, this may he said to be preliminary to the worship of him. We come into his presence that we may present to him our adoration, praises, confessions, and prayers. We must not be content with coming into his house, seeing his servants, joining in ceremonies - leaving, as it were, our names and messages, engaging and depending on the intercession of those who are supposed to approach nearer to him. Our heavenly Father does not keep such state as to exclude or repel any one from coming near to him. He wishes to see his children, to smile upon them, to embrace them, to speak with them. Any methods of worship which keep men at a distance from him are contrary to his will. The mediation of Christ is not a substitute for intimate converse with God, but a means of attaining it, as we may see by considering -

II. THE POSSIBILITY AND WARRANT OF SUCH WORSHIP. There are, doubtless, difficulties in the way of the approach of men to God. These are removed pre-eminently by the mediation of our Lord.

1. Ignorance separates from God; Christ makes him known. By his teaching, by his own character, and by the Spirit he imparts to his disciples. "In the face of Jesus Christ" we see that of the Father (2 Corinthians 4:6; John 14:8, 9).

2. Sin separates from God; Christ delivers from sin.

(1) He has atoned for sin by his death. He "suffered for sins, the Just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God" (1 Peter 3:18). He has thus removed the barrier presented by the justice of God and "the curse of the Law" (Galatians 3:13). And through faith in Christ the conscience is purged from sin by his blood (Hebrews 9:14), and the believer has "boldness to enter into the holiest" (Hebrews 10:19-22). Through Christ the face of God shines with a benignant brightness on those who approach him.

(2) Christ cleanses the nature and character from sin. He thus produces that purity of heart which is necessary for those who would "see God" (Matthew 5:8).

3. Not only the putting away of sin, but certain positive dispositions are necessary in seeking the face of God. Christ has secured and he imparts these. To his disciples is given "the Spirit of adoption" (Romans 8:15), and thus they come to God with confidence, affection, and self-surrender. Thus Christ is "the Way" by which we "come to the Father" (John 14:6). "Through him we have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18).

III. THE NECESSITY OF SUCH WORSHIP. We must seek God's face if we would behold it with joy. He sometimes surprises men by sudden and unexpected manifestations of himself to them; but this will ordinarily be to those who love him and are in the habit of seeking him (see John 14:19-23). Hence the exhortations, "Seek the Lord,... seek his face evermore" (Psalm 105:4); "Seek, and ye shall find" (Matthew 7:7; comp. 2 Chronicles 7:14).

IV. GODLY MEN ARE DISTINGUISHED BY SUCH WORSHIP. "This is the generation of them that seek him, that seek thy face, O God of Jacob" (Psalm 24:6). "When thou saidst, Seek ye my face; my heart said unto thee, Thy face, Lord, will I seek" (Psalm 27:8).

1. The godly are impelled to this:

(1) By love to God, and consequent longing after him (Psalm 42:1, 2; Psalm 63:1, 2).

(2) By faith in him and in his promises (Hebrews 11:6).

(3) By the sense of needs which only God can supply.

(4) By memory of former converse with God, and of the enjoyment and profit derived from it.

2. Hence they seek God's face daily; and with special earnestness in times of special difficulty or danger. David felt how much he needed Divine guidance in reference to the famine which for three years had harassed the country; hence he "sought the face of the Lord." In trouble the Divine call may be heard, "Seek ye my face;" and many begin to do so when trouble is upon them.

V. SUCH WORSHIP IS FRUITFUL OF BLESSING. It is never in vain (Isaiah 45:19), although at times it may appear to be so (Job 23:3-9). "Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13) is a promise of universal applicability. And to gain the vision of God's face is to be blessed indeed. The sight of him:

1. Calms and soothes and comforts the heart. As a mother's face soothes the suffering child,

"Sorrow and fear are gone,
Whene'er thy face appears:
It stills the sighing orphan's moan,
And dries the widow's tears:

It hallows every cross;
It sweetly comforts me,
Makes me forget my every loss,
And find my all in thee."

