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2 Samuel 21:1-14.
WE now enter on the concluding part of the reign of David. Some of the matters in which he was most occupied during this period are recorded only in Chronicles. Among these, the chief was his preparations for the building of the temple, which great work was to be undertaken by his son. In the concluding part of Samuel the principal things recorded are two national judgments, a famine and a pestilence, that occurred in David’s reign, the one springing from a transaction in the days of Saul, the other from one in the days of David. Then we have two very remarkable lyrical pieces, one a general song of thanksgiving, forming a retrospect of his whole career; the other a prophetic vision of the great Ruler that was to spring from him, and the effects of His reign. In addition to these, there is also a notice of certain wars of David’s, not previously recorded, and a fuller statement respecting his great men than we have elsewhere. The whole of this section has more the appearance of a collection of pieces than a chronological narrative. It is by no means certain that they are all recorded in the order of their occurrence. The most characteristic of the pieces are the two songs or psalms - the one looking back, the other looking forward; the one commemorating the goodness and mercy that had followed him all the days of his life, the other picturing goodness still greater and mercy more abundant, yet to be vouchsafed under David’s Son.
The conjunction "then" at the beginning of the chapter is replaced in the Revised Version by "and." It does not denote that what is recorded here took place immediately after what goes before. On the contrary, the note of time is found in the general expression, "in the days of David," that is, some time in David’s reign. On obvious grounds, most recent commentators are disposed to place this occurrence comparatively early. It is likely to have happened while the crime of Saul was yet fresh in the public recollection. By the close of David’s reign a new generation had come to maturity, and the transactions of Saul’s reign must have been comparatively forgotten. It is clear from David’s excepting Mephibosheth, that the transaction occurred after he had been discovered and cared for. Possibly the narrative of the discovery of Mephibosheth may also be out of chronological order, and that event may have occurred earlier than is commonly thought. It will remove some of the difficulties of this difficult chapter if we are entitled to place the occurrence at a time not very far remote from the death of Saul.
It was altogether a singular occurrence, this famine in the land of Israel. The calamity was remarkable, the cause was remarkable, the cure most remarkable of all. The whole narrative is painful and perplexing; it places David in a strange light, - it seems to place even God Himself in a strange light; and the only way in which we can explain it, in consistency with a righteous government, is by laying great stress on a principle accepted without hesitation in those Eastern countries, which made the father and his children "one concern," and held the children liable for the misdeeds of the father.
1. As to the calamity. It was a famine that continued three successive years, causing necessarily an increase of misery year after year. There is a presumption that it occurred in the earlier part of David’s reign, because, if it had been after the great enlargement of the kingdom which followed his foreign wars, the resources of some parts of it would probably have availed to supply the deficiency. At first it does not appear that the king held that there was any special significance in the famine, - that it came as a reproof for any particular sin. But when the famine extended to a third year, he was persuaded that it must have a special cause. Did he not in this just act as we all are disposed to do? A little trial we deem to be nothing; it does not seem to have any significance or to be connected with any lesson. It is only when the little trial swells into a large one, or the brief trouble into a long-continued affliction, that we begin to inquire why it was sent. If small trials were more regarded, heavy trials would be less needed. The horse that springs forward at the slightest touch of the whip or prick of the spur needs no heavy lash; it is only when the lighter stimulus fails that the heavier has to be applied. Man’s tendency, even under God’s chastenings, has ever been to ignore the source of them, - when God "poured upon him the fury of His anger and the strength of battle, and it set him on fire round about, yet he knew not; and it burned him, yet he laid it not to heart " (Isaiah 42:25). Trials would neither be so long nor so severe if more regard were had to them in an earlier stage; if they were accepted more as God’s message - "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Consider your ways."
2. The cause of the calamity was made known when David inquired of the Lord - "It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites."
