You May Not Want to Look!
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You May Not Want to Look!

2 Samuel 21:1–14  (ID: 3547)

Prompted by prolonged famine, King David sought the Lord for an explanation. Once he received it, though, he sought human counsel for the cure. The result was heartbreaking devastation, particularly for one family. Alistair Begg explains that while the world we live in is beautiful, it can also be harsh and cruel—a fact that, as Christians, we must confront. King David’s endeavors to deal with sin and brokenness were totally inadequate, as are our own. In Jesus, however, we have a perfect King in whom God’s just wrath has been fully satisfied.

Series Containing This Sermon

Encore 2023

Selected Scriptures Series ID: 25919

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 9

Epilogue 2 Samuel 21:1–24:25 Series ID: 109019

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to 2 Samuel and to chapter 21 and to follow along as I read from the first verse. Two Samuel 21. And then, actually, you may just like to put a finger in Romans chapter 3. I’ll read just a brief section from there also.

“Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the Lord. And the Lord said, ‘There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.’ So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah. And David said to the Gibeonites, ‘What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?’ The Gibeonites said to him, ‘It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.’ And he said, ‘What do you say that I shall do for you?’ They said to the king, ‘The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.’ And the king said, ‘I will give them.’

“But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul’s son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul. The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite; and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the Lord, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.

“Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens. And she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the field by night. When David was told what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, on the day the Philistines killed Saul on Gilboa. And he brought [them] up from there[,] the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Kish his father. And they did all that the king commanded. And after that God responded to the plea for the land.”

And then just briefly in Romans 3:21:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”


So, Father, grant that as we turn to the Word of God, we might hear the voice of God. Guard and guide my lips. Stir our minds, that we might think sensibly and that we might open our hearts to the truth of your Word as it is revealed to us in the text before us. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Well, here we are, resuming our studies in 2 Samuel. It has been quite a time in coming, I recognize, and all for good reason. And in some ways, I was wishing that you would have forgotten and we could perhaps move on to somewhere other than the verses that I’ve just read. There have already been in the course of our studies a number of passages that I think, quite honestly, we have found embarrassing and difficult to deal with, not least of all when we had to tackle David’s adultery and so on and the sensitivities that are attached to that. But nevertheless, we study the Bible because it is the Bible.

And what we have before us here this morning is certainly not a pretty picture. It is actually a perplexing picture, and I found it quite painful to study. And I hope that you paid careful attention as it was read, because with other parts of the Bible, it actually offends our moral sensibilities. The natural reaction on our part is to say, “Well, how could this possibly be? Why would this unfold in this way?” and so on. It confronts us with uncomfortable truths, and it challenges us with difficult questions.

It is important for us, those who affirm our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, that we don’t pass superficially over these things. We recognize that the world in which we live is a world that is a harsh and a cruel place. What we see here from all these many, many years ago we don’t need to find simply in the pages of Scripture; we are aware of all that has been unfolding in the week that has passed, in the months of this year, and so on. At the same time, we recognize that Louis Armstrong was on to something when he sang, you know,

I see [skies of blue, and] red roses, too,
[And] I see them bloom for me and you,
And I think to myself, “What a wonderful world.”[1]

And it is a wonderful world. We are capable of being almost angelic, and at the same time, we are capable of being like apes. We are capable of harnessing nuclear power in order that we might sustain all kinds of necessities in our world and yet at the same time to use it to destroy vast swaths of humanity. And we need to face up to this.

And the problem, you see, is not a problem for the atheist. Atheists are often coming to us saying, “Well, how could you believe in a God like that?” They say, “Well, how could you believe in a God that is described in this way in the Bible?” But then, if the Bible had left it out, they would say, “Well, why wasn’t all that stuff, the bad stuff, in the Bible?” You can’t win.

And yet, if they’re honest—and every so often you will meet an honest one, like Stephen Hawking, who died in 2018. He was the director of research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at the University of Cambridge. And he was honest enough to say this, to acknowledge this: “If there is no God”—which, of course, he believed—“and we have evolved by chance through millions of years, then everything that happens, whether good or bad, must be viewed as simply the result of random, pitiless indifference. From this perspective, to ask why is not only meaningless; it is actually irrelevant.”

