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II Samuel 21

Chapter 21

v. 2: This is an interesting note about the Gibeonites; it is written in the past tense, as if the Gibeonites did not exist at the time of the writing.  Also, the fact that the writer thought a note was necessary to explain them suggests that the Gibeonites were extinct by the time of the recording.  Perhaps the work of Saul was too much for them to overcome after all, and they died out or were assimilated.  Another interesting point in this verse is the zeal of Saul against Gibeon.  Since his grandfather was the “father of Gibeon (1st Chronicles 8:29) and since Gibeon was located within Benjamin, one might assume that Saul had other (more personal) motives than misguided zeal for Israel in his persecution of Gibeon.  Still, if there were some darker reason I do not know why the writer would not know of it or would not tell of it if he knew.  If on the other hand, Saul genuinely wanted to destroy all enemies of Israel, why did he treat the Amalekites as he did? (1Samuel 15).

Was this slaying of the sons of Saul a good thing?  After all, God did not call for this specific remedy; the Gibeonites did.  It must be admitted, however, that God did accept the gesture since, after the bodies are buried, he once again answered prayer on behalf of the land.[1]  Whether or not God accepted the slayings themselves because they were justifiable (but not ideal) or because they were ideal is harder to answer.[2]  Rizpah is presented as a pitiful and sympathetic character in the narrative, but I’m not sure whether or not the narrator wants the reader to feel pity because the deaths were unjust or because the humiliation of the bodies was unjust.  I guess the latter.

v. 15:  I should say a word about the Rephaites and the families of giants in general.  The term Nephilim occurs only twice in the Bible: once in Genesis 6 and once in Numbers 13:33.  According to Strong’s Concordance the term can mean “bullies,” “tyrants,” or “giants.”  However, “giants” seems the most fitting translation for the passage in Numbers because the Israelites describe themselves as grasshoppers in comparison to the Anakites, who “come from the Nephilim.” Deuteronomy 2:10-11 says that the Emim “a large and numerous people as tall as the Anakim [Anakites]” were “like the Anakim…usually reckoned as Rephaim [Rephaites], though the Moabites called them Emim.”

From Numbers 13:33 one can conclude that the Anakim are a subgroup of the Nephilim and that all which applies to the Nephilim also applies to the Anakim, just as all that applies to the term “animal” also applies to “dog.”  One can also conclude that, in the book of Numbers at least, both terms mean “giants.”

From Deuteronomy 2:10-11 one can then conclude that the terms Anakim, Emim, and Rephaim are all references to giants in that the Rephaim, whom the Moabites called the Emim were, “as tall as the Anakim.”

Given all this, I believe it would be safe to translate the word Nephilim as “giants,” in the Genesis passage, the only other place it occurs besides Numbers 13:33.

For further illumination on what the writers of these scriptures meant to communicate regarding the size of such people, notice how Ishbibenob, “a son of the giant” (ha-Raphah, a Rephaite) is described here in v. 16.  His spear is said to have weighed “three hundred shekels,” which both Barnes and Oxford convert to eight pounds.  This statistic is clearly meant to be impressive.  Goliath, who must have belonged to the same class of human, had a spear whose head weighed twice as much, and Goliath himself stood nine and one-half feet tall by some accounts (1st Samuel 17:4-7).  Whatever the actual measurements of these people and their equipment were, it is clear that they were extraordinarily large and strong relative to the rest of humanity.

Genesis 6:2 says that the sons of God (See Job 1:6) saw that the daughters of men were fair and that they took wives from among them.  The writer implies that this phenomenon was evil by immediately following v. 2 with God’s declaration that he would destroy the earth in 120 years (v. 3).  Verse 4 then says that the wives of these “sons of God” bore children to them and that these children “were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.”  The most straightforward and obvious reading of this is that angels took physical form, had sex with human women, and that the product of these unions was a race of humans with supernatural strength and ability.  One might argue that these “sons of God” were human followers of God, but I do not believe this for several reasons.

If these unions had been between human men and women, why would their offspring be described as having supernatural size, strength, and ability?

The act of marrying these women is condemned.  It seems like doing something like that would disqualify one from being a son of God unless he belonged to a group where one could be evil and yet still nominally referred to as a “son of God” (i.e. an angel, fallen or otherwise).

Some might argue that since the wrath of God is against humans (rather than fallen angels) in Genesis 6, the sons of God must have been human, but I would answer such an argument by saying that Genesis 6 only tells the story of God’s condemnation and punishment of humanity, not of the fallen angels.  The fallen angels are mentioned in Genesis 6 only because they had a part in the story of humanity’s corruption, which ultimately led God to send the flood.  The story of the punishment of the fallen angels could be told (by those who know it) but it is not the subject of Genesis 6.

Genesis 6:4 also says that these Nephilim were on the earth both before the flood of Noah and afterward “when the sons of God went into the daughters of men.”  So, I believe that both before the flood and afterward, fallen angels slept with human women and produced these extraordinarily gifted children.  Perhaps their “supergenes” were then passed on to the descendants of these gifted children to create whole families of remarkable people such as the sons of Anak (the Anakim).  I wonder if the stories in mythology of “gods” sleeping with mortal women and producing such extraordinary children as Hercules are simply distorted memories of a reality that Genesis 6 accurately preserves.

I believe the fight between David and Ishbibenob must have taken place late in David’s reign.  That would more easily account for his exhaustion, although I suppose anybody could get exhausted at any age.  I would guess it came after Absalom’s rebellion because Absalom still feared David as a warrior (17:8) and, although David’s men did not allow him to fight in the campaign against Absalom (18:3) the fact that fighting was even an option for the king indicates that, at that point, his men had not yet forbidden him to fight as emphatically as they did after his fight with Ishbibenob.  Besides, their reason for telling him not to fight in the campaign against Absalom was that he might be singled out, not that he could not handle the physical exertion of the fight itself.


[1] I suspect that the reason it says he answered prayers only after the bodies were buried is due to the injunction in Deuteronomy 21:23 against leaving bodies exposed.

[2] Perhaps they took part in the persecution of Gibeon, although this seems unlikely since they are Saul’s grandchildren.

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2 Responses to “II Samuel 21”

  1. […] vs. 1-4: Concerning the Nephilim, see also notes on 2nd Samuel 21:15. […]

  2. […] vs. 1-4: Concerning the Nephilim, see also notes on 2nd Samuel 21:15. […]

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