Unfinished Business (2 Samuel 21)

Two weeks ago, we talked about the trials, troubles and temptations of life as relentless. Because of his sin, David faced continuous trouble and trials throughout his life.

–          Because of Adam’s sin, we live in a world where, sin, temptation, trials, trouble and death are ever present.

–          Because of our own sin, we often face the ongoing consequences in relationships, ministry etc.

This is illustrated with our two incidents here.

  1. Recognise the ongoing and persistent consequences of your decisions and actions

Injustice not dealt with (v 1-15)

V 1 -2 Relentless famine

The famine has been going on for three years. There’s a sense of relentlessness picked up by the words “Year after year.” In response, “David sought the face of the Lord” this is significant, the phrase is unique to this verse. Once again, he is learning to turn to the Lord, to listen to him, to seek his favour.

God answers. The reason for the famine was Saul’s sin. The original structure od the verse puts the emphasis on Saul’s household, literally it reads “To Saul and to his house is blood-guilt.”

The Gibeonites had made a treaty with Israel in Joshua’s time enabling them to live at peace in the land. Saul however broke this. His motives may have been good, a sense of passion and zeal for God’s people but they led to wrong actions as he sought to wipe out a peaceful people and break a covenant.

v3 – 5 David looks to make atonement

His aim is to appease/propitiate/reconcile God’s people to the Gibeonites as well as to God. His desire issue is that the Gibeonites will bless Israel, in other words, that they will no longer hold a grievance and instead of praying for God’s justice on Israel, they’ll pray for mercy.

The Gibeonites say they are not looking for a financial settlement and that they have no power to kill. The words are formal courtesy but they are basically saying in a  roundabout way that  “Punishment/justice” needs to happen and they are not in a position to do it.

The person behind this is no longer present. So in his place, they request -seven sons of Saul to pay the price. Seven symbolically represents completeness. David agrees to this. The penalty sounds horrific to our modern ears but it is worth considering:

–          In ancient near eastern cultures, there was a much greater sense of collective responsibility, especially in terms of honour and shame.

–          It is possible that the wider family were complicit in Saul’s sin

–          The purpose is to bring the blood-guilt to an end and limit the type of ongoing feuds we have seen in other contexts (e.g. Rwanda and former Yugoslavia).

V6-9 David Agrees

He chooses some of Saul’s family but spares Mephibosheth.  They are killed at harvest time.

V 10 – 14 Bones

Rizpah, Saul’s daughter mourns the death of the men. She protects their bodies from the birds, animals and elements.  This is about them being exposed and shamed and the need for a proper burial.

David hears about this -and his response is recognition that also, Saul and Jonathan still haven’t been properly honoured in death” – they lie in a borrowed tomb. David has their bones reburied in the family tomb.

At this point, the famine ends.  It seems that there is a need for closure here -unfinished business with the house of Saul. There’s recognition of what lost Saul the throne -a man of zeal but his zeal led him away from obeying God. Atonement needs to be made and we’ll return to that shortly.


There were consequences for Saul’s actions in the past.  I want to challenge you, have you taken responsibility for unfinished business? Is there someone you need to be reconciled to? Is there are commitment you have left unfulfilled.  Go, get it sorted.

I also want to pick up on the way that our actions and decisions have a ripple effect beyond us. We may not quite get the culture here but we have something to learn. Exodus 20: 4-6 says:

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.”

It’s important we don’t misunderstand this. It’s not a kind of superstitious thing like a generational curse but our actions and words are having a far-reaching affect. Parents, your children are absorbing your values, every time you say “I’m going to put this work down and paly with you, you are showing that love and family come before money. Every Sunday when you make getting to the church service your first priority, even if it means saying no to other social activities, you are teaching them that God’s people matter and that worship is a pleasure and a joy, not just a mere duty.

In church life, the decisions we make about a teaching diet or about doing outreach or employing a worker -these things are not just about he here and now but about a church learning healthy priorities for the long term.

What are we passing on? And what stuff from the past do we need to make amends for because we are living with the consequences today?

  1. Be always vigilant -engaged in the spiritual warfare of putting to death sinful desires

V15 -22 Philistines again

Four times the phrase “There was war with the Philistines comes up. This is paired with the response where one of David’s men “struck down” one of the Philistine warriors. This gives us a sense of the relentlessness of ongoing conflict with one of Israel’s oldest enemies.

V15-17 Ishbi-benob attacks . David fights him but is weary. Abishai intervenes to protect him. There are signs here that David is no longer youthful and powerful in battle. He is transitioning to a new role as king because he is a liability in the battle field. There’s a reminder to us that we cannot do battle with sin on our own. It is so important that we are part of the fellowship, receiving challenge and encouragement from one another.

V 18 Saph is struck down by Sibbecai

V19-Another Goliath is struck down.

V20-21 A six fingered giant is struck down by David’s nephew, Jonathan

V22 We are told that the 4 are descendants of the Giants of Gath.  

Our enemy is sin. How do we fight it?

See sins ugliness

–          We need to recognise its seriousness. Learn to name it for what it is. The temptation is to minimise sin.

It wasn’t ‘mispeaking’ it was lying

It wasn’t ‘clumsy language’ it was hurtful, racist talk

It wasn’t ‘being a bit direct and not realising how sensitive you were’ it was being rude and bullying.

–          We need to recognise the hurt and cost it causes to others

–          We need to recognise that it is against God

Get a greater vision of God’s goodness, love and grace

The problem with sin is we big it up, we believe the lie that it promises us something good and better. It’s only when we recognise that God’s grace and love are far more wonderful that sin begins to lose its lure.

Know your dependence on God’s Grace

You are not going to win this yourself. Turn to him for forgiveness and help.

Be accountable to others

Find someone you can trust to get them praying with you and holding you to account.

Put on as well as put off

It’s not just about trying to stop things. Learn to replace temptation with Scripture. Memorise it, reflect on it. When temptation comes, speak Scripture to yourself.

  1. Root your life in the Gospel

This has probably been the most repeated application in my sermons because it is the most important.

We may find the events here uncomfortable and yet they point is to  something else which is equally uncomfortable but leads to a glorious conclusion.

Saul’s sin means that the curse of death hangs over God’s people. Atonement has to be made.  It has to be complete.

So too with us. Our sin can only be dealt with by Christ’s death on the Cross. Atonement means that our sin has been completely dealt with.

Is this true for you?


  1. An encouragement to keep on keeping on growing in holiness and overcoming sin
  2. A call to those who don’t yet know Jesus as saviour to put your trust in him.