You see, the problem is that this is God’s world—that God is a holy God, no sin passes unrecorded, and biblical history takes into account the presence of God in the world that he has made, so that the mainspring of history is actually God’s providential rule over everyone and over everything. Now, just as you listen to me say that, you realize how radically different that is from the worldview of large parts of our contemporary culture—university faculties, schoolchildren going about their business as if somehow or another, there was no God to whom we are accountable and there was no one to whom we might look. But it is God’s world, created by him, sustained by him, directed by him—and that’s where the problem lies. Because people then say, “How can such things happen in God’s world?” And that is one of the great challenges, of course, that we face as Christians in going about our days and in seeking to say to people, “Well, we have to consider this, and we need to consider that.”

Well, it is a help, I think, to us to be confronted by this perplexing, sad, and difficult passage, because it demands careful thought. If this was actually a movie, then it would have a warning attached to it. It would have a caption that reads, “The following film contains scenes that some viewers may find disturbing, and viewer discretion is advised.” ’Cause look at the picture: seven sons hanged up, taken down; a mother shows up to sit there in the morning, to bat away the birds of the early part of the day, and to protect the corpses from the wild beasts as the evening shadows fall. What is possibly nice about this?

Now, why would we even study it at all? Well, of course, many people would not study it. Many pastors would not study it. I don’t say to my credit that I’m studying it. I’m telling you, I’m stuck with it! I mean, we finished 20; we have to do 21. It’s not like I woke up, you know, last Monday and said, “You know, I think I’ll do that horribly difficult passage there at the beginning of 2 Samuel 21.” No, it’s because of our conviction. It’s about the Bible’s conviction about itself: that it is profitable, having been inspired by God, for correction, for reproof, for training in righteousness, that we may be presented faultless, ultimately, before God’s glory; that it is able to make us wise for salvation.[2] And in our kind of foundational verse that we’ve used throughout all of these studies: “All the things that have been written in our former days were written for our instruction so that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”[3] So in other words, this is included in that “whatever was written.” And as we study it, apparently, it’s going to cause us to endure, and through the encouragement that we derive from it, we’re going to be filled with hope. Yeah! Okay.

The mainspring of history is actually God’s providential rule over everyone and over everything.

Now, what is our task? Our task is straightforward, and it’s the same task for every passage, and that is to ask of the passage, “What is it actually saying?” “What is it actually saying?” Not to ask, “What would I like it to say?” nor “What kind of emphasis might I give to it?” or, worse still, “How does it make me feel?” but rather, “What does it actually say?”

Now, from 21 to the end of the book, we have four chapters which essentially form an epilogue. What we have here is a selection of material that takes countenance of various parts of David’s reign. We ought to understand that it is not provided for us chronologically. Having said that, it is not haphazard. The way in which the writer puts together these chapters is very careful. But the way in which he deals with it is not by chronology but rather thematically—as becomes obvious when you realize that he begins verse 1, “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years.” Well, when was that? Well, we’re not told, except that it was “in the days of David.” That’s what I mean. So you ought not to assume necessarily that the first verse of 21 follows chronologically from the last verse of chapter 20. The writer is putting the material together in the way that he deems best. And he essentially pauses for a moment in the succession story, which will be picked up again at the beginning of 1 Kings. (Yeah, we’re going to have to go into Kings for David to die. That’s a government health warning right there.) So, this epilogue, then, he decides to put not after the death of David but before the death of David. And he includes this material.

Now, let me try and work through the material here.

First of all, in verses 1 and 2, we discover that famine was a problem, but it wasn’t the real problem. It wasn’t the real problem. You will notice the repetitious nature of it: “year after year.” It wasn’t that the famine had just popped up and was something in the immediacy of life, but it had come and come again and come again. In fact, people were beginning to starve now, and the impact of the famine would be clear for everyone to see.

And the famine is not a consequence of material forces alone. When we speak of natural disasters—which, of course, they are—behind the natural is the supernatural providence of God. “Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above,”[4] tides, winds, the trees that fell last night, the darkness that came in the afternoon is under God’s providential care, so that behind the natural disaster is the hand of an overruling providence.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind [that big, dark cloud]
He hides a [shining] face.[5]

That’s what Cowper is saying in that hymn. That’s why we sang it.

