Second Samuel 21:1-14 relates an account that seems to clearly show king David’s righteous “use” of guilt by association (GBA) in a forensic context.
Atonement through Divinely Approved Judicial Selection of Those Who Were Put to Death
When God judged His people with a famine, David inquired of Him and learned that it was because Saul killed some of the Gibeonites:
2 Samuel 21:1 Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David enquired of the LORD. And the LORD answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.
David then consulted with the Gibeonites about the matter and asked what he could do to atone for Saul’s wrongdoing:
2 And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.) 3 Wherefore David said unto the Gibeonites, What shall I do for you? and wherewith shall I make the atonement, that ye may bless the inheritance of the LORD?
The Gibeonites told him that they wanted to execute 7 descendants of Saul. David agreed to do so:
4 And the Gibeonites said unto him, We will have no silver nor gold of Saul, nor of his house; neither for us shalt thou kill any man in Israel. And he said, What ye shall say, that will I do for you. 5 And they answered the king, The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, 6 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. And the king said, I will give them.
David spared Mephibosheth, who was lame in both feet, which makes it very unlikely that he had participated directly in the slaying of the Gibeonites:
7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the LORD’S oath that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.
David handed over two sons of Saul and 5 grandsons of Saul to be put to death by the Gibeonites:
8 But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bare unto Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she brought up for Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite: 9 And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the hill before the LORD: and they fell all seven together, and were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, in the beginning of barley harvest.
God approved of what David as the king1 did by “being intreated for the land,” which clearly implies that He ended the famine as a result of what David had done:
2 Samuel 21:14 And the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son buried they in the country of Benjamin in Zelah, in the sepulchre of Kish his father: and they performed all that the king commanded. And after that God was intreated for the land.
The passage does not say anything about God’s revealing supernaturally to David which living descendants of Saul had personally participated in the unrighteous killing of the Gibeonites. The passage also gives no indication of David’s making a very thorough inquiry and investigation to make sure that he only delivered up descendants of Saul who were actually guilty by having directly participated in the wrongdoing.
Rather, David seems to have used guilt by association in selecting the seven descendants of Saul who were executed to atone for Saul’s wrongdoing.
As the Spirit has framed this account, it seems clear that David righteously “used” GBA in this forensic context to deliver over 7 descendants of Saul to be put to death by the Gibeonites.
1As the king, David was the supreme human judicial authority over the people in his kingdom (2 Sam. 8:15; cf. 1 Kings 10:9; 1 Pet. 2:13-14)
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