2 Samuel 21:1-14 God desires to show mercy more than justice

2 Samuel 21:1-14

1 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.”

2 So the king summoned the Gibeonites. They were not part of Israel but were all that was left of the nation of the Amorites. The people of Israel had sworn not to kill them, but Saul, in his zeal for Israel and Judah, had tried to wipe them out. 3 David asked them, “What can I do for you? How can I make amends so that you will bless the Lord’s people again?” 4 “Well, money can’t settle this matter between us and the family of Saul,” the Gibeonites replied. “Neither can we demand the life of anyone in Israel.” “What can I do then?” David asked. “Just tell me and I will do it for you.”

5 Then they replied, “It was Saul who planned to destroy us, to keep us from having any place at all in the territory of Israel. 6 So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us, and we will execute them before the Lord at Gibeon, on the mountain of the Lord.” “All right,” the king said, “I will do it.” 7 The king spared Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, who was Saul’s grandson, because of the oath David and Jonathan had sworn before the Lord. 8 But he gave them Saul’s two sons Armoni and Mephibosheth, whose mother was Rizpah daughter of Aiah. He also gave them the five sons of Saul’s daughter Merab, the wife of Adriel son of Barzillai from Meholah. 9 The men of Gibeon executed them on the mountain before the Lord. So all seven of them died together at the beginning of the barley harvest.

10 Then Rizpah daughter of Aiah, the mother of two of the men, spread burlap on a rock and stayed there the entire harvest season. She prevented the scavenger birds from tearing at their bodies during the day and stopped wild animals from eating them at night. 11 When David learned what Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, had done, 12 he went to the people of Jabesh-gilead and retrieved the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan. (When the Philistines had killed Saul and Jonathan on Mount Gilboa, the people of Jabesh- gilead stole their bodies from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hung them.) 13 So David obtained the bones of Saul and Jonathan, as well as the bones of the men the Gibeonites had executed.

14 Then the king ordered that they bury the bones in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father, at the town of Zela in the land of Benjamin. After that, God ended the famine in the land.


The sin of Saul finally catches up with his descendants who made little attempt to rectify the transgressions of their father. Justice no doubt must be served, but God is merciful and takes no pleasure in exacting justice from sinners. Today’s passage teaches us God’s righteousness in requiring recompense in the face of evil. At the same time, in His mercy, He waits for men to repent desiring to forgive all of their transgressions.


The famine has come because Saul and his family are guilty of murdering the Gibeonites – Famine due to divine displeasure is not uncommon. This episode is a classic example of divine displeasure due to injustice in the land. A covenant has been made with the Gibeonites in the days of Joshua where they would serve Israel as woodcutters and water carriers in exchange for sparing their lives (see Joshua 9:26-27). However, the Gibeonites were an affront to Saul and the fact that their settlement is within Benjaminite territory made it all the more offensive to him. Saul disregarded the sacred covenant and almost wiped them out. The Gibeonites, who are the last of the Amorites suffer annihilation under the treachery of Saul. The famine that stretches three years hints towards a divine retribution. God responds to David’s inquiry in no uncertain terms that the famine is due to the sin of Saul who murdered the Gibeonites. It is God who has finally come to exact justice for the Gibeonites whose entire generations were murdered in cold-blood some decades before.

So let seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to us – The Gibeonites promptly ask for seven of Saul’s sons be handed over to them that they may execute them before the Lord at Gibeon. David complies with the Gibeonites’ request and seven sons of Saul are handed over save Mephibosheth whom David had a covenant of protection with Jonathan.

After that, God ended the famine in the land – The executions are carried out at the beginning of the barley harvest. Following the executions, David provides an honorable burial of the remains of Saul and Jonathan and the seven who died. Thereafter, God ended the famine in the land.


  • God never forgets, for every crime committed, He demands a just recompense. It is universal principle that every action carries a just recompense. Civil authorities are set up by God to maintain order in the society by the rule of law. Therefore, it is right and lawful that transgressors be given just punishment by the civil court. The apostle Paul says,

But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Romans 13:4

God forgives sins in that there is no eternal condemnation in hell for those who love Him. However, the law of punishment for transgression and reward for obedience is a constant principle at work. Saul broke the sacred covenant by wiping out the Amorites in cold-blood, and hence the burdens of justice must be borne by Saul’s descendants. As God never forgets, He demands a just recompense through the administration of David. By a three-year famine (that affected even the Gibeonites), God draws attention to the evil that Saul had committed decades before. Consequently, seven of Saul’s sons were handed over to the Gibeonites who executes them before the Lord. Hence, the descendants of Saul pay with their lives the cruelty and the decadence of their father. As followers of Christ, we need not be overly concerned for vindication, for God will in His time judge the wicked and justify the innocent. However, we must be quick to repent and come clean from our past transgressions.

  • Our faith in Christ breaks the curses that descended from our forefathers. When Christ suffered on the cross, God put the curses of every believer onto His Son. Therefore, those who turn back from their wicked ways and in making God as Lord will be forever freed from the curses of poverty and sickness. The seven sons of Saul inherited the curse of sin from Saul leading to their untimely deaths. However, Mephibosheth is spared because of Jonathan’s covenant with David. Similarly, our covenant with God through Christ spares us from curses due to the sins of our forefathers. Our faith in Christ is expressed through our trust in God’s promises and our obedience to His instructions. On the flip side, a person who continues in his sin has not been liberated from familial curses. It is important to understand that God is merciful and does not deal with us according to our sins. The psalmist says,

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. Psalmist 103:10

God waited for some decades to no avail hoping for the descendants of Saul to repent before executing justice on them.


  1. Have you in time past acted out of selfishness and deceit? God is waiting for you to make amends for your sin through repentance. Repentance is done by repaying those you have defrauded. Repentance means coming clean before God and holding yourself accountable to a group of godly people. Perhaps, you need external help to deal with sins that constantly knock on your door which you could not control.
  2. Are you constantly rehearsing vengeance with regards to a transgression that was committed against you? Perhaps, you should let it go as justice belongs to God and He will restore what you have lost. Pray for the wellbeing of your transgressor and God will bring restoration to you.

Dear Lord, I ask for your forgiveness for the sin of selfishness, deceit and unbelief. I divorce myself from the darkness that I so often entertain. As I yield myself to you, fill me with your Spirit of joy and righteousness. I forgive those who have sinned against me and hope for their repentance. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

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