Why We Need the Messiah (II Samuel 21:1-14)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 21:1–21:14
Crying for a King
Why We Need the Messiah
II Samuel 21:1-14
(One Lord: No One Like You)
May 11th, 2014
I. Fix Your Eyes
As we begin this morning, listen to these amazing verses from Hebrews 12 and consider how they are lived out in your life. 12:1 and 2...
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, [here's the key...] looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)
Did you know that the Christian life, that eternal life, that newness of life is, in its essence, simply an ever-deepening awareness of and faith in Jesus Christ? We are called, as we see here, to look to, or keep our eyes on, or fix our eyes on Jesus. But how do you do that? Well, a critical part of doing that is knowing who Jesus is. What is He like? What does He want? What matters most to Him? In good times and tough times, it is the character of Christ and the example of Christ that should inform our eyes of faith...those eyes that need to be fixed on the Messiah.
Now when we think about knowing Jesus, or learning about Jesus, we immediately think of the four Gospels that head up the New Testament. And those are definitely the best place to start. But did you know that the NT teaches us, that Jesus himself taught us, that even the OT speaks of Christ?
This morning we are going to dig into II Samuel 21, verses 1-14, in order to learn more about Jesus Christ; in order to inform our eyes of faith; in order to fix our eyes upon the Messiah today, and throughout this week. Turn there with me if you haven't alread. II Samuel 21.
II. The Passage: “And After that God Responded” (21:1-14)
Now, as we talked about last week, II Samuel 20 really represent the end of the main storyline of the books of I and II Samuel. As you can see from the opening words of 21:1, the episode is described with a very generic time stamp: “in the days of David”. Chronology is not that important here. As I mentioned last time, these last four chapters of II Samuel are a kind of composite conclusion, that is, different kinds of David-centered material stitched together by the writer in order to give us a final assessment of David.
Now, central to both our discussion of David and our discussion of Jesus is the title they have in common: both of these men were/are the Messiah of God. You may or may not know that Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “anointed one”.
In the overwhelming majority of the 39 uses of the word in the OT, it refers to God's anointed king. And the majority of those usages refer to either one of three men: to Saul, David, or the future king that will come from David's family, which we know was Jesus.
Was Jesus ever referred to as the Messiah? Actually that Hebrew word is only used by John in his Gospel, in two places: in John 1:41 and John 4:25. But notice what John 1:41 reveals...
He [Andrew] first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
The word Christ is not a name. It's a title. It's simply the Greek word for Messiah. And do you know how many times Christ is used in the NT? Over 500 times!
So why all this talk about the Messiah/Christ? Because I want you to see that when the writer in II Samuel 21 is highlighting the role of David, he is highlighting the role of the Messiah. And when we look at the whole Bible, when the role of the Messiah is highlighted, it is ultimately Jesus who is being highlighted. Let's work through this story and see what we learn about the Messiah, the Anointed One, the chosen King of God.
1. The Messiah's Mediator-ness (21:1a, 14b)
First, look at the open words of verse 1...
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the LORD...[now do me a favor: drop down to the last sentence in verse 14. Look at what it says...] And after that God responded to the plea for the land.
The first thing I want you to see here is what this passage tells us about, what we could call, the Messiah's 'Mediator-ness'. We don't yet know what has taken place in between verses 1 and 14, but we know whatever took place, the judgment of God has been removed from God's people. This three-year famine was no fluke. It wasn't the result of an ancient “El Nino” weather pattern. In accordance with Leviticus 26:20 and Deuteronomy 28:24, this famine was God's judgment against the people.
But David understands that his role as king includes being a mediator for God's people. He seeks God's face. He steps in to help change the situation. And we know whatever he did, it worked. The judgment was removed. Unlike Saul, David is humbled by the judgment of God. He doesn't turn to bitterness and blame and witches. He turns to God. He is the king the people need. He stands in the gap, and God responds to prayers for the land.
What a beautiful reminder of Jesus. Isn't the heart of the Good News about Jesus the fact that the judgment of God against our failings and foolishness, that that judgment has been removed because of the work of Jesus the Christ? New life in Him mean to turn to the true God,  and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come. (I Thessalonians 1:2-10)
But there's more hear about the Messiah of God...about both Messiahs.
