Chapter 21 begins with a famine that struck the people of Israel for three years during the rule of David (v.1). The sudden disaster upon the kingdom did not happen by coincidence, but by God’s just ruling. When God punished the people of Israel, David’s instant response was to seek God in the darkness of the famine. From David’s response to the situation, we can learn about several principles that speak about the value of making a covenant before the Almighty.
- Covenants made before God are binding
It was through God’s revelation to David that we have an explanation for the famine – that the people of Israel should answer for the “bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death” (v.1). Without seeking the face of God, David and his people would be left without explanation. However, it was revealed by God that the devastating punishment was to answer for Saul’s sin of putting the Gibeonites – a remnant nation of the Amorites who were promised to be spared – to death. This was a clear violation of the covenant made before God, a covenant that cannot be broken without consequences.
We must recognize and uphold the value of a covenant made before God. One important example of this is when public vows are made before God and the church in marriage. This vow declares that the wedded couple will love one another and be faithful to each other until “death do us [them] part”. From this principle, it is clear that covenants made before God should not be taken lightly. If one takes the covenant for granted as Saul did, and blatantly breaks it, they are treating the Lord’s name in vain.
- Covenants made before God protect
The narrative continues in verses 3-9 where David then asked the Gibeonites on what should be done to avenge the blood guilt sin that Saul committed. What followed was a grave demand from the Gibeonites as they demanded for seven of Saul’s descendants to be put to death by hanging. Though it may seem like a pagan practice as a means to appease an angry god, it is actually on the contrary as it displays the just character of God. The terrifying tragedy that left Saul’s seven descendants ‘hanged on the mountain before the LORD’ (v.9) points to the horrific image of our redemption in Christ who bore our sins on the cross. However, not everything is doom and gloom as David spared Mephibosheth to honour the covenant he made with Jonathan. David’s faithfulness to the covenant can be seen as a foreshadowing to the assurance and safety we can have through what Christ has done on the cross. By the power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ, our salvation is secured and guaranteed within the safe circle of the covenant that can never be broken or taken away.
Let us not forget the horror of redemption that provided us both assurance and safety in Christ. Rizpah, one of Saul’s concubines who bore the punishment, lived on a rock and fended off animals as she grieved for the loss of her children. It was out of Rizpah’s deep enduring love for her children that she remained on the mountain and kept watch over her children (v.10). This show of enduring love turns our eyes towards Christ who was offered as a sacrifice by God. He endured all of our suffering on the cross for the countless sins we have committed against God. From Christ’s sacrifice, there is a great peace and assurance in the promise that through Christ we are now in Him. May this truth comfort us and move us to carry out His Will.