2nd Samuel 21 steps out of the chronological retelling of David’s story and begins a sort of appendix that will end the book. You may have seen the Bible Project video on YouTube about 2nd Samuel, but their summary final chapters are worth digesting again (starting at about 4:08).
The first 14 verses of chapter 21 can only be described as awful. This seems to be an event that happened somewhat early in David’s kingship.
Famine in the Old Testament often denotes divine judgement. This was the case for the three-year-long famine as well, Saul had done something terrible and judgment was upon the Land. Astonishingly, the Gibeonites seem to be minding their own when summoned by David. David’s past shows he was prone to some harsh reactions (1st Sam 25:13), and I don’t know if he was directed by the Lord, but it seems to me to be an overreach to promise a wounded people, “I will do for you whatever you say” (4b). No qualifiers, no nothing, just “whatever ya’ll want.”
As you know, they ask for seven relatives of Saul, and David handed them over for execution. This seems a harsh and brutal thing—seven innocent people die because of their relative’s sin. Some scholars suggest that these seven probably had a hand in Saul’s evil actions against the Gibeonites. That may be true, but it’s speculation that softens the blow of the steep consequences of sin. All we can confidently say is sin is terrible and its consequences are terrible.
While the first half of chapter 21 illustrates the destructiveness of sin, the second half illustrates the victory of the faithful. War against God’s Anointed was a losing battle. David and his men were an unstoppable force against the enemies of God’s People.
A couple interesting points, in verse 3 David asks the Gibeonites how he might “make atonement.” That word in Hebrew is “kippur,” which you may recognize because of Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. Once a year in the fall, a priest would go into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle blood on the covering of the Ark known as the Mercy Seat. This was to atone for sins. David was essentially asking, “What can we do to satisfy the sin committed against you?”
Also, the author points out in verse 9 that, they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest. The beginning of barley harvest in the spring was at the time of Passover. Passover celebrated Israel’s freedom from the oppression of slavery in Egypt.
Two points based on these observations: 1. By atoning for the sins Saul committed against the Gibeonites, David led Israel out of the oppression of divine judgment. 2. This story points to Christ in an incredible way. The Gibeonites recognized that sin cannot be atoned through silver or gold—nor through the death of an individual. Atonement requires a complete blood sacrifice. Seven symbolizes completeness, and in this way points to the only sufficient sacrifice for sin. Hebrews 9 illustrates that the only kippur that satisfies is that which was made by Jesus. Additionally, the freedom from sin offered by Jesus is far greater than relief from a 3-year famine or even 400 years of slavery. This story, in a micro way, points back to Passover, but Passover points ahead to Jesus. Whereas many sons in Egypt died for the freedom of God’s people, only one Son’s death was sufficient for true freedom for all people who receive it by faith.
By: Tyler Short — Connections Ministry Associate