2. The Messiah's Insightfulness (21:1b-6)
Look with me at the rest of verse 1. David seeks Yahweh and...
And the LORD said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”  So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them. Now the Gibeonites were not of the people of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites. Although the people of Israel had sworn to spare them, Saul had sought to strike them down in his zeal for the people of Israel and Judah.  And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the LORD?”  The Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul or his house; neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “What do you say that I shall do for you?”  They said to the king, “The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel,  let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD.” And the king said, “I will give them.”
So the reason for God's judgment on Israel is clear. Saul, the former king, who at this point had died, Saul was guilty of trying to wipe out a group of people called the Gibeonites. We know nothing else about this incident except what we read hear. Now, if you read through I and II Samuel, you know there are lots of battles and there are lots of people killed in battle. So why was this one incident with the Gibeonites so unique in terms of stirring up the wrath of God?
Well, to understand this, we need to go back to Joshua 9. That chapter tells us that the Gibeonites, like the Canaanites and the Jebusites, were people who lived in the land in the Promised Land and had fallen under the judgment of God for their wicked practices. They were, therefore to be either driven from the land or killed, as the nation of Israel came to take possession of what God has promised to their forefather Abraham.
But the Gibeonites came to the Israelites to deceive them. They said they were recent arrivals from a far off country and wanted to make a treaty with Israel in order to stay in the land. And because Joshua and the other leaders did not seek God's counsel, they were tricked and ended up making a covenant with the Gibeonites. But the people were obviously upset when they learned the truth about these people. Listen to the leaders' response to the people in Joshua 9:19-21...
But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the LORD, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them.  This we will do to them: let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath that we swore to them.”  And the leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became cutters of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, just as the leaders had said of them. (Joshua 9:19-21)
But Saul, as the king, lacked the same kind of concern we see here. He disregarded the oath sworn by Israel's past leaders. He decided that purging the Gibeonites from Israel was more important than maintaining the integrity of Israel; more important than honoring a covenant by the people of God. That was a horrible mistake, and one that involved a planned massacre. And since Saul was the king, his sin was now affecting the entire nation.
But notice what we see here. God does not leave the people in the dark. Through His messiah, God has revealed the true nature of what hangs so heavy on them. The messiah is given insight into the nature of the people's suffering.
Are you grateful that Jesus the Christ knows what is truly wrong with you? Are you grateful that He loves you too much to let you wander around trying this and that cure, attempting to fix this or that problem with worldly strategies that can never work? He is not the Great Snake Oil Salesman. He is the Great Physician! Jesus said this...
And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him.  For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)
Therefore, one chapter later, He also taught...For whoever would save his life [that life, that heart out of which all these sins spring, whoever wants to save that] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it. (Mark 8:35)
We must praise God for the Messiah's insightfulness when it comes to our judgment-meriting condition before God. And we must trust that He is exactly right. But there's more here.
3. The Messiah's Faithfulness (21:7)
Notice the little side note we are given in verse 7. We read...
But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul's son Jonathan, because of the oath of the LORD that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.
The Gibeonites have asked for seven sons/grandsons (the Hebrew can mean any male descendant...they've asked for sons of) Saul. But David cannot give just any of Saul sons. There is one that must be spared: Mephibosheth.
In II Samuel 9 we learned about David's kindness, David's steadfast love toward Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul. Why kindness toward this descendant of Saul, the man who tried to kill David's life? Why kindness toward any descendant of Saul? Because, as we are told in this verse, there was an oath between David and Saul's son Jonathan.
What are we reminded of here. That David is a covenant keeper, not a covenant killer. What a beautiful reminder of the Messiah's faithfulness! Like David, King Jesus can and should be trusted. He should be believed when He says...
“I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst... All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:35, 37)
But there's two more points God wants us to see in this passage.
4. The Messiah's Willingness (21:8, 9)
Look with me at verses 8 and 9. They pick up where verse 6 left off. In response to the Gibeonites request, we read at the end of verse 6...
And the king said, “I will give them.” [to verse 8]...The king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth; and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite;  and he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them on the mountain before the LORD, and the seven of them perished together. They were put to death in the first days of harvest, at the beginning of barley harvest.
