34 David Afflicted by Famine
Afflicted by Famine
2 Samuel 21:1–14
The last three chapters of 2 Samuel form an instructive and interesting appendage to the book. They contain additional information regarding David’s life with the order of the information being recorded without regard to chronology. There are six distinct parts to this appendage. Two parts have to do with Divine judgment, two parts with David’s psalms, and two parts with dedicated soldiers. These six parts are recorded in a most symmetrical way. They are in a 1,2,3,3,2,1 literary pattern in regards to subject matter. The first and last parts (1 and 1) are a record of Divine judgment (2 Samuel 21:1–14), the second and fifth parts (2 and 2) are a record of dedicated soldiers (2 Samuel 21:15–22; 23:8–39), and the two middle parts (3 and 3) are a recording of David’s psalms (2 Samuel 22–23:7). This neat, symmetrical, literary pattern is not uncommon in the Old Testament writings. As an example, Psalm 119:73–80 is also organized this way. It has eight parts (corresponding to the eight verses in the section) and is organized in a 1,2,3,4,4,3,2,1 pattern. The character of the Psalmist is the subject of the first and last verses of the section (parts 1 and 1), the companions of the Psalmist are the subject of the second and seventh verses (parts 2 and 2), the conflicts of the Psalmist are the subject of the third and sixth verses (parts 3 and 3), and the comforts of the Psalmist are the subject of the middle two verses—the fourth and fifth verses (parts 4 and 4).
We point out this intriguing literary pattern to emphasize that the Bible does not have to take a back seat to any literature in beauty and genius of style. The Bible is not a hodgepodge of meaningless writings put together in a haphazard way. Rather, it is a Divine selection of historical events and writings put together in the finest of literary styles. When you have the Bible in your hand, you have in your hand the greatest piece of literature ever given to mankind!
Of the six parts of this last section of 2 Samuel, we will deal with two of them in our book. They concern the Divine judgments which came upon Israel during David’s reign. In this study we will look at the first judgment which was a three year famine (the other judgment was a pestilence). This event came at an undetermined time in David’s monarchy as “in the days of David” (v. 1) indicate. “Then” in verse 1 in the KJV does not alter the fact of the undetermined time, for the Hebrew will not substantiate the “Then” translation as a reference to a specific time. Rather, the Hebrew at the beginning of this chapter is simply an introductory clause for the last section of the book, not a reference to a particular time. “And” is a preferable translation.
The affliction of the three year famine upon Israel during David’s reign was a trying time for David and Israel. While David’s reign was a very prosperous one for Israel, it was also beset with many severe problems as we have seen in a number of the past chapters of our study. Here we will study about the problem of the three year famine. In the study of this famine, we will consider the cause of the famine (2 Samuel 21:1,2) and the cure for the famine (2 Samuel 21:3–14).
A. THE CAUSE OF THE FAMINE
“There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites” (v. 1). We note two things from this verse regarding the cause of the famine. They are the inquiring about the cause and the informing about the cause.
1. The Inquiring About the Cause
“David inquired of the Lord” (v. 1). This inquiry by David to learn the cause of the famine was a necessary inquiry and a noble inquiry, but it was also a neglected inquiry.
The inquiry was necessary. When trials come upon us, we need to inquire about the cause of the trial in order to profit the most we can from the trial. If we do not seek out the cause, we will not know, as an example, if God is chastening us. To not know that God is chastening us is ignorance that can really hurt us, for we will fail to learn our lessons about some wrong we have done. However, if we know that God is chastening us, we can correct our ways and prevent many trials in the future. Remaining ignorant about your trials, especially if they are chastisements for some sins, can cause repeated trials to come upon you unnecessarily. We all have plenty of trials without adding to them unnecessarily.