2. Encourages to pray. When his face is seen, we are enabled to tell him all that is in our heart, with the assurance of success in our suit.

3. Sheds light into the soul. The "light of his countenance" scatters the darkness. Perplexities are half solved as soon as we have caught sight of the face of God.

4. Produces likeness to him. "We shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is" (1 John 3:2) is a promise partially fufilled in the present life.

5. The crowning result is to "see his face" in the fulness of its glory, and forever. (Revelation 22:4.) But to those who refuse to seek him, turning to him their back, and not their face (Jeremiah 2:27), he says, "I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity" (Jeremiah 18:17); and they will at length say "to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb" (Revelation 6:16). - G.W.

2 Samuel 21:2. - (GIBEON.)
And Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah. When his attempt was made is not certainly known; possibly soon after his sparing Amalek (and to make amends for it); or at the time of his massacre of the priests at Nob (where the Gibeonites then assisted the Levites, before the removal of the altar and tabernacle to Gibeon); more probably at the time of his expulsion of the necromancers and soothsayers (1 Samuel 28:3); being "one of those acts of passionate zeal in which he tried to drown the remorse of his later years." His zeal (like that of others in later times) was:

1. Religious and patriotic in intention and profession; to purge the land of the remnant of the heathen (Deuteronomy 7:2, 24), to honour God, to benefit his people. Good intentions are not enough to constitute good actions.

2. Blind and wilful, "not according to knowledge" (Romans 10:2; Acts 26:9).

3. Irreverent and ungodly; in violation of a solemn compact in the name of God, and against those who were consecrated to his service. His humblest ministers should be held in respect.

4. Unjust and ungrateful; for they bad done no wrong, but had performed useful service.

5. Proud. and tyrannical; regarding them with contempt, and taking advantage of their defenceless condition (1 Samuel 22:6-19).

6. Cruel and murderous.

7. Selfish and covetous; to appropriate the spoil to his family and adherents.

8. Popular and acceptable. The people never forgave the crafty manner in which they had originally been induced to spare their lives, looked upon them with suspicion and dislike, and readily sympathized with Saul's attack upon them (as they did not in the case of the priests at Nob), and consented to share the plunder.

9. Restrained and unsuccessful. Some survived. It is seldom that persecutors are able to do all they endeavour to do.

10. Infectious and disastrous, in its influence on his family and the nation. - D.

2 Samuel 21:8-14. - (GIBEAH.)
And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, etc. (ver. 10; 2 Samuel 3:7). The days of harvest had come; but not the fruits of harvest. The heaven was brass, and the earth iron (Deuteronomy 28:23). The misery of famine was accompanied by a sense of Divine wrath on account of sin. The guilt of blood was on the land, and especially on "the house of Saul," for the destruction of the Gibeonites. Nothing would satisfy the demand of the sorrowing bondservants of Israel, or (as it was believed) restore Divine favour, save the death of seven men of Saul's family (John 11:50). These, therefore, two of them being sons of Rizpah, were taken and crucified (Numbers 25:4) at once on the hill before Jehovah, and their remains left unburied, a prey to ravenous birds and beasts. And in her maternal grief and affection, spreading sackcloth on the rocky floor (either for her bed or as a rough tent to shelter her), she watched them there, under the scorching sun by day and the drenching dews by night, and protected them from molestation until they received an honourable burial. "They were accounted as accursed and unworthy of the burial of dogs; but she would not cast them out of her heart. The more they were shunned by others, the more she clung to them; and the deeper the disgrace, the deeper her compassion." Observe -

I. HER SPECIAL DESIRE AND AIM; for it was more than an instinct of natural affection that prompted her watching near the dead. Regarding their unburied condition as one of ignominy (Psalm 79:2), and perhaps as, in some way, affecting their happiness in the future life, she was desirous of their being honourably interred. It was deemed necessary (unlike what was required in other instances, Deuteronomy 21:22, 23) that they should remain exposed before Jehovah till assurance was given, by the fall of rain, that the satisfaction was accepted. If she could not do what she would, she would do what she could (Mark 14:8); and, by preventing further injury, render the fulfilment of her desire possible. Her intense maternal love led her to seek the safety and honour of the dead; well may a similar love lead others to seek the safety and honour of the living!


