Conflicted Feelings Over a Bible Account

Posted on November 29, 2022


By David Ettinger

Conflicted Feelings
It’s a sad story indeed, and it leaves me with conflicted feelings.

On the one hand, what occurred was evidently in God’s will as he responded positively to it. On the other hand, by sheer emotional human feelings, it seems unfair, unnecessary, and undeserving.

Let’s flesh it out.

The Background
The Israelite and Philistine armies were camped out, ready for one of the sides to make the first move (1 Samuel 17:1). Among the Israeli soldiers were the 3 oldest sons of Jesse: Eliab, Abinadab, and Shammah (v. 13). Jesse’s youngest son, David, was tending his father’s sheep in Bethlehem (v. 15). Jesse then sent David to bring provisions to his brothers and check on their welfare (vv. 17-18).

Sometime after David arrived, he witnessed the Philistines’ hero, Goliath, loudly and insultingly defy the armies of Israel, as he had earlier done (v. 23). Outraged, David asks, “What will be done for the man who kills this Philistine and rids Israel of the disgrace?” (v. 26).

Among the rewards would be the hand of Israelite King Saul’s oldest daughter – Merab – in marriage (v. 25). David goes forth and slays Goliath, but for reasons not given in Scripture, Saul does not at that time give Merab to David.

David later becomes one of Saul’s greatest commanders (18:5). Eventually, Saul does offer Merab to David, but he refuses (18:17-18). David’s reply indicates that he considers himself a commoner, not worthy of being part of a royal family (v. 18), and that – as possibly indicated in verse 25 – he couldn’t afford the dowry. (Technically, he should not have had to pay a dowry as Merab should have been his for slaying Goliath.)

Along the way, however, plans were made for their wedding as verse 19 begins, “So it came about at the time that Merab, Saul’s daughter, was to be given to David …” In other words, something happened on their planned wedding day. What was it? The rest of the verse reads, “…that [Merab] was given instead to Adriel the Meholathite as a wife.”

Just to be clear, Merab should have been David’s wife as Saul had promised her to him for killing Goliath.

Saul’s Violent Act
Fast forward at least 3 decades. Saul is now dead and David is king over all Israel. We read in 2 Samuel 21: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord.”

God tells David the reason for the plague is that Saul “had sought to kill [the Gibeonites] in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah” (v. 2). But there was a huge problem: Several centuries earlier, Joshua had made a covenant with Gibeon, one of the conditions being that Israel would spare their lives (Joshua 9:15-21).

Saul’s killing of the Gibeonites is not recorded in Scripture, but is a blatant violation of the covenant, and must be atoned for. When David asks the Gibeonites how they want him to make atonement, they reply: “The man who destroyed us [Saul] … let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the Lord” (vv. 5-6).

The Gibeonites were asking for lex talionis – and eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:23-25). We can assume that David consulted God about this and that He concurred because David did what the Gibeonites had requested and “after that God responded to prayer for the land” (v. 14).

Merab’s Sad Fate
Since Saul and his 3 sons were dead (1 Samuel 31), David chose 7 of his grandsons. Two were the sons of Saul’s concubine (2 Samuel 3:7) Rizpah (2 Samuel 21:8), “and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had borne to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite” (v. 8).

Yes, that Merab, who was supposed to have been given to David as his wife. Instead, she and Adriel were married, had 5 sons, and now these 5 sons would have to pay the price for their grandfather’s treachery.

Conflicted Feelings
Of course I recognize that God’s will was done, but I can’t help thinking how unfair it all seems. Though we know nothing about the type of woman Merab was, did she really deserve to lose her 5 sons because of the actions of her father?

On the other hand, I must remember that the Old Testament deals with another era – one long ago and of a far different culture than the 21st century West. Also, the Israelites lived under the Mosaic Law – long before the era of grace under the Lord Jesus was instituted.

And among the Mosaic Law’s dictates was Number 35:30-31, 33, and it needed to be met:

If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death on the testimony of witnesses
… Moreover, you shall not accept a ransom for the life of a murderer who is condemned
to death, but he must be put to death. … So you shall not defile the land in which you live;
for blood defiles the land, and no atonement can be made for the land for
the blood that is shed on it, except by the blood of the one who shed it.

Saul committed murder by slaying innocent life, and eventually the blood he shed had to be answered for.

Why did God not slay Saul at that time? I don’t know. But I do know this, centuries earlier Abraham said to God, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25). Though it sounds like a question, it was not; it was a statement of eternal truth.

No matter how humanity views the world, God’s view is the only one that counts, and it is just and fair – regardless of what people think. So though the death of Merab’s 5 sons seems unjust by human standards, it was the ordained sentence by a just God, and that’s good enough for me.

“Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” The answer is yes! Our Heavenly Father will do justly at all times. He is capable of nothing less!