Capital Punishment
2 Samuel 1:13-16
And David said to the young man that told him, From where are you? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite.…

Thy blood be upon thy head (ver. 16). The grief of David at the death of Saul was associated with indignation at the conduct of the Amalekite, who, according to his own confession, had taken part in its infliction. At sunset he recalled the unhappy messenger, and having further questioned him, testified his abhorrence of his deed, and ordered his execution. Notice -

I. THE CRIME which was laid to his charge, viz. the intentional and unjustifiable taking away of the life of another:

1. Proceeding, like every act of murder, from indifference to the sacredness of human life and the dignity of human nature, created in the image of God.

2. Aggravated in guilt by irreverence toward the person of the king, "the Lord's anointed," who ought, on account of his high position, to have been held in special honour (1 Samuel 24:6; 1 Samuel 26:11; 1 Samuel 31:5). "When the Israelites were under royal authority, it would appear to have been a maxim of their law that the person of the king was inviolable, even though he might be tyrannical and unjust; and, in fact, this maxim is necessary, not only to the security of the king, but also to the welfare of the subject; for it is the dread of assassination and treacheries that usually makes kings tyrants, and novices in tyranny absolute despots" (Michaelis).

3. Exhibiting disobedience to the command of God. "Thou shalt not kill" (Exodus 20:13), i.e. do no murder (Exodus 21:12). With this law the Amalekite was probably acquainted. He knew, at least, that it was wrong to take away life without adequate reason. Hence he sought to justify the act by pleading the request of Saul (ver. 9), and his suffering condition, which it was mercy to terminate. But how could Saul authorize another to do to him what he had no right to do to himself? Genuine loyalty and mercy would have prompted a different course of conduct; and malice and selfishness were clearly the motives of the deed. There was in it nothing praiseworthy, but everything to be abhorred and condemned (ver. 14).

II. THE EVIDENCE on which he was convicted. "Thy mouth hath testified against thee," etc. (ver. 16). His confession was:

1. Voluntarily made; not extorted from him by the infliction or threatening of suffering, or the promise of reward.

2. Confirmed by the signs of his connection with the death of the king (ver. 10).

3. A sufficient ground, under the circumstances, for judgment, without further inquiry. Even if, as is probable, he did not actually commit the deed, he took upon himself the responsibility, and justly incurred the consequences thereof. But why did he not retract and repudiate his confession? Perhaps he thought that it would be of no avail; and he would thereby have acknowledged his falsehood and mercenariness. Possibly he did retract, and was not believed. For "a liar is not believed though he speak the truth." Considered in relation to his times, the evidence on which David acted was sufficient; but the incident affords an illustration of the uncertainty which often pertains to the crime of murder and the fallibility of human judgment.

III. THE AUTHORITY by which he was condemned. Although David was not yet publicly recognized as civil ruler, to whom the right of judging properly belonged, yet he was fully justified in assuming the office, inasmuch as:

1. It had been virtually conferred upon him by the appointment of the Divine King of Israel.

2. The chief hindrance to its exercise was removed by the death of Saul. There was no higher authority than his in the land, and it had been acknowledged by the Amalekite himself (ver. 10).

3. Its assumption was necessary to the fulfilment of the purpose of his appointment, the manifestation of the justice of God, and the promotion of the welfare of the people. He may have wished to clear himself from the suspicion of complicity in the king's death, to show that he entertained no feeling of revenge against him, and to gain the esteem of the people of Israel; but his main motive was of a higher nature. He acted on theocratic principles, as on a subsequent occasion (2 Samuel 4:9-12).

IV. THE PUNISHMENT which he suffered (ver. 15). "When the sentence of death was pronounced by the king, it was executed by his body guard" (2 Samuel 15:18; 2 Samuel 20:23). Capital punishment may be upheld on the ground of:

1. The claims of justice. It has been generally felt, even from the most ancient period (Genesis 4:10, 14), that the murderer deserves to die.

2. The teaching of Scripture. "Whoso sheddeth man's blood," etc. (Genesis 9:6). "This was the first command having reference to the temporal sword. By these words temporal government was established, and the sword placed in its hand by God" (Luther). It gave the right and imposed the duty of inflicting death; and it is of permanent obligation (Leviticus 24:17; John 19:11; Acts 25:11; Romans 13:4).

3. The welfare of society. It exalts the principle of justice; declares the dignity of man in the most impressive manner; effectually prevents the offender from repeating his offence; powerfully deters others from following his example; and thus conduces to the security of human life. Severity to one is mercy to many. On the other hand, it may be said that:

1. The claims of justice are adequately satisfied by a lifelong penal servitude.

2. Scripture, rightly interpreted, does not justify the infliction of death. The Noachic precept (if it be such) was adapted only to an early stage of society, its literal fulfilment is no longer required, and the principle on which it rests (the dignity of man) is preserved and more fully maintained by the revelations and influences of Christianity. The whole spirit of the New Testament is in favour of seeking the reformation rather than effecting the destruction of the offender. "Mercy glorieth against judgment." Even the fratricide Cain was spared (Genesis 4:5), as if to show the possibility and propriety of sparing the life of the criminal.

3. The welfare of society is more fully promoted by sparing his life than by taking it away. Hardened criminals and persons under the influence of strong passion are not deterred by the fear of death; other persons are more powerfully affected by other motives. The possibility of the innocent suffering a penalty which is irreversible causes hesitation in its infliction where there is the least doubt, and so the guilty often escape, punishment becomes uncertain, and men are tempted to commit crime in the hope of impunity. As a matter of fact, crime does not increase in those countries where capital punishment is abolished. "After the Divine permission to inflict capital punishment which had been given for a considerable period of time, had displayed itself as the most extreme madness in the execution of Christ, the question of its abolition has become only a question of time. The question is whether Christ may not have done enough for this" (Ewald, 'Antiquities,' p. 174). - D.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And David said unto the young man that told him, Whence art thou? And he answered, I am the son of a stranger, an Amalekite.

WEB: David said to the young man who told him, "Where are you from?" He answered, "I am the son of a foreigner, an Amalekite."

Unselfish Grief
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