“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.”
King James Version (KJV)
21:1 Then - The things related here and chap.#24:1 |- 25, are by the best interpreters conceived to have been done long before Absalom's rebellion. And this opinion is not without sufficient grounds: first, this particle, then, is here explained, in the days, that is, during the reign of David: which general words seem to be added as an intimation that these things were not done after the next foregoing passages, for then the sacred writer would rather have added, after these things, as it is in many other places. Secondly, here are divers passages which it seems improbable to ascribe to the last years of David's reign: such as first, that Saul's sin against the Gibeonites should so long remain unpunished. And indeed that this was done, and Saul's seven sons hanged by David's order before that time, seems to be intimated by that passage, #2Sam 16:8|, where he is charged with the blood of the house of Saul: for which there was not the least colour 'till this time. Secondly, that David should not remove the bones of Saul and Jonathan to their proper place, 'till that time. Thirdly, that the Philistines should wage war with David again and again, ver.#15|, &c. so long after he had fully subdued them, chap.#8:1|, and that David in his old age should attempt to fight with a Philistine giant, or that his people should suffer him to do so. Fourthly, that David should then have so vehement a desire to number his people, chap.#24:1|, which being an act of youthful vanity, seems not at all to agree with his old age, nor with that state of deep humiliation in which he then was. And the reason why these matters are put here out of their proper order, is plainly this, because David's sin being once related, it was very convenient that David's punishments should immediately succeed: this being very frequent in scripture - story, to put those things together which belong to one matter, though they happened at several times. He flew - Which was not only an act of cruelty, but also of perfidiousness, because it was a public violation of that solemn oath given to them by Joshua and the princes, in the name of all the Israelites, of that and succeeding generations. But why did not God punish Saul whilst he was alive for this, but his children, and the Israelites of this age? First, God did severely punish Saul for this and his other sins. Secondly, as God may justly inflict temporal punishments upon any offender, either in his person, or in his posterity, when he pleaseth; so it is meet he should take his own time for it; and it is folly in us to quarrel with God for so doing. Thirdly, the Israelites might sundry ways make themselves guilty of Saul's sin, tho' it be not particularly mentioned, advising or encouraging him to it; or, assisting him in the execution of it. And whereas many of the people were probably innocent of that crime, yet they also were guilty of many other sins, for which God might punish them, though he took this occasion for it.