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CRITICAL AND EXPOSITORY NOTES.—
2 Samuel 8:1. “Metheg-ammah.” This is a very obscure word, and has been very variously translated. “Metheg” is a “bridle,” and “ammah” is translated mother by Keil, Erdmann, Phillipson, and Wordsworth. Gesenius says this word is always used in a figurative sense as the head, or foundation of a thing, and agrees with the scholars above named in understanding it here to signify a capital or chief city. If so, to take the bridle can only mean to subdue, and this entire rendering is borne out by the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:1. Havernick, Michaelis, Ewald, and others translate arm-bridle, but attach the same meaning to the words.
2 Samuel 8:2. “Moab.” Nothing is known of the cause or history of this war. Probably David’s former friend (1 Samuel 22:3-4) had been succeeded by a ruler of a different spirit. “Probably in this war occurred what is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:22 of Benaiah, one of David’s heroes.” (Erdmann). “Thus he fulfilled Balaam’s prophecy in part” (Numbers 24:17). (Wordsworth.) “Measured them.” “This refers to a well-known practice of Eastern kings, to command their prisoners of war, particularly those who had greatly incensed the victors, to lie down on the ground, and then to put to death a certain portion of them, which was determined by lot, but most commonly by a measuring line. This usage was not, perhaps, usually practised by the people of God; but Jewish writers assert that the cause of this particular severity against Moab was their having massacred David’s parents and family.” (Jamieson.)
2 Samuel 8:3. “Hadadezer.” Hadad was the sun-god of the Syrians, and the name signifies Hadad our help. “Zobah.” A portion of Syria forming a separate kingdom in the time of Saul, David, and Solomon. See 1 Samuel 14:47. It is difficult to define its exact position and limits, but there seems to be grounds for regarding it as lying chiefly east of Coele-Syria, and extending thence north-east and east, towards, if not even to, the Euphrates. Smith’s-Bib. Dictionary. “As he went.” That these words refer to Hadadezer and not to David seems evident from the use of the word recover. David had not possessed territory in this direction.
2 Samuel 8:4. “Seven hundred horsemen.” As the word chariots does not appear in the original text, the actual reading here is 1790 horsemen, whereas in Chronicles 7000 horsemen and 1000 chariots are mentioned. Most scholars agree that the word “chariots” has been accidentally omitted, and the numeral for a thousand confounded with one denoting a hundred. For “in the plains of Syria seven thousand horsemen would be a much juster proportion to twenty thousand loot than seventeen hundred” (Keil, Thenius, etc.), and, further on, David is said to have lamed the chariot-horses, thereby implying the use of chariots in the engagement. “Houghed,” etc. The word translated chariot-horses denotes all animals used for riding. “The reason of this mutilation was, that horses being forbidden by the Mosaic constitution to the Hebrews, both in war and agriculture, it was of no use to keep them; and their neighbours, placing much dependence on cavalry, but having, for want of a native breed, to procure them by purchase, the greatest damage that could be done to them was to render their horses unserviceable in war.” (Jamieson). “He reserved a hundred of them, not for war, but for a triumph or guard; whether or not this reservation was illegal and ungodly is not said. (Translator of Lange’s Commentary.)
2 Samuel 8:7. “The servants of Hadadezer.” Either his “governors and vassal princes” (Keil) or “his immediate guard.” (Erdmann.)
2 Samuel 8:8 The cities here mentioned are unknown. “Brass,” rather, copper. “Some centuries before this copper was carried in quantities from Syria to Egypt.” (Bib. Commentary.)
2 Samuel 8:9. “Hamath.” The principal city of upper Syria in the valley of the Orontes.
2 Samuel 8:10. “Joram.” Called Hadoram in Chronicles, and this is most likely the true reading, as Joram is an Israelitish name.