There are, of course, times when we may not always know exactly why some trial has come upon us. But when inquiry fails to come up with a specific answer, then the inquiry will at least help us to strengthen our faith in God’s wisdom for a good purpose for the trial even if we do not know the purpose yet. Sometimes we have to trust God in the dark—times when the cause of a trial is not known for some time or not even until eternity. But inquiry concerning our trials is necessary to even discover this fact. Inquiry about our trials is always necessary if we are to learn the lessons God intends the trial to teach us. Therefore, when trial comes, do not neglect seeking God about the cause of the trial. It is a very necessary inquiry.
The inquiry was noble. The nobleness of the inquiry is seen in who David sought out in the inquiry. He sought God for the answer. “By inquiring of the Lord in the time of trouble, David left us an example which we do well to follow. The Sender of trouble is the only One who can remove it; and if it be not His pleasure to remove it, He is the One who can show us how best to meet it” (Pink). If anyone can give us an answer about our trials, it is the Lord. You make a great mistake going to the counsellors of this world to seek an answer for your trials. The counsellors of this world seldom have a clue as to what is the cause. All they do is trouble your pocketbook with high sounding words which answer no questions but only add to the unsettling perplexity. Get into the Word of God, and you will learn more about your trials than from anywhere else.
The inquiry was neglected. The famine lasted three years before David inquired of God as to the cause of the famine. This neglect is not commendable. It is, however, typical of man unfortunately. Man seldom seeks out a cause of his trials unless they become very grievous. Too often “it is only when the little trial swells into a large one, or the brief trouble into a long-continued affliction, that we begin to inquire why it was sent” (Blaikie). The three year famine could have been shortened considerably had David not neglected for so long to inquire of God about the trial. As we noted a bit earlier, failure to inquire about our trials can add to our trials. “If small trials were more regarded, heavy trials would be less needed. The horse that springs forward at the slightest touch of the whip or prick of the spur needs no heavy lash; it is only when the lighter stimulus fails that the heavier has to be applied” (Ibid.). The song writer spoke of this problem when he said, “O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear, All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer” (Joseph Scriven from “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”).
2. The Informing About the Cause
When David inquired of God as to the cause of the famine, God answered David and said the famine “is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites” (v. 1). This evil deed of Saul is not recorded in earlier Scripture, for this is the first time in the Bible we read of it. God keeps good records, however; and the day will come when many evil deeds of men will be exposed to the surprise of these men who thought their deeds were unknown or long since forgotten.
The offended Gibeonites were the people who over four centuries earlier had deceived Joshua and the elders of Israel into making a treaty with them to not destroy them as Israel was doing to the other peoples of Canaan. The Gibeonites gave the appearance and testimony that they were from a land far from Canaan. But shortly after the treaty of protection was made with them, Joshua found out that the Gibeonites were a people who lived near, not far away. But though the Gibeonites had tricked Israel into a treaty, Israel could not break the treaty because “we have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel; now therefore we may not touch them” (Joshua 9:19). To break the treaty would dishonor God because they had promised in His name to keep the treaty. Saul, however, broke the treaty and killed many Gibeonites. This dishonored God, and so the famine was God’s affliction upon Israel for this dishonoring of God.
To further examine this crime of killing multitudes of Gibeonites, we note from our text the source of the crime, the stimulation for the crime, the severity of the crime, and the silence about the crime.
The source of the crime. “It is for Saul” (v. 1) that the judgment of the famine came. This was a disobedient source, a distant source, and a disregarded source.
First, a disobedient source. We are not surprised to read that Saul is the culprit in the killing of the Gibeonites, for his life was characterized by disobedience. He would not slay whom God told him to slay (the Amalekites’ animals) but would slay those God forbid to be slain (the Gibeonites). Disobedient people are like that. They will not do what they are told to do but will do what they are forbidden to do.
Disobedience against God is to go contrary to whatever God says. Disobedience to God is to play the fool. Samuel told Saul this fact when he said, “Thou hast done foolishly; thou hast not kept the commandment of the Lord thy God” (1 Samuel 13:13). Disobedience to God is akin to worshipping false gods. Samuel told Saul, “Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:23). And disobedience to God will be judged by God. “The wrath of God cometh on the children of disobedience” (Colossians 3:6) and “Every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward [judgment]” (Hebrews 2:2)—hence, the famine.
