2 Samuel 21:1-14: God’s judgement on sin
Welcome to what I consider to be the hardest portion in 1 and 2 Samuel to interpret. What might have been a fairly straight forward chapter in ancient times is to us a glaring affront of human rights violations. Our sensibilities are assaulted as we hear about the children and grandchildren of Saul being killed for Saul’s sin. We are horrified as we hear about David allowing the Gibeonites to impale/hang 7 of Saul’s descendants as an act of justice. Our pity is stirred to anger at the mourning of Rizpah, and we are finally bamboozled when we see God accepts this act and responds by sending rain, v14.
Let me say to you now that we will not find all the answers we would like as we look at this portion. I will attempt to help us see why some of these things were necessary but it seems that the chapter has been written for the point of disturbing us. The seriousness of sin and the goriness of atonement must inevitably be the lingering impressions from this portion.
A quick word about context before we look at Saul’s sin, David’s payment, and Rizpah’s mourning.
These last chapters of second Samuel have a very deliberate structure to them. They have an ABCCBA pattern. They begin with a judgement upon Saul’s sin that gets atonement, and they end with a judgement on David’s sin which gets atonement. Then we have two reports on David’s mighty men and in the middle are two of David’s songs. It is important to note that the story of this portion is not intended to be read chronologically after the putting down of the rebellion of Sheba. Verse 1 begins talking about ‘a famine in the days of David.’ Apart from the fact that we know that this happened after the restoration of Mephibosheth, v7, we can place this sometime after 2 Samuel 9. This might also shed some light on Shimei’s accusations against David of his guilt against the house of Saul when he was fleeing from Absalom. If so this places these events somewhere between 2 Samuel 9 and 16.