1. Her unquenchable attachment. Others might despise them as criminals, but she could only regard them and cling to them as children (Song of Solomon 8:7).

2. Her humble submission and resignation to what was unavoidable. "Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it" (Jeremiah 10:19).

3. Her entire self-surrender and self-sacrifice. If she could not remove their reproach, she could share it with them.

4. Her patient endurance of suffering; through long and lonely nights, and dark and dreary days.

5. Her ceaseless vigilance, zeal, and courage.

6. Her unwearied, faithful, hopeful perseverance. "The emotions in woman act as powerful motives on the will, and, when strongly called forth, produce a degree of vigour and determination which is very surprising to those who have usually seen the individual under a different aspect" (Carpenter).

7. Her importunate prayers for the fulfilment of her desire. "She refrained from all violent and illegal methods of gaining her object. She used no force or stratagem to secure for her beloved ones a safe and decent burial; but waited watchfully, meekly, and humbly, for the time appointed by the Lord. Neither did she give way to despondency, and quit the melancholy scene in wild despair; but did what she could to alleviate the dreadful evil. Though her heart was broken and her grief too bitter for utterance, she still hoped in God, still looked for his merciful interposition, and waited day after day, and night after night until the rain of heaven came down and released the bodies of her beloved ones" (Hughes, 'Female Characters of Holy Writ').

III. HER EFFECTUAL ENDEAVOUR. At length (how long is not stated) "showers of blessing" fell, and her wish was accomplished. Loving, faithful, devoted service:

1. Exerts an undesigned influence on others. "And it was told David," etc. (ver. 11).

2. Fails not, sooner or later, to receive its due reward.

3. Is followed by effects greater than any that were desired or expected. "David was pleased with her tenderness, and was excited by her example to do honour to the bodies of Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 31:12, 13; 2 Samuel 2:5-7), and thus showed that he did not war with the dead, and that his recent act in delivering up Saul's sons was not one of personal revenge, but of public justice" (Wordsworth). She did more than she intended;. and what she did is to this day "told for a memorial for her." - D.

This verse is part of a narrative full of difficulty and darkness. It stands out a bright light in the midst of the darkness - a grand exhibition of a mother's love.

I. A MOTHER'S LOVE IS MUCH TRIED. Not often as Rizpah's was; but always in some way or other; as:

1. By the conduct of her children.

2. By the conduct of others towards them.

3. By their troubles.

4. By their deaths;

especially when untimely or by violence; and most of all when their untimely or violent deaths are the penalty of their misconduct, which was, however, not the case with the sons of Rizpah.

II. IT OCCASIONS HER MUCH SORROW. Love, in this world, always brings grief, through making the sorrows of others our own, as well as rendering us sensitive to their treatment of ourselves. The more deep and tender the love, so much the more poignant the grief. And, as a mother loves most, she is most susceptible of sorrow. She is often pained by her children when they do not think it; and every stroke inflicted on them strikes her to the heart.

III. IT IS UTTERLY UNSELFISH. She loves because it is her nature - freely, spontaneously, making no calculation, asking for no return. Not without hope, indeed, that she may one day be rewarded by her children's welfare and affection; but far from regulating her love by this: rather she lavishes it most on those from whom she cannot expect recompense - the weakest, the most sickly, those most likely to die; yea, as Rizpah, those who are dead. "Death might bereave her of them, not them of her love" (Bishop Hall).

