Why were the descendants of Saul punished for a crime perpetrated by Saul himself? Didn't God command Israel that the children were not to be put to death for the sins of the fathers?
In Deuteronomy 24:16 God commanded, "The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin." Yet, in II Samuel 21:1-9 we read there was a famine in the days of David lasting three years. God told David the famine was punishment "for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites" (verse 1). God is just. His judgment is righteous. During the reign of Saul over Israel, Saul had led an attack on the Gibeonites, to gain favor in the eyes of Israel, violating the covenant of Joshua which he had made with Gibeon (Joshua 9:15-27). Since the army followed Saul's orders, many of them actually knowing better, the WHOLE NATION was actually responsible for this crime. That's why God brought this families on the whole land. David asked the Gibeonites how this heinous massacre could be atoned for (II Sam. 21:2-3). They were the kin of those who had been massacred. They were acting as "blood avengers" of their dead brethren. This means they had the right to demand satisfaction for their slaughtered relatives from the murderer. Saul, however, was already dead and could not expiate his crime. Therefore, the Gibeonites declared to David, "Let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the LORD in Gibeah of Saul..." (verse 6 ). David agreed to this request (verses 6-9). Was this a case of the children being put to death for their father's sins? Not at all. Although such may seem to be the case at first glance, notice carefully what God said. "It is for Sad, and FOR HIS BLOODY HOUSE, because he slew the Gibeonites" (verse 1). Saul himself was not the only guilty party. His whole house, or family, was implicated in this crime! The clear Scriptural indication, therefore, is that even the sons of Saul, who followed him into battle, were GUILTY of the blood of the Gibeonites! This entire affair, remember, was very unusual. The aggravated circumstances of the outrage committed by Saul and his house cried aloud for JUSTICE. To see that justice would be done, God caused a famine to strike all — Israel, punishing them, and bringing the enormity of the crime to David's attention. The king could not refuse the request of the Gibeonites since they were actually exercising their lawful right as the blood avengers. Although Saul himself was the instigator of the original crime, the indication is that many of his sons and grandsons were the willing instruments of his cruelty — the zealous executioners of this bloody raid on the Gibeonites.
"I have heard some say the Old Testament God was a harsh God who demanded 'an eye for an eye.' But a loving Jesus came to do away with His Father's harsh law of bondage. Would you please explain this." L. L. G., England
Many have read the command in Exodus 21:24-25 with shocked amazement at the assumed cruelty of the God of the Old Testament. They suppose anyone causing a person accidentally to lose sight of an eye would immediately be seized, held down, and have his eye gouged out! But is this true? Let's understand the red meaning of these instructions. The context in which we find this command of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth" is explaining the principle of just recompetise for any wrong done. The very next verse shows that if a person causes his slave to lose his eye or tooth, the slave must be freed as a PAYMENT for the injury — workmen's compensation. Verses 18 and 19 of the same chapter discuss the matter of one person injuring another. What is the punishment? "...he shall pay for the loss of his time, and shall cause him to be thoroughly healed." It was a matter of payment or recompense — not revenge by inflicting the same injury. Then verse 22 shows that a person should be punished if he causes a pregnant woman to have a miscarriage. What is the punishment in this case? Again it is "... and he shall pay as the judges determine." The whole context of the "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" command is concerned with the matter of just recompense or payment for the injury caused. The purpose of Christ's teachings in the "Sermon on the Mount" was to magnify the Old Testament law, not annul it (Isaiah 42:21; Matthew 5:17-19). Since the intent of the law was love of God and neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40), Christ was better showing us how to love our fellowman. In Matthew 5:38-42 Christ shows that a true Christian should be willing to suffer wrong done to him if necessary (I Peter 2:19-20). For instance, Christ paid a tax which really did not apply to Him (Matthew 17:24-27). Paul gave us the instructions that followers of God should be in complete submission to government authority even though it was unjust at times (Romans 13:1-7). The instructions given to Moses about "an eye for an eye" were not some cruel yoke of bondage. They were laws set up to regulate a society in a fair and just manner. Christ was not doing away with the law as some have supposed — He was showing what a Christian's attitude should be when unjustly wronged.