During the reign of David, there was a famine for three successive years; so David sought the face of the LORD. The LORD said, “It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death.”
(2 Samuel 21:1, NIV)
The first economic recession was attributed to Cain’s murder of his righteous brother, Abel. Genesis 4:10 said that Abel’s blood cried to God from the ground. It means that Abel was unjustly killed, and his grudge was delivered to God. Abel’s sorrow appealed to the Lord, not just because Cain killed Abel but because he murdered someone who had no reason to die. Thus, the Lord punished his sin through famine, the economic depression of that age.
Famine, for a similar reason, happened in the days of King David. In 2 Samuel 21, Israel endured famine for three years when David was king; the farmers could not work, and people suffered because they had nothing to eat. As a king of Israel, David was very concerned about it and prayed earnestly to God to overcome it.
Then, he realized the reason was beyond what he could imagine.
God said that it originated because King Saul killed the Gibeonites, who had no reason to be killed in his days. It was not from the sin of David but the sin of Saul.
The Gibeonites were the remnants of the Amorites living in Canaan during the days of Joshua. As Israel began to occupy Canaan, they were afraid they would perish, so they pretended to be the envoys who came from a distance before the Israelites by making their clothes, shoes, and other things old. It worked, and they were led to a peace treaty with Israel by trickery. Even though they were one of the Canaanites, they were able to save their lives. Instead, they had served as the slaves of Israel since then.
In the days of Saul, however, the Israelites seemed to have complained that the Gibeonites had their inheritance in Israel. Saul took it as his political opportunity. He would have expected to restore his honor in any way because the people of Israel said that “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands.”
In the end, Saul ignored the past peace treaty with the Gibeonites and carried out genocide against them.
Moreover, he no longer allowed them to live in Israel. On the false pretext for Israel’s honor, King Saul shed the innocent blood of the weak Gibeonites, who were unable to resist. It was derived from Saul’s wrong populism, which he sought to gain support from the Israelites.
David knew he had to face the victims directly and tackle the problem fundamentally. He did not shift the responsibility onto Saul but strove to resolve it on his own. He met and asked the people of Gibeon, “What should I do for you? How should I atone for what we have done?” Then, the Gibeonites demanded seven descendants from Saul’s family. David chose seven among Saul’s descendants and gave them. The Gibeonites dragged them up to a mountain and hanged all of them. After that, it began to rain at last.
The case of Saul’s slaughter of the Gibeonites was the sin of disobedience. He broke the command of God to gain the favor of the people. In Deuteronomy 19:10, God commanded not to shed the blood of the innocent in the promised land. He warned that if any one of the Israelites killed the innocent, its blood would return to the one who did so.
Meanwhile, in 2 Samuel 21:2, we can found that Saul did it for the people of Israel and Judah. It means that the responsibility of shedding innocent blood was not only with King Saul but also with the people. Thus, the people suffered for three years of famine, and seven of Saul’s descendants were hanged to death. In conclusion, the words of Deuteronomy were accurately applied to King Saul and the Israelites.