Our reading today begins with a three-year famine (21:1)*. This famine was the result of God’s judgment on Israel for a past sin of Saul. This particular attack on the Gibeonites is not recorded in Scripture. However, Saul’s attack on them violated the oath Israel gave the Gibeonites (see Josh 9). So David calls the Gibeonites to ask how to right this wrong (v. 3). And they ask for seven of Saul’s progeny be given to be put to death (v. 6). And David complies. However, he does not choose randomly. In verse 7, David honors his oath to Jonathan by protecting Mephibosheth. Instead, David chooses two sons of a concubine of Saul, the same concubine that Abner had lain with (see 3:7), and five grandsons of Saul, the sons of his daughter Merab who was originally promised to David as wife by Saul (see 1 Sam 18:17-19) (v. 8). In verse 10, Rizpah mourns as she watches over the bodies of her slain sons. When David finds out (v. 11), he takes not just their bodies, but the bones of Saul and Jonathan and gives them all a proper burial (vv. 12-14).
In verse 15, we read that the war between Israel and the Philistines continues, and David leads his army into battle. We have already seen that David did not go to battle with his men against Absalom (18:2-4), in part possibly because of David’s advanced age. Here, we see that his advanced age is, in fact, a hindrance in battle. We see that he tires during the battle and is almost killed by by a Philistine giant (v. 16). David’s men determine to never let him go into battle again (v. 17). The remainder of the chapter details battles between Israel and the Philistine giants. In verse 19, there is believed to be a scribal omission of the words “brother of” before Goliath’s name (see 1 Chr 20:5).
Chapter 22 records David’s song of praise for all God has done for him throughout his life. It is also recorded in Psalm 18, though variations exist between the two. We will consider them together:
David begins in Psalm 18 with an expression of love for God. It is a claim to be obedient to both the First Commandment (Ex 20:3) and also the greatest commandment (Matt 22:37-38). David then expresses his full reliance on God. Characteristically, David says that God is his refuge. The “horn of salvation” is recognition that salvation is by God’s power alone, which is the point of the whole verse (both 2 Sam 22:3 and Ps 18:2). Note in the next verse that calling on the Lord and praising Him results in salvation.
In the next three verses, David recalls the trouble and danger he has faced, but knows that God heard his prayers. The next 8 verses speak of the judgment of God against the wicked. The “nostrils” in Hebrew refer to anger. This is what God had done to His (and David’s) enemies throughout David’s life. It is also a picture of the final judgment. In contrast to the judgment of the wicked is the salvation of the righteous in the next four verses. Note that all God does for His elect is because He delights in us. In the next five verses, David celebrates that God dealt with him according to his righteousness. As we know, David did not believe himself sinless. This is talking about the forensic righteousness of those who believe in God’s Savior. That is why this is cleanness of hands “in His sight” (2 Sam 22:25, Ps 18:24).
The next six verses show David’s understanding of this gracious salvation by God for sinners. With the merciful God is merciful. With the pure, He is pure/deals purely. But this is God’s initiative, not man’s. It isn’t God responding, it is man responding (see Ex 33:19, Rom 9:15-16), and yet God graciously responds to our response of faith (see Matt 5:7). In contrast, God is a just punisher of the wicked. The pure and crooked of 2 Samuel 22:27 (Ps 18:26) are parallel with the humble and the haughty of the next verse. But it is God Who takes our darkness and turns it to light. He makes us pure, and He makes us humble. According to His Word, this perfect God protects those who take refuge in Him, even from His own just wrath! Because He makes our way blameless even though we aren’t blameless (2 Sam 22:33, Ps 18:32).
The next 16 verses describe God’s sovereign protection of, and provision for, David. We could place our own stories here and everything that David says about God is just as true! And like David, we should respond by praising the name of YHWH among the nations! He brings salvation to all His elect, showing that hesed love. And not just to His anointed, king David, but to all the elect through His Anointed (Messiah) Who is David’s offspring, the true King forever. Amen!
*Many commentators understand 21:1-14 to be non-chronological in the book. This is believed by some to have happened nearer the beginning of David’s reign. The chronological narrative is believed to continue with verse 15.