A Brutal End to a Long-Standing Feud – 2 Samuel 21

Sometime after the revolt by the tribe of Benjamin, that land was stricken with a severe drought and a subsequent famine. In the face of persistent famine, David turned to the Lord for answers. We often try to solve our problems on our own accord and seldom turn to our Maker for assistance. It took David three years to try out his own methods before he “sought the face of the Lord”. The Lord’s response or the current famine was weird as the blame was not on David and his trespasses but the trespasses of his predecessor Saul.

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 Samuel 21:1 (NIV)

So it seemed that God was punishing the land for the sins committed by the previous generation. One thing we know about God is that he does not hold the sins of our forefathers against us, at least this is what Jesus said to his disciples when they encountered a man born blind (John 9:3).

For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

Ezekiel 18:4 (NIV)

The treaty with the Gibeonitesthough based on a ruse was still meant to be honoured by the Israelites, and when Saul broke the pact there were bound to be consequences. It is only strange to see the people suffer the consequences during David’s reign. There were no other iniquities of Saul that were passed down to the next generation barring the terror he inflicted on the Gibeonites, a tribe who themselves had tricked the ancestors of the Israelites at the time of the crossing.

Most probably it seems like a ploy by David to blame the current famine on the previous regime and put to death the descendants of Saul in some wired form of restitution for the Gibeonites. God never asked for any blood to be shed to make things right and neither did the Gibeonites demand the house of Saul to be penalised (at least initially). But David took it upon himself to avenge the honour of the Gibeonites by allowing them to put to death seven of Saul’s descendants.

What was that going to prove? Will it appease the gods of rain? Will it please the God of Heaven and Earth? Or will it bring back the people the Gibeonites had lost due to the massacre of Saul? No, but this act would strike fear among the ranks of the Benjamite tribes who had just taken part in an insurrection against David. This bloodshed seemed to benefit no one but the king and his men. In some strange way to show loyalty to his friend Jonathan, he spared Mephibosheth but allowed the Gibioenties to have their pick of men from Saul’s lineage.

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, 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.”

2 Samuel 21:5-6 (NIV)

David was completely aware of the fate that was awaiting these men when they were taken to the Gibea but he still chose to let these men go. This act would presumably relinquish the famine and at the same time any chances of an uprising from the house of Saul. If these men were from his own family or his tribe Judah, David would have surely negotiated a better deal.

The men were slaughtered together during the first days of the harvest with their bodies left in open on a hill for all to see. The mother of two of the slain, Rizpah, guarded the body of her sons preventing rainwater to fall on their bodies and from birds and animals scavenging them for meat. When David was told about her, he gave them a proper burial bringing back the bones of Saul and Jonathan from Jabesh Gilead.

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 21:14 (NIV)

The Author Seems to believe that God was waiting for the blood of Saul’s descendants and for them to be buried before blessing the harvest of the Israelites. God’s grace is often mistaken for the cause of one’s blessing or more often the end of one’s suffering. God chose to act according to His time but the people related it with the killing of the seven members of Saul’s family. This would have given a bad precedent for such killings, especially during the split of northern and southern kingdoms and would have given unchecked powers to those kings. The chapter ends with listing down the victories the men of Israel had garnered over the Philistine troops. Four giants had been slain by David’s men and the author reveals the declining military acumen of David.

In our lives, we must understand the true meaning of carrying out God’s will rather than blindly following the law to the letter. Our God is a living God and so is His word. We must take them out of context just to persecute a group or a sect that we do not get along with. In everything, let us turn to God for the understanding of His word and not let the pseudo-religious leaders twist his word for their own agenda or profit.

Discussion Questions

  • 2 Samuel 21:1 – Does God send a famine on account of the sin of our forefathers?
  • 2 Samuel 21:6 – Why is David making this trade?
  • 2 Samuel 21:14 – Did God wait for the blood of the fallen Benjaminties before providing relief to the Israelites in the form of rain?

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