When we get to 2 Samuel 21, we’re almost to the end of the books of Samuel. Although we have a 1 and 2 Samuel in our Bibles, this was originally a single text. In 2 Samuel 21:1, we read something that might seem out of place with the events from the previous chapter.

During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the Lord. The Lord said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

2 Samuel 21:1 (NIV)

If this seems out of place, it’s because it is. Not that it shouldn’t go here, but rather, it continues “marking” the end of Samuel and doesn’t fit into the narrative. We actually see the end of the narrative portion of the text at the end of the previous chapter in 2 Samuel 20:23-26, where we are introduced to David’s officials. There are indicators in the text that let us know this famine wasn’t toward the end of David’s reign, but likely closer to the beginning. If we didn’t recognize that 2 Samuel 21:1 is “out of place.”

The first indication that this is earlier in David’s reign is that the fault for the famine falls on Saul. When Saul had the Gibeonites put to death, he was the king. As the king, he represented the nation of Israel. Therefore, Israel suffered the consequences of this sin. Saul’s killing of the Gibeonites was a big deal because of the events in Joshua 9:3-18. If you’re not familiar with these events, I invite you to read about them here, but I will try and summarize them.

When the Israelites were storming through the land and killing all of their enemies, the Gibeonites deceived them by pretending that they were a people from far away and not of the people nearby. They approached Joshua and made a treaty with him and all of Israel. However, shortly after the treaty, Joshua and the Israelites discovered the deception. Because of their treaty and oath to the Lord, the Israelites couldn’t harm the Gibeonites, so they subjected them to forced labor.

We have no account of when Saul slaughtered the Gibeonites. We just know he did it because of this passage in 2 Samuel 21. Because this famine is a result of Saul’s sin, it wouldn’t make sense for the Lord to bring it about after Saul had been dead for decades. It makes no sense since few people would have remembered the event so many years later.

Another indicator that famine happened earlier in David’s reign can be found in these verses.

When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up. They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land (emphasis added).

2 Samuel 21:11-14 (NIV)

It’s unlikely that David would wait until the end of his reign to fetch Saul’s and Jonathan’s bones. It wouldn’t have been much of a sign of respect to wait so long, and it doesn’t fit within his character. However, we can get an idea of when it was in David’s reign that this famine occurred when we consider the role of Mephibosheth.

The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, because of the oath before the Lord between David and Jonathan son of Saul.

2 Samuel 21:7 (NIV)

This verse lets us know that David and Mephibosheth had already met.

We first heard about Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 4:4.

(Jonathan son of Saul had a son who was lame in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan came from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but as she hurried to leave, he fell and became disabled. His name was Mephibosheth.)

2 Samuel 4:4 (NIV)

We are told that he was five years old when Saul and Jonathan were killed. Later on, in 2 Samuel 9, when David wants to show kindness to the house of Saul, Mephibosheth is brought before David and we are told that he had a son named Mika (cf. 2 Samuel 9:12). Let’s take a look at the timeline of events from Saul’s death to figure out when this event from 2 Samuel 21 might have occurred.

1010 BC – David mourns the death of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1), and David is made king over Judah (2 Samuel 2). Mephibosheth would have been five years old.
1003 BC – David becomes king over Israel (2 Samuel 5). Mephibosheth would have been about twelve years old.
995 BC – David wants to show kindness to Jonathan (2 Samuel 9). Mephibosheth would have been about twenty years old.

I’m going to say that the famine we read about in 2 Samuel 21:1 probably happened around the same time David met Mephibosheth and invited him to sit at his table. It couldn’t have happened before David met Mephibosheth. We might also consider something that happened when David was fleeing from Absalom.

As he cursed, Shimei said, “Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

2 Samuel 16:7-8 (NIV)

Shimei could have been blaming David for the deaths of Saul, Abner, and Ish-bosheth, but everyone knew that David had nothing to do with those deaths. However, if we consider the famine and the deaths of seven men from Saul’s family, then Shimei’s cursing makes sense.

That’s all I have for today. I pray this day finds you well. Thank you for stopping by!