I find it distressing when people who fill the role that I fill like to tell people that they know the exact reason why certain things are happening now: “The reason for COVID is because we did this. The reason that that happened, 9/11 happened, is because we did that.” I wonder where they get it all from. They style themselves as prophets, but they’re not prophets. They should have learned from somebody who is a prophet—namely, David. Because David, you will notice, when he is confronted by this circumstance, “sought the face of the Lord.” He realized he didn’t know the answer to the question, and therefore, he needed to go to the one who did.

You see, famine was the calamity, but the underlying cause was a broken covenant which had incurred the wrath of God. The Lord replies to his investigation—his “plea,” as it’s referred to in verse 14. “There is,” says the Lord… And how he spoke to him we don’t know. Whether David sought guidance from someone else or whether in a direct encounter, that is pure conjecture. If we needed to know, we’d be told. What we need to know is here, and that is that “there is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

Now, the background to this—and you’re going to have to do some homework yourself to fill in the gaps here, or we’ll be around for a long time this morning—the background to this is that Saul had polluted the land by something he had done. We’re reading in Numbers at the moment as we’re going through M’Cheyne. We haven’t reached chapter 35, yet, of Numbers, but you get the picture of it, or the reality of what I’m referencing, in 35. It’s about the way in which, if somebody is put to death wrongly, then the only way to handle that is by death. If blood is shed, then blood must be shed. And so the word is:

You shall accept no ransom for [the person] who has fled [in this way]. You shall not pollute the land in which you live, for blood pollutes the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of the one who shed it. You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.[6]

Saul, then, pollutes the land, “because he put the Gibeonites to death.”

Now, again, this won’t mean very much to any of us unless we have been doing a lot of homework on our own. And what we need to do is go back and read Joshua chapter 9. Because you will see there that, almost parenthetically, the king is going to speak to the Gibeonites. But before he speaks to them, the writer tells us that the Gibeonites weren’t “of the people of Israel”; they were part of “the remnant of the Amorites.” And Joshua chapter 9 tells the story of how the Gibeonites came up with a form of trickery and skullduggery and managed to get Joshua and the leaders of Israel to include them within the framework of their covenant promises. And the fact that they had done it by deception meant that some of the people said, “Wait a minute, this shouldn’t happen.”[7] And the leaders in response to the congregation said, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel.”[8] In other words, God’s name is at stake in this. You see, when you swear an oath before God, as it were—when you take God’s name—you daren’t take his name in vain. You know, in Ecclesiastes, it says, you know, “When you make your vow, make sure you follow through on it.”[9]

The same thing is, of course, true in the covenant of marriage: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health.” “But it’s terrible!” Of course it’s terrible! But you made a promise. That’s the only reason. The reason we will have difficulty with this concept, incidentally, is because we’re not good at promises. When I say “we,” I mean humanity. We break promises all the time. And so you look at this, and you say, “This is an overreaction.” No, it’s not an overreaction. The people of Israel, the leaders said to the congregation, “We have sworn to them …. This we will do to them: [we will] let them live”—notice the phrase—“lest wrath be upon us”—because the breaking of the covenant would incur the wrath of God—“because of the oath that we swore to them.” (“We promised.”) “And the leaders said to them, ‘Let them live.’ So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them.”[10]

Now, what we discover is that Saul, in an unrecorded incident in terms of 1 and 2 Samuel, he had set aside the covenant with the Gibeonites and had killed a number of them—probably quite a large number of them—and as a result had incurred God’s wrath. David says to God, “What’s going on here with this famine?” God says, “I’ll tell you what: I am against Saul and what he has done, for he has offended against my name, he has broken the covenant that was made in my name, and therefore, that is why you are up against things as you are.”

