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Deuteronomy 21:22:23 (NKJV)

22 “If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, 23 his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.

Also again in Deuteronomy 24 it says

Deuteronomy 24:16 (NKJV)

16 “Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor shall children be put to death for their fathers; a person shall be put to death for his own sin.

Therefore would the events of 2 Samuel 21:8-10 have been considered a violation of God's law?

2 Samuel 21:8-10 (NKJV)

8 So the king took Armoni and Mephibosheth, the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, and the five sons of Michal a 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 on the hill before the LORD. So 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. 10 Now Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until the late rains poured on them from heaven. And she did not allow the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night.

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  • Perhaps I'm just being pedantic, but I'd suggest the question would work better the other way round - 'in light of Deuteronomy 21 & 24, were the events of 21:8-10 a violation of God's law?' That way the actual mechanics of the question hinge on interpreting Deuteronomy rather than Samuel. I'll suggest an edit in this vein.
    – Steve can help
    Dec 19, 2016 at 8:39
  • Was there not some extenuating circumstance involving the blood guilt of Saul that released the Gibeonites from responsibility of burying the 7?
    – Kris
    Dec 18, 2017 at 4:03
  • Were the other nations surrounding Israel supposed to keep the law of Moses? Why would they be expected to do so?
    – Robert
    Jul 30, 2022 at 9:20

4 Answers 4

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Yes, it most certainly was a violation of the law. Indeed this is one of the most troublesome chapters of Samuel, and the narrative has vexed scholars for over two thousand years. Verse 14 is even more troubling as it suggests that David has done a good thing by handing them over to the Gibeonites who hanged them mercilessly though they were seemingly innocent,

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.

As if these human sacrifices appeased the Israelite god and brought rain to the land (this was the reason they were left hanging until the rain season)!

I will list here three traditional solutions, though i do not think that they answer the question adequately, since you are looking for reconciliation and harmony between the texts.

  1. the seven Israelites that were hanged participated in the massacre of the Gibeonites (the details of the massacre and why he did it were not recorded in the bible), and their execution was justified. (Kimchi) However he points out the unlikeliness of this approach, since according to the reckoning of years of Saul's reign and others they would've been too young to take part the massacre. Furthermore, this doesn't solve the other problem of why they were left hanging for so long.
  2. the solution of the Rabbis--in order to vindicate the guilt of Israel the nation of Yahweh (the Sanctification of god's name) it was permitted to violate the law temporarily, so that the nations should not come to despise Yahweh and his nation for its wrongdoings. By giving over the seven people the Israelite's effectively showed remorse for their immoral genocide. (Yevamot 79a).
  3. the king is above the law (the Rabbis argue about this in Sanhedrin 20b; see also 1 Samuel 8). He may kill suspects and leave them hanging for days and may violate the law if he feels that it will benefit the people by restoring law and order to the land. David was making a point by giving them over to the Gibeonites, and the message was: that whoever will start up with the Gibeonites in the future will be hanged like them. It was a kind of psychological intimidation of his people to discourage any future war between them and the Gibeonites, and thus permitted for a king. (the Malbim's solution based on Maimonides code Mishna Torah kings and wars 3:10).

If i must choose between these answers, the third one seems most likely. Hope this is of any help to you.

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Dating the two texts is very important here. If Deuteronomy was written after 1 Samuel, there would not have been any codified law against the execution.

Here are some links regarding dating Deuteronomy:

https://biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_deut1_wenham.html

http://www.dabar.org/Critical/McGarvey-Dt-3.htm

https://bible.org/article/introduction-deuteronomy

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/5132-deuteronomy

Personally, I currently believe that 1 Samuel is an older text, but am open to change on the matter. So, for me, the answer to the original question, is "no" it was not a violation of the law, for the reason given above, that such a law was not in existence in Israel at the time.

Consider a related idea. In Deuteronomy 17:14-17, the kings of Israel are given three specific commandments:

1.) Not to multiply horses to himself

2.) Not to multiply wives to himself

3.) Not to greatly multiply gold to himself

Compare #1 above to 1 Samuel 8:11 and 1 Kings 4:26,

  1. And he said, This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots.

  2. And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.

Compare #2 to number of wives both King David, but especially King Solomon, his son, had (I view this as common knowledge, and so, am not providing a link here; see also How many wives does Deuteronomy allow a king to have?).

