Today’s reading begins with David avenging the Gibeonites and concludes with David’s song of deliverance.
This passage exemplifies the brutality of the Old Testament and is likely out of step with most people’s concept of God. Israel under David’s rule is going through a three year famine and David seeks out the LORD to find the cause. Even though King Saul has been dead for a number of years, God is exacting a price on Israel for the evil that Saul visited on the Gibeonites.
The Gibeonites had tricked the people of Israel into sparing them at the time that the Israelites were conquering the Promised Land. Saul however had broken the covenant that Israel had made with the Gibeonites and put many of them to death. After David had been told by the LORD that the prevailing famine was a result of God’s bloodguilt on Israel for the violation of the covenant with the Gibeonites, he went to the Gibeonites and asked them what he could do make atonement for Saul’s actions.
The Gibeonites asked of David the lives of seven of Saul’s sons. David gave the Gibeonites seven of Saul’s sons, specifically sparing Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth because of David’s covenant with Jonathan. The Gibeonites took the seven sons of Saul and hung them together. After the Gibeonites had executed Saul’s sons, David took the bodies of Saul and Jonathan and buried them. After this, God relented of the famine that he had put in place against Israel.
This passage runs so contrary to most people’s impressions of God when viewed through the lens of Christ’s compassion and forgiveness. I think what so often isn’t stressed or maybe even swept under the rug is that God is holy. He is completely just. He is completely righteous. Certainly God has mercy and grace for the most callous of sinners but He doesn’t back away from holding us to account. Not only is God calling Saul to account posthumously, He is punishing the entire country of Israel for the actions that Saul had taken against the Gibeonites. The consequences of the actions of the leader of the nation were being visited on the entire nation.
If you’re only reading the New Testament, if you’re only reading about Jesus and His great acts of mercy, grace, compassion and forgiveness then you’re only getting a glimpse of God.