IV. IT IS MOST SELF-DENYING. Prompting to and sustaining in arduous labours, long and wearisome watchings, self-inflicted privations, for the good of her children. For the sake of their health, she willingly hazards, and even sacrifices, her own. For the sake of their education and advancement, she cheerfully gives up, not only luxuries, but comforts, and even necessaries. And when they have gone beyond her reach into the unseen world, their mortal remains are dear to her, and she will spare nothing that may honour them or prevent dishonour to them. Of such affection Rizpah is a signal instance.

V. IT IS MOST PERSISTENT. Through six months Rizpah continued watching day and night (with the aid, doubtless, of her servants) by the crosses on which the bodies of her sons and other relatives hung, that neither vulture, nor jackal, nor any other "bird of the air" or "beast of the field" might devour, or mangle, or even "rest on" them, until she had gained her point in their honourable burial. A striking example of the persistence of a mother's love. But this was only the crowning proof of her affection. A mother's love is lifelong. "A mother's truth keeps constant youth." It endures through years of toil, hardship, and suffering; when feebly responded to, or quite unappreciated, or requited by neglect, hardness, or cruel wrong. When son or daughter is utterly debased and degraded, the mother clings and hopes; when cast off by all the world, she does not abandon them.

"Years to a mother bring distress,
But do not make her love the less."


VI. IT IS SOMETIMES BROUGHT INTO NOTICE AND HONOURED. Thus it was with Rizpah. What she had done was reported to the king; it aroused his attention to his neglect to give honourable burial, in the family sepulchre, to the bones of Saul and Jonathan. He now repaired the neglect, and buried, not only them, but (as is implied) the remains of the seven which had so long been hanging exposed, "in the sepulchre of Kish his (Saul's) father." Thus a mother's love, in this case, exercised a powerful beneficial influence. Moreover, it received honourable mention in the holy records, and wherever the Bible comes, "there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her" (Matthew 26:13). And although usually the light of a mother's love shines chiefly in the privacy of home, and she neither asks nor expects applause or record, it is impossible that she can act a noble part without exercising an influence for good which may widen and ramify far more than she could have imagined, and may secure her an honour she never desired. And if no others, "her children arise up, and call her blessed" (Proverbs 31:28), and tell of her character and works to their children. In conclusion:

1. If human love be so deep and strong, what must be the love of God, from whom it springs, and of which it is one great sign and proof? All the love of all parents, of all human beings, flows from this original Fountain. The Fountain is greater than the streams.

2. Mothers should seek to have their love perfected, by being sanctified and elevated by the love of God, and directed supremely to the ends which he seeks - the moral, spiritual, and eternal welfare of their children. With this view, they should watch carefully their living children (as Rizpah her dead ones), and especially whilst they are young, that they may not be defiled or injured by foul bird or beast.

3. How strong and constant should be the love of children for their mothers! Prompting them to all that would gratify and honour them and promote their happiness; to self-denial and self-sacrifice for their good, should they live to need the help of their children; and to patience and forbearance towards them, should they, under the infirmities of old age, make demands on these virtues. "Despise not thy mother when she is old" (Proverbs 23:22).

4. How base the conduct of many children (especially of many sons) to their mothers! Selfishly wasting their resources, imposing on their credulity, abusing their indulgence, disgracing their name, breaking their hearts. "A foolish [wicked] son is the heaviness of his mother" (Proverbs 10:1). - G.W.

As for these four, they were born to the giant (Ha-rapha) in Gath, and fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants (ver. 22). Of the age before the Flood it is said, "In those days were the giants [Nephilim, men of lofty stature and ferocious character] upon the earth" (Genesis 6:4; Numbers 13:32, 33). At a subsequent period there was a like formidable race called Rephaim (Genesis 14:5; Genesis 15:20), to which belonged the Emim, the Zuzim (Zamzummim), and the Anakim (Deuteronomy 2:10, 11, 20, 21; Deuteronomy 9:2). One of this race, of extraordinary stature, was Og, King of Bashan (Deuteronomy 3:10; Joshua 12:4). Others, more recently, dwelt among the Philistines (Joshua 11:12), like Goliath (1 Samuel 17:4-11) and the four here mentioned, who were either sons of a celebrated giant (the Rapha) or descendants of the original founder of the tribe. They were all idolaters and formidable opponents of Israel. And there are giants among us now. I do not mean such ogres as children read of in story books; or such harmless persons of exceptional height as are sometimes seen; or even such as appear in any bodily form; but, nevertheless, real, powerful, and terrible giants, aptly represented by "these four" slain by David and his heroes.