Finally, compare #3 to King David's legacy at the end of 2 Samuel, and of King Solomon's vast wealth, such that it becomes a point of international boasting (this, too, is, I believe, common knowledge, hence no links).

While we know that the Holy Scriptures record many of Saul's, David's, and Solomon's moral failures, those failures are rebuffed and demonstrated in the Scriptures to be examples of wickedness. But the increase of horses, wives, and wealth, particularly with Solomon, but also with David, are said to have been achieved through the direct imposition of God's blessing. So, we see then that, if Deuteronomy was written first, we have a second group of texts that routinely give divine support to and praise the very things the first condemns.

So, this would indicate a strong contradiction, such that the original question is clearly trying to acknowledge and address.

However, if Samuel and Kings were written before Deuteronomy, then no contradiction exists between the two, except to say that dating the two texts in such a way, opens an entirely different can of worms (e.g. if Deuteronomy was written after Samuel and Kings, then Moses could not have written it, and etc.), which is something I am not against opening, but that's not what this post is about, so I digress.

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  • +1. I was thinking along these lines as well, and i agree that at the time Samuel was written Deuteronomy and the rest of the Pentateuch was not yet codified and considered binding upon all (it was most probably not available to the masses either)! You may wanna include 1 samuel 21 to your list of contradictions between Samuel and the Pentateuch. However, since the OP is looking for reconciliation between the books i listed the traditional solutions.
    – bach
    Feb 25, 2018 at 15:14
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Regarding Saul's sons: verse 1 says "Saul AND his bloody house." This may imply that his sons partook in the slaughter.

Regarding the prolonged hanging: verse 14 could be implying that their prayers were heard for the land only after this violation of the torah ceased by them burying the bodies. (It's possible David was unaware of this law, just like he was unaware of the law regarding how to transport the ark of the covenant: 1 Chronicles 15:13-15)

Objection: why does verse 10 mention rain falling while they were still hanging, leaving some to believe the rain was the sign of Yahweh's appeasement and was what caused David to remove their bodies?

Answer: the phrase found in verse 10 may only be for the purpose of providing a time frame, i.e. from the barley harvest to the rainy season. Making the reason for David's removal of the bodies his pity for Rizpah and not the appearance of rain. The chapter makes no mention of a drought, only famine. The hebrew word here used for famine is none of the multiple hebrew words for drought. Some may naturally draw the conclusion that famine is caused by drought, but that is not absolute. It's possible for Yahweh to prohibit the increase of the soil without causing a drought.

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    – Community Bot
    Jul 30, 2022 at 13:05
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I cannot answer the question of why they were left to hang on the tree for so long, but I do believe that this passage is a foreshadowing of Christ. It is 7 people (the complete number) - sons of the royal family - who were given over to be hung on a tree, to satisfy the breaking of a covenant. They were killed at the beginning of the barley harvest, which is Passover, the time when Jesus was also hung on a cross to pay the penalty for sins that He also had not committed.

Within Scripture, God uses late rain (which is the rainfall that would come after barley harvest) to describe the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His people before the return of Jesus. (Do with that information what you will)

I feel like there is some real depth to this passage. I am not sure that I am doing it justice, but this is one worth praying about and letting God lead you closer to Jesus as a result!

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  • This does not provide an answer to the question. Once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post; instead, provide answers that don't require clarification from the asker. - From Review
    – agarza
    Nov 23, 2023 at 4:17
  • @Anne Warren Welcome to BH and I think your answer has some good insights into the Bible. The question refers to Deuteronomy 21 and I think that your answer needs to show that you have taken on the import of this reference. Possibly by quoting part of it. Analysis of the texts are not usually helped by general remarks like "I feel like...". Please persvere and don't be put off by reaction to early work. You can edit it.
    – C. Stroud
    Nov 23, 2023 at 11:42

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