Tough Passages: 2 Samuel 21 – God’s Sense of Justice

During the conquest of Canaan, one group – the Gibeonites – had tricked the Israelites into an alliance. By virtue of that alliance, Israel was not supposed to harm them. But Saul broke that rule. In response, God sent a famine to Israel during David’s reign

  • Even though David and a good number of the Israelites had not been part to breaking the treaty, God still punished all of them. It seems to be a trend in the Bible – shared punishment for wrongs done. In the same way that the blessing God gave Israel when a good king ruled were shared by everyone.  (He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. Mt 5:45)

In order to end the famine, David sought to make things up to the Gibeonites. They requested the death of seven of Saul’s male descendants and David obliged. Then  God sent rain.

  • The law required that children not be put to death for the crimes of their parents. But David did it anyway and somehow, the death of seven people was compensation enough for the death of a lot more Gibeonites.
  • God sent rain, indicating that he considered restitution given for the harm done to the Gibeonites. Restitution had been given. The question was whether the cure was not worse than the disease. It is as if I killed your son and then offered my son as restitution. If you’re into that sort of thing you will no doubt be satisfied; it’s a fair trade. It sufficiently does for the victim everything that justice should do.
    • It acknowledges that a wrong was done to them.
    • It acknowledges that the wrong should not have been done, thereby acknowledging the worth of the victims.
    • It takes steps to restore the balance that the wrong act disrupted (something that an apology could not have done).
  • But it did not provide justice to the descendants of Saul that were killed. One can say that God sent the famine for the Gibeonites and when their needs were met, there was no more need for it. But I would think that God would care about the descendants of Saul too.
  • On the other hand, we just talked about a God who sends rain on both the just and the unjust and sends a famine on a whole nation whose King acted wrongly. Something is definitely funky about the idea of justice here.
  • So, David broke one law in keeping another and God did nothing about it.

In conclusion, we can say that God approved of David’s making things up to the Gibeonites because he ended the famine. But we cannot say that he approved of the means by which this rift was sealed. He simply did not react to it.

Skeptical response 1:

Isn’t God’s response in this case a sign of approval? He sent rain in response to David’s actions. That’s basically a thumbs up sign.

Response:

You’re making leaps in your logic. God sent the famine in response to the injustice done to Gibeon. When that injustice was righted, he withdrew the famine. In righting, the first injustice, though, another injustice is committed. The famine had nothing to do with that second injustice so withdrawing the famine says nothing about it.

Skeptical response 2:

Even if I grant that, God still did something wrong here. Seven innocent people were killed and he did nothing. At the very least he should have told David of his wrong actions.

Response:

If you’re going to stand in judgment against God, I might as well give you more ammunition. Innocent people are killed all the time and God does nothing – right from the times of Noah and Abraham, right up till the centuries long rampage of the Amorites. If he spent every moment dishing out punishment, we would all be dust. His technique had always been to let them accumulate, and give the person(s) responsible time to come to their senses. If they did, he forgave them – like he has done to us in Christ. If they didn’t, he eventually visited punishment – like in Noah’s flood (Genesis 6).

Yes, justice should be served for all wrongs done, but there is no law that says it must be served immediately. There is such a thing as mercy in God’s legal system.

Finally, we don’t know what God did or did not tell David following this encounter. These books do not record every single event that ever occured. They can’t. Like all historical texts, they must pick what to include. But if God did not chastise David for this, that’s hardly an issue – like the fact that you don’t get a call every time you run a red light telling you that you’re wrong. If you don’t know that it’s against the law tot run a red light, something is seriously wrong. David was the king, and as such, he was commanded to have a copy of the law and read it everyday. If he was still uninformed, then he had more important problems.

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2 Samuel 12 – Reading Note – David and Bathsheba (continued)

God took David’s actions very seriously.

The crime:

This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. ( 7- 9)

The punishment:

Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for[a] the Lord, the son born to you will die.” (10 – 14)

There is some proportionality to the punishment.

  • Because David killed Uriah, there was going to be death in his household.
  • Because he took Uriah’s wife, someone else would take his wives.
  • And because he  had wronged God, his child would die.

Yet, there is something else. For one murder, lots of people in David’s family died. For one adultery, a lot more occurred.

 

2 Samuel 11 – Reading Note – David and Bathsheba

  • The writer is straightforward in his narration. David’s army was out to war. From the roof of his palace, David saw a very beautiful woman. When he asked he was told that she was the wife of Uriah, one of David’s soldiers. He invited her to his palace and slept with her. She became pregnant.
  • The parallel in Chronicles talks about David’s reluctance to do the act, but this writer left that out. (Perhaps he didn’t like David).
  • After David tried unsuccessfully to convince Uriah to go home to his wife (in order to pretend the baby was his), he finally gave Joab orders to kill Uriah – to put him in the thick of the battle and then draw back so that Uriah’s entire group was killed.
  • David then married Bathsheba
  • Surprise! God didn’t find it amusing
    • Slept with another man’s wife
    • Tried to cover up his act using deception
    • Killed a man in cold blood
    • Married the dead man’s wife. It’s a wonder he could sleep at night.

The next chapters are one of my favorite because God executed justice for Uriah. J’aime justice.

