Apologetics, Church, Church history, Culture & Society, Faith, God's Law, Sin & Repentance, Theology

A Story of Revenge, and Retributive Justice

AN EXPOSITION OF SECOND SAMUEL 21:1-6

     1 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.

There was a famine in the land. The primary cause for the famine was not known, and so people felt helpless, and hopeless. They were hungry. From a human perspective, there are several reasons for famine, which is a scarcity of food resulting from drought, war, hail, flood, or insects.

In the seventh century BC (c. 609-586), locust invaded the land of Palestine to destroy the crops, which produced a famine in the land. “That which the palmerworm hath left hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left hath the cankerworm eaten; and that which the cankerworm hath left hath the caterpillar eaten” (Joel 1:4).

In AD 70, when the city of Jerusalem was besieged by the Roman army, a famine occurred. People began to starve, for no food could get through the military blockade. Josephus writes that no animal survived the siege; not a dog, horse, or rat. One woman went mad, and was discovered to be boiling her baby to eat it as a meal.

If insects or war does not produce famine, hail, flood, or drought will. However, during the days of David, none of these forces of nature applied to this situation, because the ultimate cause for the famine was spiritual in nature, not physical. This is a surprising concept to many people. In a modern and skeptical world, where God is not considered, and the Laws of Nature are believed to explain every phenomena, the idea that there is a spiritual reason for a physical famine seems ridiculous. The idea is readily dismissed as being primitive, and pagan. And yet, we should be more humble, and careful. The Word of God reminds us that there is a spiritual, and a moral, facet to the universe, which is entwined with the physical. What we attribute to nature, might be caused by some moral failure in a community, a state, or a nation. When David inquired of the Lord concerning the famine, “the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.”

How David inquired of the Lord is not stated.

It is possible that David prayed, and waited on the Lord’s answer through the power of mediation. God will still speak to the man who listens. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:” (Matt. 7:24). We need to hear the word of the Lord with the intention of obeying it, as David did. It is possible that David spoke with a prophet in the land, knowing that men like Samuel had the ear of the Lord. Whatever means David used to inquire of the Lord, he received an answer to his inquiry. A grave injustice had been done by Saul to the Gibeonites.

The reference to the Gibeonites requires a little knowledge of Hebrew history. About four hundred years before David became king, Israel was occupied by many tribal nations, such as the Hivites. One of the Hivite cities was Gibeon, located about 3 miles North of Jerusalem. When Joshua conquered the land, the territory of Gibeon went to the tribe of Benjamin. The people of Gibeon were to be spared, because, through deception, they were able to secure a treaty with Joshua. The nature of their deception, and how they were able to enter into an alliance with Joshua is an interesting story of political intrigue. It is recorded in Joshua 9:3-17. Because of their deception, the inhabitants of Gibeon were compelled by the Jews to be “hewers of wood and drawers of water” for other Jews, and for the House of God and altar of Jehovah (Joshua 9:23, 27). For many years, this relationship worked out between the Jews and the Gibeonites. Then came Saul. As a man of war, Saul broke covenant with the Gibeonites. In a spasm of blood thirsty enthusiasm, or patriotism, Saul arranged to have some Gibeonites killed, and the remainder slaughtered in a general act of genocide. This is the means of 2 Samuel 21:2.

     2 And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)

The details as to why Saul broke covenant with the Gibeonites is not recorded. What can be assumed is that Saul found a basis, in his mind, to slaughter this people who had been clever enough to survive foreign conquest.  Ironically, history would reverse itself. In the years to come, the Jewish people would be the one’s conquered. They would be the ones who had to learn how to survive by being as clever as the Gibeonites had been. And the Jews have learned how to survive the Diaspora of the first century, the Spanish Inquisition, established in 1478, the Russian pogroms of the 19th century, and the Nazis Holocaust of the 20th century. Jewish people know how to survive. Their primary means of survival have been through banking, music, art, and literature. But sometimes, the very fact that people have learned how to survive becomes the basis for irrational hatred and hostility. Perhaps Saul resented the fact the Gibeonites found a way to exist in the midst of the Jewish people, and he wanted racial purity. So “Saul sought to slay them in his zeal.”

The Lord was not pleased, and so the Lord caused a famine in the land to get the attention of his people, beginning with the leadership, king David. Once David understood the source of God’s discipline on the nation, David sought to do something about it. Knowing that people have an innate sense of justice, David inquired of the Gibeonites.

    3 Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? And wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?

Normally, asking an oppressed people how atonement can be made is a risky proposition. Even without being asked that question today, many minorities know what they want: reparation. They want money for the past transgressions of a nation. While that is not going to happen, it is instructive that a principle is established. Fair minded people do have a sense of right and wrong, and what is required to make atonement, or a covering for the situation. After some consideration, the few surviving leaders of the Gibeonites, who had managed to survive Saul’s genocidal program, had a reply for David. They came before David and spoke.

     4 And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you.

When the Gibeonite leaders spoke to David, they surprised the king by stating what they did not want.
The Gibeonites did not want silver.
The Gibeonites did not want gold.
The Gibeonites did not want property Saul once had.
The Gibeonites did not want any Hebrew citizen of Israel to be killed.

David was amazed and asked, “What do you want?” “What you say, what you ask for, I will do that for you.” It was a kingly offer which David was in a position to honor.

     5 And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel,

     6 Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, whom the LORD did choose. And the king said, I will give them.

What the Gibeonites asked for is that the leaders who carried out the orders of Saul to slaughter their people be held responsible. The principle of Retributive Justice is well established in law, and in the hearts of good and decent people. The concept of Retributive Justice reflects the nature of God Himself.

Following the surrender of Nazi Germany in 1945 to the Allied Powers, a trial was held in Nuremberg Germany, 1945-1946. Many Nazi leaders who had devised the war plans, and carried out the Final Solution against the Jews, were gathered together in a courtroom. The evidence of guilt was presented. Many faced some of their victims. After 216 court sessions, on October 1, 1946, the verdict on 22 of the original 24 defendants was handed down. There was Retributive Justice.

Lesson to Learn

There can be a physical famine in the land, and there can be a spiritual famine in the land as well. “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord GOD, that I will send a famine in the land, not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD: 12 And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east, they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the LORD, and shall not find it” (Amos 8:11-12).

One of the great debates in society today is whether or not man can affect climate change. There are millions of people, led by men such as Al Gore, who insist that global climate change is produced by humans through using too much fossil fuel to drive an industrial complex. While humans might not be able to effect a change in climate based on their use of fossil fuel, humans can effect a change in climate based on moral and spiritual considerations. This is looking at the issue from a Divine perspective. Saul’s mistreatment of the Gibeonites led to climate change in the form of a famine. Elsewhere in Scripture we find the principle established that weather is affected by the moral temperature of a nation. In Leviticus 26:14-17, Five Cycles of Divine Discipline are forewarned. When making His covenant with national Israel, God told them of five measures of discipline they could expect, including change in the weather. Notice in particular the Second Cycle of Divine Discipline. And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins. 19 And I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass: 20 And your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.

God is a covenant making, covenant keeping God. He also expects those who enter into covenant with Him, honor their commitments. Vows are not to be made quickly, but when they are, vows are to be honored. “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil” (Matt. 5:33-37).

Once wrong is made right, God can be freshly entreated (2 Sam. 21:14c).

When a nation abandons the principle of Retributive Justice, crime and violence will flood the land. Courts will be irrelevant. Lawlessness will prevail. Therefore, Christian, embrace the Biblical teaching of Retributive Justice. “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. 2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. 3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil” (Rom. 13:1-4).

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