David and the people of Israel were experiencing a famine. Upon David’s inquiry, the Lord plainly told him, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites” (II Samuel 21:1, NLT).
Since conquering other peoples was nothing unusual in those times, what was the big deal about the Gibeonites? Though they had lied to Joshua about living nearby, “Joshua made a peace treaty with them and guaranteed their safety, and the leaders of the community ratified their agreement with a binding oath. But they did not consult the Lord” (Joshua 9:15, 14b).
Without first asking God if it was the right thing to do, Joshua and the rest of the Israelites “ratified their agreement with a binding oath” not to war against the Gibeonites (which were part of the Amorites). God takes agreements and oaths very seriously. He will never break His with us and He expects us to keep the ones we make. And that means following through on the promises we make, great or small.
Saul had decided keeping the Gibeonites around wasn’t in the nation’s best interest, so he broke this “binding oath” and no restitution had ever been made for Saul’s wrongdoing. “So the king (David) summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out” (II Samuel 21:2).
“David asked them, ‘What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?’” (II Samuel 21:3).
“‘Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,’ the Gibeonites replied. ‘Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel’” (II Samuel 21:4a).
“‘What can I do then?’ David asked. ‘Just tell me and I will do it for you’” (II Samuel 21:4b).
“Then they replied, ‘It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord’” (II Samuel 21:5-6a).
“‘All right,’ the king said, ‘I will do it.’ The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest” (II Samuel 21:6b-9).
As brutal as this sounds, this was in alignment with Deuteronomy 21:23b: “anyone who is hung is cursed in the sight of God.” These descendants of Saul received the punishment Saul deserved for having broken a “binding oath.” Note that scripture says they were “executed… before the Lord.” In this pre-grace time, the death of these men delivered Israel from the famine-causing guilt of Saul’s transgression against the Gibeonites.
Pre-grace, the Law was all the people had to go by. Harsh remedies for misconduct were a part of it, which helps clarify what Paul meant when he wrote in Galatians 3:13: “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When He was hung on the cross, He took upon Himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.’”
I hope you’ll take the time to read Ezekiel 18. The Lord spoke to Ezekiel and said, “Why do you quote this proverb concerning the land of Israel: ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, but their children’s mouths pucker at the taste?’” (Ezekiel 18:2). He went on to say, “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No!” (Ezekiel 18:19a).
While our actions definitely affect the lives of others, each of us stands accountable to God for our own behavior, good or bad. And that, my friends, also means that growing up in church no more makes you a Christian than living in a garage makes you a car. Have you given your heart and life to Jesus?
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates