2 Samuel 21:1-14
Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered…

And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year (ver. 1). [Summary of the remaining portion (or appendix) of this book:

1. The famine.

2. Victorious acts in wars with the Philistines (vers. 15-22).

3. David's song of thanksgiving (looking backward); 2 Samuel 22

4. 2 Samuel His last prophetic words (looking forward); 2 Samuel 23:1-7. These two lyrical and prophetic productions of David, the ripest spiritual fruit of his life, form a worthy conclusion to his reign (Keil).

5. List of his heroes (forming, with 2, an historical framework for 3 and 4); 2 Samuel 23:8-39.

6. The pestilence (with the famine, "two Divine punishments inflicted upon Israel, with the expiation of the sins that occasioned them"); ch. 24.] This famine took place after Mephibosheth was brought to Jerusalem (ver. 7; ch. 9.); and, perhaps, about seventeen years after the death of Saul (2 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 9:12). It is mentioned here "as a practical illustration, on the one hand, of the manner in which Jehovah visited upon the house of Saul, even after the death of Saul himself, a crime which had been committed by him; and, on the other hand, of the way in which, even in such a case as this, when David had been obliged to sacrifice the descendants of Saul to expiate the guilt of their father, he showed his tenderness towards him by the honourable burial of their bones." After long prosperity and plenty there came adversity and destitution. No rain "out of heaven" (ver. 10) for three successive years! What a scene of general, intense, and increasing distress must have been witnessed (Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 47:13; Ruth 1:1; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Kings 6:25; 2 Kings 25:5; Jeremiah 14:1-10; Acts 11:28). Nor has it been unknown in modern times. Consider it (with its attendant circumstances) as -

I. CALLING FOR SPECIAL INQUIRY. "And David sought the face of Jehovah" (ver. 1), equivalent to "inquired of Jehovah" (2 Samuel 5:19), by means of the Urim and Thummim through the high priest (the last recorded instance of this method of ascertaining the Divine will, henceforth more fully revealed through the prophets); urged by the cry of distress, especially among "the poorest sort of the people of the land" (2 Kings 24:14), on whom the famine pressed with peculiar severity.

1. The misery of the poor and afflicted produces in every faithful ruler and in every right hearted man a feeling of compassionate and anxious concern.

2. Physical calamities are often due to moral causes; they follow human disobedience to moral laws; being in some cases manifestly connected with such disobedience (as when famine follows desolating wars, agricultural neglect, etc.), in others, however, not directly and apparently so connected. This connection is evident

(1) from the common convictions of men who instinctively associate calamity with crime;

(2) from the plain teachings of Scripture (Deuteronomy 28:15, 23, 24; Ezekiel 14:21); and

(3) from the moral government of the living, personal God, wherein all things are ordered with a view to moral ends.

3. These causes should be diligently searched out, by proper means - observation, consideration, prayer - in order to their removal. "It is not superstition, but rather the highest piety and the highest philosophy, which leads a people, under such a visitation as that of famine, to turn to Jehovah, saying, 'Show us wherefore thou contendest with us '" (W.M. Taylor). "Let us search and try our ways," etc. (Lamentations 3:40; 1 Samuel 4:3).

II. LEADING TO UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY. "And Jehovah said (through the oracle), Concerning Saul and concerning the blood guilty house, because he slew the Gibeonires." A crime which had been committed, not recently, but twenty or even thirty years before, was brought to remembrance, and set before the national conscience, quickened in its sensibility by the experience of affliction. "David must hitherto have ruled in a very irreproachable manner to render it necessary to go further back to find a cause for the calamity" (Ewald).

1. Its iniquity was great. An attempt was made to exterminate (consume and destroy, ver. 5) a poor, dependent, and helpless people; of the original inhabitants of the laud (ver. 2; Joshua 9:3-27), spared by solemn oath, devoted to the service of the sanctuary (now at Gibeon), for more than four hundred years dwelling peaceably among "the children of Israel and Judah" (Joshua 9:17; 2 Samuel 4:3), professing the same faith, and guilty of no offence; many of them being ruthlessly slain, others escaping by flight.

