Why does 2 Samuel 21:7-9 say that David “showed compassion for Mephibosheth” but then handed Mephibosheth over for execution?
Some who quickly read this account have wondered about that. But two different men named Mephibosheth were involved, and we can learn something by reviewing what happened.
King Saul of Israel had seven sons and two daughters. Saul’s firstborn son was Jonathan. The king later had a son named Mephibosheth, born to Saul’s concubine Rizpah. Interestingly, Jonathan also had a son named Mephibosheth. Thus, King Saul had both a son named Mephibosheth and a grandson with that same name.
At some point, King Saul turned against the Gibeonites living among the Israelites and attempted to wipe them out. Apparently, a number of them were murdered. That clearly was wrong. Why? Because back in Joshua’s day, the Israelite chieftains made a covenant of peace with the Gibeonites.—Josh. 9:3-27.
That covenant was still in force in King Saul’s time. Contrary to the covenant, the king tried to wipe out the Gibeonites. That attempt resulted in “bloodguilt on Saul and on his house.” (2 Sam. 21:1) Finally, David became king. Surviving Gibeonites spoke to him about the grave wrong. David asked them how atonement should be made for Saul’s horrible course and thus open the way for Jehovah to bless the land. Rather than ask for money, the Gibeonites asked that seven sons of the man who “schemed to annihilate” them be handed over and put to death. (Num. 35:30, 31) David granted their request.—2 Sam. 21:2-6.
By then, Saul and Jonathan had died in battle, but Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth was alive. He was crippled as a child by an accident and was not party to his grandfather’s attack on the Gibeonites. David had made a covenant of friendship with Jonathan, which would benefit his offspring, including Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth. (1 Sam. 18:1; 20:42) The account says: “The king [David] showed compassion for Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath made before Jehovah.”—2 Sam. 21:7.
Still, David honored the Gibeonites’ request. He handed over two of Saul’s sons, one of whom was named Mephibosheth, and five of Saul’s grandsons. (2 Sam. 21:8, 9) David’s course of action ended the bloodguilt on the land.
This episode is more than history. God’s law was clear. It stated: “Children should not be put to death for what their fathers do.” (Deut. 24:16) Jehovah would not have approved of what was done to Saul’s two sons and five grandsons if they had been innocent. That law added: “A person should be put to death only for his own sin.” It seems that Saul’s seven descendants who died had some share in Saul’s attempted genocide of the Gibeonites. As a result, the seven paid for their wrongdoing.
This account illustrates that a person cannot excuse himself for doing wrong by thinking or saying that he was merely following directions. A wise proverb states: “Smooth out the course of your feet, and all your ways will be sure.”—Prov. 4:24-27; Eph. 5:15.