We will resist the temptation to try and make application of it in ways that may occur to us even as I’m speaking to you. We must proceed and discover that in the next four verses, between—verse 3, 4, 5, 6—the next four verses, the conversation then takes place between David and the Gibeonites. And I just wrote in my notes, “This is a conversation about more than compensation.” But you will notice that the Lord had told David the cause, but he does not inform him of the cure. In other words, he doesn’t tell him what to do about it. It would have been better, perhaps, if he had. But he doesn’t.

And fascinatingly, David does not in this instance then seek the Lord again. “There’s a big famine—three years! I’m the king. What’s going on? What’s the problem?” “There is bloodguilt on the house of Saul.” “Okay, I’ve got that.” Well, why not go back to him and say, “And how shall we handle this?” But he doesn’t. He doesn’t make it up. He gives the opportunity to the Gibeonites. Look at verse 3. God doesn’t tell them what to do about the issue. The proposed solution comes from the lips of the Gibeonites. “How can these things be put right? How shall I make atonement? The covenant has broken things. How will there be reconciliation? What shall I do for you that you may bless the heritage of the Lord?” “The heritage of the Lord”—God’s people, God’s place, which has been impacted by this famine now over these three years. “How are we going to put this back together again? What price is it going to take?”

Now, fascinatingly, they are the ones—the Gibeonites—to create the following process. Their first response is to say, “This is not something that can be settled out of court.” I mean, that’s a paraphrase. They don’t say that. “So why did you say that?” I don’t know. “It[’s] not a matter of silver or gold between us.” I guess I have in mind the trial attorneys who are part of our congregation, who tell me that very, very seldom do they actually get the opportunity to try a case in court, because most of the stuff is done in the corridor. Not that it is wrong stuff in the corridor, but, “Let’s just try and settle it this way.”

So they come back in and say, “You’re not going to be able to get out of this with a compensation, a monetary thing that we can do over here. That won’t work.” Okay. Well… And furthermore, they said, “And it’s not for us to put any man to death in Israel.” See, they already know that it’s only going be death—it’s only going to be the shedding of blood—that will be able to deal with blood guiltiness. Right?

And so David says, “Well, what do you say that I shall do for you?” It’s actually almost pathetic, this, really, isn’t it? He’s the king, for goodness’ sake! You’ve got to be careful where you take your advice. “Is that what you’re asking me to do? Is that…” “We’re not the people to put anybody to death in Israel.” The inference is “But of course, you could. You could do that.” So he says, “Well, is that what you’re asking me to do?” And then they came back very specifically. Then “they said to the king, ‘The man who consumed us’”—for this is what Saul had done; they don’t mention his name—“‘and planned to destroy us’”—which was his zeal for Judah. Whatever his motivation was, he was capable of all kinds of strange things. You remember that question by Samuel: “What is this bleating that I hear?”[11] Because he’d been told by God to destroy the Amalekites, and he did a poor job of it. So, God told him to destroy the Amalekites, and he didn’t do it; and God did not tell him to destroy the Gibeonites, and he made a jolly good stab at it. What a mess, really. He “planned to destroy us, so that we [would] have no place in all the territory of Israel.” And the promise that was there in the covenant was “You can be here in Israel. You tricked us, but we made a promise, and we keep our promises. And the reason we keep our promises is because God keeps his promises.”

Incidentally and in passing—it’s so obvious, isn’t it?—but the Christian in the world today, one of our great opportunities to impact our culture is by being promise keepers: that what we say, we mean, and when we mean it, we follow through on it, and we are committed. This is what they were up against. “Let seven of his sons be given to us … that we may hang them before the Lord at Gibeah of Saul.” Whoa! And they refer to him, I think ironically—or, you know, “Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord.” Yeah. He was the chosen of the Lord. “And the king said, ‘I will give them.’” “I will give them.” Well…

Now, again, the background to this is very important, and I say to you that if you research this, you will discover that the way in which a covenant was enacted, it was called the cutting of a covenant, which is there in the Hebrew. And the cutting of a covenant involved animals. It involved bloodshed. It was in many ways disgusting—the cutting it up, the washing of it, the putting some of the animal on one side, putting the rest of the animal on the other side. And then those who were committed to the covenant walked, often in darkness, down the corridor, in between these two things, and as they made their promises, they said, “As we have cut up this animal and parted it in this way, so may we be cut up and parted if we do not keep this covenant that today we declare.” That’s how significant it was.