Second, a distant source. The cause of the famine was not a cause from the present but from the past. It was not during David’s reign but during Saul’s reign that the evil occurred which brought the famine. “God’s judgments often look a great way back, which obliges us to do so when we are under his rebukes” (Henry). God has no statute of limitations upon our sins. We will have to answer for our all our evil conduct no matter how long ago we did the evil. Many folk learn this truth the hard way. They sow wild oats by the bushels in their youth with apparent little ill effect. But late in life, when the memory of the evil has dimmed in the sinner’s mind and when others have often forgotten completely about the evil, the harvest begins. The misuse of the body catches up with the sinner. Venereal disease wrecks havoc on the body many years after the immoral sins occurred. Great destruction of body organs and tissues from alcohol eventually comes upon those who gave themselves to drinking in their youth. Folk who gave up smoking many years earlier have years later discovered that the cancerous effects still show up to ravage the body. “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23) even if many years have passed by since you committed that sin.
Third, a disregarded source. In telling David that the source of the famine was the evil of Saul, God informs us about a cause of calamitous weather which most people disregard, namely, man’s sinfulness. The sinful conduct of man has a lot to do with bad storms, destructive changes in climate, drought, and other weather calamities. Many think there is no relationship between the problems of nature and man’s disobedience of God. A good many folk of the world mock the idea that our morality is the culprit behind hurricanes, tornadoes, drought, and other weather problems. But “Troubles do not come by haphazard. The poor worldling may talk of his ‘ill fortune,’ but the believer ought to employ more God honoring language” (Pink). When foul and fierce weather plagues a country, the so-called experts talk about jet streams, sun spots, locations of the planets and stars, and other phenomena; but they never talk about man’s wickedness. However, God’s answer to David about why there was the famine in Israel reminds us that wickedness is at the bottom of many natural disasters. God’s grace prevents many disasters from occurring, but the sin of our land is so great that it could unleash terrible weather or other calamities if God so pleased.
The stimulation for the crime. “Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah” (v. 2). Saul’s motivation was bad. His motivation in life was to impress men not God. When your motivation is bad in life, you will not perform well in life. So Saul did evil to the Gibeonites because of his bad motivation in life. He was prompted not by God and His glory to wipe out the Gibeonites but by his desire to impress the people. Saul was more interested in pleasing man than in pleasing God. He wanted the applause of men but seemed very disinterested in the approval of God. Men will always corrupt themselves when the stimulator of their conduct and pursuits is the applause of men and not of God. Wanting to please men can lead one to great wickedness, but wanting to please God will do just the opposite. Scripture exhorts us that “whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name [for the honor] of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). Keep your motivation in life holy if you want your manner of life to be holy.
The severity of the crime. In three verses we are given descriptions of Saul’s evil against the Gibeonites. In verse one, it is, “Saul . . . slew the Gibeonites.” In verse two it is, “Saul sought to slay them.” And in verse five it is, “The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel.” From these three verses, we learn that Saul’s evil against the Gibeonites was very severe. In these verses the severity of his evil against the Gibeonites is seen in the perniciousness of his evil, the planning for his evil, and the profuseness of his evil.
First, the perniciousness of his evil. “He slew the Gib-eonites” (v. 1). Saul did more than just take away their possessions or make their slavery more burdensome. He did more than oppress the people—he killed them! Saul spilled their blood throughout their dwelling places. This was a very cruel crime. It was the Holocaust of the Gibeonites. How great must have been the horror that suddenly came upon the Gibeonites when Saul’s soldiers came through the Gibeonite dwelling places with their swords flashing and flailing and slew person after person until multitudes were killed and blood pooled in great pools on the ground. The sorrow and fear that came upon the remaining Gibeonites had to be extreme. They had no one to protect them, no one to defend them. They were helpless victims of Saul’s capricious cruelty. While this atrocity is not recorded earlier in Scripture, we do have another example of this type of bloody crime by Saul. It is Saul’s bloody slaughter of the priests at Nob (1 Samuel 22:17–21). What a cruel king Saul was. No wonder a famine came to Israel because of his evil. This certainly helps to explain why countries in our world that are dominated by wicked leaders and godless policies often have great crop failures and the like. Their wickedness causes God’s wrath to come upon them.
