Thursday, August 26, 2021

2021.08.26 Hopewell @Home ▫ 2 Samuel 21:1–14

Read 2 Samuel 21:1–14

Questions from the Scripture text: What had happened, in what days, and for how long (2 Samuel 21:1)? What did David do about this? What did Yahweh answer? What does He call Saul’s household? Whom does the king call in 2 Samuel 21:2? Who were the Gibeonites? What had Israel sworn (cf. Joshua 9:3–27)? But what had Saul done? Why? What does David ask the Gibeonites in 2 Samuel 21:3? What does this imply they had been doing, and to which God had been listening? What kinds of things do the Gibeonites emphasize that they don’t want (2 Samuel 21:4)? What does David reply? About whom do they speak in 2 Samuel 21:5? What accusation do they make? For what do they ask in 2 Samuel 21:6? Before Whom would the Gibeonites hang them? What do they highlight about Gibeah of Saul? What does the king promise? Whom does the king spare (2 Samuel 21:7)? Because of what kind of oath? Whom does he take instead (2 Samuel 21:8)? To whom does he deliver them (2 Samuel 21:9)? What do they do with them? What time of year does this occur? Who does what in 2 Samuel 21:10? For how long? What doesn’t she permit? Who is told in 2 Samuel 21:11? What does David gather from whom in 2 Samuel 21:12? And what does he gather additionally in 2 Samuel 21:13? What does he do with all these bones in 2 Samuel 21:14? What does God finally do?

An offended God. The honor of God’s Name is the backdrop for much of this passage. In Joshua 9:18–19, the oath made in Yahweh’s Name was upheld even though it had been made to deceptive Canaanites. 

Man-centered as we are, we lack appreciation for how seriously God takes the honor of His Name. But Israel’s sworn oath is mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:2. And the hanging is before Yahweh in 2 Samuel 21:6. This is mentioned again in 2 Samuel 21:9. And the offensiveness of Saul’s action seems to be that it is against having been chosen by Yahweh (end of 2 Samuel 21:6). Even Mephibosheth’s safety in 2 Samuel 21:7 is for the sake of God’s Name, “because of Yahweh’s oath that was between them” (verse 7). And the entire episode is ultimately about atoning for offense so that prayer will once again be heard (2 Samuel 21:14).

To be sure, we easily deceive ourselves about how offensive to God our actions are. There are many who profess the Name of Christ, and unflinchingly worship in ways that the Lord has not commanded—which God Himself refers to as hating Him in the second commandment. Saul, similarly, had once let God-condemned animals live in an act of claimed devotion to make sacrifices (cf. 1 Samuel 15:15). Now 2 Samuel 21:2 of our passage tells us that Saul had convinced himself that he was being zealous for God’s people when he broke the oath in God’s Name—perhaps even feeling like he was making up for sparing Agag in 1 Samuel 15. But our God rejects worship that comes in disobedience (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22–23). Good intentions don’t make up for disobedience.

A merciful God. The greatness of the offense against God makes His mercy in the passage even more remarkable. The first mercy is the mercy of revelation. We remember that when Saul was rejected as king, part of the judgment included losing access to the Word of God. But when David inquires now, Yahweh answers (2 Samuel 21:1). This by itself is a great mercy.

Also, Yahweh accepts the death of a substitute. Some find it controversial that the seven descendants are punished for Saul’s sin. But God’s prohibition in Deuteronomy 24:16 had to do with the execution of criminal justice by the state. Indeed, all of humanity is condemned for the sin of our first father. And Christ is condemned for the sin of all who are His. 

It is a great mercy that the Lord accepts a substitutionary atonement here. Saul is already dead and cannot be executed for the sin. But he sinned not merely as a private person but as a king, and therefore as a nation. So what is required is not so much avenging judgment as curse-removing atonement. Not only is hanging indicative of a curse (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23), but this hanging is “before Yahweh” (2 Samuel 21:62 Samuel 21:9), and the bodies are left exposed, which was ordinarily forbidden precisely because it indicates accursedness before God (cf. Deuteronomy 21:23 again). So, God is mercifully accepting cursing upon a few in behalf of a nation.

Surprises of mercy among God’s people. The main character of the passage (as always) is the Lord Himself. But, sprinkled through it are surprises of mercy that are easy to miss. The first actually comes from the Gibeonites. God has been offended for the oath of Yahweh that has been broken, but David wants to know what will enable the Gibeonites to bless Israel (the inheritance of Yahweh) instead (2 Samuel 21:3). The Gibeonites aren’t interested in money (2 Samuel 21:4a) or even blood (verse 4b). David is stumped (verse 4c), but the Gibeonites’ focus is on what to do before the face of Yahweh (2 Samuel 21:6). The sense of the text actually seems to be that the Gibeonites’ request comes from a desire to see Israel restored to a place of blessing!

Secondly, there’s the actions of Rizpah. Two of the deceased are her sons, but she sets up sackcloth camp and fends of predators from all seven (2 Samuel 21:10). This is remarkable, since five of them were sons of Merab (the first daughter of Saul to be treacherously given to another instead of David) that had been brought up in the house of Michal (the second daughter of Saul, who had been treacherously given to another, but later became a haughty queen who had a falling out with David). The task is a horrible one—due to the curse, she may not retrieve the bodies, so she lives on a rock, in a tent made of sackcloth, getting no rest day or night, attending to decomposing bodies, including those of her own two sons. This is a (unimaginably grievous and horrific) labor of love.

Finally, there’s the actions of David himself. The temptation might be to distance himself from the house of Saul, or even to pile on in this season of judgment. But he understands how atonement and forgiveness bring reconciliation—probably in no small part from the Lord’s own dealings with David. With the rains falling again (2 Samuel 21:10), he’s willing not only to take care of the bodies of the seven, but to recognize that they have borne that which was necessary for the restoration of their house. So, he collects the bodies of Saul and Jonathan to be buried with them in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father. It’s even implied that this last act of David’s own mercy is part of what God is responding to when He begins again to listen to prayer for the land (end of 2 Samuel 21:14). 

Ultimately, this is also the mercy of God. He speaks to His people. He accepts substitutionary atonement for them. And in His mercy, He even makes His people merciful.

How do your priorities and habits reflect God’s priority upon the honor of His Name? In your life, how have you seen the mercies of His Word, His atonement, and His sanctifying grace?

Sample prayer: Our glorious God, all things exist for the honor of Your Name. Yet, when we had sinned against You in our first father Adam, You showed Yourself to be our gracious God by giving Your Son to be an atonement for us. Even so, how often we fail to prioritize Your glory or recognize Your grace! Forgive us and by Your Spirit cleanse us, we pray, for the sake of Your love and the Son Whom You gave in that love. Make us those who love Your glory and grace, AMEN! 

Suggested Songs: ARP51B “From My Sins, O Hide Your Face” or TPH431 “And Can it Be That I Should Gain”

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