William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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they had laid for him ; and though the discovery of their
craftiness naturally provoked the people, the princes coun-
seled that they should be faithful to their oath, saying, " We
have sworn unto them by the Lord God of Israel : now
therefore we may not touch them. This we will do to them ;
we will even let them live, lest wrath be on us, because of
the oath which we sware unto them. And the princes said
unto them, Let them live ; but let them be hewers of wood
and drawers of water unto all the congregation." This
proposal was agreed to ; and thus it happened that, though
they belonged to the guilty race of the Amorites, these Gib-
eonites lived for four hundred years among the tribes of Is-
rael, in peaceful servitude and uncomplaining submission.
But Saul, for some reason or other, conceived an aversion to
them, and set himself to accomplish their extermination.

Perhaps in one of those spasmodic fits of religious enthu-
siasm to which we saw he was so liable, he may have imag-
ined that zeal for the honor of God required him to root out
the Gibeonites from the land, or more probably he desired
to get possession of their lands for himself and his favorites ;
but in any case, in dealing thus with the men of Gibeon, he


distinctly violated without any justifiable reason the cov-
enant made with them by Joshua. We have no mention, in
the history of Saul, of this raid made by him upon the Gib-
eonites, and we hear of it now for the first time after he had
been dead and buried for thirty years. But let no one think
it strange that the penalty should come thus, in famine, upon
an entire nation, after a new generation had sprung up.
For a nation's history is a unit; and as there can be no
such thing as retribution of a nation in the future state, it
follows that if punishment for national sins is to be inflicted
at all, it must fall in the subsequent earthly history of the
nation that committed them. The generation which was
alive in France at the eras of the massacre of St. Bartholo-
mew and the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was a dif-
ferent one from that which lived at the time of the first Rev-
olution ; yet in the events of the latter, with its Reign of
Terror and rivers of blood, we have the undoubted conse-
quences of the former. Many generations have come and
gone in Spain since the days of Philip and the great Arma-
da, yet we can not doubt that the miserable condition of
that land for more than a century a condition out of which
its inhabitants find it hard even now to emerge was due to
the sins of those who knew not the day of their visitation,
"and suppressed the Protestantism which, but for the Inqui-
sition, would have arisen among them, and enabled them to
lead the van of European progress. The English occupants
of India in 1857 were not the same as those who, under
Clive, and Hastings, and others, so unrighteously obtained
possession of large portions of that empire ; nay, they were
in many instances men of another order and a nobler na-
ture ; yet upon these, ay, even upon the heads of sainted
missionaries who repudiated and condemned the cruelty and
craft of the first invaders, the terrible Nemesis of the mutiny
did fall. Hence there is nothing out of keeping with God's


usual procedure, in the fact that forty years after a national
sin had been committed by Israel under Saul, the punish-
ment came, and fell upon a generation different from that
which had been guilty of the wrong. Though the genera-
tion was different, the nation was the same. God is indeed
" a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon
the children unto the third and fourth generation."

It may be asked, however, why should such chastisement
come upon the tribes of Israel for Saul's massacre of the
Gibeonites, rather than for his murder of the priests of Nob ?
and perhaps a satisfactory answer may be found in the fol-
lowing considerations : First, the people did not sympathize
with Saul in his attack upon the priests, but were so dread-
fully shocked by his impiety that none save Doeg, the alien
Edomite, could be found to carry his murderous order on
that occasion into execution. In regard to the Gibeonites,
however, as Saul is here said to have slain them " in his zeal
to the children of Israel and Judah," it seems likely that the
people generally were on his side, and aiders and abettors
in his crime, if not, indeed, the first suggesters of it. Sec-
ond, it is probable that even at the moment of the famine,
the people, or at least some portion of them, were actually
enjoying the fruits of the destruction of the Gibeonites.
This, at least, is the opinion of Dr. Kitto,* indorsed and
adopted by Dr. Blaikie ; and it is presumably correct. You
remember that when Saul saw David's party growing strong
in the land, he said to his courtiers, " Hear now, ye Benja-
mites, will the son of Jesse give every one of you fields and
vineyards, and make you captains of hundreds and captains
of thousands?" Now this implies that he had made such
gifts to some, if not to all of them. But where did he get
these fields and vineyards ? They could not be part of his