Second, the planning for his evil. Saul’s evil against the Gibeonites was deliberately planned. It was not a spur-of-the-moment thing, for Saul “devised against us that we should be destroyed” (v. 5). Deliberation always adds to the greatness of the crime. It shows that the evil was held a long time in the heart, and it generally makes the evil more injurious to the victims. The devising against the Gibeonites by Saul also showed that he intentionally ignored the covenant made by Joshua with the Gibeonites. His crime was very willful.
Third, the profuseness of his evil. The language of these verses about Saul’s evil against the Gibeonites indicates that Saul’s guilt involved much more than just one act, but that his barbarity was a long series of bloody acts that resulted in many Gibeonites being slain. This crime was not trivial. It involved much bloodshedding. But though Saul killed many Gibeonites, he was not as successful as he intended to be. Saul wanted to eradicate them. He planned that they “should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel” (v. 5). But thankfully he was not able to kill all the Gibeonites. He will be judged for his intentions, however; and the famine was an equitable judgment on the land. It fit the crime.
The silence about the crime. Both the Gibeonites and God were silent about the crime for a long time after it was committed by Saul.
First, the silence of the Gibeonites. It is a most commendable thing that the Gibeonites held their peace over the atrocities which Saul worked against them. In maintaining their silence, they left the vengeance of the atrocious deeds to God. How few of us can keep silent when we have been wronged. On the contrary, we want to broadcast to the world that someone has wronged us. Society really reflects this habit. Let someone be given a slight or one of their rights trampled on and they will soon have a lawyer filing a lawsuit in court. But the Gibeonites held their peace and waited for God to avenge them which He did by the famine. Their silence does not mean it is wrong to seek help when evil besets you. Their silence simply shows us an example of people willing to leave the vengeance to God.
Second, the silence of God. God did not bring judgment upon Israel for a number of years after this great crime. The wicked greedily interprets such delays as meaning the deed did not upset God. This was the problem in Isaiah’s day, so he declared, “Let favor be showed to the wicked, yet will he not learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:10). But misinterpreting grace to sanction sin only perverts the grace of God and promotes more sinning. God delays judgment not because the sin was not bad but in order to give man time to repent. God is a merciful and gracious God, and His habit is to give man “space to repent” (Revelation 2:21) of their evil deeds so they can avert disastrous judgment. Delay does not diminish guilt. “Time does not wear out the guilt of sin; nor can we build hopes of impunity upon the delay of judgments” (Henry). Delay is to encourage confession and repentance. But if we fail to repent, judgment will eventually strike, and it will be a more severe judgment; for the longer you delay your repentance, the more severe the judgment will be. Such was the case in Israel. They had ignored the evil against the Gibeonites for a long time. So God finally brought a crushing famine upon the land.
B. THE CURE FOR THE FAMINE
The inquiry not only learned the cause of the famine, but it also learned the cure for the famine. The inquiring about the famine told David why the famine had come, and it also told him how the famine could be stopped. The cure for the famine was the slaying of “seven men of his [Saul’s] sons” (v. 6). The number “seven” was symbolic for completeness. That is, “seven” was all that was necessary. “Sons” was not limited to literal sons but also included descendents, for five of the slain men were grandsons of Saul. To further examine this slaying of Saul’s descendents, which was the cure for the famine, we note the counsel for the slaying, the conditions of the slaying, the chosen for the slaying, the criticism of the slaying, the caretaking after the slaying, and the confirmation in the slaying.
