With a description at the end of the previous chapter of the order that reigns in the realm of David, the general history of David has come to an end. What is described in this chapter concerns acts that God in His reign still allows to be performed by David. It is a crime of Saul for which retaliation was yet to take place, and the defeating of a remnant of giants.
God’s mills grind slowly, but surely. It can take a long time, but the day of the payment comes. With God crime is not time-barred. Every crime will be righteously retaliated. Often this just retribution will only take place in the resurrection, but sometimes also during life on earth. The latter is the case with what Saul has done with the Gibeonites. Although this crime was committed some time ago, the time has now come for God to call His people to account for it.
To draw the attention of His people, He sends a famine across the land for three consecutive years. The first year everyone will have seen the drought and the failure of the harvest as a more common phenomenon, although the God-fearing Israelite will realize that something is not good in the people. Famine in the land where God promised abundance, indicates that there is unfaithfulness among the people. David only understands at the third famine that this is the voice of God and asks Him about the occasion. When he prays, the answer comes immediately.
The reason is what Saul did with the Gibeonites. It is remarkable that God did not immediately punish Saul for this. Now comes this famine. David was not to blame for it, was he? It therefore appears to be not only Saul’s fault, but also that of his house and possibly also that of the house of Israel, the people who followed him. It is a common responsibility. It must bring us to the awareness that, even though we may be faithful ourselves, we may also be guilty of a situation of injustice and division. We have to make ourselves one with that, as Daniel, among others, did (Dan 9:1-61In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans—2in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was [revealed as] the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, [namely], seventy years.3So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek [Him by] prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes.4I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments,5we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances.6Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.).
From the famine that God sends, we can learn another spiritual lesson. If we are spiritually deficient, we must ask the Lord why. Perhaps there is something in our lives that is not good. It may also be that we fail to do something that has yet to be done, like here. There is an evil to be judged here that had previously been committed by a leader of the people.
The Gibeonites should not have been killed. There was a covenant with them that the Israelites would not harm them (Jos 9:15-2115Joshua made peace with them and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore [an oath] to them.16It came about at the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, that they heard that they were neighbors and that they were living within their land.17Then the sons of Israel set out and came to their cities on the third day. Now their cities [were] Gibeon and Chephirah and Beeroth and Kiriath-jearim.18The sons of Israel did not strike them because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the LORD the God of Israel. And the whole congregation grumbled against the leaders.19But all the leaders said to the whole congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we cannot touch them.20This we will do to them, even let them live, so that wrath will not be upon us for the oath which we swore to them.”21The leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water for the whole congregation, just as the leaders had spoken to them.). Saul, however, was not bothered by that covenant, but he was bothered by the presence of these Canaanites in their midst. Saul’s self-willed zeal for Israel has wronged a group of residents of Israel, who rightly lived there, and has been guilty of shedding the blood of allies. It is not known at which point this happened. We can only guess at Saul’s motive to do this. In any case, for us it means the warning that we must strictly observe the Lord’s command and only carry that out and no more.
The negative consequences of giving one’s own interpretation to a work for the Lord do not fail. In what Saul did, his attention was not on the LORD, but on people. It is always dangerous for someone who wants to do a service to the Lord if not the Lord, but people are standing before His attention. There will be chunks of it. The LORD comes back to what Saul did. David will ask the Gibeonites what he can do. There are two things on what he thinks: he wants to bring reconciliation and he wishes them to bless the inheritance of the LORD again.
If one of the people of God wrongs another who is not a member of the people of God, this will have a negative effect on their perception of the inheritance of the Lord. He will not be attracted to it. Therefore we should not justify the evil done in the Name of the Lord when disbelievers point it out. Our task is to find out how we can bring about reconciliation in the conscience of such a person.
When David knows the reason for the famine, he calls the Gibeonites. He asks them what they want as a compensation for Saul’s crime. The question is whether he is doing the right thing. Is it right for a king as the supreme judicial body to ask aggrieved people how they want justice to be done to the injustice done to them? Judging must be done by an independent judge. Yet it seems that God approves of his actions, for when everything is done as David has commanded, “that God was moved by prayer for the land” (verse 1414They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the grave of Kish his father; thus they did all that the king commanded, and after that God was moved by prayer for the land.).
