Considering History


Knowing the history of biblical events will help you understand them correctly. Today we’ll look at a couple examples of how history shed light on passages of Scripture.


After King Saul died, God judged Israel for a deed he did during his reign.

“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. And the king called the Gibeonites, and said unto them; (now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites; and the children of Israel had sworn unto them: and Saul sought to slay them in his zeal to the children of Israel and Judah.)” (2Sa 21:1-2)

As commander in chief of the Jewish army, Saul oversaw the deaths of many soldiers in opposing armies. Why did God judge Israel for this act? The only hint the text gives us is “and the children of Israel had sworn unto them,” but that doesn’t tell us much. What did they swear and when?
Surprisingly, The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge doesn’t offer any cross-references that give us the history behind this event. But John Gill comes through for us with this comment and cross-reference:

“because he slew the Gibeonites: which was contrary to the oath that Joshua and all Israel had given them not to slay them, but save them alive, Jos_9:15.” (John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible)

Joshua 9 contains the story of how Joshua and Israel’s elders were tricked into making a treaty with the Gibeonites. That treaty prevented them from driving the Gibeonites out of the Promised Land, or from killing them. Saul broke that treaty. This event is interesting from a couple of angles. First, the Jewish government that made the treaty swore by the Lord. They failed to pray first and, as a result, disobeyed God. They believed they were bound by their oath, even though they were tricked in to it. Second, God held the nation responsible for a treaty broken by its king. I guess the early leadership got that part right, anyway.

Example 2

If you’ve ever read through the life of David in the Scriptures, you’re probably familiar with Joab. Joab was, on and off, the commanding general of David’s armies. Joab was kind of a rat.

  • Joab murdered Abner, the commander of Israel’s opposition forces. David sent Abner away in peace, but Joab called him back and murdered him (2Sa 3:27).

  • Despite a direct, public order to deal kindly with him, Joab murdered David’s son, Absalom, and put an end to his revolt (2Sa 18:10-14).

  • When David replaced him with Amasa, Joab killed Amasa and got his old job back (2Sa 20:9-11).

You may have wondered why David put up with Joab. One reason is probably obvious – Joab had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed for David. That put David in his debt. But there’s more. As you search for an answer, you’ll probably find at least two facts that help you understand David’s restraint. First, let’s look at Joab’s family.

“And there were three sons of Zeruiah there, Joab, and Abishai, and Asahel: and Asahel was as light of foot as a wild roe.” (2Sa 2:18)

From this passage you see that Joab and his brothers were sons of Zeruiah. It’s hard to tell if Zeruiah is a woman or a man. When the Bible talks about a man being the son of someone, that someone is usually a man, too. Using eSword to search for references to Zeruiah you find:

“And Jesse begat his firstborn Eliab, and Abinadab the second, and Shimma the third, Nethaneel the fourth, Raddai the fifth, Ozem the sixth, David the seventh: Whose sisters were Zeruiah, and Abigail. And the sons of Zeruiah; Abishai, and Joab, and Asahel, three.” (1Ch 2:13-16)

Here you find that Zeruiah is a woman, and not just any woman, she is King David’s sister. This, of course, makes Joab David’s first cousin. (It’s also a little disturbing to see in 1Ch 2:17 that Joab and Amasa were first cousins, too.) So, family ties had something to do with David’s patience with Joab.

Read More About It

Three religious groups pop up often in the gospels: Pharisees, Sadducees and Herodians. John the Baptist didn’t welcome them:

“But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Mat 3:7)

We only get a little bit of information about the beliefs of the Pharisees and Sadducees, such as:

“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.” (Act 23:8)

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