1. The Counsel for the Slaying
David counselled with the offended Gibeonites regarding the specifics of the cure for the famine. It was from them that he learned that seven of Saul’s sons were to be slain to stop the famine. Scripture does not specifically say David was told to seek the offended Gibeonites as to what they wanted to satisfy their mistreatment, but the context clearly evidences that David was acting under the direction of the Spirit of God when he sought them. That this was the case is seen in the fact that when David did according to the Gibeonites’ request, God stopped the famine (v. 14).
Note that the Gibeonites in specifying that the seven sons should die for the slaughter of the Gibeonites said, “We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house” (v. 4). Bloodshedding must be answered by bloodshedding. “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed” (Genesis 9:6) expresses that principle well. Life imprisonment or fines do not answer for murder. They are not justice for bloodshedding. Our laws which accept life imprisonment or fines for murder are not just laws. We would be a far better nation if we had more counsel that dealt with bloodshedding in a proper way. Our courts commit great crime when they let murderers off with light sentences or accept such obvious bogus pleas as sanity pleas and other like pleas.
2. The Conditions of the Slaying
The Gibeonites stated four conditions regarding the slaying of the seven sons. These conditions had to do with the technique of the slaying, the tribesmen to do the slaying, the town for the slaying, and the time of the slaying.
The technique of the slaying. “Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them” (v. 6). This statement of the Gibeonites informs us that the technique or method of the slaying was to be hanging. Hanging these men expressed the Divine anathema upon the evil deed against the Gibeonites, for hanging according to the Scripture denoted a Divine curse. Scripture says, “He that is hanged is accursed of God” (Deuteronomy 21:23, cp. Galatians 3:13). Though Saul’s evil against the Gibeonites may not have been perceived by him or other Israelites as anything evil, yet God really condemns it. He sent a famine for three years to the Israelites to drive the point home, and the hanging simply underscores the truth of His condemnation.
We need to emphasize more the Divine perspective regarding evil. Too often we hear only the opinions of the so-called experts of the world about how evil some deed is or is not. Generally their view waters down the sinfulness of sin and condemns holy practices as being evil. Political correctness often guides much of their perception of what is evil and what is not evil, but political correctness certainly is no guide to true right and wrong. To get the right view on any deed, we need to consult the Scriptures to see what God thinks of it. When we get into the Word of God, we will discover that many evil deeds which men sanction need instead to be “hanged” to show God’s curse on them today. Homosexualism is one sin that especially needs to be proclaimed by God’s people as a sin with God’s curse on it. Men are respecting it more and more, but God has put a great curse on the deed as is illustrated by the destruction of Sodom. Sodom is one of those “hangings” of homosexual conduct that men need to heed.
The tribesmen to do the slaying. “Neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel . . . Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord” (vv. 4, 6). When the Gibeonites asked for the seven sons to be slain, they exempted David from doing the hanging. The Gibeonites said they would do the hanging. Had David done the hanging, it could have resulted in bad repercussions in Israel against the throne and reflected negatively upon his character. It would have looked like David was trying to exterminate the house of Saul whose dynasty he had superseded. But with the Gibeonite tribesmen hanging the seven sons, it would focus the attention on the evil done to the Gibeonites by Saul. Evil men are always trying to detract from the cruelty of the crime by focusing on the mistreatment (supposed) of the criminal; but with the Gibeonites doing the hanging, it would help silence the detractors.
The town for the slaying. The Gibeonites said they would hang Saul’s sons in Gibeah, not in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. Hanging these seven in Gibeah would drive home the condemnation upon the family of Saul for the evil against the Gibeonites, for Gibeah was the hometown of Saul (1 Samuel 10:26). If the seven men had been hung in Jerusalem, the Israelites would have seen revenge on the part of David against his rival Saul more than the retribution upon Saul for his evil against the Gibeonites. Evil men like to take the attention off the evil of the criminal and put it on the supposed evil of the one doing the punishing (or arresting as in the case of policemen). But with the hanging being done in Gibeah and not in Jerusalem, the attention would be on the evil of the criminal, not on the evil of David and his government.
