The NIV Study Bible notes that this section is like an appendix to the story of 1st and 2nd Samuel. It contains narrative descriptions of David dealing with God’s wrath as a result of Saul, 2 Samuel 21:1-14 and his own errors, 2 Samuel 24:1-25.
Dealing with Saul’s Mess – The Gibeonites Avenged
There was a famine during David’s reign “on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death,” says the Lord! (2 Samuel 21:1) The penalty for Saul’s aggressive behavior is impossible to understand from our current, somewhat civilized perspective. David approaches the Gibeonites and asks what he can do to make amends. The Gibeonites have this brutal request:
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. 2 Samuel 21:5-6
David complies. Seven men are killed, including a second Mephibosheth (not Jonathan’s son) and their bodies put on display. The rains commence. This story clearly falls into the category of that which is beyond my comprehension. To merely say this demonstrates obedience and David’s desire to make amends for Saul’s error is difficult to swallow. One could easily misinterpret this to suggest humans were sacrificed to appease God, after all, once they are on display, the rains begin. The warning here is to avoid taking things out of context and building a counter-story to support pagan aggression. Lord, give us peace and understanding as we read these histories.
Four Descendants of Rapha (giants)
Chapter 21 concludes with a brief description of David’s men protecting him by killing four giants: “These four were descendants of Rapha in Gath, and they fell at the hands of David and his men.” 2 Samuel 21:22 The four include:
- Ishbi-Benob: killed by Abishai (Joab’s brother)
- Saph: killed by Sibbekai the Hushathite
- brother of Goliath: killed by Elhanan son of Jair the Bethlehemite
- Six-toed, Six-fingered (24 in all): killed by Jonathan son of Shimeah, David’s brother
Dealing with David’s Mess – David’s Census
Chapter 24 describes a time when David sent his army out to take a census, typically a prideful act merely meant to boast about the size of the kingdom. God did not prompt David. Surprisingly (to me), Joab objects, “why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” 2 Samuel 24:3 The census took nine months and twenty days (but who was counting!!).
David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” 2 Samuel 24:10
Through the prophet Gad, the Lord gives David three options:
- three years of famine
- three months of fleeing from your enemies
- three days of plague
David picked option #3 and 70,000 people died. Seventy thousand.
When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.” 2 Samuel 24:17
Gad tells David to build an altar where the angel of death stopped, so he goes to Araunah to purchase the threshing floor to build an altar and offer a sacrifice. Araunah offers to give “whatever he wishes,” but David insists on paying for the property. The NIV Study Bible notes this will ultimately become the site of the temple.
The plague relented, the Lord answered David’s prayer.
2 Samuel 23:8-39 provides a list of valiant fighting men and give a snippet of their actions during David’s reign as king. This reads like an award ceremony as part of David’s concluding remarks near the end of his life.
David’s Song of Praise
2 Samuel 22:2-51 and Psalm 18 both include an overarching song that sings of God’s protection and strength in battles won because of the Lord. We can cherry-pick a few verses and feed our egos, but I’m pretty confident David is not gloating over victories nor his position as king:
Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever. 2 Samuel 22:50-51, Psalm 18:49-50
David’s Last Words
These include just a few words that, once again, point to God for his blessings,
If my house were not right with God, surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part… 2 Samuel 23:5
Not quite the actual last words of David, but we’re getting close to his appointment of Solomon as we switch from Samuel to Kings.