In spite of the trickery the Gibeonites had used in representing themselves as coming from far away, Joshua and the leaders of the Israelite tribes made a peace treaty “with a binding oath” (Joshua 9:15b, NLT), promising not to harm them. However, in making this decision, “they did not consult the Lord” (Joshua 9:14b). Big mistake.
Ignoring their “binding oath,” “Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out” (II Samuel 21:2). King David now had to deal with the backlash from Saul’s disobedience. The three-year famine, God told him, had “come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites” (II Samuel 21:1, NLT).
After meeting with the surviving Gibeonites, David agreed to give them seven of Saul’s family members to be executed to recompense for Saul’s actions. It’s important to note that there were two different people named Mephibosheth in Saul’s family. One Mephibosheth was handed over to the Gibeonites to be executed, but the Mephibosheth who was the son of Saul’s son Jonathan was kept from the Gibeonites.
David and Saul’s son Jonathan had loved each other like brothers and had vowed to protect each other. As part of that vow, Jonathan had asked David and David had agreed: “May you treat me with the faithful love of the Lord as long as I live. But if I die, treat my family with this faithful love” (I Samuel 20:14-15a).
Even though David had committed to hand over seven of Saul’s descendants to the Gibeonites, he wasn’t about to break his vow to Jonathan. Nor would he break his agreement with the Gibeonites.
Saul, on the other hand, had no problem breaking the oath previously set in place by Joshua and the other leaders of that time. See, David understood that the vow was not merely an agreement between two earthly parties; it was also a sacred commitment, “a binding oath,” made before the Lord. As horrible as it was for Saul to kill the Gibeonites, the even bigger horror was his disregard for a vow before God.
As we’ve seen repeatedly throughout this study, no one sins without his wrongdoing affecting the lives of others. Dealing with what Saul did to the Gibeonites cost the lives of seven family members. But those certainly weren’t the only lives affected.
Remember, the seven men whom David handed over for execution were “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” (II Samuel 21:8a).
Rizpah was one of Saul’s concubines. None of the dead men had been buried; their bodies had been left out in the open to show that their deaths had been a judgment against them. Rizpah, agonizing over her two sons, refused to leave their bodies. She “spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh-gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed. Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin” (II Samuel 21:10b-14a).
David showed compassion for this hurting mother. He negotiated the retrieval of not only the bodies of Rizpah’s sons, but the bodies of the other executed men as well as the bones of Saul and Jonathan. David knew his own failings and he refused to let the failings of Saul prevent him from giving Saul a proper burial along with the other men.
“After that, God ended the famine in the land” (II Samuel 14b). David did the right thing for the right reason. And this pleased God.
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates