During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, "It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death."
Today we would like to think about the book of 2 Samuel by focusing on the problem Saul had. Saul started as a promising young man of Israel. He looked like good leadership material. But it turned out that he was one of the worst leaders the Israelites could expect to receive. What was his problem? We can loosely call it "humanism" [in the sense of "self-centeredness"]. There are plenty of Bible passages exhibiting the Saul’s problem as a humanist. Of all the Bible passages, the events surrounding the three consecutive years of famine recorded in 2 Samuel 21:1-14 stand out as supreme. In fact this passage provides us with a good vantage point to see the animal called "Humanism." With this in mind, let us read the 2 Samuel 21:1-14, responsively. Let us think about the passage in three parts:
Part I, the famine.
Look at verse 1a. "During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years so David sought the face of the LORD.”The people of Israel relied heavily on rainfall for their survival in the land. They had two rainy seasons: spring rain and fall rain. If it does not rain the grass cannot grow, and animals such as cows, horses, sheep, and goats cannot graze. Of course the produce prices will go up for vegetables, such as cabbage, lettuce, and fruit crops, like tomatoes, water- melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins are going to be ruined. The land of Israel was the so-called Promised Land. Before sending the Israelites into the Land, the Lord emphasized to the Israelites that the Promised Land was going to flow with milk and honey, which means that the Lord would bless the land in such a way that the Israelites would enjoy an abundance of food. But strangely during the reign of David, the exact opposite was taking place, that is, three years of continued famine. At first, people might have thought that the drought must have been a temporary phenomenon. But it was not the case. They waited and waited, but it did not rain. And the drought continued for three years. Finally, King David came to his senses. It was not an accident. The drought came from the Lord.
What did David do when he was at the end of his rope? Look at verse 1b. "he sought the face of the Lord."
What did the Lord say? Look at verse 1c. "And the Lord said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ ”
King David got the message. So he summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Look at what verse 2 says in parenthesis: “(Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to [spare] them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them).” We find the background of this remark in Joshua 9. A close review of chapter 9 indicates that the Gibeonites were very much like Rahab of Jericho. Like Rahab they too heard the name of the God of Israel. On hearing the great work the God of Israel did, the fear of God Almighty arose in them. They humbly accepted the reality that they deserved to die. Most likely they discussed among themselves what to do. Like other Canaanites then they could have resolved to take the matters in their hands and stand up against the army of the Lord. But on further analysis they realized that it was not going to work. So they had to find another alternative. In the case of Rahab, the opportunity knocked on the door and she took advantage of it. But the Gibeonites did not have such an opportunity. However, they did not give up. They finally figured out a plan: they decided to resort to a ruse. Thus instead of waiting for the door to open they responded to the reality “proactively.” Look at Joshua 9:9-11. "They answered: ‘Your servants have come from a very distant country because of the fame of the LORD your God. For we have heard reports of him: all that he did in Egypt, and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan--Sihon king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who reigned in Ashtaroth.Joshua and our elders and all those living in our country said to us, “Take provisions for your journey; go and meet them and say to them, ‘We are your servants; make a treaty with us.” ’ ” They resorted to a ruse to make a treaty with the Israelites. They lived nearby, yet they pretended that they came from a distant country. To convince Joshua they even showed the moldy bread, cracked wineskin, clothes and sandals which were all worn out. Joshua sampled the provisions, and ended up believing. Thus they got into a treaty. The Israelites ratified it by oath, meaning they sealed the treaty in the name of the Lord. Just as the two spies entered into a irrevocable covenant with Rahab in the name of the Lord, so also the Gibeonites secured an irrevocable agreement from the hands of the people of the Lord. Joshua 9:15 describes the transaction as the "treaty of peace".
Joshua soon discovered the truth, but it was too late. So in consultation with the elders Joshua added one condition to the treaty, that is, subjecting the Gibeonites to serve the Lord as woodcutters and watercarriers at the Lord's temple wherever it may be located (Jos 9:22). On hearing the condition, the Gibeonites gratefully accepted it saying, "We are now in your hands; do to us whatever seems good and right to you" (Jos 9:24).
Legally then the Gibeonites became servants of the Lord serving the priests at the Lord's temple. Their duties as woodcutters and watercarriers were primarily menial. But since it was the work of the Lord that they were called to take care of, they came to live a life that is truly blessed. In Psalm 84:10, King David sang of the blessed life at the Lord's temple saying, "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." The Gibeonites used to live among the wicked. They themselves were wicked. The land and people they lived with were wicked, deserving God’s judgment. But by God's grace, they came to take possession of the blessing – the blessed mission to serve the Lord in the house of God.
But what did Saul do to them? “It is on account of Saul and his blood stained house.” In what sense was his house "blood-stained"?It is because he put the Gibeonites to death (1c). When did he put them to death? Verse 2b answers the question: "(Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to [spare] them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them).” This passage, especially the expression, "in his zeal for Israel and Judah," sounds confusing, but it shows exactly why we say Saul is a typical "humanist". It tells us exactly why a man like Saul represents an object of God's abomination. You know, like everyone of us, God also has a personality. Like all of us he has feelings, likes and dislikes. On many occasions we get upset. Likewise the Lord God also gets upset. And what Saul did caused the Lord to be so upset that the Lord's anger did not subside even after Saul committed suicide.
