July 2013 • Volume XIV, Issue
The Death of
Saul’s Seven Sons
A brother writes, "Reading II
Samuel 21, it seems unjust that seven of Saul’s sons are put
to death for their father’s sins against the Gibeonites,
which instance is not recorded in Scripture (as far as I can
The history of this event is
somewhat complicated and, in some instances, as the
questioner mentions, not always clear. What is clear is the
following. When Joshua and the Israelites fought against the
Canaanites, Joshua made peace with the Gibeonites (Josh.
9:3-27). At the time that peace was made, the elders of
Israel swore an oath not to kill the Gibeonites (15).
Many centuries later (the
period from the exodus of Israel to the reign of Saul is
generally considered to be about 400 years), Saul came to
the throne in Israel. He apparently killed some of the
Gibeonites with whom Israel had made peace. The questioner
observes that this event is not mentioned in Scripture. It
is possible, however, that the reference is the bloody
murder of 85 people by Doeg, the Edomite, at the command of
Saul (I Sam. 22:17-19). The basis for this conjecture is
that, according to I Samuel 22:6 and 23:19, Saul was staying
at this time in Gibeah.
However that may be, David was
aware of this dastardly deed, for he was not surprised when
the Lord explained that the famine in the land of Canaan was
due to Saul’s murder of some Gibeonites, in violation of the
oath Israel swore to spare their lives. At the request of
the Gibeonites themselves, seven sons of Saul were executed
(II Sam. 21:1-11).
It seems as if it was in
connection with the killing of Saul’s sons and the
protection of the two bodies by their mother, Rizpah, that
David took the bones of Saul and Jonathan from the people of
Jabesh-gilead and buried them in the family burial ground in
Several questions arise in
connection with these strange events. One question is: Why
did the Lord wait a rather long time between Saul’s
murderous deed and His punishment of it on the nation of
Israel? A second question is: What did the burial of the
bones of Saul and Jonathan have to do with the appeasement
of God’s anger? For it was only after this burial of the
bones of Saul and Jonathan that "God was entreated for the
But the questioner is concerned
about another matter. Where is the justice in killing seven
sons of Saul for a sin that Saul committed? That is probably
the easiest part of the whole matter to answer. The answer
is that in God’s dealings with men (and angels) there is a
corporate responsibility involving men in the same organic
relationship. Ultimately, the whole world is united in one
corporate unity, for Adam’s sin in Paradise was, and is, the
responsibility of the entire world: "Wherefore, as by one
man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so
death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom.
5:12). But there is also organic unity and, therefore,
corporate responsibility in nations, in races and in
families. What one individual within a given group does is
the responsibility of the whole organic unit.
Corporate responsibility exists
in families. God visits the iniquity of the fathers upon the
children unto the third and fourth generation of them that
hate Him (Ex. 20:5). Corporate responsibility is a part of
the life of nations. All Israel suffered at the defeat of
the army at Ai, because one man (Achan) had stolen things
from Jericho (Josh. 7). The whole Northern Kingdom of Israel
was given over to idolatry and finally was brought into
captivity because of the sin of Jeroboam the son of Nebat,
who made Israel to sin. Judah went into captivity to Babylon
for its horrible sin of idol worship, and so godly Daniel
and his three friends, not personally guilty of Judah’s sin,
had to go along.
Corporate responsibility is a
fact in all of life, also in our present day.
But a new corporation was
formed by God’s grace, the corporation of a new nation, a
new people, the church. It is the corporation of Christ and
His elect. It is a gracious corporation in which the whole
church is responsible for what Christ did in His holy life
and on the cross. This is why Christ’s righteousness can be
and is imputed to all the elect. And so, as in Adam all
died, so also in Christ are all made alive (I Cor. 15:22).
Saul had sinned in breaking the
oath that Israel, under Joshua, had sworn to the Gibeonites.
All the Israelites, within that national corporation, were
obligated to keep that oath. Saul broke it, quite possibly
in his hatred and fear of David, whom God had anointed in
Saul’s place. Israel was responsible for Saul’s sin. Justice
had never been done regarding Saul’s cold-blooded murder.
Now, during David’s reign, God was punishing Israel.
Assuming this was in connection with the events in I Samuel
22, we read that when Saul killed Ahimelech and 84 others,
he killed "both men and women, children and sucklings" (19).
What could be more just than that Saul’s family was now
killed in retribution? And so it was.
Why God waited so long to bring
justice to the Gibeonites, I do not know. I do know, as the
old proverb has it, that the mills of God’s justice grind
slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine. The current US
president’s sin of approving and encouraging same-sex
marriages is a great sin. Justice has not yet been meted
out, but it will be. Woe to those who are responsible in our
country for such terrible sin. Sodom and Gomorrah were not
spared; shall America escape judgment? We are all
responsible—unless we confess this sin and flee to Christ by
faith that we may hide in the shadow of the cross.
I must make one more remark.