Incidentally, having just come back from a minor trip in Europe, I hardly met a single person under the age of forty, male or female, that is actually married. Married, in a formal marriage—living together or single or whatever else it might be. And I said to myself, “Here is another opportunity for the Christian church to establish what it means to live under God’s purposes.” We don’t have to go around with party hats on our heads. We don’t have to come up with some strange sticker to put on our cars. Just do what God says! Just do it, and see what happens. Try it. Yeah. (I got the choir in here this morning. It’s very good. Bless you, sister. Yeah!)

And so, “the king said, ‘I will give them.’” “I will give them.” Whew. That cost him anything? You understand what he just said? Well, look on, verse 7 to verse 9: the king spared one and gave up seven. Yeah, he spared Mephibosheth, because he’d made a promise to Jonathan. So, he keeps covenant and spares Mephibosheth. Saul violated the covenant, and the result is death.

Now, the scene that is described is quite horrific, isn’t it? “The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul.” She was Saul’s concubine. Do you think she ever imagined she’d get herself into this when Saul said, “Hey”? You never know, do you? Yeah. The king, did he come to the front door? “I came for your boys. They’re going to be hanged.” “Which boys?” “Armoni and Mephibosheth.” (This is a different Mephibosheth. In fact, we just heard the last of Mephibosheth in verse 7. Interesting that this boy would be called Mephibosheth. Leave that aside.) And also “the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite.” It’s so hard for me to imagine how you do this. The king brought them and gave them to the Gibeonites, knowing what they were about to do.

I don’t know if he kept a journal. I’d love to have read what he wrote that night. “Dear diary: My attempt today at dealing with the consequences of Saul’s sin has proven totally inadequate. I’m trying to make myself feel better by what I just did for Mephibosheth. And the fact that Rizpah has done what she has done has set me on a track that also helps me to feel a little better about things. After all, although this has been an ugly, disastrous, devastating scenario, at least I’ve been able to provide a nice and tidy burial for everybody in the end.” Wow. You’re going to have to really struggle to get some benefit out of that.

This all happened “on the mountain before the Lord.” They wanted it to happen in the location of Saul’s home, and it did. And “they were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of [the] barley harvest.” Presumably, there was no barley harvest. There was a famine. So you get that little note, don’t you? It’s a bit like in the book of Ruth. You get it again here. So people, like at 9/11, they would remember. They would say, “You know, that was at the barley harvest. I mean, we had no harvest, but it was the time of the barley harvest.” It marked it. It was unforgettable. It was ugly. It was devastating.

We all face harsh, cruel, devastating bits and pieces of our lives. And the response of belief is to make sure that we do not judge the Lord by our feeble sense, nor that we try superficially to say, ‘Of course, this doesn’t really affect me.’

It’s unsurpassingly sad—and it’s supposed to be sad. It’s a solemn story. Squeeze your eyes together, you know, and see if you can’t manage, as an outsider, to look and think about a mother getting herself a bolt of sackcloth from wherever you get it—you know, Michaels, or wherever they have that stuff—and showing up with it, and spreading it out, and sitting on it, maybe making a lean-to out of it, so that she might be able to protect the corpses of her boys from the sun, that the vultures may be beaten back by her hands and the wild beasts scared off by her cries. The horror, I suggest to you, defies description.

We need to end. Let me end by suggesting a couple of things.

One is that the sights and sounds and smells that are represented in this scene are not to be run away from by us. The reason that laments are in the Bible, in the Psalms, is because we all face harsh, cruel, devastating bits and pieces of our lives. And the response of belief is to make sure that we do not judge the Lord by our feeble sense, nor that we try superficially to say, “Of course, this doesn’t really affect me.” It affects us horribly. It affects us radically. And so, let’s learn to allow the parts that cause us to wince to wince for a wee while, to learn from this.

