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.

2 Samuel 21:1

After this, seven of Saul's sons (including five of his grandsons) are killed in retaliation. The text makes it seem like the sons were chosen arbitrarily, and not because they either joined in or supported the crime of Saul.

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.

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.

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.

2 Samuel 21:5-9

Of course, in order to commit the massacre, Saul would have needed help, and it makes sense that his sons and grandsons would have helped him. God's words in verse 1 suggest that they were directly involved in at least some way. However, the text suggests that the choosing was arbitrary, especially in the fact that Mephibosheth was not chosen only because, as the text intimates, David wanted to keep his oath to Johnathan (since Mephibosheth was crippled, he would not have joined in the massacre).

Does verse 1 suggest that Saul's sons who were killed were involved in the massacre, or does it mean something else?

  • How does verse 1 suggest that they were involved in the massacre? There is nothing in the text to indicate that. On the contrary, as you yourself point out the text makes it obvious that it was arbitrary. The commentators were seemingly bothered by this unjustified massacre so they speculate that they must have been involved, although there is nothing in the text to support that. The biblical reality may seem quite harsh to us and sometimes even incomprehensible, but this is a reality we all must embrace if we want to remain loyal to the text.
    – bach
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 1:52
  • @Bach Verse 1 would suggest that they were involved in the massacre because Saul's house was said to be bloody.
    – CMK
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 2:38
  • First off, bloody house may just refer to the sin of murder that was polluting Saul's household. In fact the reason Saul's children were killed here, although they were innocent, because in ancient Israel it was believed that sins polluted the entire household, thus in extreme circumstances the entire household was wiped out (cf. Joshua 7). Secondly, even if there were some involved in the killing there is no evidence that the ones chosen were indeed the ones involved. The text makes it quite clear that the choice was random (which I agree is quite disturbing).
    – bach
    Commented Dec 6, 2019 at 14:37

1 Answer 1


The JPS (Jewish) translation of this scripture sheds some light on this. (Several recent Christian translations also render the verse this way):

There was a famine during the reign of David, year after year for three years. David inquired of the LORD, and the LORD replied, “It is because of the bloodguilt of Saul and [his] house, for he put some Gibeonites to death.”

This interpretation understands "bloody house" to imply that Saul and his sons were responsible for the unjust deaths of Gibeonites. However, the choosing was not not arbitrary, nor should we presume that the bloodguilt on Saul's house did not apply to Mephibosheth. 2 Samuel 9 portrays him as being able to walk, and we do not know if he was crippled from birth or received wounds in battle. Rather, he was the only surviving son of Jonathan, and was thus exempted because of the oath Jonathan and David had sworn:

1 Sam. 20

May the Lord be with you even as he was with my father. 14 Only this: if I am still alive, may you show me the kindness of the Lord. But if I die 15 never cut off your kindness from my house. And when the Lord cuts off all the enemies of David from the face of the land, 16 the name of Jonathan must never be cut off from the family of David.”

Conclusion: Verse 1 does imply that Saul's living sons were involved in the massacre of the Gibeonites, either directly or as military leaders. Mephibosheth, whether he participated or not, was spared because of David's oath to Jonathan.

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