2. Its effects were still felt by the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" (Nethinim, bondmen), who survived, in bitter grief, popular odium, heavier servitude. Their cries "entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth "(James 5:4).

3. Its guilt was unacknowledged and unexpiated; the wrong unredressed, the sin unrepented of, and even ignored and well nigh forgotten. "It would seem that Saul viewed their possessions with a covetous eye, as affording him the means of rewarding his adherents (1 Samuel 22:7) and of enriching his family; and hence, on some pretence or other, or without any pretence, he slew large numbers of them, and doubtless seized their possessions. It is said that he did this in his zeal for Israel and Judah, and this cannot be explained but on the supposition that the deed was done in order to give the tribes possession of the reserved territories of the Gibeonites. And there is no doubt this would be, as it was designed, a popular and acceptable act (Joshua 9:18). Saul's own family must have been active in this cruel wrong, and must have had a good share of the spoil; for we find them all, when reduced to a private station, much better off in their worldly circumstances than can else be accounted for" (Kitto). Here lay the secret of the famine, which was interpreted as a sign of Divine wrath.

"He turneth a fruitful land into a salt marsh,
Because of the wickedness of them that dwell therein."

(Psalm 107:34.)

III. INVOLVING IMPORTANT PRINCIPLES; not merely that sin and crime are followed by Divine punishment, and the wrongs of the poor and needy avenged (1 Samuel 30:15-17), but also that men are dealt with by God (in the way of chastisement) as communities, as well as separate souls (Ezekiel 18:2-4).

1. The guilt incurred by individuals is participated in by the nation to which they belong when their wrongdoing is connived at, profited by, and not repudiated; and especially when the wrongdoer is its recognized representative.

2. The infliction of suffering on a whole nation, on account of the sins of one or more persons therein, is often needful for the vindication of public justice, the reparation of wrong doing, and the general welfare.

3. Although a nation may be exempted for a season, through the forbearance of God, from the chastisement due to sin, it does not escape altogether, but is surely called to account in this world. "Nations as nations will have no existence in another world, and therefore. they must look for retribution in this" (Wordsworth). "I can perceive in the story a recognition of the continuance of a nation's life, of its obligations, of its sins from age, to age. All national morality, nay, the meaning and possibility of history, depends upon this truth, the sense of which is, I fear, very weak in our day" (Maurice). "Time does not wear out the guilt of sin, nor can we build hopes of impunity on the delay of judgments" (Matthew Henry).

IV. EVOKING RECOGNIZED OBLIGATION. "And the king called the Gibeonites, and said... What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement [expiation, satisfaction, means of reconciliation], that ye may bless [and no more curse] the inheritance of Jehovah?" (vers. 2, 3); "What ye say, I will do for you" (ver. 5). Whilst acknowledging the national wrong, he also acknowledged the national obligation, and expressed his purpose:

1. To redress their grievance, satisfy their claim for justice, and secure their favour and intercession.

2. To respect the justice of God (by whom their cause was manifestly maintained), so that prayer might be heard, and the famine removed. Unless right is done, prayer is vain (Psalm 66:18).

3. And to do whatever might be possible and necessary for these ends. "The land must expiate the king's wrong. This is rooted in the idea of the solidarity of the people, and the theocratic king as representative of God's people, whence comes solidarity of guilt between king and people" (Erdmann). David herein acted wisely and in a theocratic spirit.

V. REQUIRING ADEQUATE SATISFACTION. (Vers. 7-9.) The expiation was made by the crucifixion of the two sons of Rizpah and the five sons of Merab (Hebrew, Michal), "whom she bare to Adriel," according to the demand and by "the hands of the Gibeonites" (ver. 9), under the authority and sanction of the king (and doubtless with the approval of the nation). The demand:

1. Could be satisfied with nothing short of this. "We will have no silver nor gold," etc. (ver. 4); no private compensation could atone for such a public crime and wilful sin "before the Lord."