The time for the slaying. The seven men were “put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest” (v. 9). Barley harvest was in April. Hanging the men during harvest season drove home the fact that the famine was the reason for the hanging. A famine comes when harvest ceases to be productive. Hanging them in the harvest season was an acknowledgement that sin was the cause of the famine and the poor harvest, and that sin was being confessed and judged. If we want God’s blessing upon us, we must acknowledge our sin, confess it, and forsake it.
3. The Chosen for the Slaying
The seven men to be slain for Saul’s offense against the Gibeonites included the two sons of Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, and the five sons of Merab, the eldest daughter of Saul. We note four facts about the choice of these men to be slain by the Gibeonites. They are the exemption for Mephibosheth, the experiences of Rizpah, the exchange for Merab, and the extinguishing of Saul.
The exemption for Mephibosheth. “But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the Lord’s oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul” (v. 7). In selecting the seven men from Saul’s family who were to be hanged, Scripture states specifically that David exempted Mephibosheth from the selection. The significance of Mephibosheth’s protection is emphasized in the fact that it is mentioned first before any of the seven men were named who were chosen to be hanged. David had made a covenant with Jonathan not to slay any of Jonathan’s seed (1 Samuel 20:14–16), and David would keep that covenant.
The doctrine of the security of the believer is certainly pictured here as we noted in an earlier chapter. Because David had taken Mephibosheth into his custody, Mephibosheth was provided with great security. Likewise when God’s Anointed One, Jesus Christ, has taken the soul into His custody through salvation, that soul will be secure and thus not subject to the wrath of God. Jesus said of those who have come to Him for salvation, “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:28,29). The blessed security of the soul through Jesus Christ is the greatest security man can ever have.
The experiences of Rizpah. The first two men chosen to be slain were “the two sons of Rizpah . . . whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth [not to be confused with the Mephibosheth who was the son of Jonathan]” (v. 8). Rizpah was a concubine of Saul (2 Samuel 3:7) whose experiences of being in the king’s harem were not the pleasure and prestige they promised to be. Being Saul’s concubine brought her some pleasure and prestige, but it did not last. Saul’s downfall ended her experiences of earthly gain. Her experiences became bitter and tragic thereafter. Part of her bitter experiences occurred a few years after Saul died, when Abner, Saul’s former military chief, violated her (Ibid.) which resulted in a split between Abner and Ishbosheth (who reigned over part of Israel after Saul died). Now more bitter experiences come as she loses her two sons. Rizpah would loath the day her beauty attracted her to Saul. “The poor woman must have looked for a very different destiny when she became the concubine of Saul. No doubt she expected to share in the glory of his royal state” (Blaikie). But instead she shared in the judgment upon his house. Women who throw high morals out the window to be sex slaves of men in high positions will always end up highly disappointed and depleted. Shortly we will see more of the pain that she experienced as Saul’s concubine when we note the expression of her great sorrow after her sons were hanged.
The exchange for Merab. The other five men who were slain were grandsons of Saul. Specifically, they were the sons of Merab, Saul’s eldest daughter. Scripture states them as being “the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai [not to be confused with the Barzillai of Rogelim] the Meholathite” (v. 8). Hence, the text needs some explanation or it quickly becomes confusing. In explaining the text, we first need to note that Michal did not have any children. She was the wife of David, and she “had no child unto the day of her death” (2 Samuel 6:23). Then we need to note that “Adriel” was the husband of Merab (1 Samuel 18:19). In verse 8 some manuscripts read Merab instead of Michal. Furthermore, in verse 8 “whom she brought up for” can can be translated “whom she bare to.” Obviously, the sons were Merab’s sons, not Michal’s sons.
