Scripture reading – 2 Samuel 20; 2 Samuel 21

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The prophet Nathan had warned David that the consequences of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah would follow him to his grave (2 Samuel 12:10-14). Thus, sorrow haunted the king’s life like a shadow. Contrary to the king’s wishes, Joab, one of David’s captains, killed the king’s son. Absalom was dead and buried in a ravine under a heap of stones (2 Samuel 18).

David’s army had been victorious on the battlefield and routed the men of Israel who had sworn devotion to Absalom. Although his reign had been preserved, the death of Absalom thrust the king into an overwhelming grief that moved him to cry, “Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33b) Joab, learning the king grieved his son’s death, rebuked him and urged him to express his gratitude to his soldiers or risk their resentment (2 Samuel 19:7).

The latter verses of 2 Samuel 19 exposed a division among the people. The ten tribes to the north, identified as “the men of Israel” (2 Samuel 19:41), resented the “men of Judah” (2 Samuel 19:42), for David was of that tribe (2 Samuel 19:43).

2 Samuel 20 – All Was Not Well in Israel


An Insurrection Led by Sheba (2 Samuel 20:1-22)

Sheba, described as “a man of Belial” (literally, a worthless man) of the tribe of Benjamin (from which King Saul had come), openly opposed David (2 Samuel 20:1). He expressed animosity toward the king and rallied an army to oppose him (2 Samuel 20:2). David, having promoted Amasa to lead his army (2 Samuel 19:13), commanded him to rally the “men of Judah,” and in three days pursue Sheba, thereby putting down the insurrection before he could retreat to the safety of a walled city.

Amasa, however, proved incapable of rallying the “men of Judah,” for he had been captain of Absalom’s army (2 Samuel 20:5). David, therefore, turned to Abishai, Joab’s brother, and commanded him to pursue Sheba (2 Samuel 20:7-8). When Amasa arrived too late to lead David’s army, Joab beguiled and slew him in the sight of the soldiers (2 Samuel 20:9-10). David’s men went on to put down the rebellion, and the conflict ended with Sheba being beheaded (2 Samuel 20:22).

A Growing Rift Between Joab and King David

We should note Joab’s flawed character and irreverence toward David. He had slain Absalom, the king’s son, and stood by as his men brutalized his body. In 2 Samuel 19, Joab reproached the king when he grieved the death of his son. Then, in 2 Samuel 20, he defied David’s authority and murdered Amasa, whom the king appointed as captain of his army.

David had cause for not trusting Joab, but he did nothing to deter that man’s ambitions. Once again, we are reminded how David abdicated his moral authority over Joab when he commanded him to expedite Uriah’s death (2 Samuel 11:14-25). Troubles between Joab and David were on the horizon.

2 Samuel 21

Judgment: Famine in the Land (2 Samuel 21:1-2)

As we come to 2 Samuel 21, we find Israel enduring three years of famine (2 Samuel 21:1). When David “inquired of the LORD” (2 Samuel 21:1), the cause for the famine, the LORD revealed the famine was His judgment for a wrong committed by his predecessor, King Saul.

Saul had aggrieved the Gibeonites (non-Israelites who lived in Canaan) and broke a covenant with them established by Joshua (2 Samuel 21:1; Joshua 9). The LORD prophesied against Israel that He would not heal the land until David righted the wrong (2 Samuel 21:2).

David’s Pledge for Justice (2 Samuel 21:3-4)

As head of the nation, David humbled himself. He questioned the Gibeonites about what they required to right the sin committed against them (2 Samuel 21:3). The Gibeonites, however, rejected an offer of silver or gold from the household of Saul. David then promised, “What ye shall say, that will I do for you” (2 Samuel 21:4).

Blood for Blood (2 Samuel 21:5-9)

The Gibeonites then employed an ancient law of humanity (Genesis 9:6) and demanded that justice be served by the deaths of seven men who were direct descendants of Saul.  

Though it was not revealed, those seven men were probably implicated in the wrong that Saul committed. This is especially true when we remember that justice is not served when a man is put to death for the sins committed by another. God’s law demands that “every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).

David agreed to the Gibeonites’ demand (2 Samuel 21:6) but spared Mephibosheth, Jonathan’s son, who was the grandson of Saul (2 Samuel 21:7). Understanding the land was polluted by innocent blood, David took hold of seven sons of Saul, for “the land [could not] be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it” (2 Samuel 21:8-9; Numbers 35:33).

The Slaying of Saul’s Lineage (2 Samuel 21:8-14)

Two sons of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, were slain (2 Samuel 21:8a). Five sons identified as “sons of Michal the daughter of Saul” were also killed (2 Samuel 21:8b). Because Michal, the daughter of Saul, bore the curse of never having children (2 Samuel 6:23), it would seem she had raised five boys as her sons (perhaps the sons of her sister Merab, 1 Samuel 18:19).

Thus, we read, “[David] delivered them [the sons of Saul] into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the Lord…and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest” (2 Samuel 21:9).

2 Samuel 21 concluded with a historical record of Israel’s conquests of the Philistines and the slaying of the giants of Goliath’s household (2 Samuel 21:15-22).

Closing thoughts –

We live in a troubled world. Civil unrest, violence, murders, injustices, drought, massive storms, famine, and warnings of food shortages are unending. Sorrows and heartache abound, and in desperation, suicide has become a leading cause of death for young and old.

Many politicians, judges, and law officials, rather than be “the minister(s) of God…for good” (Romans 13:4a), have failed “to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Romans 13:4b). Tragically, there is no peace.

Warning: When innocent blood is shed, and there is no justice, God will judge the land. (Genesis 9:5-6; Numbers 35:33)

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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