2. Accorded with the requirements of the Law (Genesis 9:5, 6; Numbers 35:31); or at least with the custom of blood vengeance, and the then prevalent ideas of justice. If (as is probable, ver. 1) the hands of the sons of Saul were stained with blood, the Law demanded their death; if (as may have been the case) they were personally guiltless, they suffered from their intimate relationship to the murderer, as a "vicarious sacrifice," and for the benefit of the nation. "To understand this procedure, we must bear in mind the ancient Oriental ideas of the solidarity of the family, strict retaliation and blood revenge - ideas that, with some limitation, remained in force in the legislation of the old covenant" (Kurtz).

3. Was restricted by merciful consideration for the assuredly innocent and steadfast fidelity to a solemn engagement. "And the king spared Mephibosheth," etc. (ver. 7). "The obscurities of this narrative probably may never be entirely cleared up. One thing, however, is certain - these seven descendants of Saul were not pretenders to the crown; and David cannot be suspected of having embraced such an opportunity to put them out of the way. Neither is it to be supposed that David delivered up the innocent contrary to the Law (Deuteronomy 24:16). They were, therefore, delivered up to the avengers of blood and punished with death, not on account of the crimes of Saul, but for the murders which they themselves, with the connivance of Saul, had committed on the Gibeonites, and for which they had hitherto remained unpunished" (Jahn, 'Heb. Com.,' 32.).

VI. AFFORDING SALUTARY INSTRUCTION (whether the victims be regarded as having actually taken part in the crime or not). "As seen by the people, the execution of Saul's sons (who were not charged with being in any way personally accessory to their father's crime) was a judicial act of retribution; but this aspect of the transaction was only an 'accommodation' to the current ideas of the age. Viewed in its essential character as sanctioned by God, it was a didactic act, designed to teach the guilt of sin" (Kirkpatrick); to produce repentance, and prevent its recurrence. That melancholy spectacle of a sevenfold crucifixion "on the mountain before Jehovah," in "Gibeah of Saul" (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 22:6), declared:

1. The exceeding culpability of unrighteous zeal, of the wanton violation of sacred pledges, of the unjust taking away of human life. "Let us here learn the danger of trifling with oaths and solemn engagements. Four hundred years had elapsed since the treaty made with the Gibeonites; and yet in the sight of God it was as sacred as ever; so that he who presumed to infringe it drew down a severe judgment on the whole nation" (Lindsay).

2. The inevitable, rigorous, and impartial execution of Divine justice. Princes are not above its correction, nor bondsmen below its protection.

3. The far reaching consequences of transgression; to the children and children's children of the transgressor. "The evident intention of God in ordering the death of so many of Saul's family" (which, however, is not expressly stated) "was to give public attestation of the abhorrence of Saul's perfidy and cruelty, and to strike into the hearts of his successors on the throne a salutary dread of committing similar offences. The death of these seven persons, therefore, is not to be regarded as a punishment inflicted upon them for personal offences, even though they might have a share in their father's persecution of the Gibeonites, but an act commanded by God in virtue of his sovereign rights over the lives of all men, to teach princes moderation and equity, and to prevent the perpetration of enormous crimes, which are inconsistent with the welfare of the civil government as well as incompatible with the principles of true religion" (Chandler).

VII. FOLLOWED BY MERCIFUL DELIVERANCE. "And after that [the expiation] God was entreated for the land" (ver. 14). "Long forgotten sin had been brought to mind and acknowledged and expiated; homage had been paid to justice; the evil of unfaithfulness had been exposed; the honour of the nation had been purged from foul stains; it had been shown that neither kings nor princes can do wrong with impunity; maternal fondness had been touchingly displayed; a long forgotten duty had been attended to; a noble example had borne fruit; and after that God was entreated for the land. The generous heavens poured down their showers, the languishing life of field and vineyard revived, and the earth was clothed with beauty and teemed with fruitfulness again. There was one more proof of the everlasting truth, 'Righteousness exalteth a nation'" (C. Vince). - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.

WEB: There was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of Yahweh. Yahweh said, "It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites."

Conscience Assertive
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