We have here the story of some conflicts with the Philistines, which happened, as it should seem, in the latter end of David’s reign. Though he had so subdued them that they could not bring any great numbers into the field, yet as long as they had any giants among them to be their champions, they would never be quiet, but took all occasions to disturb the peace of Israel, to challenge them, or make incursions upon them.
I. David himself was engaged with one of the giants. The Philistines began the war yet again, 2 Sam. 21:15. The enemies of God’s Israel are restless in their attempts against them. David, though old, desired not a writ of ease from the public service, but he went down in person to fight against the Philistines (Senescit, non segnescit—He grows old, but not indolent), a sign that he fought not for his own glory (at this age he was loaded with glory, and needed no more), but for the good of his kingdom. But in this engagement we find him, 1. In distress and danger. He thought he could bear the fatigues of war as well as he had done formerly; his will was good, and he hoped he could do as at other times. But he found himself deceived; age had cut his hair, and, after a little toil, he waxed faint. His body could not keep pace with his mind. The champion of the Philistines was soon aware of his advantage, perceived that David’s strength failed him, and, being himself strong and well-armed, he thought to slay David; but God was not in his thoughts, and therefore in that very day they all perished. The enemies of God’s people are often very strong, very subtle, and very sure of success, like Isbi-benob, but there is no strength, nor counsel, nor confidence against the Lord. 2. Wonderfully rescued by Abishai, who came seasonably in to his relief, 2 Sam. 21:17. Herein we must own Abishai’s courage and fidelity to his prince (to save whose life he bravely ventured his own), but much more the good providence of God, which brought him in to David’s succour in the moment of his extremity. Such a cause and such a champion, though distressed, shall not be deserted. When Abishai succoured him, gave him a cordial, it may be, to relieve his fainting spirits, or appeared as his second, he (namely, David, so I understand it) smote the Philistine and killed him; for it is said (2 Sam. 21:22) that David had himself a hand in slaying the giants. David fainted, but he did not flee; though his strength failed him, he bravely kept his ground, and then God sent him this help in the time of need, which, though brought him by his junior and inferior, he thankfully accepted, and, with a little recruiting, gained his point, and came off a conqueror. Christ, in his agonies, was strengthened by an angel. In spiritual conflicts, even strong saints sometimes wax faint; then Satan attacks them furiously; but those that stand their ground and resist him shall be relieved, and made more than conquerors. 3. David’s servants hereupon resolved that he should never expose himself thus any more. They had easily persuaded him not to fight against Absalom (2 Sam. 18:3), but against the Philistines he would go, till, having had this narrow escape, it was resolved in council, and confi e10 rmed with an oath, that the light of Israel (its guide and glory, so David was) should never be put again into such hazard of being blown out. The lives of those who are as valuable to their country as David was ought to be preserved with a double care, both by themselves and others.
II. The rest of the giants fell by the hand of David’s servants. 1. Saph was slain by Sibbechai, one of David’s worthies, 2 Sam. 21:18; 1 Chron. 11:29. 2. Another, who was brother to Goliath, was slain by Elhanan, who is mentioned 2 Sam. 23:24. 3. Another, who was of very unusual bulk, who had more fingers and toes than other people (2 Sam. 21:20), and such an unparalleled insolence that, though he had seen the fall of other giants, yet he defied Israel, was slain by Jonathan the son of Shimea. Shimea had one son named Jonadab (2 Sam. 13:3), whom I should have taken for the same with this Jonathan, but that the former was noted for subtlety, the latter for bravery. These giants were probably the remains of the sons of Anak, who, though long feared, fell at last. Now observe, (1.) It is folly for the strong man to glory in his strength. David’s servants were no bigger nor stronger than other men; yet thus, by divine assistance, they mastered one giant after another. God chooses by the weak things to confound the mighty. (2.) It is common for those to go down slain to the pit who have been the terror of the mighty in the land of the living, Ezek. 32:27. (3.) The most powerful enemies are often reserved for the last conflict. David began his glory with the conquest of one giant, and here concludes it with the conquest of four. Death is a Christian’s last enemy, and a son of Anak; but, through him that triumphed for us, we hope to be more than conquerors at last, even over that enemy.