1. An ancient family; as old as sin, and came into the world with it. It survived the Deluge; spread, among the dispersed nations, over all the earth; had one of its principal settlements in Canaan; and, amidst all the conflicts and changes of mankind, has continued to this day.

2. An ungodly family. None of its members believe in the living and true God or obey his commandments; yet they have many gods (1 Samuel 17:43).

3. A selfish family. They all seek their own, and often contend against one another.

4. A numerous, mighty, and destructive family. They have their walled cities and strongholds, defy the armies of the living God (ver. 21), and sometimes terrify them (1 Samuel 17:1-11) by their imposing appearance and evil doings (Psalm 14:1-3; Romans 3:10-18). What is this giant Family? You have doubtless already discovered that it consists of sins, vices, and wickedness of all kinds.

II. THEY ARE KNOWN BY VARIOUS NAMES. Here are long lists of them (Matthew 15:19; Galatians 5:19-21; Colossians 3:5-9). But notice especially these four:

(1) Pride, or undue self esteem and contempt of other persons (vers. 16,17). The name Ishbi-benob signifies "my dwelling is on the height;" and was possibly given to him because he had his castle on a lofty, inaccessible rock. The brazen head of his lance was eight pounds in weight; and, arrayed in new armour, he resolved to kill David, and nearly succeeded; but was himself smitten down by the aid of Abishai. Pride is haughty, self confident, contemptuous, and presumptuous. It has overthrown many mighty men; and is an ungodly, selfish, and most dangerous adversary. "Be not proud'" (Jeremiah 13:15; 2 Samuel 22:28; Obadiah 1:3, 4; James 4:6).

(2) Falsehood, or deceit (1 Samuel 21:1-8). "There was again a battle with the Philistines at Gob [Gezer]: then Sibbechai the Hushathite [1 Chronicles 27:11] slew Saph [Sippai]." This is a double-faced giant; exceedingly crafty, mean, and mischievous. "Lying lips are abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 12:22; Revelation 21:8).

(3) Hatred, or ill will; and (in various forms) envy, revenge, anger, and strife. "Elhanan, the son of Jaare-oregim [Jair] the Bethlehemite [ch. 23, 24] slew Goliath the Gittite" - possibly a son of the giant whom David slew, and of the same name; or (more probably, as in Chronicles), "Lahmi the brother of Goliath, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam." He is a powerful, fierce, and obstinate foe; and only by the strength which God gives [Elhanan] can he be overthrown.

(4) Dishonesty; "a man of stature [measure or length] that had on each hand six fingers, and on each foot six toes, four and twenty in number" etc.; slain by Jonathan, David's nephew (1 Samuel 16:9; 1 Samuel 17:3; ch. 13:3). He has a powerful grasp; covets, seizes, and steals the possessions of others, in defiance of right and justice. There are many other giants, such as

(5) Ignorance,

(6) Sloth,

(7) Intemperance,

(8) Impurity,

(9) Profanity,

(10) Infidelity,

(11) Superstition, and

(12) Idolatry.

III. THEY MUST BE FOUGHT AGAINST AND OVERCOME; in their onslaught upon ourselves and others. If we do not conquer them, they will conquer us. And we can conquer them only by:

1. Faithfully following "the Captain of our salvation;" obeying his commands, and depending on his might.

2. Incessant vigilance and firm resistance.

3. Ever renewed and courageous effort.

4. Confident assurance of victory, inspired by many promises, the presence of our Divine Leader, and the success which has been already achieved. "These conflicts of David's servants are typical of the spiritual combats of Christ's soldiers with the family of the evil one" (Wordsworth). "Fight the good fight of faith" (1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Samuel 13:1-7; 1 Samuel 14:1-15). - D.

