5.30 2 Samuel -- Revenge of the Gibeonites
Absalom's revolt was not the only domestic upheaval David faced. Joab, who defeated the Ammonites and ended the rebellion by killing Absalom, was demoted from being commander of the army and replaced by Amasa (2 Sam 19:13). Amasa had been Absalom's chief military officer (2 Sam 17:25)! A Benjaminite named Sheba rose up against David (20), and David sent Amasa out to rally the troops. Joab met Amasa under a pretext of friendship, murdered him and regained control of the army (2 Sam 20:23). Joab was a man who would not be stopped: he had killed Abner, Uriah, Absalom, and now Amasa. Also present in the march against Sheba were the foreign troops -- the Kerethites and Pelethites (2 Sam 20:7; 2 Sam 20:23).
At an unspecified time in his reign, David had to deal with a problem left over from Saul's rule (2 Sam 21). This incident is noteworthy because it involved injustice against a Canaanite nation, the Gibeonites. Israel's relationship with Gibeon dated back to the invasion of Canaan, when the Gibeonites made a treaty of peace with Joshua (Josh 9). This treaty, though obtained by a ruse, was upheld by Joshua: the Gibeonites were spared from death, and were even defended by Joshua when they were attacked by the five kings of the Amorites. The Gibeonites were forced to work as woodcutters and water carriers at the place of God's altar. It was at Gibeon that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still (Josh 10:12-13).
But Saul at some point in his reign violated this covenant and killed some of the Gibeonites. The details are not known. Years later, when a famine occurred in Israel, God told David that the cause of the famine was the sin of Saul against Gibeon! (2 Sam 21:1) This is an amazing example of the spiritual power of covenants: human agreements have repercussions extending beyond the lives of those who make them. And they even affect the climate and the prosperity of a nation! Furthermore, this covenant was with a Canaanite nation, yet it was still held sacred! It was God's original intent to destroy Gideon completely, but once the covenant was made, He became their protector. So when Saul, representing Israel, violated the covenant by unrighteously killing some Gibeonites, Israel fell under the judgment of God, which was expressed in a continuing famine. The issue was not so much that Gibeon as a nation was important, but that the honor of God Himself was involved:
"We have given them our oath by the Lord, the God of Israel, and we cannot touch them now" (Josh 9:19).
God was the guarantor of the agreement between the two nations. When Israel violated the terms, He stepped in as referee and called them on it. David's problem then became one of making restitution for the injustice, so that righteous relations were restored. But this meant that he had to go hat in hand to the surviving Gibeonites:
"What do you want me to do for you?" David asked (2 Sam 21:4).
The Gibeonites got to set the terms of the repayment. Israel was, for the moment, morally in debt to a Canaanite nation! This is unbelievable, from the standpoint of international relations. No one in the ancient world gave rights to a defeated enemy. Yet here, God Himself took the side of a minor Canaanite remnant against His own covenant people.
The terms that the Gibeonites demanded seem severe to us -- seven innocent descendants of Saul were handed over to the Gibeonites to be killed. Yet this was a moderate reparation compared to Saul's offense:
"we have been decimated and have no place anywhere in Israel" (2 Sam 21:5).
This is a striking example of a transcendental ethic at work. So many modernists see the God of the Old Testament as no more than an anthropomorphic projection of the Hebrew people, indistinguishable from the pagan deities of surrounding nations. To these critics, each god is merely the sacralized self-interest of its tribe -- and Yahweh is no different from the rest. But the Bible itself clearly tells a different story: Israel is only the means to the fulfillment of a divine purpose, not the other way around. It is God who calls the shots, and Israel disobeyed Him at their peril. Most remarkably, as in this case, God could judge favorably for a Canaanite tribe against Israel. There is thus no simplistic formula for race relations in the Bible.