That the sons of Merab should be slain brings the wheel of justice full circle. Saul had promised Merab to David for his wife, but at the last minute he broke his promise (as Saul’s wicked heart easily and often did) and he gave Merab to Adriel for his wife (1 Samuel 18:17–19). Adriel would get Merab because he could pay a high dowry for the king’s daughter. One rarely obtained a king’s daughter as wife, especially the eldest daughter, without a high dowry. But the exchange of men in Merab’s life is now coming home to haunt both Merab and Adriel. It is a pertinent reminder that you cannot exchange an Adriel of the world for the Anointed of God and come out a winner. Many have exchanged Christ for some worldling, but eternal hell will be the reward for that exchange. Judas exchanged Christ for thirty pieces of silver. The results he experienced certainly do not encourage such an exchange, but many are still exchanging Christ for money. They too will spend eternity in hell as a result if they do not repent.
The extinguishing of Saul. The slaying of the sons and grandsons of Saul reduced Saul’s household to Mephibosheth and his descendents. Saul had rebelled against God, and the judgment of God upon Saul was to take away the monarchy from his descendents. Saul’s sin removed his descendents from great blessing and brought many a curse upon them. But for the grace of God working through David to spare Mephibosheth, the lame grandson of Saul, the entire family would have been wiped out. In the list of Saul’s descendents given in 1 Chronicles 8:29–39 and 9:35–44, the line of Saul is continued only through Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth (referred to there as “Meribbaal”). How great was the fall of Saul. One day he had the sun shining upon him as he sat on the throne as the king of Israel with family and prosperity growing. But sin extinguished the flame of Saul’s family down to a lame grandson (and his descendents). Sin brings us low. It shrinks our power and prestige and possessions in this life and reduces us to nothing in the next life.
4. The Criticism of the Slaying
Much criticism is expressed regarding the punishment of the seven men from Saul’s family for the Gibeonite crime. The charge of injustice and cruelty is not valid, however. We cite three factors that condemn the criticism of the punishment. They are the appraisal of the slain, the approval of God, and the abuse of the Gibeonites.
The appraisal of the slain. The first thing that we note which condemns the critics is that these seven sons were not innocent men, for Saul’s family was not a godly family except for Jonathan. Saul was a wicked king and his offspring were also wicked as the deeds recorded in Scripture of his children Michal and Ishbosheth demonstrate. But the great justification for the hanging of these seven sons is in the fact that they had without doubt benefitted at one time or another, if not right up until their hangings, from the gains obtained by the killing of the Gibeonites. Much of the Gibeonite dwellings and possessions were located in the tribal territory of Benjamin. Saul had at one time solicited support for himself over David by saying that David could not give the Benjamites “fields and vineyards” (1 Samuel 22:7) as Saul could. The “fields and vineyards” of the Gibeonites would be most convenient to give to his fellow Benjamites. Saul’s family especially would profit by the spoils from slaying the Gibeonites. The family certainly did not protest these slayings; but being typical of Saul, would possess their new gains with greedy glee. However, those who benefit from evil gains will be burdened with the pain of the evil gains. The criticism of the hangings will not stand here.
The approval of God. When the seven men from Saul’s family were hanged, Scripture said, “After that God was entreated for the land” (v. 14). The fact that the hangings caused God to stop the famine is enough to stop every claim of injustice by the critics. God certainly is not unjust! If He approved of the hangings, then who are we to criticize because in our limited view it may not look totally just. God knows the hearts of all men. The issue is not why God slays some, but why He does not slay all. With men being so sinful, the puzzle is not why God permits some to be cut down; but why God does not cut everyone down.
The abuse of the Gibeonites. Another condemnation of the critics and their claim of injustice is that they spend more time focusing on the supposed injustice upon the seven men being hanged rather than on the gross, bloody injustice done to the Gibeonites by Saul. To get upset about the hanging of these seven men and not be much concerned about the slaughter of the Gibeonites is to “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23:24). Saul’s great slaughter of the Gibeonites is where the great injustice is. It, not the hangings, is what ought to be criticized and condemned.
5. The Caretaking After the Punishment
Attention given the remains of the dead after the hanging is reported in Scripture. It is seen in the protecting of the bodies and the providing for the bones.