* " Daily Bible Readings," vol. iii., p. 479.


patrimonial possession, for that was too small to be parceled
out among his followers ; neither could they be allotments
of territory taken from the Philistines, or other enemies of
Israel, for his success against them was never so great as to
enable him to enrich any one with its spoils. But in the
eviction or destruction of the Gibeonites, now mentioned for
the first time, we may perhaps conjecture that Saul found
the means for making the gifts to which, in the words al-
ready quoted, he so boastfully alludes. One of the towns
of the Gibeonites was in Judah, and three of them in Benja-
min ; and out of these and the surrounding districts the son
of Kish might make provision for his favorites. The fact
that the Gibeonites were not an integral portion of the chos-
en people, might furnish him with a pretext for attacking
them ; while the hope of gain would silence all the scruples
of his followers, and induce them to make common cause
with their king against their defenseless dependents. Now
if these conjectures be correct, they will explain not only
why punishment came upon the land for the slaughter of
the Gibeonites, and not for that of the priests, but also why,
in the expiation demanded by the Gibeonites, the victims
were chosen from the house of Saul.

But this selection of victims by the Gibeonites suggests
another of the singular difficulties of this narrative. Why
was the form of expiation for this sin of Saul's referred by
David to the Gibeonites, and not directly to God, who had
indicated the sin for which the famine was a visitation ? The
answer to this question must be sought in the old Eastern
custom of blood-revenge. When murder had been commit-
ted, the nearest of kin to the murdered person was empower-
ed to put the murderer to death wherever he might find him ;
and if the murderer himself was not killed by the nearest of
kin then living, the right descended to the next generation,
and the son of the one might kill the son of the other ; nay,


the obligation held for many generations, and was never re-
laxed until the offender himself, or, if he was dead, his rep-
resentative, had paid the fatal ransom. By the Mosaic law
this custom was regulated, and some of its most objection-
able features removed through the provision of the cities of
refuge ; but among the Gibeonites, who did not hold them-
selves bound by Jewish law, the ancient practice appears to
have been maintained in all its original stringency. Hence,
knowing that no real removal of their grievance was possi-
ble without appealing to them, David inquired what they de-
manded as a satisfaction, and their answer, while indicating
that they were willing to restrict themselves within narrow
limits, also declared that within these limits they were per-
fectly inexorable, and would accept of no pecuniary ransom.
They had a claim on the whole nation, but they would con-
fine themselves to the family of Saul ; and so they replied,
"The man that consumed us, and that devised against us,
that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the
coasts of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered unto
us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of
Saul, whom the Lord did choose." With a sad heart we may
be sure David said, "I will give them." Then came the
painful work of selecting the victims. Of course Mephibo-
sheth and his household were saved, for David remembered his
covenant with Jonathan ; but he took two of the sons of Riz-
pah, that one of Saul's concubines concerning whom the dis-
pute arose between Ishbosheth and Abner, and also five sons
of Merab, the eldest daughter of Saul, who had been wedded
to Adriel, the son of Barzillai, the Meholathite, one whom
we must carefully distinguish from the venerable chief of
Rogelim, whose kindness David had so warmly appreciated.
Bitter must have been the anguish of the homes on which
this dire calamity alighted ; nor may we attempt to depict
the agony of the parents, as their loved ones were torn from


their embrace and given up to death. Suffice it to say that
the Gibeonites put them to death, and hung their bodies on
gibbets on the hill of Gibeah, that place having been select-
ed because it was the head-quarters of the house of Saul.

