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.”

2 Samuel 21:1 (NIV)

Second, Samuel 21:1 opens by telling us there had been a famine in the land because of Saul and his blood-stained house. When we encounter things like famine, we know they happen because of sin. After all, what did God tell Adam after he sinned? “Cursed is the ground because of you” (Genesis 3:17 NIV). Things die because of sin. Therefore, famine because of sin is nothing new.

After contacting the Gibeonites, David asks them what they want him to do.

Let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and their bodies exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul—the Lord’s chosen one.”

So the king said, “I will give them to you.”

2 Samuel 21:6 (NIV)

David gathers up seven of Saul’s male descendants, sparing Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, because of his oath to Jonathan, and hands them over to the Gibeonites. You might be saying, “What about the oath not to harm the rest of Saul’s family David made in 1 Samuel 24:21-22?” Well, God called for justice in the situation, and God’s justice supersedes human oaths. If David had tried to keep his promise, he’d have been just as guilty for the Gibeonite slaughter.

Saul’s seven male descendants are killed by the Gibeonites, and we get this update on the famine situation.

They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.

2 Samuel 21:14 (NIV)

In 2 Samuel 21:9, we discover that Saul’s descendants were put to death at the beginning of harvest time. I don’t know about you, but when I read 2 Samuel 21 today, the death of Saul’s family members at harvest time seemed awfully like a human sacrifice that pagans would commit. How, then, could the people of God do such a thing?

The first thing we must understand is the law about murder.

“Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death.”

Leviticus 24:17 (NIV)

The second thing we must understand is the role of the Gibeonites.

In Joshua 9, the Gibeonites deceived Joshua into thinking they were far from Israel so they didn’t fall into God’s edict to wipe out his enemies in Canaan. Therefore, Israel made a pact with the Gibeonites.

Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath.

Joshua 9:15 (NIV)

Because of Joshua’s oath, the Israelites were bound to keep the Gibeonites from harm. Let’s review 2 Samuel 21:1 from a different translation.

There was a famine during David’s reign that lasted for three years, so David asked the Lord about it. And the Lord said, “The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites” (emphasis added).

2 Samuel 21:1 (NLT)

Other versions say Saul’s house, which is the same thing as family. When David asked the Gibeonites what they wanted him to do, they gave him what might appear to be a paradoxical answer to 2 Samuel 21:6, where they ask for seven male descendants: “The Gibeonites answered him, “We have no right to demand silver or gold from Saul or his family, nor do we have the right to put anyone in Israel to death” (2 Samuel 21:4 NIV). The Gibeonites’ answer reveals they’ve learned about Mosaic Law.

“‘ Do not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer, who deserves to die. They are to be put to death.”

Numbers 35:31 (NIV)

Otherwise, accepting money as payment for murder wasn’t uncommon in the East at that period. Furthermore, the Gibeonites stated that not just anyone in Israel could be put to death for the crimes against them. This means it had to be someone from Saul’s family. Remember that 2 Samuel 21:1 told us that Saul’s family was complicit in slaughtering the Gibeonites. This means they weren’t innocent.

When we consider the law regarding murder and the guilt of Saul’s family, we see God’s justice regarding murder. It’s not, as it might seem, something like a pagan human sacrifice to a false god to make it rain.

If 2 Samuel 21:1 didn’t tell us that Saul’s family was guilty of the crime, we’d have something to say about people dying for other people’s sins. Indeed, some might comment on Saul’s family dying and point out that they were his descendants and, as such, had to pay the price for Saul’s sins. Yet, that’s not correct. The family sinned and so had to pay the price. Furthermore, we can see that Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, was spared. However, we might say it was because of David’s oath, but we know that doesn’t mean anything in the face of God’s justice and will. Instead, we know Mephibosheth was lame in both feet and couldn’t have taken part in slaughtering anyone.

Although we know that only the one who sins pays the price for their sin, sin also harms those around it. Indeed, we know that sin’s consequences often impact those who did not commit the sin. Consider the families destroyed by things like adultery. For reasons like this, we must strive to live the best life we can in Christ. After all, if those around you are impacted by your sin, how can you love them as yourself?

Do you know the Lord? If you don’t know God, then know that God knows you and loves you. God doesn’t want anyone to perish but for everyone to come to repentance so they can spend eternity with him. If you want to know God and be saved from your sins, then pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I sincerely repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe you died on the cross and were buried, and God the Father raised you from the dead on the third day. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart and receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.