The protecting of the bodies. “And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her upon the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water dropped upon them out of heaven, and suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night” (v. 10). “One of the most affecting narratives in Holy Writ . . . is the solitary vigil of Rizpah as she watched with a mother’s love over the dead bodies of her two sons” (G. F. Cushman). Losing her sons was the climactic blow dealt Rizpah for her association with Saul. As we pointed out earlier in this chapter, she had enjoyed great privilege and attention years earlier when she had become Saul’s concubine. Hers was the privilege of consort with the handsome king to whom she bore two sons. But Saul’s downfall, which was climaxed in his death by the Philistines at Gilboa, had left her in a far different situation. Then she was violated by Abner, and now she loses her two sons. Her case is a pathetic one. But the path of sin, though strewn with beautiful flowers of promise at the start, ends up an ugly, rough, and fatal path.
This great sorrowing for her two sons was inordinate sorrow. Both in the duration of her sorrowing (“until water dropped upon them out of heaven” which signified the end of the famine) and the deeds of her sorrowing (abiding by the dead bodies) she sorrowed overmuch. “She indulged in her grief, as mourners are too apt to do, to no good purpose” (Henry). It is not wrong to sorrow, but inordinate sorrow only prolongs our sorrow and adds to our troubles as we noted with David’s inordinate sorrow over Absalom. Rizpah’s sorrow did not help matters for her or anyone else.
The providing for the bones. “And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul had done. And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan . . . [and] the bones of them that were hanged . . . [and] buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulcher of Kish his father” (vv. 11–14). David brought an honorable end to this judgment by collecting the bones of those who were hanged and then taking them with the bones of Jonathan and Saul and burying them in the proper place. This deed did not negate the acknowledgement of sin, but it shows discreet conduct in a difficult situation. We are not exempted from discreet conduct by unusual circumstances.
6. The Confirmation in the Punishment
“And after that God was entreated for the land” (v. 14). As we noted earlier, slaying the seven sons of Saul stopped the famine. The fact that the famine stopped after the slaying confirms that the slaying was accepted by God. It also shows that we need to punish evil in the land in order to prevent or stop the judgment of God upon the land. There are at least three important reasons why criminals are to be punished for their crime. One reason is to stop the repetition of the crime by the criminal; another reason is to stop the repeating of the crime by others; still another reason is to stop the retribution of God for the crime. We seldom think of the third reason as a reason for duly punishing the criminal, but we had better give that reason the highest honor. God does not approve of unholiness on the earth. If we do not deal with evil in the land, God will bring judgment upon the land. The way to stop that judgment is to bring the criminal to justice. This was done in Israel regarding the Gibeonites. Saul’s slaughter of them had upset God. Finally, in His holy wrath, He brought a famine upon Israel. That famine continued until Israel dealt with the sin of Saul by slaying the seven descendents of Saul. After Israel had slain the seven descendents, “God was entreated for the land” (Ibid.), and the famine ended.
While many of us may not be able to do much about the leniency given criminals in our land, we at least can deal with our own personal sins in a proper manner. If we want God’s blessings in our own personal lives, we must keep a short account with God. Failure to deal properly with our sins can really hurt us. The prophet Jeremiah told his people what can be told all of us today, namely; “Your sins have withholden good things from you” (Jeremiah 5:25). Churches need to take this truth to heart, too. Church discipline is nearly a thing of the past. Much sin is winked at and allowed in the church. This has created a condition in which church members in many professing Bible-believing churches can live a shameful life without the church doing much of anything to them. While the church may do nothing, God certainly will not do nothing. Judgment will come upon the church. It will be stripped of its power and spiritual blessings. That explains why our churches today have such little spiritual power and impact upon the world. They are so full of sin that they are useless. Of course, they try to make themselves look good by using carnal gimmicks to produce a big crowd; but that will never compensate for the lack of spiritual power. If we do not judge the sin in our midst, then God will judge it; and His judgment of necessity is always more severe.