But not unattended were these seven dismal scaffolds ; for
day and night, through long weeks, a female form flitted to
and fro among them, lavishing special care upon the bodies
of the two sons of Saul ; and as we see the haggard Rizpah,
with her lean and bony hands, scaring away the ravens by
day and the wild beasts by night, our hearts are filled with
pity for her sonless desolation. What a deep fountain is .a
mother's heart ! With a love stronger than death, she cared
for no privations ; she feared no dangers ; she heeded no
hardships, if only she might save the bodies of her sons from
desecration ! Such passionate devotion must have moved
every heart ; and when David heard of it, he took steps to
secure decent burial for the bodies of those whom the Gibe-
onites had slain ; and while engaged in this office of kind-
ness, he bethought himself of the bones of Saul and Jona-
than, which he caused to be exhumed from their resting-
place at Jabesh, and to be interred in the family sepulchre
of Kish. Then, this atonement having been made, the rain
descended, in token that God was entreated for the, land.

I have refrained from any remark on the character of this
whole transaction, because, from our ignorance of Eastern
customs generally, and especially of that rude form of jus-
tice prevalent among the Orientals called blood-revenge, we
are, to a great extent, incapacitated from pronouncing judg-
ment upon it. Evidently, however, the whole thing was re-
garded by David, by the Gibeonites, and by the members of
Saul's family themselves, as a judicial affair. We read of no
vindictive violence on the part of the Gibeonites in the man-
ner in which the victims were put to death ; we hear of no
resistance to their demands on the side of the family of Saul ;

1 6*


and we see in David's demeanor all through a kind of con-
straint, which indicates that he went through with it only
with the deepest reluctance, and under a sense of the strong-
est obligation. Indeed, the entire negotiation bears a resem-
blance to the extradition of criminals by one country to an-
other, that they may be dealt with according to the laws of
the realm in which their crime was committed, the only dif-
ference being that here the descendants of the criminals were
held to be their representatives, and dealt with as if they had
themselves committed the evil deed ; whereas in our mod-
ern times, the criminal himself can alone be made amena-
ble to the law. This difference, however, arises from the pe-
culiar custom to which I have adverted, and the fact that, af-
ter the execution of Saul's descendants, God was entreated
for the land, appears conclusive that their death was regard-
ed by him as a public vindication of that justice which Saul
had outraged by his attack upon the Gibeonites.

After this sore famine, the land of Israel was again ex-
posed to the evils of war. David's old enemies, the Philis-
tines, took the field against him once more, having in their
ranks some men of gigantic stature and great strength, be-
longing to the family of Goliath. One of these, by name
Ishbi-benob, pressed so sore against the king in a hand-to-
hand encounter, that, but for the interference of Abishai, Da-
vid would have been slain. The old courage was in him
still, but the old strength was gone ; so his army besought
him not to run such risk again, and prevailed on him not to
take the field in person any more ; but they did not fight the
less bravely because their chief was not with them, for in one
or two decisive encounters the Philistines seem to have been
entirely subdued. Yet David's troubles did not end with
the defeat of his enemies, for a sore pestilence came upon
the land, which cut off seventy thousand of the inhabitants.
The account of this visitation, indeed, is not given until the


twenty-fourth chapter of 2 Samuel, but it will be more con-
venient to introduce it here, and I shall attempt in my sum-
mary of the recorded facts to weave together the two narra-
tives of Samuel and the Chronicles.

For some reason not given, but most probably because of
the pride of the people in their national greatness, God was
displeased with Israel, and the punishment came in connec-
tion with the command of David to number Israel and Ju-
dah. In the one account we are told that God moved Da-
vid to give this command ; in the other, it is alleged that Sa-
tan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number
the people. But the meaning is that God permitted Satan
thus to move David, in order that through his act an oppor-
tunity might arise for the punishment of Israel's sin. The
command of David was not sinful in itself, but became so,
from the spirit of pride and vainglory out of which it origi-
nated, and which was shared with him by the people over
whom he ruled. The law provided for the taking of a cen-
sus of the population, but in connection with the enumera-
tion, and probably to check the disposition to boasting which
it was likely to evoke, it enacted thus (Exod. xxx., 12):
" When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after
their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for
his soul unto the Lord, when thou numberest them ; that
there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.
This they shall give, every one that passeth among them that
are numbered, half a shekel after the shekel of the sanctua-
ry : a half-shekel shall be the offering of the Lord." Now
we have no record of the making of this offering here, and
Josephus affirms that, in the neglect of this offering, we have
the occasion of the pestilence that followed a suggestion
which may well enough be correct, especially when we re-
flect that the omission of this acknowledgment of God may
be regarded as indicating the presence of that spirit of vain-


