April 11 Reading: II Samuel 19-21 Commentary

Below is our II Samuel 19-21 commentary from our Beginning to End Bible reading program. You can find an email link at the end of this page to share your thoughts or comments with us.

Key Verse(s):

“Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants. For I swear by the Lord, if you do not go out, not one will stay with you this night. And that will be worse for you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now.” (II Sam. 19:7)

II Samuel 19 – Fallout After Absalom’s Rebellion

commentaryDavid was distraught over Absalom’s death. All the people heard it said that the king was “grieved for his son” (v. 2). So the people “stole back into the city that day, as people who are ashamed steal away when they flee in battle” (v. 3). So there was no victory celebration for the battle and the thwarting of Absalom’s rebellion.

This did not sit well with Joab at all! His message to David is fiery and direct. It’s as though he slapped David across the face to make him come to his senses. He told the king:

“Today you have disgraced all your servants who today have saved your life, the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives and the lives of your concubines, in that you love your enemies and hate your friends.

For you have declared today that you regard neither princes nor servants; for today I perceive that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died today, then it would have pleased you well.

Now therefore, arise, go out and speak comfort to your servants. For I swear by the Lord, if you do not go out, not one will stay with you this night. And that will be worse for you than all the evil that has befallen you from your youth until now” (vv. 5-7). 

At this David arose and went to the city gate. And all the people were comforted and came to him (v. 8).

David Goes to Jerusalem

There was great confusion over the leadership of Israel at this point. Everyone knew of David’s victories over the Philistines and other enemies of Israel. But they also knew he had fled from Absalom, which some tribes had crowned as king. In a sense, with that action, David had given up his right to rule.

The first people David had to persuade were the leaders of Judah, his own tribe. To do so, he sent the priests Zadok and Abiathar to them with messages of assurance and a reminder that they were “my bone and my flesh” (v. 12). He even offered his nephew Amasa (who had been the commander of Absalom’s army) the role of commander of David’s army, replacing Joab (who had disobeyed the king’s order to spare Absalom – II Sam. 18).

With all these kind words, David “swayed the hearts of all the men of Judah, just as the heart of one man, so that they sent this word to the king: “Return, you and all your servants!” (v. 14).

David began his trip back to Jerusalem from the eastern side of the Jordan from where he’d fled. The tribe of Judah went to meet him and escort him back. Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed David when he fled Jerusalem (II Sam. 16:5-14) came. So did Ziba and his 15 sons and 20 servants (vv. 16-17).

Pardons, Explanations and Blessing

One of the first to great David when he crossed the Jordan was Shimei. He fell down at David’s feet and begged forgiveness for cursing him on the day David left Jerusalem. As before, Abishai believed Shimei should be put to death for his actions. But David refused again and pardoned Shimei, saying, “Shall any man be put to death today in Israel? For do I not know that today I am king over Israel?” (v. 22).

Mephibosheth also came down to meet David. He “had not cared for his feet, nor trimmed his mustache, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he returned in peace” (v. 24). David wanted to know why Mephibosheth had not left Jerusalem with him.

Mephibosheth told David that his servant Ziba had deceived him about leaving (v. 26). Additionally, he had told the king things about Mephibosheth that were not true (v. 27). In Mephibosheth eyes, David was “like the angel of God” in that he’d allowed Mephibosheth to eat at the king’s table (vv. 27-28).

So David had a dilemma on his hands. Who should he believe about Mephibosheth’s loyalty? Seeing the matter as too difficult to figure out, he told Ziba and Mephibosheth to divide the land they received from Saul (v. 29).

Finally, David said goodbye to Barzillai the Gileadite. This old (80 years) and very rich man had given David supplies while he stayed in Mahanaim. David wanted him to come back to Jerusalem. But Barzillai said he would prefer to “die in my own city, near the grave of my father and mother” (v. 37).

So Barzillai’s servant Chimham crossed over the Jordan with David. And David kissed and blessed Barzillai before he returned to his own place (vv. 38-39).

Quarreling Over the Kingdom

Not everyone was happy that members from the tribe of Judah were escorting David back to Jerusalem. At some point after they crossed the Jordan, “all the men of Israel came to the king, and said to the king, ‘Why have our brethren, the men of Judah, stolen you away and brought the king, his household, and all David’s men with him across the Jordan?'” (v. 41). Evidently they were upset that David’s supporters in Judah had the greater role in bringing him back home.

The men of Judah explained that David was “close relative of ours.” And they are confused why the men of Israel are so upset. The men of Judah had not received any special gift or reward from the king for their efforts (v. 42).

But the men of Israel claimed to have more shares (10 tribes) in the kingdom than Judah and thus more rights to David (v. 43). However, in this case, the words of Judah prevailed.

This was just the beginning of the division between the 10 northern tribes and Judah. In time, after the death of Solomon, the kingdom would divide in two. More pressing though for David, is that another rebellion was brewing at the hands of a man named Sheba.

II Samuel 20 – Another Rebellion

Even though David had returned to Jerusalem, his kingdom was not secure. Another rebellion ensued, this time led by Sheba, “a rebel [scoundrel]…a Benjamite” [King Saul’s tribe]. He declared, “We have no share in David, nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; every man to his tents, O Israel” (v. 1). In other words, prepare to fight.

