Daniel Agee

2nd Samuel 21: Messianic parallels in Gibeonites’ demand for David to atone for Saul’s Nob massacre

The stated cause of the drought-caused three-year famine was David’s failure to deal with the wrongs done to Gibeonites by the late ruler Saul. 

Other texts: Joshua 11; Numbers 35; Romans 3

There is a scribal error in some translations of 2nd Sam. 21:8. Following the main body of Hebrew texts (Masoretic) and the Septuagint, some English texts say the five grandsons were from Michal, the younger daughter of Saul. This is not the case, based on a parallel account from 2nd Sam. 18:19. These five grandsons of Saul were the sons of Saul’s older daughter Merab. The other two descendants of Saul who were killed were the sons of Riza, Saul’s concubine. 

Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites is not recorded specifically in earlier texts, so there’s a question about when this slaughter occurred and when David addressed the issue. Jewish tradition says this conversation between David and the Gibeonites occurred about 30 years after he was king of Israel. 

The only recorded slaughter under Saul’s reign was the massacre of the priests in the town of Nob who had given David food, drink and Goliath’s sword. Doeg, an Edomite, told Saul about this benevolence.  Saul ordered his men to execute these priests for helping David. After they refused, Doeg did it.

Were the Gibeonites there too? If so, who killed them, Doeg or the Israelite soldiers?

If you go back into the history of the Gibeonites, who were a clan of the Hivites, you find that their ancestors had deceived Yehoshua (Joshua) into sparing them (Joshua 9–11). Yehoshua did spare them, but they were relegated to serving in the temple as water carriers and wood cutters. It’s reasonable that there would have been a sizable community of Gibeonties in or near Nob too. 

David took direct responsibility for this slaughter when the high priest’s son survived the slaughter of Nob. David put upon himself the duty of dealing with the consequences of the slaughter, even though Saul, the man who was actually guilty of it, died without paying the ultimate price for it. 

When David asked the Gibeonites what they want, they said two things:

  1. They can’t — and won’t — take any money because Torah forbids cash reimbursement for murder. 
  2. They also said that Saul, the man, who committed the crime, is no longer among the living of Israel to pay for the crime with his life.

Only taking a life could atone for taking another person’s life. The Gibeonites then ask for the lives of seven male descendants of Saul. Even though, strictly speaking, this punishment is outside of the Torah, a penalty had to be paid according to the Torah. God had brought a famine on the land of Israel for three years due to this egregious unpunished crime. Innocent blood eventually paid for this crime. 

The Gibeonites killed these men and hung them in Saul’s hometown around the time of the barley harvest which is when Passover comes.

Some interpreters believe the bodies were left hanging until the next natural rainy period, the “latter rain” in the fall, which would have been about seven months after Passover. If the bodies had hung there for that length of time, that would be very clearly against Torah, which requires hanging bodies to be removed at sunset.

However, since God brought the drought, God could have quickly restored the rain to acknowledge David’s atonement for the blood of the innocent Gibeonites who were slaughtered by Saul all those many years before.

Rizpah had been the concubine of Saul, and she stayed by the bodies as they hung. David responded to her loyalty by bringing the bones of the seven sons as well as those of Saul and Yonatan (Jonathan) to the family graveyard of Kish, the family patriarch. Thus, they would be reunited. 

This chapter also records the death of five Philistine “giants,” including Goliath (2nd Sam. 21:18–22). The deaths of the giants are not listed in chronological order, which is not important. Some were killed when David was an old man. However, David killed Goliath he was a young man. One of the giants is described as a “brother” of Goliath, but we don’t know whether the other giants were of Goliath’s family line or not.

Messianic symbolism

This chapter contains a number of details that uncannily parallel the life of Yeshua.

  • Three years of famine — lack of water. (Gibeonites’ job was to bring water to the temple. This is God’s sense of irony/humor at work.) Yeshua was dead for three days.
  • Seven men died. This is the death in the account that links with the number three to suggest this is a messianic prophecy.
  • The innocent seven sons took upon themselves the sin of others, their father Saul. David took the massacre at Nob upon himself.
  • The men, all descendants of the king, were hanged on a tree. Yeshua was hung on a tree.
  • Rizpah is in sackcloth and mourning her two sons. Rachel had two sons and mourned for them, as in the prophecy connected to Herod the Great’s massacre of the children in Bethlehem. 
  • Rizpah mourned her sons in a similar way — chasing off the birds of carrion from the dead bodies — as Abraham did from the sacrifices.
  • Rain came down as a result of the seven sons’ punishment for their father’s crime. Water poured from Yeshua’s side when He was stabbed with a spear. This suggests “living water” — the Spirit of God — descends when the Innocent was punished for those of the guilty world who wanted God’s mercy.
  • Gibeonites (“gentiles” to Israel but allowed to remain in the Land by Yehoshua) were killed as a result of their service with the priesthood. The king’s son died as a consequence. The Messiah was turned over to the gentiles (Romans) by the priests. 

Reader: Dave De Fever. Speaker: Daniel Agee. Summary: Tammy.


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