glory which God designed to punish ai/d repress. In this
matter Joab, strangely enough, seems to have been wiser than
David, for he not only protested against the taking of the
census, but, after he was commanded to carry it out, he un-
dertook it with undisguised reluctance, and (as we learn from
i Chron. xxi., 6) left it unfinished, by declining to take the
numbers of the tribes of Levi and Benjamin. Indeed, it is
affirmed that " the king's word was abominable unto him."
Nay, more, David himself appears to have shrunk from add-
ing up the total, for it is recorded (i Chron. xxvii., 23) that
he did not take "the number of them from twenty years old
and under : because the Lord had said he would increase Is-
rael like to the stars of the heavens." Thus this census was
never finished ; and it is solemnly said, " Neither was the
number put in the account of the Chronicles of king David."
First among the things that hindered it there came a deep
feeling of compunction into David's own heart. This was
followed by a frank acknowledgment of his guilt to God, and
an earnest. appeal for mercy. Then the prophet Gad ap-
peared, offering him, in God's name, a choice of three calam-
ities famine, pestilence, or war, and saying to him, "Advise
now, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me."
With devout wisdom and simple trust, David put himself and
his people into Jehovah's hand, using these memorable words,
" Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord ; for his mercies
are great : and let me not fall into the hand of man."

So the pestilence came a plague, a black death, a chol-
era, or other form of dreadful epidemic. In the midst of
its ravages David set out, as it would seem, to inquire of
the Lord at the old Tabernacle at Gibeon ;* but when he got
as far as the summit.of Moriah, then occupied as a thresh-
ing-floor by Araunah, or Oman, a chief among the Jebu-

* i Chron. xxi., 28-30.


sites, he was met by a solemn vision. He beheld the an-
gel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, having
a drawn sword in his hand, which was stretched over Jeru-
salem. This at once arrested his progress, and he, and they
who were with him, fell upon their faces, while he cried out,
in lowly lamentation : " Is it not I that commanded the peo-
ple to be numbered ? even I it is that have sinned and done
evil -indeed ; but as for these sheep, what have they done ?
let thine hand, I pray thee, O Lord my God, be on me, and
on my father's house; but not on thy people, that they
should be plagued." In answer to this fervent appeal, Gad
was commissioned to say to David, " Go up, rear an altar
unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebu-
site." In obedience to this injunction, the king went for-
ward to negotiate with the Jebusite for the purchase of the
place ; and though the generous chief offered to make it a
gift, together with oxen for the sacrifice, and his threshing
implements for the fire, David would not accept them, say-
ing, " Nay ; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price : nei-
ther will I offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord my God of
that which doth cost me nothing." So giving him, accord-
ing to the one account, fifty shekels of silver, and according
to the other, six hundred shekels of gold, by weight, he of-
fered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings, and the plague was
stayed, while the site was marked off as the spot whereon at
length Solomon his son was to erect that stately Temple, the
materials for the building of which he had been himself so
long collecting. Very interesting was this colloquy between
the two princes. " It was," as Stanley beautifully says, " the
meeting of two ages. Araunah, as he yields that spot, is the
last of the Canaanites, the last of that stern old race that we
discern in any individual form and character. David, as he
raises that altar, is the close harbinger of the reign of Solo-
mon the founder of a new institution which another was to


complete ;"* and through all the ages of the world's history
the place itself was to be enshrined as the most sacred and
interesting spot on the surface of the earth. In reviewing
the portion of history now before our notice, there are two
or three points of practical and present importance which
demand attention.

