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Why did God allow the Gibeonites to put to death seven of Saul’s sons?   Were they participants in killing the Gibeonites?  Also David seems to have only spared Mephibosheth only because he made an oath, and not for the fact that he was only five years old and did not participate in killing the Gibeonites?  How does this all connect with Ezekiel chapter 18?

I don’t think it was a matter of God allowing the Gibeonites to put to death Saul’s sons.  God took the initiative in this matter, by afflicting the nation of Israel with a famine because the house of Saul had put the Gibeonites to death.  Or as the  Gibeonites said – Saul consumed them and tried to  destroy them — a people Israel had entered into a covenant with 400 years earlier.  God required atonement to be made.  It must have been a satisfactory solution from God’s point of view, because he sent the rain on the land after the measures had been taken.  God sees behind the scenes.  He sees the hearts of men and the hidden actions of men.  He is able to judge justly. Deuteronomy 32:4

The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.

If you read 2 Samuel 21 carefully, it seems possible that Saul and his house may have been trying to get the Gibeonite’s territory.  Gibeon was situated very close to Gibeah — the home town of Saul’s family.  Notice verse 2 says that Saul tried to strike them down in his zeal (also means jealously or envy) for the people of Israel and Judah.  So this zeal may not have carried good connotations (cf John 2:17) – it was not zeal for God but zeal for man, an ongoing problem with Saul.  Notice God declares that the bloodguilt was not just on Saul, but also his house.  2 Samuel 21:1

“There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

This could indicate that the sons of Saul were actively implicated in this attempted genocide, although we cannot tell for sure as the details of this awful event are not recorded.

We do know the Gibeonites were cutters of wood and drawers of water for the altar of God – the tabernacle was at Gibeon.  It wouldn’t be surprising if these people had become worshippers of God, from their exposure to the tabernacle and teaching.

Some interesting similarities to New Testament times occur to me:

  • King Saul (and his house?) persecuted and killed the Gibeonites — men in a covenant relationship with Israel who served at the tabernacle.
  • Saul and the Pharisees persecuted and killed the Christians
  • The sons of King Saul were killed as a result of this attempted genocide
  • The non-Christian inhabitants of Jerusalem were destroyed in AD70 — God’s judgment on them for murdering his son and doubtless, the early Christians. “Let his blood be on us and on our children.”
  • Perhaps the Gibeonites are a type of the inclusion of the gentiles — Romans 9:22-24

The fact that David made a covenant with Jonathan regarding Jonathan’s house (1 Sam 20:14-16), would take precedence over all other reasons not to give up Mephibosheth, I would suppose.  Perhaps the Scriptures are contrasting the faithless actions of Saul and his house in regard to the covenant with the Gibeonites, with the faithful actions of David in regard to the covenant with Jonathan.

Ezekiel 18 makes it clear that God punishes people for their own iniquity.  Based on this principle, I think we can be confident that justice was carried out in this very nasty incident, even though we are not told all the details of what happened.

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