By Raymond Harris
Regarding Scripture: II Samuel 21.1-14
Note to the Reader – I encourage you to invest additional time reading the Books of Samuel in conjunction with this article.
Making Things Right
Have you ever found yourself in a predicament that was not of your own choosing? I mean quite literally you found yourself experiencing the results of someone else’s folly of action and decision. How did it make you feel: Angry? Miserable? Personally, I would become angry at their apparent mismanagement, I then would try to find the fastest way out of it. If I did not create the mess, then why should I be responsible for cleaning it up? Am I Right?
As you are aware, we have been reading through and examining certain passages from the books of Samuel. As I close out this month with our looking at II Samuel in particular, I find a very difficult section involving David. This passage will be the base for this article, and in light of that passage, here is a question: How would it make you feel knowing that your job is to fix the problem, even if your are not the cause? I imagine you and I would feel very similar: upset and not too happy. But the real question is: How would you respond to such a demand? That is the challenge.
It is II Samuel 21.1-14 that will be the passage for this article. The record of events in that passage are so immense, it makes me feel uncertain as to whether one article can adequately address the content, but we will do our best. There is much to be discussed theologically about this event, but that is not our focus. Our focus will be limited to the answer to David’s inquiry and his willingness to set things right.
II Samuel 21 opens with David asking Jehovah why Israel was suffering famine. Jehovah revealed that Israel was suffering “because of Sha’ul and his bloodstained house, because he put to death the people of [Gibeon].”1 While there is probably valuable study in trying to ascertain the motives of Saul, the scriptures do not reveal anything other than Samuel’s past tense reference to King Saul’s attack on Gibeon. But, we do know that Joshua made a covenant with Gibeon hundreds of years before Saul.2 However, this article’s focus is not to prove or disprove Joshua’s or Saul’s adherence to Jehovah’s covenant with Israel. Instead, this article is narrowly focused on David’s response following Jehovah’s answer to his famine inquiry.
Some Tough Days Ahead
When David learned of the cause of the famine, he knew he had to take corrective measures. But just trying to put myself in his shoes, I doubt he realized the difficult task that lay before him. The needed steps to stop Israel’s famine seem almost too much. David knew that in order to end Israel’s predicament he would have to confront the Gibeonites. But as national negotiations go, one would think that financial compensation would have adequately resolved matters.
But resolution of the famine was not quite as simple as a costly financial payoff. Instead, the famine relief and making things right with the Gibeonites was going to cost Israel far more than just gold and silver. To bring about the famine’s end was going to require a costly personal sacrifice.
When David asked the Gibeonite’s what would be just compensation for Saul’s attack, they answered: the lives of seven of Saul’s sons.3 If one’s only concern is humanitarian, their perceived compensation was high. But this must have been even more difficult because David was a man of covenant, and the text reveals that he remembered his covenant with Jonathan.4 But David also had to consider his covenant with Saul, agreeing that he would not kill Saul’s descendents or remove Saul’s name.5
Knowing the aforementioned items, David’s days and nights must have been long. Since all we can do is conjecture, we could presume Saul’s sons to have been guilty, but perhaps they were innocent and David interacted with Saul’s descendents pleading with them to sacrifice themselves for Israel’s benefit. Just because the text records that David “delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites”6 does not mean they went unwillingly. While no certain conclusion can be made, it is because of Saul having righteous sons, like Jonathan, that I want to presume that his sons died not vainly, but valiantly.
Some Food for Thought
Interestingly, I am curious as to how long it took David to make things right? The text does not say. But it seems certain that it was not a few hours or days. It seems that he would have spoken not just to the Gibeonites, but also to Saul’s family (his concubines and sons) and possibly representatives of Israel, if not the nation of Israel herself. The time frame is important, because unlike what happens on TV, some matters just cannot be resolved in a half-hour, an hour, or twenty-four.
Making things right, especially when they are not of your own doings, seems unacceptable, unfair, and unnecessary. But as we can see from this passage, sometimes Jehovah’s people suffer because of the misdeeds of a previous ruler, or a previous group of people. That dilemma is seen repeatedly through Scripture. To apply it to us today, are we “suffering famine” because of the misdeeds of the formers? All I can say for certain is what Scripture says is possible. But I do not know if I am ready to fully answer that question involving the previous generations, because I do not know if I am ready to ask Jehovah.
One last thought. On face value, it seems upright to make right the things that are wrong, but what do we do when the thing required to make things right requires the sacrifice of people? To use a real world example, businesses sometimes have to correct their bottom line so they can stay solvent, and to remain solvent means relieving persons of work. But what is the response? The employees, the community, the media, and sometimes the government revile the decision. David was King, and had to make hard choices to make Israel agriculturally solvent, instead of money, they needed rain. Is it so difficult for us to suppose the response of Saul’s family? The nation? The King? Sometimes doing right means pain and sacrifice. All I can do is shake my head in awe at David’s and Israel’s ability to do the right thing. May the Lord bless us as we seek to put right the problems in our lives.
1 “The Famine’s Cause.” II Samuel 21.1b; Complete Jewish Bible.
2 “Joshua’s Covenant with Gibeon.” Joshua 9.1-27; NASB.
3 “Seven Son.” II Samuel 21.5-6a; NASB.
4 “David Remembers Jonathan’s Covenant.” II Samuel 21.7; NASB.
5 “David’s Covenant with Saul.” I Samuel 24.16-22; NASB.
6 “Delivered into the hands…” I Samuel 21.9; KJV.