These huge monsters were dangerous enemies. To slay them was to do valuable service to king and country. To assail them required much courage. Those who killed any of them gained great renown; and their names and deeds were recorded in the chronicles of the kingdom, and, as to some of them, have found a place in the Book of books.

I. SOME GIANT FOES OF THE DIVINE KING AND KINGDOM THAT NEED TO BE DESTROYED. We may name superstition, whether pagan, papal, or protestant; infidelity; selfishness; pride; tyranny, ecclesiastical or political; slavery; sensuality; intemperance; war; mammon. Singly, or in partial union, they assail the subjects of Christ, and oppose them in their endeavours to extend his kingdom. And behind lie the devil and his angels, ever active and formidable (Ephesians 6:11, 12).


1. It is involved in their Christian calling. The new nature which is given to them is instinctively hostile to Satan and his works. The endeavour to serve God and benefit men necessarily brings them into conflict with these powers of darkness. The attacks made on themselves compel them to fight in self-defence (1 Peter 5:8, 9).

2. They are supplied with arms and armour for the purpose. (Ephesians 6:11-17.)

3. The enslaved and degraded condition to which these giant evils have reduced their victims appeals to and stimulates them.

4. Their own happy condition under the reign of Christ supplies them with a powerful motive.

5. Regard for him impels and strengthens them. Loyalty, desire for his glory, the hope of his approval, and of the honours and rewards he bestows.


1. Who are the heroes? Not those who engage these giants (nominally) as a profession and for the sake of earthly rewards. But such as

(1) renounce for themselves their service, which all who profess to oppose them do not;

(2) show great zeal in contending against them;

(3) cheerfully expose themselves to hardship and peril in doing so, displaying conspicuous courage and endurance. Those faithful in times of persecution, confessors, martyrs. Those who bear the gospel to savages, or encounter dangerous climates in seeking its extension.

2. Their honours and rewards.

(1) In many cases, success; not, alas! in killing these giants - they are not dead yet - but in preserving themselves, and rescuing others from their power, and in diminishing their dominions.

(2) Enrolment in the Divine records. Many illustrious names are written in human records; more have been overlooked; but all are in the "book of remembrance written before" God (Malachi 3:16).

(3) Final promotion to honour, power, and blessedness (see 2 Timothy 4:7, 8; and the promises made in Revelation 2. and 3. to "him that overcometh"). - G.W.

In the view of his followers, David was the lamp (Hebrew, naer) or glory of the nation, and the continuance of his life and reign was essential to its welfare. This is a striking testimony to their estimate of his personal character and faithful and prosperous rule. Similar language is used of others. "He was the lamp that burueth and shineth," etc. (John 5:35; John 8:12; Matthew 5:14). And every faithful servant of God is "a light giver in the world" (Philippians 2:15). Such a lamp is -

I. KINDLED BY THE GRACIOUS HAND OF GOD, the true Glory of Israel, the Father of lights, the Fountain of life and light (Psalm 36:9). None are so ready to recognize dependence upon God for life and all good as the devout man himself.

"Thou art my Lamp, O Jehovah,
And Jehovah enlightens my darkness."

(2 Samuel 22:29; Psalm 18:28; Psalm 27:1.) David's regal life and actions were the light which the grace of God had kindled for the benefit of Israel. Whatever his gifts, his graces, his position, his success, they am all humbly, gratefully, and constantly ascribed to their Divine Source by the faithful servant; and, whilst we admire him, we should "glorify God in him" (1 Corinthians 15:10; Galatians 1:24).

II. CONDUCTIVE TO THE REAL WELFARE OF MEN. "Neither do men light a lamp and put it under the bushel," etc. (Matthew 5:15).

