DEALING WITH THE PAST
Thank you, Father, for your Word, written for me so that I might know you and learn how to live for you. As I study today, show me ways to apply what I read.
Read 2 SAMUEL 21:1-14
The Gibeonites Avenged
21 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 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.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”
4 The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death.”
“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.
5 They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 6 let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.”
So the king said, “I will give them to you.”
7 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. 8 But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[a] whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.
10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 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.) 13 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.
14 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.
- 2 Samuel 21:8 Two Hebrew manuscripts, some Septuagint manuscripts and Syriac (see also 1 Samuel 18:19); most Hebrew and Septuagint manuscripts Michal
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Eternal Ruler of … circling planets … guide of the nations … rule in our hearts, that we may ever be / guided and strengthened and upheld by thee.’1
It is fascinating to see how issues recur throughout history! Here we have an account of how David handled a situation where a historical injustice to a disadvantaged population was identified. There has been much discussion in recent years about whether and what kind of reparation should be made based on mistreatment by previous regimes, often through colonialist activity, slave trading, or different forms of racism. In this instance God makes it clear that current Israel is suffering because of a promise made in the distant past2 and broken in the nearer past (v 2).
However, God left David to decide what the recompense should be and again the writer appears to be pointing out difficulties with the actions he took. First, the law gave various instructions about compensation, but allowing victims to choose the punishment, as David did, is not part of this. Their choice was to kill seven of Saul’s descendants, which may have been convenient for David, but went against the law that children should not be punished for their parents’ sin.3 Second, David himself had promised Saul that his descendants would not be killed.4 It is ironic that his method of absolving the nation from the guilt of breaking a promise was to break another promise! The story of Rizpah’s desperate grief at the death of her children seems to have been included to suggest that another solution should and could have been found.
Can you think of another way Gibeon could have been compensated? What might this story teach us about dealing with historical injustice or abuse?
Lord, I live today in the knowledge of your great love and care. Injustice and cruelty are all around, but I ask that you help me go deep into your love and show it to everyone I meet.
1 JW Chadwick, ‘Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round’, 1864 2 Josh 9 3 Deut 24:16; cf Ezek 18 4 1 Sam 24:21,22
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