The history of the crime for which this famine was sent can be gathered only from incidental notices. It appears from the narrative before us that Saul "consumed the Gibeonites, and devised against them that they should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel." The Gibeonites, as is well known, were a Canaanite people, who, through a cunning stratagem, obtained leave from Joshua to dwell in their old settlements, and being protected by a solemn national oath, were not disturbed even when it was found out that they had been practicing a fraud. They possessed cities, situated principally in the tribe of Benjamin; the chief of them, Gibeon, ’’was a great city, one of the royal cities, greater than Ai." In the time of Saul they were a quiet, inoffensive people; yet he seems to have fallen on them with a determination to sweep them from all the coasts of Israel. Death or banishment was the only alternative he offered. His desire to exterminate them evidently failed, otherwise David would have found none of them to consult; but the savage attack which he made on them affords an incidental proof that it was no feeling of humanity that led him to spare the Amalekites when he was ordered to destroy them.
We are not told of any offence that the Gibeonites had committed; and perhaps covetousness lay at the root of Saul’s policy. There is reason to believe that when he saw his popularity declining and David’s advancing, he had recourse to unscrupulous methods of increasing his own. Addressing his servants, before the slaughter of Abimelech and the priests, he asked, "Hear now, ye Benjamites; will the son of Jesse give you fields and vineyards, that all of you have conspired against me?" Evidently he had rewarded his favourites, especially those of his own tribe, with fields and vineyards. But how had he got these to bestow? Very probably by dispossessing the Gibeonites. Their cities, as we have seen, were in the tribe of Benjamin. But to prevent jealousy, others, both of Judah and of Israel, would get a share of the spoil. For he is said to have sought to slay the Gibeonites "in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah." If this was the way in which the slaughter of the Gibeonites was compassed, it was fair that the nation should suffer for it. If the nation profited by the unholy transaction, and was thus induced to wink at the violation of the national faith and the massacre of an inoffensive people, it shared in Saul’s guilt, and became liable to chastisement. Even David himself was not free from blame. "When he came to the throne he should have seen justice done to this injured people. But probably he was afraid. He felt his own authority not very secure, and probably he shrank from raising up enemies in those whom justice would have required him to dispossess. Prince and people therefore were both at fault, and both were suffering for the wrongdoing of the nation. Perhaps Solomon had this case in view when he wrote;" Rob not the poor because he is poor, neither oppress the afflicted in the gate; for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them."
But whatever may have been Saul’s motive, it is certain that by his attempt to massacre and banish the Gibeonites a great national sin was committed, and that for this sin the nation had never humbled itself, and never made reparation.
3. What, then, was now to be done? The king left it to the Gibeonites themselves to prescribe the satisfaction which they claimed for this wrong. This was in accordance with the spirit of the law that gave a murdered man’s nearest of kin a right to exact justice of the murderer. In their answer the Gibeonites disclaimed all desire for compensation in money; and very probably this was a surprise to the people. To surrender lands might have been much harder than to give up lives. What the Gibeonites asked had a grim look of justice; it showed a burning desire to bring home the punishment as near as possible to the offender: "The man that consumed us, and that devised against us that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the coasts of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered unto us, and we will hang them up unto the Lord in Gibeah of Saul, whom the Lord did choose." Seven was a perfect number, and therefore the victims should be seven. Their punishment was, to be hanged or crucified, but in inflicting this punishment the Jews were more merciful than the Romans; the criminals were first put to death, then their dead bodies were exposed to open shame. They were to be hanged "unto the Lord," as a satisfaction to expiate His just displeasure. They were to be hanged "in Gibeah of Saul," to bring home the offence visibly to him, so that the expiation should be at the same place as the crime. And when mention is made of Saul, the Gibeonites add, "Whom the Lord did choose." For Jehovah was intimately connected with Saul’s call to the throne; He was in some sense publicly identified with him; and unless something were done to disconnect Him with this crime, the reproach of it would, in measure, rest upon Him.
Such was the demand of the Gibeonites; and David deemed it right to comply with it, stipulating only that the descendants of Jonathan should not be surrendered. The sons or descendants of Saul that were given up for this execution were the two sons of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine, and along with them five sons of Michal, or, as it is in the margin, of Merab, the elder daughter of Saul, whom she bare (R. V. - not "brought up," A.V.) to Adriel the Meholathite. These seven men were put to death accordingly, and their bodies exposed in the hill near Gibeah.