Now, there is no escaping the fact that this is a very disturbing turn of events. Why would Saul's male descendants be punished for something Saul did? Doesn't Deuteronomy 24:16 say, “Fathers shall not be put to death because of their children, nor shall children be put to death because of their fathers. Each one shall be put to death for his own sin.” What's going on here?
Well, this is not simply a case of murder by an individual Israelite. This is covenant-breaking and murder by the king. And as we've seen, the Messiah stands for the people. That's why everyone in Israel was suffering for Saul's sin. But like Eli the High Priest, like Jeroboam and Ahab in the books of Kings, Saul's house was going to be devastated by God for his wickedness. That is what is happening here. And remember, those being killed may not have attacked the Gibeonites, but they were certainly not innocent. Which of us is? It is God's decision as to when to judge sinners or extend His grace.
But we can't minimize the brutality of what we see here. Seven man executed and then probably impaled (hanged) at Gibeah, Saul's hometown. Listen to how one commentator instructs us, “Christians must beware of becoming too refined, longing for a kinder, gentler faith. If we've grown too used to Golgotha perhaps Gibeah (v. 6) can shock us back into the truth: atonement is a drippy, bloody, smelly business. The stench of death hangs heavy wherever the wrath of God has been quenched.” (Dale Ralph Davis)
What we're talking about here is the Messiah's willingness. David was willingness to do the hard thing for the sake of his people. And Jesus was willing to do the hard thing for the sake of His people. Remember what He declared about His willingness...
...I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (John 10:17b-18a)
He laid down His like for my sake. For your sake. Isn't that what God is trying to show us throughout the OT? That sin brings death, and only death can deal with guilt, and therefore, all of us, in order to live and be forgiven, need the death of Jesus? Those hung at Gibeah point us to the One who was hung at Golgotha.
5. The Messiah's Goodness (21:10-14)
And yet, there's one last piece to this story...
Then Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until rain fell upon them from the heavens. And she did not allow the birds of the air to come upon them by day, or the beasts of the field by night.  When David was told what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done,  David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the public square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, on the day the Philistines killed Saul on Gilboa.  And he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of his son Jonathan; and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged.  And they buried the bones of Saul and his son Jonathan in the land of Benjamin in Zela, in the tomb of Kish his father. And they did all that the king commanded. And after that God responded to the plea for the land.
Why was it important for the writer that we understand something about the motherly devotion of Rizpah, devotion on display as she sits day after day in mourning, right next to the rotting bodies of her boys, protecting them from the animals? I think there are two reasons: 1) I think the writer wants to drive home the utter sadness of Saul's legacy. Here it is. This is what Saul's reign accomplished. This is what his wickedness brought about. Such bitter fruit.
But 2) we see here that this sad episode has given the reader a chance to understand something about the Messiah's goodness. David not only demonstrates decency and respect and grace in properly burying these seven men, but also by retrieving the remains of Saul and Jonathan and placing them in Saul's family tomb. David's decency brings closure to the story of Saul, and through his actions, we are reminded of Jesus. How? Because like David, Jesus has seen our grief. And like David, Jesus has done what He must to provide closure to the messiness of sin's carnage.
But the closure He gives is not to bury the dead, but to raise the dead. Now that's goodness. That's grace.
III. The Gibeonites and the Gospel
Brothers and sisters, do you see Jesus? Have a you glimpsed shadows of the Messiah (capital M) through the actions of the messiah (little m)? And do you understand, have you been reminded of why we so desperately need a Messiah?
Think about the application. When do we fix our eyes on Jesus? When we think we are alone, we need to look to His mediator-ness. When we feel like there are no answers, we need to look to His insightfulness. When we are unsure, uncertain, we need to look to His faithfulness. When we feel unloved, we need to look to His willingness, the willingness that took Him to the cross. And when we doubt, we need to look to His goodness. We need to remember that He gives more grace.
There is a famine of life hanging over us without the Messiah. But with Him, there is abundance. There is eternity. Reach out to Him with trust today. That's all He requires. Allow Him to intercede for you, to cover you. And then go today looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.