Chapter 20 ends on a very similar narrative structure compared to chapter 8 – an end of a period of David’s life and a summation of whom is in charge of what ministry. The remaining chapters of 2 Samuel therefore are overarching conclusions to a grand coverage of David’s magnificent typological life of Christ throughout these two books.
Like the end of Genesis where a famine brought Abram to Egypt (Genesis 12:10); Isaac went to the Philistines (Genesis 26:1); Israel to Egypt (Genesis 42:5); from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab (Rush 1:1); and now in the time of David. Famine is a time when the children of God are banished from home and are brought to an alien land where they are refined by fire and recognize it is the LORD who provides (Psalm 33:19; 37:19) – the greatest famine of which being the famine of the Word of God Himself (Amos 8:11).
Yet, this three year famine is caused by the breaking of peace between the Israelites and Amorites (v.2 – the Gibeonites are from the remnant of the Amorites). What is interesting is that throughout the Pentateuch, the Amorites were always enemies of God (as the descendants of Canaan – Genesis 10:16; the promise of the Israelites entering the land of the Gentiles – Exodus 3:8, 23:23; the eventual dispossession of the Amorites – Numbers 32:39; Joshua 24:18; Judges 11:23). However, the oddity here is that there is an unwritten and unrecorded peace between Israel and the Amorites (perhaps the same peace as mentioned in 1 Samuel 7:14), this oath (v.2 – Israel taking an oath – שׁבע) broken by Saul (the implications of breaking oaths c.f. Numbers 30:2; 1 Samuel 14:24).
It is interesting how David is trying to make atonement between Saul’s household and Gibeon – Israel as a corporate body of Saul when he was king of Israel, experiencing the famine as a result of Saul’s sin. Yet Israel is now ousted from the grasp of Saul and David stands between the Israelites and Gibeonites. What does David do? Will he give up the seven sons of the house of Saul to mediate between Israel and Gibeon (v.6)?
Instead, the wrath of the LORD was mediated through David’s giving up of the seven sons, excluding Mephibosheth. Mephibosheth stood under the oath of David; David effectively, like Christ, propitiated the wrath which was meant to be experienced by Mephiboseth. Mephibosheth should have been hanged. However, it is the other seven sons of Saul’s household who are hanged, the seven perishing together: “They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest” (v.9). Such is the effect of Christ’s death on the cross, these iniquitous seven sons of Saul’s household representing the iniquitous Son of God on the cross; their deaths ending the famine upon the beginning of barley harvest, just as the Feast of Harvest occurred between the Passover and the Feast of Ingathering (Exodus 23:16; Matthew 13:39), for it is only now that the famine is over – and that the Holy Word of the Father can be received and that the harvest begins until the Ingathering at the Day of Resurrection.
The chapter however does not end here. Where in the story of the mediation between the Gibeonites and the Israelites completely hinged upon David’s decision to propitiate God’s wrath by the sevenfold son-sacrifice (akin to the sacrifice of the sevenfold lambs in Job 42:8), in the story of the Philistines’ return we see David’s followers walking with David in his footsteps. Where David had fought Goliath (1 Samuel 17), now four giants (going by the names of Ishbi-benob; Saph; Goliath; and the six-fingered giant – all are defeated by the hands of Abishai, Sibbecai, Elhanan, and Jonathan. Is this not the picture of the book of Acts in our current age of the harvest prior to the Ingathering, the miracles of toppling giants by standing by the true Rock? Such is the implication of Christ’s victory, that the harvest is plentiful and workers are capable of wrecking such havoc against the champions of the world of spiritual Gentiles.
Yet, this picture of peace, achieved as a causal effect of Christ’s gospel work, is coupled with the solemn but noble picture of Rizpah who had clearly understood the work of mediation and propitiation. We do not spit on our sacrifice with contempt – but rather, we love the Christ who died in our place. So Rizpah ensured that neither birds nor beasts would come upon the corpses day or night, that prompted David to retrieve Saul and Jonathan’s bones from the clutches of the enemies and restore them deep in the soil of the father’s clan (c.f. 1 Samuel 31; Saul from the clan of Benjamin and anointed as king in 1 Samuel 9:1). Such is the love of Rizpah that David, our Christ, shall go to all lengths to retrieve the one sheep (Matthew 18:12)! Just as the true peace was achieved in the defeat of the four giants of Philistine, so also the famine only responded to the plea for the end of the famine upon the final restoration of Saul’s household in bringing the bones back to the heart of Canaan from the filthy hands of the Ashtaroth worshippers and thus redeeming the house of Saul by David’s covenant with Jonathan and providing the true beth-shan (house of peace / ease; c.f. Isaiah 2:2-4).