2 Samuel 8:13. “The Syrians in the valley of salt.” As the valley of salt, near the Dead Sea, is at so great a distance from Syria, either Edom must be here substituted for Aram (here rendered Syrians), or the words “and Edom” must be inserted before “the valley of salt.” The sequel agrees with this reading. “The facts were probably these: Whilst David, or rather Israel, was entangled in the war with the Ammonites and Aramæns, the Edomites seized upon the opportunity which appeared to them a very favourable one to invade the land of Israel, and advanced as far as the southern extremity of the Dead Sea. As soon, therefore, as the Aramæans were defeated and subjugated, and the Israelitish army had returned from this war, David ordered it to march against the Edomites, and defeated them in the valley of salt.” (Keil.)
2 Samuel 8:16. “Jehoshaphat.” Nothing farther is known of this man. “Recorder.” Literally, one who calls to remembrance, therefore most likely one who recorded the most important events of the nation. Keil and some others liken the office to that of the “magister memoriæ of the later Romans, or the waka nuvis of the Persian court, who keeps a record of everything that takes place around the king, furnishes him with an account of all that occurs in his kingdom, places his visé upon all the king’s commands, and keeps a special protocol of all these things.”
2 Samuel 8:17. “Zadok.” A descendant of Aaron’s son Eleazar (1 Chronicles 6:29-34; 1 Chronicles 6:37-38). “Ahimelech.” It is strange to find this name in connection with Zadok in the priesthood, as both before and after this time Abiathar is himself mentioned as the priest (1 Samuel 22:20, etc.; 1 Kings 1:7, etc). As the father of Abiathar was named Abimelech some have proposed to transpose the names, but this would not solve the difficulty in 1 Chronicles 24:3; 1 Chronicles 24:6; 1 Chronicles 24:31. But the preferable solution appears to be that held by Keil, Wordsworth, Bertbean, and others, that Abiathar had a son of the same name as his (Abiathar’s) father, who with Zadok assisted in the priestly duties. “The historian states,” says Wordsworth, “that Zadok and Ahimelech were priests; not, as in our version, the priests. He supposes the reader to know the notorious fact that Abiathar was the priest. But he tells us, in addition to Abiathar the High Priest, Zadok and Ahimelech officiated as priests, just as we read of “the two sons of Eli priests of the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:3.) Abiathar and Ahimelech descended from Ithamar, Aaron’s younger son. “Scribe.” Probably the State-secretary.
2 Samuel 8:18. “Benaiah.” A mighty warrior mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:20. Cherithites and Pelethites. The first of these words is from a verb meaning to cut down or exterminate, and probably points to one duty of these men, viz., that of executioners. Pelethites is derived from a word signifying to run, to hasten, and intimates that they had to carry the royal orders to distant places. They were evidently David’s body-guard. Some have derived the names from the Philistines, and from a Philistine tribe mentioned 1 Samuel 30:14, but the derivation seems far-fetched. “Chief rulers.” The same word, used in 1 Kings 4:5 and translated “principal officer,” is afterwards explained as “the king’s friend,” It probably signifies confidential advisers.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE CHAPTER
I. However long the conflict continues between the kingdom of God and the enemies of that kingdom, the final issue is not doubtful. The land of Palestine had long since been given by God to the descendants of Abraham, who then constituted the Church of God upon the earth. But from the days of Joshua until the reign of David, the struggle between the old inhabitants and the new had been continued with varying success. There had been dark days when Israel had been almost entirely subdued by her enemies, yet she had never lost her footing in the promised land; and now, under David, she saw herself the mistress of Jerusalem in the heart of the kingdom, and her foes subdued on every side. So it must and shall be in every contest of the Church of the Living God with those who oppose her. She will be subject to varying fortunes, and will sometimes appear to sink too low to rise again; but she shall eventually subdue all her enemies, and instead of the Church militant shall become the Church triumphant.
II. The victory of the kingdom of God depends upon the fulfilment of moral conditions. The success of the Philistines and the other nations against Israel had arisen from the moral degeneracy of the latter—from their neglect to fulfil the conditions upon which God had promised them a peaceful occupation of the laud. And David now subdued them, and brought in a long period of rest, not because he was a mighty and skilful warrior, but because he was a man of faith in the Unseen, and one who, on the whole, was sincere in his devotion and undivided in his service to God. It is because the nominal members of God’s kingdom in the world have not fulfilled His conditions of success that the victory of the Cross is so long delayed and the Gospel makes so little progress among the nations. The earth has been given to Christ and His people, and the Great David will one day subdue all things to Himself and put an end to the conflict. But the “coming of the kingdom” is retarded by the want of faith in the so-called disciples of Christ, and by their apathy and worldliness—by their attempts to serve other gods beside Jehovah, and by their unwillingness to deny themselves for the cause they profess to have at heart.
