Posted by: edhensley | January 2, 2013

Murder of Saul’s Descendants Pleases God

2 Samuel 21

New International Version (NIV)

The Gibeonites Avenged

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.”

The king summoned the Gibeonites and spoke to them. (Now the Gibeonites were not a part of Israel but were survivors of the Amorites; the Israelites had sworn to spare them, but Saul in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate them.) 3 David asked the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? How shall I make atonement so that you will bless the Lord’s inheritance?”

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.”

“What do you want me to do for you?” David asked.

They answered the king, “As for the man who destroyed us and plotted against us so that we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel, 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.”

The king spared Mephibosheth son of Jonathan, the son of Saul,

because of the oath before the Lordbetween David and Jonathan son of

Saul. But the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, whom she had borne to Saul, together with the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab,[a] whom she had borne to Adriel son of Barzillai the Meholathite. He handed them over to the Gibeonites, who killed them and exposed their bodies on a hill before the Lord. All seven of them fell together; they were put to death during the first days of the harvest, just as the barley harvest was beginning.

10 Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night. 11 When David was told what Aiah’s daughter Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went and took the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from the citizens of Jabesh Gilead. (They had stolen their bodies from the public square at Beth Shan, where the Philistines had hung them after they struck Saul down on Gilboa.) 13 David brought the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan from there, and the bones of those who had been killed and exposed were gathered up.

14 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.


God tells David that Israel’s famine is due to Saul’s treatment of the Gibeonites. David asks the Gibeonites what they need to atone for Saul’s atrocities, and they ask for 7 of Saul’s male descendants to be killed. David grants their wishes, and then God ends the famine.

As a child, I was told that Christianity was a moral religion, unlike the ancient and barbaric pagan religions that demanded human sacrifice. It was primitive savages who believed their gods would grant good crops if they killed people. This passage contradicts what the idea that the Christian god is not a petty tyrant.  I can understand killing someone who does something wrong (like Hitler). I can not understand how killing innocent children makes a god happy.

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  1. Where does it says that it pleased God to have them killed? Oh wait, it doesn’t say.

    • The Lord said, “It [the famine] is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
      The deaths of Saul’s descendants pleased god so he began answering prayers again, as stated in verse 14.

    There are these kind of passages in the bible that I still grapple with.
    In some ways the bible is anthropological, in keeping with historical periods and stages of human development. It is such a human book. On the other hand it nevertheless fascinates how God illuminates step by step from within and through each ordinary human stage of development. The bible reveals as much about how we humans get it wrong as it does about how God is really good and just and one etc. I do sometimes wish he had just simply dictated the full truth in one go and used the mass media to make things very clear.
    But then he does not need to his truth is found in the heart if we wish to find it there. That seems to be where he likes to be found and where he likes perhaps to hide. Anyway without faith our hope has no substance. Who wants to be without hope? The universe is great and even comprehensible. So it is more reasonable to have hope. The bible inspires hope and faith in ever increasing ways as it developed through history. We just need to remember it has many different narrative forms, not all to be taken literally.

    • “I do sometimes wish he had just simply dictated the full truth in one go and used the mass media to make things very clear.”
      If there were a god, this is what he or she would have done.
      “We just need to remember it has many different narrative forms, not all to be taken literally.”
      But the bible does not tell us what is literal and what is metaphor. Some Christians take Genesis literally and demand that public science classes teach that the earth is only 6000 years old. Some Christians take verses literally that command violence against gays (see Westboro Baptist Church). Once again, if there were a god, he or she would have made it crystal clear as to what is metaphor and what is metaphor.

      Finally, god is not necessary to have hope.

      • Ed, you say, “If there were a god, this is what he or she would have done.” (Dictate the truth in one go).. I would counter that if there were a god who wanted to reveal him/itself, then this would be the case. But how about a god who only wished to be revealed by this incredible thing called life/creation? This is what I submit to be the truth. A Creator God who is not, and cannot be revealed through man-made religion.