The transaction has a very hard look to us, though it had nothing of the kind to the people of those days. Why should these unfortunate men be punished so terribly for the sin of their father? How was it possible for David, in cold blood, to give them up to an ignominious death? How could he steel his heart against the supplications of their friends? With regard to this latter aspect of the case, it is ridiculous to cast reproach on David. As we have remarked again and again, if he had acted like other Eastern kings, he would have consigned every son of Saul to destruction when he came to the throne, and left not one remaining, for no other offence than being the children of their father. On the score of clemency to Saul’s family the character of David is abundantly vindicated.
The question of justice remains. Is it not a law of nature, it may be asked, and a law of the Bible too, that the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, but that the soul that sinneth it shall die? It is undoubtedly the rule both of nature and the Bible that the son is not to be substituted for the father when the father is there to bear the penalty. But it is neither the rule of the one nor of the other that the son is never to suffer with the father for the sins which the father has committed. On the contrary, it is what we see taking place, in many forms, every day. It is an arrangement of Providence that almost baffles the philanthropist, who sees that children often inherit from their parents a physical frame disposing them to their parents’ vices, and who sees, moreover, that, when brought up by vicious parents, children are deprived of their natural rights, and are initiated into a life of vice. But the law that identified children and parents in Old Testament times was carried out to consequences which would not be tolerated now. Not only were children often punished because of their physical connection with their fathers, but they were regarded as judicially one with them, and so liable to share in their punishment. The Old Testament (as Canon Mozley has so powerfully shown*) was in some respects an imperfect economy; the rights of the individual were not so clearly acknowledged as they are under the New; the family was a sort of moral unit, and the father was the responsible agent for the whole. When Achan sinned, his whole household shared his punishment. The solidarity of the family was such that all were involved in the sin of the father. However strange it may seem to us; it did not appear at all strange in David’s time that this rule should be applied in the case of Saul. On the contrary, it would probably be thought that it showed considerable moderation of feeling not to demand the death of the whole living posterity of Saul, but to limit the demand to the number of seven. Doubtless the Gibeonites had suffered to an enormous extent. Thousands upon thousands of them had probably been slain. People might be sorry for the seven young men that had to die, but that there was anything essentially unjust or even harsh in the transaction is a view of the case that would occur to no one. Justice is often hard; executions are always grim; but here was a nation that had already experienced three years of famine for the sin of Saul, and that would experience yet far more if no public expiation should take place; and seven men were not very many to die for a nation. (*Lectures on the Old Testament. Lecture V: "Visitation of Sins of Fathers on Children.")
The grimness of the mode of punishment was softened by an incident of great moral beauty, which cannot but touch the heart of every man of sensibility. Rizpah, the concubine of Saul, and mother of two of the victims, combining the tenderness of a mother and the courage of a hero, took her position beside the gibbet; and, undeterred by the sight of the rotting bodies and the stench of the air, she suffered neither the birds of the air to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. The poor woman must have looked for a very different destiny when she became the concubine of Saul. No doubt she expected to share in the glory of his royal state. But her lord perished in battle, and the splendour of royalty passed for ever from him and his house. Then came the famine; its cause was declared from heaven, its cure was announced by the Gibeonites. Her two sons were among the slain. Probably they were but lads, not yet beyond the age which rouses a mother’s sensibilities to the full. (This consideration likewise points to an early date.) We cannot attempt to picture her feelings. The last consolation that remained for her was to guard their remains from the vulture and the tiger. Unburied corpses were counted to be disgraced, and this, in some degree, because they were liable to be devoured by birds and beasts of prey. Rizpah could not prevent the exposure, but she could try to prevent the wild animals from devouring them. The courage and self-denial needed for this work were great, for the risk of violence from wild beasts was very serious. All honour to this woman and her noble heart! David appears to have been deeply impressed by her heroism. When he heard of it he went and collected the bones of Jonathan and his sons, which had been buried under a tree at Jabesh-gilead, and likewise the bones of the men that had been hanged; and he buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan in Zelah, in the sepulcher of Kish, Saul’s father. And after that God was entreated for the land.