1 Samuel 13 & 14 – Reading Note

  • Saul disobeyed God. He was faced with a battle against the Philistines and was terribly outmatched. His men were hiding in caves and pits out of fear. He waited for Samuel to arrive and offer a sacrifice to God before they began the battle, but Samuel was very late. Faced with the option of starting a battle without first seeking Gods favor or offering a sacrifice by himself (which was sin), he offered the sacrifice. Samuel’s response was that because of Saul’s disobedience, God would not let his family rule Israel forever. Instead, God had found another man, a man after his heart, who would be King.
  • Saul told all the men that they could not eat until they had defeated the Philistines. As a result, they were all hungry. Saul’s son, Jonathan, however, ate some honey in ignorance. That night, Saul inquired of God whether they should attack the Philistines under the cover of night. God did not respond. So, Saul suspected that someone had done something wrong and swore to kill the person. They divined and found out that it was Jonathan but the people would not let Saul put Jonathan to death because he had helped them achieve a great victory that day. They said “What he did, he did with God’s help”.
  • In other words, they thought that Jonathan’s choice in disobeying his father and eating was God’s plan; an interesting conclusion given the fact that God had refused to speak to them because of Jonathan’s actions.
  • Israel had war as long as Saul was king. They fought against the people around them who oppressed them. The Philistines (who had taken away all their blacksmiths so that they had no weapons), the Amalekites, Moabites, Ammonites and others.

1 Samuel 11 – Reading Note

I found this hilarious:

Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, “Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you.”But Nahash the Ammonite replied, “I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel.” The elders of Jabesh said to him, “Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you.”

When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, “What is wrong with everyone? Why are they weeping?” Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said.

When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came powerfully upon him, and he burned with anger. He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, “This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel.” Then the terror of the Lord fell on the people, and they came out together as one. (1 Sam 11: 1 – 7)

 

1 Samuel 3 – Reading Note

There is a notion in the old Testament known as collective guilt (or something like that). It’s a notion I’ve never understood, but God speaks of it here:

And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end.For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’” 1 sam 3:11 – 14

Here, the guilt is not Eli’s or his sons’ but that of Eli’s house. I’ve never understood that. The US president can be guilty of sin, the individuals that make up the country can be guilty of sin, but how can the country be guilty of sin? I suppose that runs into the problem of ‘if all the people in the US die and are replaced by a different set of people (as happens every once in a while), is it still the same country? I guess it could be, if there is something about it that stays the same.

1 Samuel 1 & 2 – Samuel and Eli

Hannah Giving Her Son Samuel to the Priest
Hannah Giving Her Son Samuel to the Priest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Story of Hannah is a classic one: married with no children while her husband’s other wife had children. Her husband loved her and treated her very kindly, but she wanted children. She prayed to God, promising to give the child back to him if she got one. God gave her a child – Samuel – and she kept her word and let him grow up in the temple.

  • The story begins strangely. Elkanah and his wives are introduced, but not the priests (Hophni, Phinehas and Eli). It almost seems as if the writer expected his readers to know them. (1: 1 – 3)
  • Elkanah’s kindness to Hannah was evident. He didn’t divorce her. Rather, he gave her twice the portion he should have given her of the sacrifices  they made every year. On the other hand Hannah’s rival (Peninnah) taunted her and made her life miserable. (1: 3 – 7)
  • Hannah, like her husband, was a good, godly woman. When her son was born, she kept her promise and gave him to God with no need for coercion. It is no wonder God saw fit to bless her. (1: 21 – 28)
  • Hannah also had pretty solid theology. Awesome woman, she was. (2: 1 – 10) She had many more children.
  • Eli’s sons (Eli was a priest) were accurately described as ‘scoundrels’. The priesthood was a very important and prestigious position. It also came with a lot of perks – first dibs on the sacrifices, for instance. It was also restricted to male descendants of Aaron. Hophni and Phinehas, however, abused that position. They stole from the sacrifices (taking more than they were allowed and in an improper manner) and slept with the women who served in the temple. Eli warned them, but they refused to take heed.
  • His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke, for it was the Lord’s will to put them to death (1 Sam 2:25).”: One thing I have noticed is the manner in which responsibility for actions is attributed in the OT. They are divided into two causes – the primary  cause (whoever was doing the act) and the secondary cause (God). The writings portray the idea that God was responsible for Hophni and Phinehas’ refusal to listen. He most probably was not responsible for their sins in the first place, but I have been told that when people sin enough, he punishes them by enabling them to continue their sins, thereby leading them to their just end. I’m not sure if that a technically legal punishment, but it is definitely harsh. It is interesting to note that the idea is not that he makes  them continue in their sin. He just enables them to do what they already want to do. So, instead of setting up roadblocks in their path to make them do the right thing, he clears their path of obstacles e.g. their parents’ warnings.
  • God eventually passes judgment for the wrongdoing of Eli’s sons. The judgment was revealed to Eli. God stated that he (Eli) had shown contempt for God by not stopping his sons and allowing them to continue in their acts. The consequences were as follows:
    • A time would come when no one among Eli’s descendants (probably males) would make it into old age. They would all die in the prime of life.
    • Any one of them whom he allowed to serve as priest’s, he will destroy their eyes and their strength
    • Hophni and Phinehas would die on the same day. That was to be a sign to Eli.
  • I believe it to be pretty obvious from the above events that God does punish the children for the sins of their parents – not in the sense of declaring them guilty, but because he brings about situations that affect the children even though the crime was their parents’. This is evident in nature and even in human law. The courts do not hesitate to sentence a man to death or prison because doing so would hurt his children. Children inherit some of their parents’ characteristics, for good or for ill. As long as such a punishment is actually a punishment on the man and not on his children, then the mere fact that it affects the children should not make it unjust. On the flip side, children also share the fortunes of their parents. That’s probably just too. Or maybe not.