Addressing the Sins of the Past in Four Not Quite So Easy Steps

In a post that I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I asked what is the process in which we are to address wrongdoing in the past in order to bring about reconciliation. I want to follow up that post by pointing to 2 Samuel 21, hoping it will shed some light:

“Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the Lord. And the Lord said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah). Thus David said to the Gibeonites, “What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?” Then the Gibeonites said to him, “We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “I will do for you whatever you say.” So they said to the king, “The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel, 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.” And the king said, “I will give them.” (2 Samuel 21.1 – 7, NASB)

The text tells us that because of Saul’s sin and maltreatment of the Gibeonites, that there was a famine in the land of Israel (how telling in light of our current economic situation). Although King David had nothing to do with what happened in the days of Saul, he calls the Gibeonites to him and speaks with them. His open dialogue with the Gibeonites, those who were perpetrated against, was a pivotal first step in making things right. Sure he could’ve tried to figure things out on his own or ignore the voice of God, hoping that his problems would eventually go away. But David knew that in order for things to change that he had to enter into conversation with those who were offended.

As he speaks with the Gibeonites, David admits guilt on the part of the Israelites in his request to make atonement (reparation for an offense or injury). Had there been no guilt or sin, there would not be a need for this. But there is a need, and in David’s confession of sin, he takes another necessary step in making things right with the Gibeonites.

What is interesting about David’s request to make atonement is that he asks the Gibeonites what he can do to rectify the relationship. Never in the course of their dialogue, does David mandate what should be done or tell the Gibeonites what he is going to do. The ball is in their court, they get to call the shots! And when the Gibeonites ask to hang the sons of Saul, David complies which illustrates mutual agreement.

Open dialogue and conversation: As David shows us, this is a necessary component in the process of achieving reconciliation. Without the conversation, both the offender and the perpetrator remain at odds with one another. Conversation between both parties give way to honest exchanges where the hurts, fears, and expectations of all can be effectively communicated and not assumed.

Admission of guilt or confession: While dialogue is necessary, the conversation cannot end there. There has to be another step in order to achieve reconciliation and that is confession of sin. Confession of wrong doing is necessary in restoring our relationship with God, and so it has to be a foundational component in restoring our relationship with one another.  Refusing to confess sins, or even denying that sin exists, only causes further division.

Asking the party that has been offended what they need: David asking the Gibeonites what they wanted instead of imposing on them, showed that he was serious about making things right. In his actions, he not only modeled humility but did something that is not commonly done by people in positions of power. In our country, politicians and others in power, often come up with policies out of an attempt to make things better for people of color and American Indians, but seldom are these communities asked what they need or involved in the policy making process. Involving the offended party in this process may  seem risky or costly, but in the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, ”what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us (The Cost of Discipleship).”

To be clear, I am not promoting the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth way of doing things as was carried out by the Gibeonites and others in the Old Testament. We have to remember that our brothers and sisters from the Ancient Near East lived in a time before Christ where it was necessary to avenge the shedding of blood with more blood in that “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin (Hebrews 9.22).” Fortunately, Christ’s death provides a one-time sacrifice for all sins so this manner of avenging sins is not only unnecessary but sacrilegious.

Mutual agreement and follow-through: After the Gibeonites made their request, David obliged. This illustrates mutual agreement between both parties, which is a necessary step in the process of reconciliation. Although David didn’t try to negotiate a different outcome, I believe that there is room for that, especially when what has been requested will only further injustice or drive a deeper wedge between the two warring parties.

Finally David followed through on what he said he would do. He didn’t just try to make a good faith effort, but he actually kept his word. Such illustrates that he wasn’t just trying to get the Gibeonites off of his back, but was deeply committed to restoration and reconciliation.

David’s actions, in comparison with leaders in this country, makes me wonder if the aim of politicians, legislators and others, is to appear as if they are doing something to solve the disparities that face our communities of color while really doing nothing. While there are policies and laws in place that would lift many families of color out of poverty, put a roof over their heads, put food on their table, and give them a job to go to the next day, they are not being followed. Excuses abound as to why, but at the end of the day, the fact of the matter remains that communities of color, immigrants of color and American Indians are still holding onto the wrong end of the stick. If we truly want change, and honestly want to get to the bottom of this race relations problem,  like David, we need our nation’s leaders to simply do what they said they would do.

But the onus doesn’t solely rest on the shoulders of policy makers. The people of God also have a responsibility, and even a bigger responsibility, in this regard. Policy makers can only change and enact laws to make conditions better. But we as the people of God, because of the Spirit of Christ that dwells within us, can change hearts, minds and souls. Being led by the Spirit, we can prophesy and use our voice to speak to the wrongs in our society, instead of resting quietly in our comfort zones. With just one word, we can obliterate the powers of darkness that hold people in bondage so that they are set free to do good works. Though it may cost us our all, we have to be willing to rise up and be the instrument that God uses to bring about justice and restoration to hurting souls. Only then will we usher in the path by which reconciliation is made possible.

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