We offer a concluding remark, founded on the tone of this narrative. It is marked, as everyone must perceive, by a subdued, solemn tone. Whatever may be the opinion of our time as to the need of apologizing for it, it is evident that no apology was deemed necessary for the transaction at the time this record was written. The feeling of all parties evidently was, that it was indispensable that things should take the course they did. No one expressed wonder when the famine was accounted for by the crime of Saul. No one objected when the question of expiation was referred to the Gibeonites, The house of Saul made no protest when seven of his sons were demanded for death. The men themselves, when they knew what was coming, seem to have been restrained from attempting to save themselves by flight. It seemed as if God were speaking, and the part of man was simply to obey. When unbelievers object to passages in the Bible like this, or like the sacrifice of Isaac, or the death of Achan, they are accustomed to say that they exemplify the worst passions of the human heart consecrated under the name of religion. We affirm that in this chapter there is no sign of any outburst of passion whatever; everything is done with gravity, with composure and solemnity. And, what is more, the graceful piety of Rizpah is recorded, with simplicity, indeed, but in a tone that indicates appreciation of her tender motherly soul. Savages thirsting for blood are not in the habit of appreciating such touching marks of affection. And further, we are made to feel that it was a pleasure to David to pay that mark of respect for Rizpah’s feelings in having the men buried. He did not desire to lacerate the feelings of the unhappy mother; he was glad to soothe them as far as he could. To him, as to his Lord, judgment was a strange work, but he delighted in mercy. And he was glad to be able to mingle a slight streak of mercy with the dark colours of a picture of God’s judgment on sin.
To all right minds it is painful to punish, and when punishment has to be inflicted it is felt that it ought to be done with great solemnity and gravity, and with an entire absence of passion and excitement. In a sinful world God too must inflict punishment. And the future punishment of the wicked is the darkest thing in all the scheme of God’s government. But it must take place. And when it does take place it will be done deliberately, solemnly, sadly. There will be no exasperation, no excitement. There will be no disregard of the feelings of the unhappy victims of the Divine retribution. What they are able to bear will be well considered. What condition they shall be placed in when the punishment comes, will be calmly weighed. But may we not see what a distressing thing it will be (if we may use such an expression with reference to God) to consign His creatures to punishment? How different His feelings when He welcomes them to eternal glory! How different the feelings of His angels when that change takes place by which punishment ceases to hang over men, and glory takes its place! ’’There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth." Is it not blessed to think that this is the feeling of God, and of all Godlike spirits? Will you not all believe this, - believe in the mercy of God, and accept the provision of His grace? ’’For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but should have eternal life."
LAST BATTLES AND THE MIGHTY MEN.
2 Samuel 21:15-22; 2 Samuel 23:8-39.
IN entering on the consideration of these two portions of the history of David, we must first observe that the events recorded do not appear to belong to the concluding portion of his reign. It is impossible for us to assign a precise date to them, or at least to most of them, but the displays of physical activity and courage which they record would lead us to ascribe them to a much earlier period. Originally, they seem to have formed parts of a record of David’s wars, and to have been transferred to the Books of Samuel and Chronicles in order to give a measure of completeness to the narrative. The narrative in Chronicles is substantially the same as that in Samuel, but the text is purer. From notes of time in Chronicles it is seen that some at least of the encounters took place after the war with the children of Ammon.