      • I find it disappointing to see some Christians still being young Earth Creationist. It seems to be largely a US phenomena. Few bible believers here in Europe follow that line. I like you Ed. I love it when someone can make me see things from a completely different angle. It makes curiosity all the more fascinating. But you really believe the world would be better off without trust in a maximally great being don’t you? For the ancient Mid Eastern the six day creation was not literal.
        It was obvious that the sun was not created on the fourth day. That was to show that the Sun was not a God and not even the first thing created. For them the 7 day story is about a temple in which God would inhabit. It is so silly to read it as a 20th C news or science report. We now know that information is the invisible basis for the universe. But what is the sourse of information? The bible concentrates on the very thing science has recently discovered. The Word. “In the beginning was the Word.” Arnold Pensius the Nobel Prize winner for science said “I find in science the same conclusions I would have had if I only had the first five books of the bible.”
        Peter Bedoar, I understand, another nobel prize winner for science said that science cannot answer the questions of a child: “What we are here for and what is the meaning of life.” I still hold that no God implies no real hope. Incidentally Ed :Is it true that Athaeism entails a philosophy of naturalism?

  3. -just one note: for the same issues (savage vengance over all the old testament), at least catholics do adress it on mass but when instruct their kids on the faith, they tell them NOT to trust in the old testament, that the “valid” one is the new one (which shows a more )
    any christian is under the law of christ (Galatians 6:2) not the old testament

    THE ABOVE is from the “play the game perspective”
    My personal opinion is that the Bible is a funny action BOOK (it has wars, murders, a bit of porn) and is still a better story than Twilight XD

    • Hello MJ. As a Catholic Christian I do not teach my kids that the OT is not valid. I just let them know that it has many narrative forms and should not be read with a 20th C. expectations and criteria. The culture has to be translated as well as the language. But still there are some difficult pssages in the bible.
      Yes it is a great story or library. An amazing phenomena.

      • In relkation to previous post. I am interested in this subject as it is the most difficult aspect of the bible. What I want to add is that we must translate the culture as well as the language. For the Jews there were no secondary causes. They all in terms of what God was doing directly. Even when something evil happened it was not Gods direct moral act but mysteriously was seen as within his overall sovereign control and they spoke of everything as an act of God in that sense. It was a belief that God could bring good or justice out of even an evil event. But it did not mean God was the perpetrator of an immoral act himself. It is obvious that tey did not really thing that God was a murderer etc.

      • What I want to add is that we must translate the culture as well as the language

        First of all, we do not have the original words. Secondly, the old and new testaments are known by scholars to have been purposefully altered over time. Also, there are known mistranslations that have occurred that are still in texts today. Catholic, protestant, protestant, coptic, and other Christian sects have different sets of books that are considered part of the bible.

        You can not event begin to claim that you have a correct translation of the language. We should consider culture when reading any book, but there is no way “translate” culture any better than the failed attempts to preserve what is claimed to be god’s word.

      • I like the way you can articulate your perspective so suscinctly.
        I just wish I could even spell. Anyway I meant to say I learned that the Jews of antiquity did not think in terms of secondary causes. This helps to see why they expressed their experiences in very different ways from us.ence
        Yes we now know that the bible scriptures have a lot of human history. I like Bart Ehrmanns work on this subject though I do not agree with all his conclusions. Faith submits to truth not truth to faith. I am ready to drop my faith in the bible if need be but to date I find the evidence in favour of the Scriptures being spirit breathed or inspired much more convincing.
        Perhaps the fact that I am not a sola scriptura Christian but a sola verbum Dei one
        explains my position. Perhaps the bible is a bit like evolution. It seems at times to explain everything within naturalism. But now it is itself such an improbable chance event that it is practically a miracle that can only plausibly be explained by intelligent design. However the bible has evolved
        God revels himself to those who sincerely seek him. I am satisfied that the human interference with texts over history are peripheral.

  4. Richard Dawkins all the way what he says is crystal clear and is backed up with facts I’m afraid the god theory is just an illusion and the Vatican is making a lot of money without one shread of evidence. My motto is enjoy life be a good person and stop living for the next life that is not there live this one and be happy

  5. The reason why this brutal incidence happened was to show the consequences of breaching a covenant. Saul broke the covenant Joshua had given to the Gibeonites that Israelites will not harm them and incorporating them as part of the congregation(Joshua 9), in a sense Saul was killing his own people, it also shows that God takes covenants very seriously.

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