Let us also recognize that what we actually have here is an attempt by David at human justice in a sin-disordered world. Right? And that’s what’s happening every day in our country: attempts to right wrongs in a sin-disordered world, without taking into account that this is God’s world, that no sin goes unnoticed, that his wrath is real, and that judgment will ensue. So how in the world can you deal with justice without the fact that the God of all the earth will do right?[12] Well, ultimately, you see, you can’t. And parenthetically, that is one of the reasons why our Western civilization totters on the brink of a kind of moral extinction: because God has gone, left town!

The last thing is this: that the inadequacy of David’s attempt should cause us to say… The fact that he couldn’t pull it together in his kingdom—that absence points us to the fact that “great David’s greater Son”[13] is the only one who is able to deal with sin, is the only one who is able to deal with the wrath of God. He is the only one who is the propitiation, as we read in Romans chapter 3.

I haven’t concluded on this chapter, I must say, and you may have a great sense of that. But there are a number of things that I’m struggling with. One is that I want to preserve David’s image, just instinctively. I want to get David out of this as good as I can. But instead of seeking the advice of God, he sought the advice of the Gibeonites. That was a bad move. Then, when they responded, he granted their request. Their request. That was also a bad move. Because their request was not God’s way of dealing with sin. God’s way of dealing with sin involved repentance. God’s way of dealing with sin was not human sacrifice. God’s way of dealing with sin is the provision of a substitute. That’s the whole point of all the sacrifices: so that eventually, the one substitution for sin is provided in “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[14]

Furthermore, David—I hate to even say this, but I’ll say it anyway, because maybe I’m wrong, and then I can feel bad about it later on. But it seems to me—it seems to me that David broke the explicit command of God in doing what he did: “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.”[15] The death—the death of Saul’s sons—was not God’s idea. It wasn’t his idea. Nor was it his requirement as recompense for what Saul had done in breaking the covenant oath and in slaying the people. That wasn’t God’s plan.

And last but by no means least, there’s a more than even chance that in doing what he did, he actually broke the specific promise that he gave to Saul himself. Back in chapter 24 of 1 Samuel, after David has spared Saul’s life again, and they have a big, long conversation, and Saul finally says to him, “Now … I know that you [will] surely be [the] king”—you might remember this conversation—“and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand. Swear to me therefore by the Lord that you will not cut off my offspring after me, … that you will not destroy my name out of my father’s house.” “And David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home.”[16] Well, I don’t know how you can get out of that. He said, “I won’t do it.” You say, “Yeah, but, you know, maybe he was thinking about Mephibosheth.” Maybe he was. I don’t know.

No, the horror of it all points to the horror that is there in the atonement, when Jesus Christ, the healer, the helper, the friend of sinners, the carer of children, when he is taken and stripped and beaten and has a crown of thorns rammed on his head, and they make fun of him, and they abuse him. And now he has to die, the way some people died during COVID: with nobody there to hold his hand, nobody there to speak a word to him, nothing at all. That’s how he died. Why? So that you and I may not face the wrath of God but that we might be the beneficiaries of his sacrifice of atonement.

And perhaps this sorry saga here in chapter 21 of 2 Samuel exists simply that through endurance of this attempt at exposition and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might be pressed forward to Calvary. Don’t get up too soon. Look at that:

Wounded for me, wounded for me,
There on the cross he was wounded for me;
[And] gone my transgressions, and now I am free,
All because Jesus was wounded for me.[17]

Through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope—a hope that stands the test of time.

[1] Bob Thiele and George David Weiss, “What a Wonderful World” (1967).

[2] See 2 Timothy 3:15–16.

[3] Romans 15:4 (paraphrased).

[4] Thomas Chisholm, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” (1923).

[5] William Cowper, “God Moves in a Mysterious Way” (1774).

[6] Numbers 35:32–34 (ESV).

[7] See Joshua 9:18.

[8] Joshua 9:19 (ESV).

[9] Ecclesiastes 5:4 (paraphrased).

[10] Joshua 9:19–21 (ESV).

[11] 1 Samuel 15:14 (paraphrased).

[12] See Genesis 18:25.

[13] James Montgomery, “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed” (1821).

[14] John 1:29 (ESV).

[15] Deuteronomy 24:16 (ESV).

[16] 1 Samuel 24:20–22 (ESV).

[17] William G. J. Ovens, “Wounded for Me.”

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.