Why have these passages been inserted in the history of the reign of David? Apparently for two chief purposes. In the first place, to give us some idea of the dangers to which he was exposed in his military life, dangers manifold and sometimes overwhelming, and all but fatal; and thus enable us to see how wonderful were the deliverances he experienced, and prepare us for entering into the song of thanksgiving which forms the twenty-second chapter, and of which these deliverances form the burden. In the second place, to enable us to understand the human instrumentality by which he achieved so brilliant a success, the kind of men by whom he was helped, the kind of spirit by which they were animated, and their intense personal devotion to David himself. The former purpose is that which is chiefly in view in the end of the twenty-first chapter, the latter in the twenty-third. The exploits themselves occur in encounters with the Philistines, and may therefore be referred partly to the time after the slaughter of Goliath, when he first distinguished himself in warfare, and the daughters of Israel began to sing, "Saul hath slain his thousands, but David his tens of thousands;" partly to the time in his early reign when he was engaged driving them out of Israel, and putting a bridle on them to restrain their inroads; and partly to a still later period. It is to be observed that nothing more is sought than to give a sample of David’s military adventures, and for this purpose his wars with the Philistines alone are examined. If the like method had been taken with all his other campaigns, - against Edom, Moab, and Ammon; against the Syrians of Rehob, and Maacah, and Damascus, and the Syrians beyond the river, - we might borrow the language of the Evangelist, and say that the world itself would not have been able to contain the books that should be written.
Four exploits are recorded in the closing verses of the twenty-first chapter, all with "sons of the giant," or, as it is in the margin, of Kapha. The first was with a man who is called Ishbi-benob, but there is reason to suspect that the text is corrupt here, and in Chronicles this incident is not mentioned. The language applied to David, ’’ avid and his servants went down," would lead us to believe that the incident happened at an early period, when the Philistines were very powerful in Israel, and it was a mark of great courage to "go down" to their plains, and attack them in their own country. To do this implied a long journey, over steep and rough roads, and it is no wonder if between the journey and the fighting David "waxed faint." Then it was that the son of the giant, whose spear or spear- head weighed three hundred shekels of brass, or about eight pounds, fell upon him "with a new sword, and thought to have slain him." There is no noun in the original for sword; all that is said is, that the giant fell on David with something new, and our translators have made it a sword. The Revised Version in the margin gives "new armour." The point is evidently this, that the newness of the thing made it more formidable. This could hardly be said of a common sword, which would be really more formidable after it had ceased to be quite new, since, by having used it, the owner would know it better and wield it more perfectly. It seems better to take the marginal reading "new armour," that is, new defensive armour, against which the weary David would direct his blows in vain. Evidently he was in the utmost peril of his life, but was rescued by his nephew Abishai, who killed the giant. The risk to which he was exposed was such that his people vowed they would not let him go out with them to battle any more, lest the light of Israel should be quenched.
During the rest of that campaign the vow seems to have been respected, for the other three giants were not slain by David personally, but by others. As to other campaigns, David usually took his old place as leader of the army, until the battle against Absalom, when his people prevailed on him to remain in the city.
Three of the four duels recorded here took place at Gob, - a place not now known, but most probably in the neighbourhood of Gath. In fact, all the encounters probably took place near that city. One of the giants slain is said in Samuel, by a manifest error, to have been Goliath the Gittite; but the error is corrected in Chronicles, where he is called the brother of Goliath. The very same expression is used of his spear as in the case of Goliath: ’’the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam." Of the fourth giant it is said that he defied Israel, as Goliath had done. Of the whole four it is said that "they were born to the giant in Gath." This does not necessarily imply that they were all sons of the same father, "the giant" being used generically to denote the race rather than the individual.
But the tenor of the narrative and many of its expressions carry us back to the early days of David. There seems to have been a nest at Gath of men of gigantic stature, brothers or near relations of Goliath. Against these he was sent, perhaps in one of the expeditions when Saul secretly desired that he should fall by the hand of the Philistines. If it was in this way that he came to encounter the first of the four, Saul had calculated well, and was very nearly carrying his point. But though man proposes, God disposes. The example of David in his encounter with Goliath, even at this early period, had inspired several young men of the Hebrews, and even when David was interdicted from going himself into battle, others were raised up to take his place. Every one of the giants found a match either in David or among his men. It was indeed highly perilous work; but David was encompassed by a Divine Protector, and being destined for high service in the kingdom of God, he was "immortal till his work was done."
