(1) Then there was.—Read, and there was, there being no indication of time in the original. It is plain from 2 Samuel 21:7 that the events here narrated occurred after David had come to know Mephibosheth; and if in 2 Samuel 16:7 there is (as many suppose) an allusion to the execution of Saul’s sons, they must have happened before the rebellion of Absalom. There is no more definite clue to the time, and the expression “in the days of David” seems purposely indefinite. The narrative is omitted from the Book of Chronicles.
Three years.—A famine in Palestine was always a consequence of deficient winter rains, and was not very uncommon; but a famine enduring for three successive years was alarming enough to awaken attention and to suggest some especial cause.
Enquired of the Lord.—Literally, sought the face of the Lord. The phrase is a different one from that often used in Judges and Samuel, and agrees with other indications that this narrative may have been obtained by the compiler from some other records than those from which he drew the bulk of this book. David turned to the true Source for a knowledge of the meaning of this unusual affliction.
The Amorites.—More precisely, the Gibeonites were Hivites (Joshua 9:7); but they are called Amorites (=mountaineers) as a frequent general name for the old people of Palestine.
Two questions are often asked in connection with this narrative: (1) Why the punishment of Saul’s sin should have been so long delayed? and (2) why it should at last have fallen upon David and his people, who had no share in the commission of the sin? The answer to both questions is in the fact that Israel both sinned and was punished as a nation. Saul slew the Gibeonites, not simply as the son of Kish, but as the king of Israel, and therefore involved all Israel with him in the violation of the national oath; and hence, until the evil should be put away by the execution of the immediate offender or his representatives, all Israel must suffer. The lesson of the continuity of the nation’s life, and of its continued responsibility from age to age, was greatly enhanced by the delay. Besides this, there were so many other grievous sins for which Saul was to be punished, that it was hardly possible to bring out during his lifetime the special Divine displeasure at this one.
Kill any man in Israel.—Notwithstanding that the guilt of Saul’s sin, until it should be expiated, rested upon all Israel, the Gibeonites recognise that it had been committed by him, and do not seek that, apart from their connection with him, any Israelite should suffer on their account. David appreciates the fairness of their view of the matter, and promises beforehand to do whatever they shall require.
We will hang them up.—The sons of Saul are only to be given up by David; their actual execution is to be by the Gibeonites, and the method is that of hanging or fastening to a stake, either by impaling or by crucifixion, the word being used for both methods of execution.
Unto the Lord—i.e., publicly. (Comp. a similar expression in Numbers 25:4.) The sin had been outrageous; its punishment must be conspicuous. The place of execution is fitly chosen in the home of Saul. It seems strange that he should be here spoken of as “the Lord’s chosen;” but this and the expression “unto the Lord” go together; what Saul had done he had done as the head of the theocracy, as God’s chosen ruler, and now his family must be punished in the presence of Him against whom he had offended—“before the Lord.” The idea of regarding the execution of these men as a propitiatory human sacrifice is utterly destitute of any shadow of support.
Three hundred shekels.—About eight pounds; just half the weight of Goliath’s spear-head (1 Samuel 17:7).
Girded with a new sword.—The word sword is not in the original, and its omission, where intended, is unusual. Either it should be girded with new armour, or else the word for new is intended to denote some otherwise unknown weapon.
Sware unto him.—This was a solemn transaction, by which David should hereafter be restrained from personal exposure in battle. That he should be spoken of as “the light of Israel” implies that his government over all Israel had continued long enough already to make its immense benefits sensible.
Sibbechai the Hushathite.—Comp. 1 Chronicles 20:4. He is also mentioned in the list of heroes (1 Chronicles 11:29); but in 2 Samuel 23:27 the name is changed into “Mebunnai the Hushathite by a slight alteration in the letters of the original. He was captain of the eighth division of the army (1 Chronicles 26:11). The giant whom he slew is called “Sippai” in the parallel place in Chronicles, and it is there said that the Philistines were subdued.
The brother of.—These words, not found in the Hebrew here, are taken from Chronicles, where also the name of the giant, “Lahmi,” is given. It is quite possible, however, that the word “Beth-lemite,” which is wanting in Chronicles, is a corruption of “Lahmi the brother of.” There is a curious Jewish tradition that this Elhanan was David himself, and this has been preserved in the paraphrase of the Chaldee, “and David the son of Jesse, the weaver of veils for the sanctuary, who was of Bethlehem, slew Goliath the Gittite.”