Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 19-21.
Natural disasters seem to happen more frequently today and we wonder about the reason. Do we blame global warming? A long famine struck in David’s time, and people wanted to know why. I imagine there were many prayers that went up to the LORD asking for help, but the famine continued. After three years, David received an answer.
The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.” The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to [spare] them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 2 Samuel 21:1-2
The Gibeonites were one of the Canaanite tribes who faced destruction when Joshua conquered the land three hundred years before David. They tricked Joshua into making a peace treaty with them by pretending to be from far away. Joshua spared them because of his promise, but they became servants to the Israelites. Then, some thirty years prior to the famine, King Saul tried to annihilate the Gibeonites. There’s no other reference to this attack. It was an effort at ethnic cleansing. Perhaps Saul wanted to prove his national fervor to the Israelites, or maybe he just wanted their land. Whatever the reason, it was clearly wrong because it broke the oath Joshua had made.
The irony is that Saul lost his kingdom in part because he failed to destroy the Amalekites. Now we learn he tried to eliminate a people that were protected. The Israelites seem to have tried to forget about the episode, but the Gibeonites had not forgotten, and neither had the LORD.
- He remembered because he holds us to our oaths (because he keeps and values his own promises).
- He remembered because the unlawful shedding of blood required recompense.
- He remembered even though it had been 300 years since the initial promise and 30 years since Saul’s atrocity.
David knew the Gibeonites must be satisfied if God was to forgive Israel and end the famine. He asked them what they wanted in order for justice to be done, and they asked for seven of Saul’s male descendants to die (perhaps because seven is the number of completeness). David spared Mephibosheth and his family because of the oath he made to Jonathan. He chose two living sons of Saul, born to his concubine, and five grandsons from his daughter, Merab. These seven men were executed and in due time the rains returned, ending the famine.
The execution of Saul’s sons and grandsons seems unduly harsh. Did they participate in the attack on the Gibeonites? We don’t know. Were they liable for the mistake? In fact, the whole country was liable. God was using the famine to discipline the entire nation for failing to remedy Saul’s sin. No doubt many more people than these seven men were dying or faced death from the famine. We should also remember that the Israelites were living under the covenant made with God when they entered the Promised Land, and that covenant required that payment be made in blood for the unlawful shedding of blood.
There are two lessons I want you to learn from the story of the Gibeonities:
- God doesn’t forget. The good news is that under the new covenant of grace he doesn’t forget the payment made in blood by his son on the cross. When God looks at my trespasses and sins, he passes over them, and removes them from me as far as the east is from the west, because he sees me covered in the blood of Jesus. He doesn’t forget.
- God wants us to make our wrongs right. As much as possible, when you realize you have wronged another person, do what is in your power to admit your mistake and repair the damage you’ve done.
But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” Luke 19:8-10
Image by Alicia Lynn on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0