What the Gibeonites want is not the result of anger towards Saul or his descendants. If they had wanted revenge, it is conceivable that they would have made this proposal much earlier. Their wish seems to come more from love for the people of Israel, where they live in the midst of and which is now suffering from the drought because of what was done to them. They asked for the judgment on Saul’s house, which was to be carried out on seven men from his house. The seven men will then be “hang … before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD”. Hanging “Hang before the LORD” means that they want to comply with His righteousness and do not act out of revenge.
The designation of the persons the Gibeonites leave for David. David chooses seven descendants, leaving Mephibosheth out of consideration. He does so because of Jonathan, whom he has sworn with an oath not to withheld his mercy from his house (1Sam 20:15-1615You shall not cut off your lovingkindness from my house forever, not even when the LORD cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth.”16So Jonathan made a [covenant] with the house of David, [saying], “May the LORD require [it] at the hands of David’s enemies.”). He gives them two sons and five grandsons of Saul. The two sons of Saul were conceived by him at Rizpah, one of his concubines (2Sam 3:77Now Saul had a concubine whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah; and Ish-bosheth said to Abner, “Why have you gone in to my father’s concubine?”). The five grandsons of Saul are the children of Saul’s daughter Merab (cf. 1Sam 18:1919So it came about at the time when Merab, Saul’s daughter, should have been given to David, that she was given to Adriel the Meholathite for a wife.).
The two sons and the five grandsons of Saul are hanged “in Gibea of Saul” to show that they are killed for his sin. They are, as it were, hanged in front of their own door to reconcile the guilt of the house of Saul. Whether these men personally participated in Saul’s crime is not mentioned. An important lesson for us in this history is that things that are done wrong in the past by others have consequences for the people of God now. This means that we can do things that will later give the people of God the bitter fruits to reap.
After Saul’s offspring are killed, we are told what mother Rizpah does. Rizpah is a mother who misses her children very much. Her children couldn’t help being sons of Saul. They may also have made themselves guilty on the blood of the Gibeonites. For the LORD also speaks in verse 11Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” of the blood guilt of the house of Saul. But that does not change the love she as a mother has for her sons. We have seen in the previous chapters something of David’s love for a wicked son. If we could have some understanding therefore, then certainly for Rizpah as mother of these two sons.
She keeps watch for six months on the bodies she has not buried. She protects the bodies against birds and wild animals. She couldn’t do more, she didn’t want to do less. She gave birth and raised these boys. Now that they have died, she does not want to leave them. We don’t know why she did that.
Nor do we know what she thought all those six months that she took care of the corpses. Was she rebellious for the death of her sons because of what Saul did? Was she jealous that Mephibosheth was spared? He was also from Saul’s house, wasn’t he? All kinds of questions can have occupied her. Her sons were sacrificed to appease the wrath of heaven. Their lives had ended, but not her love for them. She could not take them in her lap, but she could prevent that what was precious to her was taken away by the birds and wild animals. With this she showed a love that is stronger than death.
If it starts raining, that is the sign that the curse has been ended. When water drips from the sky on the bodies, when God sends rain to moisten the earth, the bodies are taken away. Rizpa can let loose the bodies and have them buried. This happens as a result of her special act of love for those who have been killed. Of her deed is namely reported to David.
When David hears of it, he is reminded of the dead bodies of Saul and Jonathan. He decides to pick them up from the place where the men of Jabez in Gilead had buried them (1Sam 31:11-1311Now when the inhabitants of Jabesh-gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul,12all the valiant men rose and walked all night, and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and they came to Jabesh and burned them there.13They took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days.). It is a late tribute, but it is never too late to put things right. He buried the bodies of the hanged together with the bones of Saul and Jonathan.
When justice is done on earth, the vengeance of heaven ends and blessing over the land comes instead of wrath. The rain is proof that God has let Himself be entreated, while the rain is the result of fulfilling the righteousness of God.