vv. 5-6 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, 6 let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and exposed before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul — the Lord's chosen one." So the king said, "I will give them to you."
Israel experienced famine for three years. David inquired of the Lord and was told that this famine was a consequence of Saul's sin against the Gibeonites. This is a difficult passage as it suggests that the sin of the father (Saul) is visited upon his future descendants. While some may find this hard to swallow, it is nevertheless found in the Exodus and repeated in two places: in the Exodus 20:5 & 34:6-7
Ex 20:5 "for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me"
Ex 34:6-7 "The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation."
Beside the biblical aspects, there are also other ethical and theological issues arising from this:
- David: How could David surrender seven of David's male descendants to be killed by the Gibeonites? For many in leadership position, the ethical decisions are often not so clear-cut as a choice between good and evil. Often it's a choice between a a lesser evil (death of 7 of Saul's descendants) over a greater evil (famine-death of a nation). In a situation where the available choices are all equally negative, we choose the one that produces the least negative outcome.
- Nature: Are natural disasters just consequences of the random interactions of the forces of nature? Or is there a divine hand behind them? According to this passage, the famine that afflicted the land of Israel was a direct consequence of the sin of Saul against the Gibeonites. Can we therefore conclude that whenever a natural disaster hits a nation (e.g. tsunami, earthquakes, floods & famines, etc) that it requires a theological, rather than geological explanation? I believe that this issue is similar to that of sin and sickness. We can be quite sure that sin will always result in sicknesses (psychosomatic illnesses), but nevertheless we cannot say that all sicknesses are consequence of some personal sin. Perhaps, we should draw this same inference about natural calamities.
- God: Is God vindictive in allowing Saul's sin to visit the nation of Israel and especially Saul's seven descendants? This is not an easy question to answer, but perhaps there is a spiritual law at work in God's universe: we reap what we sow, both personally and nationally. It may not be God personally demanding human sacrifices but rather an outworking of the harvest of sin. Paul spells this principle out clearly in Galatians 6:7-9, "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life." This principle is not articulated by Moses who was "under Law" but by Paul who was "under Grace". This is an eternal spiritual law, like the law of gravity. Whether we are under Law or Grace, we would be foolish to believe that we who are under Grace would be spared the fatal result of jumping off the top floor of a high-rise building.