In the first place, here let us be on our guard against na-
tional perfidy. Saul and his people attempted the destruc-
tion or expatriation of the Gibeonites, a poor tribe, who were
willing to purchase a peaceful existence by the discharge of
the most menial duties ; and as the result, forty years after
the land was desolated by famine, and five of Saul's descend-
ants were demanded for the vindication of public justice.

As I have been repeating this history, I doubt not that
your minds have been engaged in drawing the parallel be-
tween the relation of Saul to the Gibeonites and that of our
own nation to those two races whose condition and destiny
seem to be so bound up with our own. I enter not now
into any minute analysis of our dealings with the African
race on the one hand, and the Indian on the other ; neither
do I presume to say on which side the blame has to be laid ;
but I do affirm that this old record has especially for us
now a lesson of most solemn warning. Let us be careful
to maintain inviolate all treaty obligations. Let us deal with
these tribes in a spirit of honesty and kindness, not forbear-
ing to punish acts of deliberate treachery, yet eagerly ab-
staining from all wanton cruelty. Otherwise, we may be
sure that we shall entail upon ourselves most serious evils.
The God of the Gibeonites is the God of the Indians and
Africans as well. Ah, how many Rizpahs did the war con-
sign to sonless sorrow, as they mourned over those who were
the victims of wrongs which they had no hand in commit-

* "Jewish Church," vol. ii., p. 135.


ting ! And is there not now one widow in the land, mourn-
ing over a husband who fell the victim of a treachery which
the cruelty of others had provoked ?* It is the old, old story,
and nothing can prevent its recurrence but the introduction
of the new principle of the Gospel of Christ, whose watch-
words are love, and righteousness, and peace.

In the second place, let us be on our guard against na-
tional pride. David's numbering of the people was but the
occasion of the pestilence which wrought such havoc in
the land. "An anterior sin, shared alike by king and peo-
ple, was the primary cause of the plague."! Now it is, as
we have said, most natural to suppose that this sin was
pride. As Nebuchadnezzar drew down upon himself a ter-
rible punishment by cherishing the spirit which found utter-
ance in these words : " Is not this great Babylon which I
have built by the might of my power and for the honor of
my majesty?" so the Israelites, as they looked upon their ex-
tensive territory, and thought upon their enemies all thor-
oughly subdued, gave way to vainglory, and forgot to give
God the praise. But is there nothing like this among our-
selves? We talk of our national pre-eminence in wealth, in
liberty, and in extent of territory. We speak of our vessels
sailing over every ocean, and trafficking in every harbor; and
while all this may be done in a spirit of humility and devout
gratitude to God, is there nothing like Nebuchadnezzar's
vainglory in the utterances upon this subject which come so
roundly from the lips of our popular orators, and which are
given forth by our daily and periodical press ? In sober
truth, our greatness is but the measure of our responsibility,
and the perception of its magnitude ought only to impel us
the more earnestly to pray to God for grace to do the work

* These words were written only a few days after the murder of Gen-
eral Canby by the Indians,
t Wright's " David," p. 348.


which the very greatness of our privileges has laid upon us.
What have we that we have not received? Who hath made
us to differ from others? Instead, therefore, of sounding a
trumpet before us to proclaim our greatness, let us seek to
turn that greatness to account in the service of God, and the
promotion of the welfare of the human race. Let our
watchword be, " Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto
thy name give glory, for thy mercy and thy truth's sake ;"
and never let us forget the prophet's words, " The lofty looks
of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall
be bowed down ; and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that

We have here, in the third place, an illustration of the ne-
cessity of an expiation -for sin. The plague was stayed in
connection with the offering of sacrifice ; and as "we read the
record, we can not forget how the Son of David made him-
self a sacrifice in the immediate neighborhood of this same
spot, in order that the plague of sin might be removed'from
human hearts, and his believing people restored to the
health of holiness. The voice of the entire Old Testament
on this subject is, "Without shedding of blood there can be

Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 29 of 36)