2 Samuel 21:1-14
This event is one of those in the Bible that causes me to scratch my head and diligently search the Scriptures. So many questions arise as I study this passage.
Does the LORD cause famine? In Leviticus 26:19-20 He says, "I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze. And your strength shall be spent in vain, for your land shall not yield its increase, and the trees of the land shall not yield their fruit." Deuteronomy 28:23-24 adds "The LORD will make the rain of your land powder. From heaven dust shall come down on you until you are destroyed." He certainly says He does!
What is wrong with Saul putting the Gibeonites to death? Weren't they to be destroyed when Israel came into the promised land? In Joshua 9, when the nations heard what God did to Jericho and Ai, they prepared for battle, everyone that is except Gibeon. The Gibeonites deceived the Israelites by convincing them they were a distant people not included in God's command for judgment. Without consulting God, Joshua made a covenant of peace with the Gibeonites not knowing they were neighbors. The leaders of Israel swore by the LORD, the God of Israel not to harm the people of Gibeon. In Joshua 9:20 Israel lives up to the covenant because of their fear of the LORD's wrath coming on them. But Saul violated the oath his ancestors made by attempting to destroy the Gibeonites.
Was the price of atonement for Saul's breaking the covenant unjust? Why wouldn't they just accept silver or gold? In Numbers 35:31-34 the LORD instructs on how to deal with murder. "You shall accept no ransom for the life of a murderer, who is guilty of death, but shall be put to death...You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the LORD dwell in the midst of the people of Israel." So, Saul's pollution of the land of Israel by murdering the Gibeonites could not be atoned for with a ransom. It must be his blood, but that is not possible. Deuteronomy 24:16 says, "Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin." It would seem the option of Saul's children and grandchildren paying for his sin is not an option. But God accepts this atoning sacrifice because he breaks the drought by causing it to rain.
Why did God wait so long to punish Israel for Saul's murder? We are not given a definite answer, but Scripture provides clues. This event reminds me of the souls under the altar slain for the word of God in Revelation 6:9-10. They cry with a loud voice, "O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" God waited a long time to avenge the blood of righteous Abel. In Luke 11:49-51, Jesus says, "The blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you it will be required of this generation." 2 Peter 3:9 says, "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."
O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, You are the only wise God. When I don't understand Your ways, please remind me of the fact You are the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.