Stories about the Gibeonites make for very interesting reading. We are first introduced to this particular group of people in Joshua 9. They saw how the Israelites were destroying every nation and city in their path, and they decided they didn’t want to fall victim to the destruction of these newcomers. So, they utilized deception. They pretended to be from a far-off nation, desiring to make a treaty with the Israelites. Joshua, without consulting God, made the treaty, only to discover that the Gibeonites were actually close neighbors. Because of his commitment to them, however, he allowed them to live.
The next time we see the Gibeonites is in 2 Samuel 21 in a very different sort of story.
Israel had been in a famine for three years. David, king by this time, was concerned about the famine. So, he sought the face of the Lord. In response, the Lord informed David that the famine was because of Saul’s treatment of the Gibeonites.
Scripture doesn’t give us the specific story about what Saul did to the Gibeonites, but the 2 Samuel account seems to hint at a genocidal attack. It was horrible enough that Saul’s death did nothing to atone for the crime, and justice was still required.
But a few things stood out to me in this story.
The Gibeonites did not seek justice for themselves. They suffered. They grieved. But they did not seek vengeance. They simply waited, and God took care of the details.
Probably part of the reason the Gibeonites did not seek justice was because of their view of Saul. Even as they requested the death of seven members of Saul’s family, they referred to Saul as “the Lord’s chosen one.” (2 Sam 21:6) If Saul was God’s chosen vessel, then what Saul did was in the Lord’s hands.
It appears that, even though these people were not Israelites, they trusted in God! It is not explicit in Scripture, so I might be reading too much into this. But, the impression I get is that these foreigners submitted to God and His infinite wisdom. It was the same attitude David had when he was being pursued by Saul – God is in control, even if it doesn’t look good. Saul was God’s chosen king, so the Gibeonites, like David, submitted to him.
So what does that mean for us? I see several things, both from the actions of David and the attitude of the Gibeonites.
First of all, when there is suffering we beg and plead for relief. We ask why, and we hunger for understanding. But, David sought the face of God. And when he did, God gave him understanding and direction. When my focus is on the suffering itself, I often do not seek God’s face. I want answers more than I want to walk in full surrender and obedience. And therefore I frequently do not receive understanding. It took David three years, but he sought the face of God. And God honored the seeking.
Secondly, the evil of Saul against the Gibeonites could be easily seen as the evil of this world triumphing. It could be a perfect example of the “why does God allow good things to happen to bad people?” argument. But, the Gibeonites didn’t see it that way. They didn’t hold their suffering against God. They might not have understood it, but they acknowledged that Saul had been anointed by God and God was still very much in control, even in the midst of the terrible things Saul did. And they waited for Him. God is good. The rulers of this world are in place because He has anointed them to be there. The best and the worst of them. He is accomplishing His purposes, and He is in control no matter what they do. Everything He does is good because He is the definition of good. I might not understand it. I might not see how in the world it can be good. But, if God does it, I can trust Him. I can choose to let go and leave it in His hands, just as the Gibeonites did.
There’s one final thing, found a little further down in this whole story. After David did everything necessary to make things right with the Gibeonites, there still wasn’t an automatic end to the famine. It still had to be recognized that there was no magic formula to ending the famine. It was God’s power that would restore plentiful harvest. 2 Samuel 21:14 says, “They buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the tomb of Saul’s father Kish, at Zela in Benjamin, and did everything the king commanded. After that, God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” (emphasis mine) Prayer was still required! Healing is more than a ritual or a checklist. It is a relationship. God doesn’t want any of us to simply walk through life checking off boxes of obedience. He wants us walking with Him. Interacting with Him. Asking for His presence and mighty work in our lives.
The stories of the Gibeonites are not pretty ones. But, God was the author of those stories, even as He is the author of ours. No matter how ugly our stories seem, God’s goodness will still shine. And we can trust in that goodness in every situation, without fail.