Famine and War
2 Samuel 21:1-14
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered…

This chapter is a double narrative, first of famine, and secondly of waters, in the latter end of David's days.

1. The time when those three years of famine were, this is uncertain. Some expositors are for a transposition of those stories both of the famine and of the wars, which (they say) fell out before the rebellions both of Absalom's and of Sheba's, rendering probable reasons for their opinion; seeing 'tis said here in the general only that this famine fell out in the days of David (ver. 1), but other authors of profound judgment do see no reason for admitting any such transposition in the Scriptures, seeing it is never safe to allow it, but when it is necessary, and cannot be avoided; and therefore 'tis best to take them in that order, wherein the Holy Spirit hath placed them; yet sometimes Scripture-story puts those passages that belongs to one matter all together, though they happened at several times.

2. The cause of this famine made known by God's oracle. The natural cause was the drought (ver. 10). David, though a prophet, knew not the supernatural cause, until he consulted with the Urim, and God told him it was to punish Saul's fallen zeal, who had so perfidiously and perjuriously brought the Gibeonites into perdition (vers. 1, 2.)

3. The means made use of for removing this judgment of famine, namely, the getting both God and the Gibeonites reconciled to Israel (vers. 3, 4, 5, and 6.) Those Gibeonites had complained of their grievances to God, and he had heard them, for he is gracious. (Exodus 23:27.) The reason why they had not all this long time complained to King David. That happened to them which befalls all that are deeply oppressed, they are so dispirited that they dare do nothing for their own relief, and possibly they suspected that David would be unwilling to rescind the acts of Saul.

(2) God now rouses David. He asks them what would satisfy them, seeing Saul had-so wronged them from a zeal without knowledge (Romans 10:2), against the public faith, which God (under no pretence) will suffer to be broken, no not though it was won by a wile. (Joshua 9:1.5) Yet was it binding to successors.

(3) It was not a money-matter they sought for satisfaction, but that seven of Saul's sons might be hanged up before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, that the place wherein he plotted to root out our families, even at his royal palace, may now become the open stage for the rooting out of his family.

(4) The matter, manner, and form of the expiation of Saul's sin, whereby God was reconciled, and the famine removed from Israel at the Gibeonites' prayer.(1.) Mephibosheth, Jonathan's son, is so named to distinguish him from that other Mephibosheth, the son of Saul's concubine (vers. 7, 8). This poor cripple was saved for Jonathan's sake, because of the Lord's oath between them. How much more will the Father of all mercies be mindful of the children of believers for Jesu's sake, and for the covenant made with their parents.

(2) But David, doubtless at God's direction, took the two sons of Rizpah, Saul's concubine, and the five sons of Merab, who was married to Adriel.

(3) The manner of this expiation, it was the execution of this sevenfold matter, by hanging them all up before the Lord (ver. 9), though David had sworn that he would not cut off Saul's seed (1 Samuel 24:21, 22). Yet God, dispensing with David in this oath, directed him to do thus; otherwise David had been as guilty of perjury as Saul himself was, and God would not have been so well pleased with this sacrifice as to remove the dearth at it.

(4) Rizpah's motherly affection to her two hanged sons. (ver. 10.) She erected a tent upon a continguous rock made of sackcloth (in token of mourning) to secure herself from the parching heat of the sun in the droughty day, and from the malignant vapours of the dark nights. Resolving to watch their bodies from all annoyances, because they were doomed by David with the direction of God, who in this extraordinary case dispensed with his own double law. (Deuteronomy 21:23, and 24, 16.) To hang there until the anger of God was appeased for Saul's sin, and rain reobtained, which Rizpah prayed earnestly for in her mourning tent; and that the Lord would accept the sacrifice of her sons for an atonement, to remove the famine, etc. If so, then Rizpah must be a religious woman, having this providence made an ordinance to her. However, she was certainly a virago of a more than manly courage that durst watch there night and day without fear of wild beasts, etc. Not wanting servants as a king's concubine, yet will she watch herself alone.

5. David's high commendation of Rizpah's doing, insomuch as he made her his pattern in declaring due respect to the dead. (vers. 11, 12, 13, 14.)(1) Tidings of Rizpah's condoling the death of her sons, etc., being brought to David, it pleased him so well that be willingly learnt to do his own duty to the dead, and not only towards the bodies of these royal persons now executed, but also to the bones of Saul and Jonathan.

(2) David hereupon giveth out his royal order, that the bones of Saul and Jonathan laid up in the sepulchre (where the men of Jabesh Gilead had buried them, 1 Samuel 31:10, 11, 12), should be brought thence, and be buried in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul's father, and for the bodies of those seven sons he ordered also an honourable burial, to make them all the amends be could possibly for their ignominious death: all which do clearly demonstrate that David bare no malice either to Saul (who had been so malicious to him while he lived) nor to his sons, and what little reason Joab had to accuse David for hating his friends (2 Samuel 19:6), but herein he most piously loved his enemies.

6. The effect of all this. (ver. 14.)(1) The Lord's tenderness towards Rizpah, when God saw her motherly bowels, in lamenting the loss of her sons with so much love and patience, and lodging in such an open air to keep their dead bodies from all harm either by bird or beast, he would not suffer her to suffer this hardship till September (as some say) which was the time of God's giving Israel their latter rain (as their former rain fell in Nisan or spring before their barley-harvest, the very time wherein they were hanged (ver. 10), for then Rizpah must lodge upon the rock in her sackcloth tent for many months night and day; but God soon sent rain as that phrase intimateth "Water dropped upon them out of heaven" after so long a drought, causing a dearth, whereby she presently understood God's anger was appeased, seeing rain was now re-obtained.

(2) The Lord soon sent rain, not only because He saw David had done that due execution of justice (demanded both by God and the Gibeonites) which so far pleased God that the wickedness of wicked Saul, of his sons, and of his subjects was expiated thereby as to temporal punishments, but also God was pleased because David found in his heart (as the phrase is, 2 Samuel 7:27) to recompense good for evil to his enemies, in ordering an honourable interment to Saul and all his sons, and to bury them honourably in a place of Benjamin, named Joshua 18:28.

(3) After their execution God was intreated for the land (ver. 14.) Those intreaters were many, not only all the religious people of Israel, but also Rizpah prayed for rain, that a speedy period might be put both to the pinching famine and to her own painful watchings.

7. The wars David had with the Philistines, wherein were four famous battles fought, from ver. 15 to the end.

(1) In the first battle David was present in person, though 'tis expressly said "He now waxed faint" with old age (ver. 15.) Some say this fell out before Absalom's rebellion. Let this story be timed without interruption where the Holy Spirit hath placed it. Here David was in danger to be slain by the giant Ishbi Benob (v. 16), who being made a new colonel, pressed into Israel's army, and with his new sword essayed to slay David as a proof of his valour, but Abishai succoured him, and slew the daring monster (v. 17), Josephus saith, it was done as David nursed them, &c.

(2). David was absent in all the three following battles, for his men sware to him because of his former personal danger [That he should descend into no more battles] as they had only obliged his absence (2 Samuel 18 .)(3). The issue of these three battles succeeding the first,, and one another as the Philistines (routed in all the four fights) could recruit, and rally their forces. All these victories are ascribed to David (v. 22), learn we to do so unto Christ for all our victories both corporal and spiritual: These all made way for Solomon's peaceable reign.

(C. Ness.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

WEB: There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of Yahweh. Yahweh said, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites."

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