2 Samuel 21 recounts a three-year famine during David’s reign. David sought the face of God, for he had no idea why there was a famine in the land, particularly one this long. The LORD answered, “This famine is because of Saul’s attack on the Gibeonites.” Sometime during his reign, Saul attacked the Gibeonites, breaking the oath that Israel would not harm them (cf. Joshua 9). Because of this, nearly 30 years after Saul’s reign, there was a famine in the land.
David went the Gibeonites seeking forgiveness. He asked for some way to repay them for the wrong done to them. The Gibeonites did not want money. They wanted public retribution. So David took two of Saul’s sons, and five of his grandsons, sparing Mephibosheth, and gave them to the Gibeonites to be hanged. Thus there was retribution for the wrong done to them.
Yet there was still famine. David heard that one of Saul’s daughters, Rizpah, who had lost two sons in the execution, was mourning on “the rock”. To show his respects to her and to Saul’s family, David took the bones of those who were executed, and the bones of Saul and Jonathan, who were stolen from the Philistines by the men of Jabesh-gilead, and they were all buried in the land of Benjamin in the tomb of Kish, Saul’s father. It was not until David had done this also that the LORD ended the three-year famine.
If I could summarize the message of the passage, I would say this: Relief from the three-year famine was not given to Israel until David gave Saul’s sons and grandsons (except Mephibosheth) to the Gibeonites to repay for Saul’s attack on them, and until David gave Saul, Jonathan and those executed a proper burial. In other words, the famine was the result of the failure to deal with Saul’s Gibeonite attack, and the failure to honor Saul and Jonathan with a proper burial.
In light of all of Scripture, it seems that this text teaches us that God may withhold his blessing/provisions on his people because of sins committed in previous generations. God may not return his favor on his people until those sins are dealt with publicly. Yet dealing with those sins of the past must include giving honor where honor is due. This is admittedly a thin line, but a necessary line, especially when those who committed the sins were people in positions of authority.
The Southern Baptist Convention has a well-known history of racism. It is very well-known that the convention was founded on racism, among other reasons. The Convention has done the second part of this passage’s teaching by honoring the men involved for their theology and for their leadership in the convention. This has led some to criticize the convention for hypocrisy. Yet there are signs that the convention is seeking to make amends for the sins of former generations.
We know of the apology. It was very much needed. But there was something different last week at the annual convention meeting when Eugene Florence was honored as a distinguished alumnus of Southwestern Seminary. It wasn’t that it was his first ever trip to the annual convention. It isn’t that he is 104 years old. It is that he is a living example of the past.
Rev. Florence was not awarded a Master of Divinity from Southwestern after eight years of study. He was not allowed. He was black. He could not take any day classes from Southwestern. He was not allowed. He was black. 43 years later, after pastoring on weekends and doing janitor work at TCU, Dr. Paige Patterson awarded Rev. Florence with the Master of Divinity that he earned. Last week, Dr. Patterson awarded Rev. Florence as a Distinguished Alumnus of the seminary.
To honor someone whom past generations did not find worthy to honor is a statement about those past generations. As Dr. Patterson said in his speech, they were wrong. We cannot villify them, for vengeance is of the LORD. But we must call sin as it is, and seek forgiveness from those who have been wronged. We must honor those who have been wronged.
There is much work to be done, to be sure. There are still wounds to heal and needs to meet. There are still neighborhoods crying out for a Savior, and there are still those in the convention that, in the spirit of Jonah, would rather flee to the suburbs of Tarshish. But this was a major moment in the history of this school and the convention. I thank God for Eugene Florence and others in his generation. I would not be in seminary, Southwestern Seminary, if it weren’t for them. Perhaps this will help to end the “famine” in our churches.