There was war again between the Philistines and Israel, and David went down together with his servants, and they fought against the Philistines. And David grew weary. And Ishbi-benob, one of the descendants of the giants, whose spear weighed three hundred shekels of bronze, and who was armed with a new sword, thought to kill David. But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid and attacked the Philistine and killed him. Then David’s men swore to him, “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel.”
After this there was again war with the Philistines at Gob. Then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was one of the descendants of the giants. And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim, the Bethlehemite, struck down Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam. And there was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, who had six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number, and he also was descended from the giants. And when he taunted Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, struck him down. These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants. – 2 Samuel 21:15-22 ESV
It is impossible to tell from the text at what point these events occurred in David’s reign. It is assumed that they took place in the early days of his kingship, but there is really no way of knowing definitively. As part of the “appendix” to the book, they are designed to provide the reader with an overview of David’s rule. In these closing verses of chapter 21, we are given insight into the ongoing war David waged with the Philistines. Ever since his days as the young shepherd boy and his defeat of Goliath, the Philistine champion, David had been in a constant war with the Philistines. And it seems that Goliath had relatives who held a grudge against David for his victory over their champion. We are introduced to four of them in these verses: Ishbi-benob, Saph, Goliath, and the unnamed man with 26 toes and 26 fingers. Each of these men were larger than life, both literally and figuratively, and posed a real threat to David and the nation of Israel. But they fell at the hands of David’s men. Their massive size and formidable weapons were no match for David’s men. But why? It would be tempting to make this all about the four men who accomplished these mighty deeds on behalf of David and the nation of Israel: Abishai, Sibbecai, Elhanan, and Jonathan. Chapter 23 will even introduce us to the “mighty men of David”, a select group of individuals who displayed almost supernatural military prowess. But rather than put our focus on these men, we should immediately recognize the hand of God. The victories of Israel over the Philistines and their seemingly endless line of champions was due to God, not these men. Yes, they had to fight. They were required to go into battle against superior adversaries and risk life and limb, but their victory was due to God, not themselves. Verse 22 tells us, “These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.” But once again, their victories were made possible by God. The author’s emphasis on each Philistine’s larger-than-normal size and bigger-than-usual weapons is meant to paint a picture of impossible odds. Yet, David’s men came out victorious. There were not normal foes. One of them even had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. But they fell at the hands of David’s men because God was with them.
David’s reign would be marked by war. His battles against the enemies of Israel would never end. And, once again, we must recall the fact that this characteristic of David’s reign was due to the failure of Joshua and the people of Israel to obey God and rid the land of all its inhabitants. They had been partially obedient and, therefore, semi-successful. And as a result, David was left with the task of finishing what Joshua had begun. And his battles would last the entirety of his reign. It would be his son, Solomon, who would reign over a kingdom marked by peace. But David’s tenure as king would be one of constant war and bloodshed. And God would be with him. That is the message found within these verses.
And what should really jump out at us is the faithfulness of God even in the midst of all the unfaithfulness surrounding David and the people of Israel. David’s victories were not the result of his own faithfulness, but that of God. God was sparing him in spite of him. Time and time again, we have seen David fail God in sometimes epic fashion. But God remained faithful to His promises to David. It would have been easy for the men of David to make much of their individual successes. They could have, and probably did, brag about their victories over superior enemies. But the message for us is one of dependence upon God. We are only as great as our God. To be victorious we must understand that our God is glorious.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.