XXI A famine, caused by Saul's killing the Gibeonites, ver. 1-3. Seven of his family put to death, ver. 4-9. Care taken of their dead bodies, and of the bones of Saul, ver. 10-14. Battles with the Philistines, ver. 15-22.
Verse 1. Then - The things related here and chap. xxiv, 1-25, are by the best interpreters conceived to have been done long before Absalom's rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds: first, this particle, then, is here explained, in the days, that is, during the reign of David: which generalwords seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done after the next foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would rather have added, after these things, as it is in many other places. Secondly, here are divers passages which it seems improbable to ascribe to the last years of David's reign: such as first, that Saul's sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished. And indeed that this was done, and Saul's seven sons hanged by David's order before that time, seems to be intimated by that passage, chap. xvi, 8, where he is charged with the blood of the house of Saul: for which there was not the least colour 'till this time. Secondly, that David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place, 'till that time. Thirdly, that the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, ver. 15, &c. so long after he had fully subdued them, chap. viii, 1, and that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so. Fourthly, that David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, chap. xxiv, 1, which being an act of youthful vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order, is plainly this, because David's sin being once related, it was very convenient that David's punishments should immediately succeed: this being very frequent in scripture-story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several times. He flew - Which was not only an act of cruelty, but also of perfidiousness, because it was a public violation of that solemn oath given to them by Joshua and the princes, in the name of all the Israelites, of that and succeeding generations. "But why did not God punish Saul whilst he was alive for this, but his children, and the Israelites of this age?" First, God did severely punish Saul for this and his other sins. Secondly, as God may justly inflict temporal punishments upon any offender, either in his person, or in his posterity, when he pleaseth; so it is meet he should take his own time for it; and it is folly in us to quarrel with God for so doing. Thirdly, the Israelites might sundry ways make themselves guilty of Saul's sin, tho' it be not particularly mentioned, advising or encouraging him to it; or, assisting him in the execution of it. And whereas many of the people were probably innocent of that crime, yet they also were guilty of many other sins, for which God might punish them, though he took this occasion for it.
Verse 2. Sought - That is, he sought how he might cut them off with some colour of justice, aggravating their faults, and punishing them worse than they deserved; oppressing them with excessive labours, and intending by degrees to wear them out.
Verse 6. I will - Having doubtless consulted God in the matter; who as he had before declared Saul's bloody house to be the causes of this judgment, so now commanded that justice should be done upon it, and that the remaining branches of it should be cut off; as sufficiently appears from hence, that God was well pleased with the action; which he would not have been, if David had done it without his command; for then it had been a sinful action of David's, and contrary to a doublelaw of God, Deut. xxi, 23; xxiv, 16.
Verse 7. Spared - For the Gibeonites desiring only such a number, it was at David's choice whom to spare. Of Jonathan - This is added, to distinguish him from the other Mephibosheth, ver. 8.
Verse 10. Spread it - As a tent to dwell in: being informed that their bodies were not to be taken away speedily, as the course of the law was in ordinary cases, but were to continue there until God was intreated, and removed the present judgment. On the rock - In some convenient place in a rock, near adjoining. Until water - Until they were taken down: which was not to be done 'till God had given rain as a sign of his favour, and a mean to remove the famine, which was caused by the want of it. Thus she let the world know, that her sons died not for any sin of their own, not as stubborn and rebellious sons, whose eye had despised their mother: but for their father's sin, and therefore her mind could not be alienated from them by their hard fate.
Verse 11. David - Who heard it with so much approbation, that he thought fit to imitate her piety, being by her example provoked to do what hitherto he had neglected, to bestow an honourable interment on the remains of Saul and Jonathan, and, with them, upon those that are now put to death, that the honour done to them herein, might be some comfort to this disconsolate widow.
Verse 13. The bones - Having first burnt off the flesh which remained upon them when they were taken down. Compare 1 Sam. xxxi, 10, &c.
Verse 14. After that - After those things were done which were before related; that is, after they were hanged up: for by that God was pacified, and not by their burial.
Verse 18. After this - After the battle last mentioned.
Verse 22. Born to the giant in Gath - These giants were probably the remains of the sons of Anak, who, tho' longfeared, fell at last.