"Heaven does with us as we with torches do,
Not light them for themselves," etc.

(Measure for Measure,' act 1 sc. 1.) By his counsel, his example, his endeavours, his prayers, he renders invaluable service to others in directing them in perplexity and peril; preserving them from error and evil; stimulating them to effort and conflict; and contributing to their safety, prosperity, and lasting happiness.

III. EXPOSED TO IMMINENT DANGER OF EXTINCTION. The light is liable to be quenched. Life is always precarious; the life of some peculiarly so; like that of David when he went down into the conflict (vers. 15, 16; 2 Samuel 5:17-25), waxed faint, and was set upon by the giant Ishbi-benob, in a new suit of armour. And it is not only natural life, but also moral and spiritual life, that is beset by danger. The part which a good man takes in the conflict between good and evil attracts the attention of his adversaries, makes him a special object of attack (1 Kings 22:31); his efforts are exhausting, and his zeal is apt to consume him (Psalm 69:9; Psalm 119:139). "Ernestus, Duke of Luneburg, caused a burning lamp to be stamped on his coin, with these four letters, A.S.M.C., by which was meant, Aliis serviens meipsum contero, 'By giving light to others I consume myself'" (Spencer).

IV. WORTHY OF BEING HIGHLY ESTEEMED, carefully sustained, and zealously guarded. "And Abishai succoured him, and he [Abishai, or perhaps David, ver. 22] killed him," etc. The preserving care of God (2 Samuel 8:14) does not render needless human sympathy, assistance, prudence, resolution (2 Samuel 18:3). He who freely spends his strength and risks his life for others ought to be esteemed, considered, defended, and helped by them (1 Thessalonians 5:12, 23; 2 Thessalonians 3:2; Hebrews 13:17); and, herein, they also benefit themselves and the whole community. "If any man serve me, let him follow me," etc. (John 12:26-28). - D.

That thou quench not the light of Israel. "The men of David" who thus speak, and doubtless the multitude of his subjects, regarded him as the light (literally, as in Revised Version, "the lamp") of the nation - its guiding mind, its safety, glory, and joy. His death would involve the nation in darkness - in perplexity, confusion, peril, and trouble. Such was likely enough to be the consequence of his death at that period. Nevertheless, David, as a moral and spiritual light, burns on still for all peoples and generations. Death did not quench this light. More emphatically is this true of Jesus Christ our King.

I. HE IS THE LIGHT OF MEN. Intended ultimately to "lighten every man;" actually enlightening those who receive him. He is their:

1. Teacher and Guide. Through whose revelations they know God and himself and themselves; sin and righteousness; heaven, and the way to it; perdition, and how to escape it; the real worth of things; the wisdom needful for the guidance of life. Christ sheds light upon all things - the light by which their true character and relations are made apparent.

2. Safety and Salvation. In darkness is peril; in light security.

3. Glory. Imparting to them of his own lustre.

4. Joy. In knowledge and conscious safety are peace and happiness and hope; in ignorance, doubt, and perplexity, is unhappiness.


1. Not the light of his personal glory In the battle with his foes and ours, he fell and died; but he rose again, and to a greater brightness of glory, in consequence of his death. His cross itself is a great light for men. He lives above all the power of his enemies. He goes with his people to battle, but cannot be touched by the foe.

2. Nor the Light he has become to men through the knowledge he has given to the world. Great and formidable and persistent have been the efforts to extinguish the light; but it burns on unquenched and unquenchable. It may be obscured here and there, and for a time, but it can never go out. It will yet shine forth over the whole earth, and scatter all the darkness of error and sin.

3. Nor the Light he is to each of his believing people. Through life, and in death, and forever, he remains their Light. His presence in their hearts is their wisdom and joy under all circumstances. Then:

1. Be grateful for him.

2. Accept the light he sheds.

3. "Walk as children of light."

4. Be lights yourselves. Shine by speech, and especially in your lives. - G.W.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
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