In what respect then was Saul's act so abominable? Why was it a stench to God's nostrils? We can get a better understanding of the horror of Saul's act when we examine 1 Samuel 22:6-23. Here verse 19 reads, "He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep." Nob is located at to the northeast of Jerusalem. It is a satellite city of Jerusalem just like Florence is next to the city of Downey. In view of Joshua 9:22 and 26-27, it is not unlikely that it was while the Gibeonites were at Nob at the time of Saul's massacre that a significant number of people came to be murdered.
Let us take a few steps back and take a look at what Saul did. The Scripture says that Saul did this in his zeal for Israel and Judah. Apparently, he tried to annihilate the Gibeonites for they were aliens. But his action is not justified for he trampled upon the name of the Lord, according to whose name Joshua entered into a treaty of “peace” with them.
His action here is in contrast with his inaction in 1 Samuel 15:3-9. Let us read this passage responsively. In his passage he did not do what the Lord specifically asked him to do. Yet he disobeyed the Lord for he was tempted by the goodies of the booties. But in the case of the Gibeonites he did what the Lord would never, never, never allow anyone to do, that is, break his promise and render himself to “unfaithful” to his words. In addition, because of God's merciful and faithful character he would never trample upon the rights of the poor or powerless. And the Gibeonites were the poorest of the poor. Yet, in the name of promoting the interests of Israel and Judah, Saul tried to annihilate the Gibeonites.
What is truly embarrassing is that even though Saul did what the Lord truly hated, Saul himself thought that he did something truly laudable. This was Saul’s problem. It shows how wrapped up in himself he was. He was spiritually blind, as blind as a puppy dog.
Part II, the rain.
In vs. 3-14 we see that it was only after King David removed the seven male descendants of Saul that the Lord allowed the rain to fall again.
One thing that strikes us is David's obedience. Upon learning what the Gibeonites wanted, David could have said that their requests were dishonoring the late king Saul. But strangely he quickly allowed their request, that is, he caught all the male descendants of Saul except Mephibosheth, and handed them over to the Gibeonites. What did they do with the descendants of Saul? Look at v. 9. "He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed and exposed them on a hill before the LORD. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning."
What King David did may seem confusing, for in regard to Saul, he refused to touch the king, for Saul was a servant anointed by God. But in the case of his male descendants, he quickly got them arrested and handed them over to the Gibeonites. He did this all in obedience to God's will. God blessed his obedience by sending rain (10).
Verses 10-14 give us a snap-shot of how the people of the land received healing from the sins committed by Saul. Look at verse 10. "Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds of the air touch them by day or the wild animals by night." According to one Jewish authorityRizpah, one of Saul's concubines, protected the bodies of two victims (her sons) from the springtime harvest till the fall rainfall. Although the Lord prohibited leaving a corpse unburied for even one night (as in Deuteronomy 21:23), God decreed that the bodies be left there for a lengthy time so that all would see that he condemns those who take advantage of the poor and powerless, such as the Gibeonites.
A comparison between verse 10 (where we see the rainfall) with what David did in verses 11-14 shows why David chose the time to give Saul's body proper burial (1Sa 31:8-13). The rainfall after three years of consecutive famine proved that Israel's sin had been atoned for. The Lord relented of his anger against Saul. The Lord began to heal the land.
Part III. Accounting.
"David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, ‘It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ "
The Bible says, "Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (Hebrews 4:13). So far we have seen the account of Saul and what his actions or inactions amounted to. The author of 2 Samuel gives us the account of other people such as David, Jonathan, or David's generals like Joab. The time of our life represents the opportunity for us to prove ourselves in the Lord. Therefore we must give account, for everything we do or don't do comes with consequence.
In our ministry several of us majored in accounting and work in the accounting industry. Any students majoring in accounting understand what financial statements (the Balance Sheet, Profit and Loss Statement, and Cash-flow Statement) come down to: how much did you gain or lose? At the end of each term, in order to check how you did, your CPA collects all the records, check sall you have (like current assets, receivables, inventory, fixed assets, current liabilities, stocks, investments, goodwill, etc.), wrks all the numbers, and reduces them down to a conclusion: how much you are worth (financially).
Primarily, 1 and 2 Samuel contain the account of two persons: the account of Saul and the account of David. In fact, 1 Samuel ends with Saul committing suicide, whereas 2 Samuel closes with the final reflections on David's reigns (21-24).
Tonight we took a quick look at 2 Samuel 21, with the title, "The Account of Saul" [rather than of David], for interestingly it was David who uncovered some "missing" numbers of Saul's reign, reflected them into Saul's balance sheet, and then the Lord closed the file. And one word that comes out in reviewing Saul's account is this: Saul fell victim to his humanistic ideals.
One word: the account of Saul
Which of the twelve tribes of Israel did Saul belong to? [ ]
Describe one important characteristic of an agreement (such as treaty) entered into by two parties “on oath” (in the day of Samuel)?
The City of Nob (of the day of Saul and David) was inhabited primarily by .
4. Describe three critical mistakes (or sins) Saul made as a king.
5. Describe the ways in which we can avoid the errors Saul made:
6. [Homework #1] Read through the following verses and see what picture comes out. Joshua 3:15-17; 6:12-20; 3:19; 18:1; Jer 7:12; 1 Samuel 1:9; 3:3,7; Judges 20:26-27; 1 Samuel 6:1; 6:14; 7:1-2 1 Chronicle 13:3; 2 Samuel 6:8; 6:17; 2Ch 3:1; Jer 3:16; 31:31; Rev 11:19. __________________
The Torah/Prophets/Writings: published by Mesorah Publications, Ltd.; edited by Rabbi Nosson Scherman P. 701