II Samuel 21:1-14
When you see a poster in a window saying ‘Under new management’ there is an appeal for people to forget the failures which might have been acquainted with this business in the past. It’s the start of a new day. In this scripture, the Kingdom of Israel was under new management – the kingship of David. Saul was now dead and his Jonathan had also died. Here we see how David seeks to bring the kingdom to reformation. The Gibeonites, a surviving tribe of the Amorites, who were living in the Promised Land, realised that their city was on the list to be overthrown by the Israelites. So they deceived Joshua, presenting themselves as a people who had come from a distant land, entering a treaty with the Israelites. When the Israelites realised they had been misled they felt obliged to keep the treaty, allowing the Gibeonites to live peacefully in Israel.
But Saul had decided to rid the land of these people. We are not told the details of this atrocity. But by his murderous acts, Saul broke the treaty, the covenant of peace. Now, years later, rain had not fallen, famine threatened the land and the nation was suffering from a three year drought. David began to question if Israel was suffering because of some crime. He prayed.
The Lord confirmed the guilt of Saul was on the nation. The land began to bear the cost of Saul’s crime. Punishment was upon the people.
So David summoned the remaining Gibeonites to the palace. He asked them how he could compensate them. They asked for seven of Saul’s descendants to be put to death. David agreed to their request. Children are never to be put to death because of the sins of parents. But in this case, a treaty had been broken, a covenant before the Lord had been broken. This exposed the people to the punishment and wrath of God. It exposed the entire nation to wrath. So David handed over seven of Saul’s children and grandchildren. The death of these seven sons made atonement for the guilt that was between the nation and God. The lives of hundreds and thousands of others are spared because of these seven.
Rain began to fall over the dead bodies. We read of a moving sight as Rizpah, mother of two of the dead, protects their corpses. David was so affected by her constant vigil that he laid a royal funeral for them.
There are many difficulties in this passage, but it raises two important themes:
The importance of a covenant;
The importance of atonement.
The broken covenant teaches us the dreadful nature of sin. God deals with His people in terms of a contract, a covenant. The human race has broken the covenant with God. All of sin bears the character of a broken covenant. Sin is the breaking of the covenant, the source of our alienation from God. But we’re led to one who kept the covenant – the only one. Jesus is the obedient servant of the Lord in every detail. In Him is no sin. He poured out His life unto death for the forgiveness of sins. Scripture warns us of sins we try to ignore, sins we try to sweep under the carpet. ‘Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy’ (Proverbs 28:13). We try to cover some sins up; we need to realise our memories may grow dim, but time does not eradicate sin. Sin is either forgiven or punished. Sin bears a price tag. If we’ve not confessed our sins, our sins may re-visit us, just as these sins sprang up in Israel. Wonderfully, God does not count our transgressions, but He knows them all.
Sin affects more than those who commit them. Rizpah was distressed, keeping vigil on a rock. Her sons had done no wrong yet their bodies hung, decaying, executed for another’s sin – the sin of the father / grandfather. It was a national sin, a national covenant had been broken. So a drought was imposed on the entire nation. David’s kingdom bore the consequences of his predecessor. The nation couldn’t go forward until the past was dealt with. Many people were affected by one person’s sins. Every sin has ripples. We have no control over the consequence. We can confess our sin and we do have control over what we do next.
Atonement, Salvation. Here is a forecast of Christ, our atoning sacrifice. In some way the seven sons made atonement. Their blood was shed. Seven is the perfect number. It’s as if the Gibeonites are asking for a perfect atonement, a perfect act of restitution. There was only one perfect atonement because our sins are against an eternal being, a righteous being. But in the Lord Jesus Christ this perfect atonement is made. He bore the infinite price of our sin by His crucifixion, His execution. Just as the annual Passover sacrifice was to be a lam without blemish, so Christ, the Lamb of God, is without defect. He is infinitely pleasing to the Father, even as He cries out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). But at the same time, He is being embraced, perfectly fulfilling God’s plan of salvation, organised before the foundation of the world.
Certain events in the Old Testament prefigure the death and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. He alone can bear our sins. God requires satisfaction because He is a holy God. Here is a forecast of our covenant-keeper. David’s covenant provided a circle of security within a covenant. If we are in the covenant of God’s grace we are safe, spared, because He is the covenant-keeping God. He will build His church. He has committed Himself to our eternal security and safety.
This chapter is a gory chapter, you can’t ignore it. Wherever atonement is made, blood is spilt. We go from this horrifying scene of execution to Golgotha. We see the darkness come over the land at midday, the women crying at the foot of the cross. Here is the judgement, the wrath of God. The covenant-keeper is dealt with as if He was the worst covenant-breaker. Atonement is sufficient for a whole world – made by the one who is innocent. What a wonderful Saviour is forecast here – a great covenant-keeping Saviour stands in for the covenant-breakers like you and me.