Corporate responsibility is openly and almost universally
denied in our day. The reason why it is denied in the church
is because the dreadful heresy of Arminianism has swept the
church. Arminianism knows no corporate responsibility. In
Arminian thought, it is every man for himself. Arminianism
is Pelagianism. And, as the Canons of Dordt express
it, Pelagianism is born in hell (II:R:3). The whole matter
of corporate responsibility is fundamental to the Reformed
faith. It is part of the foundation. It is a truth that must
be preserved at all cost.
The questioner included another
question related to this one: "The wholesale slaughter of
the Canaanites in the land, men, women and children, has to
be justified too; perhaps Romans 9:21 gives the answer."
Romans 9:21 reads: "Hath not the potter power over the clay,
of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another
I do not think Romans 9:21 is
an answer to the question, except that Romans 9:21 teaches
election and reprobation. God’s supreme sovereign
determination in election and reprobation stands behind all
God’s dealings with men. But that is not the emphasis in the
killing of the Canaanites.
First of all, one must remember
that the slaughter of the Canaanites was the historical
fulfilment of God’s curse of Canaan, Ham’s son, spoken by
Noah (Gen. 9:25-26). Here, too, the whole matter of
corporate responsibility enters in, for the generations of
Ham were corporately responsible for Ham’s reckless and
sinful behaviour during Noah’s drunken sleep.
It is also true, however, that
the Canaanites had filled the cup of iniquity and had made
themselves ripe for judgment. Is the slaughter of the
Canaanites any worse than Israel’s song in captivity? "O
daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he
be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us. Happy shall
he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the
stones" (Ps. 137:8-9).
There is a point here, though,
that badly needs emphasis. In an important sense, God does
not need to be justified. I would shrink back from any
thought ever of doing this. The point is not only that God
has the right to do with His creatures as He pleases, but
also that any questioning of His judgments upon the wicked
is a slur on God’s holiness (Rom. 9:20-21). The problem is
not that God does terrible things in His fury against sin;
the problem is that man thinks too carelessly of God’s
holiness. If only we knew and understood and believed how
holy God is, then we would have no trouble understanding His
righteous wrath against sinners.
Finally, it is against the
holiness of God that we must measure the terrible nature of
our sin. We are so inclined to wink at sin, overlook, it,
consider it a minor thing and excuse it with all kinds of
spurious reasonings. But let us stand once, as Isaiah did,
in the blazing light of that holiness: what then? Let us cry
out with the prophet, "Woe is me" (Isa. 6:5)! Prof. Hanko
Saturday or Sunday?
A lady asks, "Can you tell me
why some people worship on Saturday rather than Sunday?"
First of all, we need to understand that the Christian
church worships and has worshipped on the first day of the
week, Sunday, the Lord’s Day, from the days of the apostles
onward, for several important, biblical reasons:
Jesus rose from the
dead on a Sunday with a "great earthquake" (Matt.
Peter and John
beheld Christ’s empty tomb (Luke 24:12; John
20:3-10), as did the women (Matt. 28:1-8; Mark
16:1-8; Luke 24:1-10) and Mary Magdalene (John
20:1-2, 11-13) to whom the angels spoke, on a
All the specified
days on which the Lord appeared after He rose from
the dead are Sundays. On that first Sunday, He
showed Himself to five parties: the women (Matt.
28:9-10), Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-18),
Peter (Luke 24:34; I Cor. 15:5), the two travellers
on the Emmaus Road (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32) and
ten disciples (Luke 24:36ff.; John 20:19-23). On the
second Sunday, He revealed Himself to the eleven
disciples, Thomas being with them (John 20:24-29).
The ascended Christ
poured out His Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday (Acts
2), the beginning of the "last days" (17), the
birthday of the Christian church and the occasion of
the first Christian sermon and baptisms.
The apostle Paul
preached and administered the Lord’s Supper in the
church at Troas, where he raised Eutychus from the
dead, on a Sunday (Acts 20:7-12).
The church was
commanded to give offerings on a Sunday (I Cor.
Himself to the apostle John, and so gave him the
book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, on a
Sunday or Lord’s Day (Rev. 1:10).
assemble on a Saturday because they reject the significance
of these acts of Christ and His Spirit, as well as the
example of the apostolic church, and have not grasped the
greatness of the salvation we have only and fully in Jesus
Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), who possesses
authority and power to change the day and invest it with
richer and deeper meaning and blessedness. He ceased from
His work of purchasing redemption for His elect and entered
His sabbath rest upon His resurrection from the dead on a
Sunday (Heb. 4:10; Westminster Confession 21:7-8;
Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. & A. 115-121;
Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38).
Sadly, songs by seventh-day
sabbatarians are included in many evangelical hymn books.
Francis Augustus Blackmer, who wrote "Once I thought I
walked with Jesus," belonged to the Seventh Day Adventists
who believe that observing Sunday as the Lord’s Day is the
mark of the beast (Rev. 13:16-18); Samuel Stennett, who
penned "On Jordan’s stormy banks I stand," was a Seventh Day
Baptist (cf. "Our Own Hymn Book Versus God’s Own Hymn Book:
A Critique of the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster
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