III. However diversified the enemies of God may be, they are one in opposition to Him and to His rule. There are birds of prey wearing a variety of plumage and exhibiting other differences which show them to belong to different families. But they have one and the same instinct, and though they may sometimes be found fighting with each other, a desire after the carcase is common to all. The people mentioned here as warring against Israel were of different races, and inhabited different lands, and doubtless often warred against each other; but they were one in their hatred of Israel and opposition to David. They are typical of the enemies of the spiritual Israel and of those who oppose the progress of the kingdom of David’s Son and Lord. Men who differ in all other points are found agreeing in this and although, like Herod and Pilate, they may be opposed to each other on other matters, they will often be found, like them, uniting for this end.
IV. Yet, when the Church of God has temporal ascendancy and external prosperity some who care not for her principles will court her friendship. When David had subdued many nations the king of Hamath saluted and blessed him and so showed himself an exception to the general rule mentioned above. But this friendship for David was not founded on religious sympathy, but on hatred of a rival, and on policy. So the hatred between the enemies of God may sometimes for a time be more active than their enmity to His kingdom; but friendship arising from such a source will only last while the Church is in temporal prosperity. Like the multitudes who shouted “Hosanna!” during the brief moment of Christ’s popularity, and melted away or joined in crying “Away with Him,” in the hour of darkness, they will ever be found on the side which has the outward ascendancy.
V. Those who do the work of preparation and those who inherit and carry on their labour are one in the kingdom of God. The man who fells the tree, and digs up the roots, and plans out the ground for a city, is a co-worker with him who raises the walls and builds the palaces. Without the toil of the first the work of the latter could not be accomplished, but there is danger that, when the whole is finished, the part which the first labourer had in the work may be forgotten. David, in what we may believe was far less congenial work than the building of a temple would have been, made the building of that temple possible, and, by the establishment of an orderly system of Divine worship and service, educated the spiritual perceptions of the people, so that, when they possessed a more permanent and gorgeous house of God, they might understand that it was but the means to an end—only the outward and visible sign of an inward and unseen reality—of that worship of the heart and homage of the life, without which all other gifts and service are not only worthless in the sight of God, but an insult and an abomination. Let no worker for God be discouraged because he cannot do the completed work upon which he has set his heart, it is a law of the Divine kingdom that one man “sows and another reaps.” The sowing is not the most joyous part of the work, but for this very reason it may be more honourable, and is that without which the other could not exist.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The transitions of the Bible, like those of actual life, are often singularly abrupt; that which now hurries us from the scene of elevated communion with Heaven, to the confused noise and dismal struggles of a battle-field, is peculiarly startling.… It is an instructive fact that the history of these wars occupy so small a portion of the Bible. A single verse is all that can be afforded to most of them. Had they been narrated at length, they would probably have formed a narrative that would have placed David, as a captain, on a level with Cyrus, Hannibal, or Alexander. It is one of the less noticed proofs of the inspiration of the Old Testament, that such dazzling transactions as these are passed over so briefly. There is no other history in the world where more space would be occupied in describing the carrying of an ark to its permanent resting-place than in narrating seven great military campaigns. It would be beyond the power of human nature to resist the temptation to describe great battles,—the story of which is always read with such interest, and which reflect so much earthly glory on one’s nation.—Blaikie.
2 Samuel 8:15-18. In the minds of most readers of the Bible, the name of David, king of Israel, is associated mainly with military power, poetic genius, and personal piety; and only on the rarest occasions do we hear any reference made to his administrative ability. Yet in this last quality he was at least as remarkable as in any one of the others; and great injustice is done to him if we leave out of view the eminent services which he rendered to his country by the exercise of his government and his organising faculties.… More than Charlemagne did for Europe, or Alfred for England, David accomplished for the tribes of Israel.—Taylor.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 8". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany