Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?” They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” And the king said, “I will give them.”
But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.
Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens. And she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the field by night. When David was told what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, on the day the Philistines killed Saul on Gilboa. And he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Kish his father. And they did all that the king commanded. And after that God responded to the plea for the land. – 2 Samuel 21:1-14 ESV
These closing chapters of the book of Second Samuel function as a kind of appendix, presenting six unrelated stories and in no chronological order, but intended to provide us with an historical overview of the life of David. The first involves a famine, which probably took place early in David’s reign. It had lasted three years and brought much devastation to the people of Israel. But it was not until David sought the face of God that he became aware of the cause of the famine. It is significant to note that, early in David’s reign, he seemed to have been more prone to seek the face of God when faced with a difficulty. But he had still waited three years to ask God what was going on. And God told him, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites” (2 Samuel 21:1 NLT). Now, before we move on in the story, it is important that we look back at how all of this happened. All the way back in Joshua 9, we are told of an incident concerning the people of Israel as they were attempting to take possession of the land of Canaan, promised to them by God. Joshua was approached by some Gibeonites, disguised as weary travelers and representing themselves as representatives of a distant nation. They were seeking to make a treaty with the Israelites. The Gibeonites, who were actually local occupants of the land, had heard what Israel had done to the cities of Jericho and Ai, and knew they were next. So, they had come up with the plan to deceive the Israelites into making a treaty with them. And it worked. But what’s important to note is that it worked because Joshua “did not ask counsel from the Lord” (Joshua 9:14 NLT). Instead, he signed a treaty with the Gibeonites, vowing not to attack them. Even when the Israelites discovered they had been deceived, they could not do anything about it, because they had “had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel” (Joshua 9:18 NLT). Why is this even important? Because it reveals a powerful lesson regarding the danger of the people of God failing to seek the wisdom and direction of God. We have seen over and over again, what happened to David when he failed to seek God. It never ended well. And this incident with the Gibeonites is yet another reminder that failure to seek God may not have immediate consequences, but it will inevitably come back to haunt you.
Years later, when Saul had become king of Israel, he broke the very same covenant with the Gibeonites by killing some of them. the details of this incident are not recorded in the book of First Samuel, but David does not attempt to dispute that it happened. First of all, because it was God who had said that it had happened. Secondly, because the Gibeonites had confirmed it. There is little doubt that Saul had not sought the will of God when he had committed this violation of the covenant. And his sin was now having its inevitable consequences. As a result, David was forced to put seven of Saul’s sons to death as a form of retribution, and in order to satisfy the demands of the Gibeonites. The famine would not end until this situation was made right and justice was served. But one of the lessons we must take away from this story is the residual nature of our sins. Joshua had failed to seek God and had made a covenant that went directly against the will of God. He had commanded the complete destruction and elimination of the occupants of the land. No treaties were to be made. And Joshua’s failure to listen to God would leave the Gibeonites in the land. Then Saul would end up putting some of them to death, breaking the covenant Joshua had made with them. And then the people of Israel would suffer through a three-year famine, all because Saul had violated a treaty with the Gibeonites, sworn before God Himself. One sin had led to another and then David had been left with the unpleasant task of having to remedy the whole situation by having seven men put to death.
Sin always has consequences. What can easily be overlooked in this story are the thousands of innocent people who suffered from the famine. Many had probably lost loved ones due to starvation. Innocent children suffered. Animals died. The entire community was forced to go through three years of God-ordained punishment because of the sins of two men. And we see the sorrow of Rizpah, one of the mothers of the slain men, as she stays beside the bodies, mourning their deaths and protecting them from scavengers. Her grief was the direct result of someone else’s sin.
And the story comes to a conclusion with David gathering the bodies of the seven slain sons, along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, and burying them all in the land of the Benjamites. Saul and Jonathan had also died as a result of sin against God. Saul deserved what happened to him, but Jonathan was yet another innocent casualty of sin’s devastating impact. Time and time again, in the Scriptures, we see latent and lingering influence of sin. It has a long shelf life. Our sins can be forgiven, but their consequences can last for generations. That is why it is so important that we seek the Lord. It is when we fail to seek Him, and leave ourselves vulnerable to our own sin natures and the influence of the enemy, that we risk doing those things that come back to haunt us. We tend to wrongly assume that our sins are personal and harm no one but ourselves. But the Scriptures are full of sobering stories like this one that prove that conclusion painfully wrong – dead wrong.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.