2 Samuel 21

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Read 2 Samuel 21

The Gibeonites Avenged

1 During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”

The Gibeonites answered him, “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.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.

They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 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.”

So the king said, “I will give them to you.”

The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul. But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.

10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.

14 They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.

Wars Against the Philistines

15 Once again there was a battle between the Philistines and Israel. David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted. 16 And Ishbi-Benob, one of the descendants of Rapha, whose bronze spearhead weighed three hundred shekels and who was armed with a new sword, said he would kill David. 17 But Abishai son of Zeruiah came to David’s rescue; he struck the Philistine down and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, “Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished.”

18 In the course of time, there was another battle with the Philistines, at Gob. At that time Sibbekai the Hushathite killed Saph, one of the descendants of Rapha.

19 In another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite killed the brother of Goliath the Gittite, who had a spear with a shaft like a weaver’s rod.

20 In still another battle, which took place at Gath, there was a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot—twenty-four in all. He also was descended from Rapha. 21 When he taunted Israel, Jonathan son of Shimeah, David’s brother, killed him.

22 These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.

Go Deeper

In 2 Samuel 21, we learn God is a promise-keeper. He not only keeps His promises to His people, but all people. God teaches us this truth through a unique story including a famine and murder. Since famine and murder are not likely issues we deal with regularly (if ever), it may be easy to overlook this story and miss what God is teaching us. Don’t tune out! Let’s pay close attention and see how God thinks about promises.

First, we need to know the backstory to the famine. Years before, God commanded His people to annihilate the Gibeonites. However, the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making an oath of peace (Joshua 9). Instead of honoring the oath, Saul slaughtered the Gibeonites. Because Saul broke the oath, God sent a famine. This is also likely the reason Saul’s house is referred to as a “blood-stained house” (v. 1).

As odd as it may seem, the famine teaches us that God is a promise-keeper to all people. The oath God’s people gave the Gibeonites mattered to God. In other words, God even makes and keeps promises with the “least of these” (Matthew 25:40) – including the Gibeonites. Circumstances were not good for the Gibeonites. God ordered the Gibeonites to be killed. They were not born into the Israelite family. They deceived God’s people and as a result didn’t have the same privileges as them and were even forced to take certain jobs others may not have wanted (Joshua 9:23, 27). God’s choice to keep the promise with the Gibeonites is a beam of hope and joy for all of us! If He cares to keep promises and protect the Gibeonites, how much more will He keep His promises to us! We are all invited to be in God’s family and all have the same inheritance. God is a good, promise-keeping God. In other places in Scripture this truth may be more obvious, but perhaps seeing it through a story about famine and murder will speak to us in a new way today.


  1. In verse 1, it is written “so David sought the face of the Lord” when David was confronted by the famine. When you encounter difficulty, what is the first thing you turn to? 
  2. One of the possible reasons Saul might have killed the Gibeonites was to fulfill what he thought was the will of the Lord. How are you actively trying to discern the will of God for your life? 
  3. Do you know God’s promises? Take time to look and see what promises God makes to us in the Bible. How does this change how you live?

Did You Know?

Saul’s sins needed atonement by hanging on a mountain. In the ESV translation, it states that the seven relatives of Saul were hung on the mountain before the Lord during the first days of barley harvest (v. 9). This harvest would occur around March or April, the same time as the Feast of First Fruits and Passover. Likewise, Jesus was hung on a hill for the atonement of our sins during Passover. It can be beautiful to see small examples of foreshadowing like this that God has given to us in His Word.

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1 thought on “2 Samuel 21”

  1. Ella Snodgrass

    “If my people, which are called by my name, will humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, will forgive their sins, and heal their land.” 2 Chonicles 7:14

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