So the rift between the tribes of Israel and the tribe of Judah continued. This rebellion had more potential for success than Absalom’s because of the long standing divide between the tribes. So David appointed Amasa, the former head of Absalom’s army to track down Sheba and his supporters (v. 4). Amasa was also Joab’s cousin and the person to which David had offered to be his military commander replacing Joab (II Sam. 19:13).

Amasa, however, took too long to assemble the men of Judah (v. 5). So David sent Abishai, Joab’s older brother, along with Joab and his elite fighting force, to fight Sheba. Along the way, they crossed paths with Amasa. Joab, faked a friendly greeting to Amasa, grabbed him by the beard as if to kiss him and then stabbed him through the stomach (vv. 8-10). The text does not say why Joab did this. Most likely, it was either his anger over being replaced as commander of David’s army or Amasa’s close link to Absalom which he could have used to gain importance in the kingdom.

Joab pursued Sheba to the city of Abel. Upon arriving there, a wise woman appeared and spoke to Joab about his intentions for the city. She did not want to see the entire city destroyed over one man. Joab explained to her that he was only after Sheba. If he was handed over, Joab would depart in peace. (vv. 14-21).

The woman “in her wisdom went to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and threw it out to Joab.” Then Joab, “blew a trumpet, and they withdrew from the city” (v. 22).

So Joab returned to Jerusalem having stopped another rebellion.

II Samuel 21 – David Avenges the Gibeonites

Chap. 21 begins by telling us there was a famine in the land for three years. If you recall, God had said famine would be a way he punished Israel for sin (see Deut. 28:47-48). So David inquired of the Lord why this was happening. God’s reply was that it was “because of Saul and his bloodthirsty house, because he killed the Gibeonites” (v. 1).

400 years prior, the Gibeonites had tricked Joshua into making a covenant with them (Josh. 9:3-27). The treaty said Israel would protect the Gibeonites and provide security for them in exchange for the Gibeonites serving Israel. At some point, Saul broke that arrangement by putting some Gibeonites to death (v. 2).

David wanted to make amends for Saul’s actions and he asked the Gibeonites what they wanted. They said no amount of money would be sufficient to compensate for their loss and they had no authority to put to death any man in Israel (v. 4). What they wanted was accountability “for the men who consumed us and plotted against us” (v. 5). They requested that seven men from Saul’s family be turned over to be hanged (v. 6).

Executing Justice

David agreed to this action and chose seven of Saul’s descendants to be executed. He spared Mephibosheth on the account of his promise to Jonathan. And the men of Gibeon hung them on a hill before the Lord (vv. 7-9).

Additionally, David went to Jabesh Gilead to retrieve the bones of Saul and Jonathan. It seems that “the men of Jabesh Gilead who had stolen them from the street of Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them up, after the Philistines had struck down Saul in Gilboa” (v. 12). So David took their bones and buried them in the country of Benjamin in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish. And then the Lord blessed the land with rain (v. 14).

Note: At first glance, it would appear David violated Mosaic Law by allowing punishment for a son because of the sin of his father (see Deut. 24:16; II Kings 14:6; Ezek. 18:1-4, 14-17). However, God honored David’s efforts in that he provided rain. So perhaps those executed were a part of or linked to Saul’s efforts to destroy the Gibeonites (v. 2).

David Fights the Giants

It seems David’s fighting was never done. War erupted again with the Philistines, specifically with the giants of the land. In this context, “giant” refers to people of the Rephaim. This race of Canaanites were known for their large size (Gen. 15:19-21; Num. 13:33; Deut. 2:11).

In four separate military campaigns, David defeated four giants including:

1. Ishbi-Benob – who had a bronze spear that weighed 300 shekels (around 7.5 pounds). Abishai came to David’s aid against Ishbi-Benob and killed him (vv. 16-17).

2. Saph – another son of a giant. Sibbechai the Hushathite killed him at Gob (v. 18).

3. The brother of Goliath the Gittite – killed by Elhanan of Bethlehem (v. 19).

4. A six-finger and six-toed “man of great stature” – son of a giant killed by Jonathan at Gath (David’s nephew – the son of Shimea, David’s brother) (v. 21).

God’s View of David

You really have to feel for David. He went through so many struggles and experienced great personal pain since that day when, as a young shepherd boy, Samuel anointed king. His life was filled with really big highs and really devastating lows. Some of those were not of his doing [i.e. Saul’s quest to kill him] and some of them were [i.e. his sin with Bathsheba]. 

It’s important to note that, despite his shortcomings that caused him immeasurable heartache, the Bible described David as “a man after God’s own heart” (I Sam. 13:14). David wasn’t perfect. However, he always wanted to do the right thing. More importantly, his heart was drawn to God, something that shows itself in the book of Psalms, of which David wrote many.

David’s life shows us that perfection is not what God desires. He wants people who want to love him and serve him with all their heart.

Questions to Consider:

Believers will face opposition from the world at every turn. How you respond says a lot about your walk with the Lord. “…but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Rom. 5:3-5).

David was a man after God’s heart. Yet life wasn’t easy for him. He fought many battles, some literal and some personal. In the end, he wasn’t perfect but he always tried to do what was right. Do you struggle with thinking that God cannot use you because you don’t live the perfect Christian life?

What other points would you want to know about in our II Samuel 19-21 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.