We have said that these were but samples of David’s trials, and that they were probably repeated again and again in the course of the many wars in which he was engaged. One can see that the danger was often very imminent, making him feel that his only possible deliverance must come from God. Such dangers, therefore, were wonderfully fitted to exercise and discipline the spirit of trust. Not once or twice, but hundreds of times, in his early experience he would find himself constrained to cry to the Lord. And protected as he was, delivered as he was, the conviction would become stronger and stronger that God cared for him and would deliver him to the end. We see from all this how unnecessary it is to ascribe all the psalms where David is pressed by enemies either to the time of Saul or to the time of Absalom. There were hundreds of other times in his life when he had the same experience, when he was reduced to similar straits, and his appeal lay to the God of his life.
And this was in truth the healthiest period of his spiritual life. It was amid these perilous but bracing experiences that his soul prospered most. The north wind of danger and difficulty braced him to spiritual self- denial and endurance; the south wind of prosperity and luxurious enjoyment was what nearly destroyed him. Let us not become impatient when anxieties multiply around us, and we are beset by troubles, and labours, and difficulties. Do not be tempted to contrast your miserable lot with that of others, who have health while you are sick, riches while you are poor, honour while you are despised, ease and enjoyment while you have care and sorrow. By all these things God desires to draw you to Himself, to discipline your soul, to lead you away from the broken cisterns that can hold no water to the fountain of living waters. Guard earnestly against the unbelief that at such times would make your hands hang down and your heart despond; rally your sinking spirit. "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me?" Remember the promise, "I will never leave you nor forsake you;" and one day you shall have cause to look back on this as the most useful, the most profitable, the most healthful, period of your spiritual life.
We pass to the twenty-third chapter, which tells us of David’s mighty men. The narrative, at some points, is not very clear; but we gather from it that David had an order of thirty men distinguished for their valour; that besides these there were three of super-eminent merit, and another three, who were also eminent, but who did not attain to the distinction of the first three. Of the first three, the first was Jashobeam the Hachmonite (see 1 Chronicles 11:11), the second Eleazar, and the third Shammah. Of the second three, who were not quite equal to the first, only two are mentioned, Abishai and Benaiah; thereafter we have the names of the thirty. It is remarkable that Joab’s name does not occur in the list, but as he was captain of the host, he probably held a higher position than any. Certainly Joab was not wanting in valour, and must have held the highest rank in a legion of honour.
Of the three mighties of the first rank, and the two of the second, characteristic exploits of remarkable courage and success are recorded. The first of the first rank, whom the Chronicles call Jashobeam, lifted up his spear against three hundred slain at one time. (In Samuel the number is eight hundred.) The exploit was worthy to be ranked with the famous achievement of Jonathan and his armour-bearer at the pass of Michmash. The second, Eleazar, defied the Philistines when they were gathered to battle, and when the men of Israel had gone away he smote the Philistines till his hand was weary. The third, Shammah, kept the Philistines at bay on a piece of ground covered with lentils, after the people had fled, and slew the Philistines, gaining a great victory.
Next we have a description of the exploit of three of the mighty men when the Philistines were in possession of Bethlehem, and David in a hold near the cave of Adullam (see 2 Samuel 5:15-21). The occasion of their exploit was an interesting one. Contemplating the situation, and grieved to think that his native town should be in the enemy’s hands, David gave expression to a wish - "Oh that someone would give me water to drink of the well of Bethlehem which is before the gate!" It was probably meant for little more than the expression of an earnest wish that the enemy were dislodged from their position - that there were no obstruction between him and the well, that access to it were as free as in the days of his youth. But the three mighty men took him at his word, and breaking through the host of the Philistines, brought the water to David. It was a singular proof of his great personal influence; he was so loved and honoured that to gratify his wish these three men took their lives in their hands to obtain the water. Water got at such a cost was sacred in his eyes; it was a thing too holy for man to turn to his use, so he poured it out before the Lord.
Next we have a statement bearing on two of the second three. Abishai, David’s nephew, who was one of them, lifted up his spear against three hundred and slew them. Benaiah, son of Jehoiada, slew two lion-like men of Moab (the two sons of Ariel of Moab, R.V.); also, in time of snow, he slew a lion in a pit; and finally he slew an Egyptian, a powerful man, attacking him when he had only a staff in his hand, wrenching his spear from him, and killing him with his own spear. The third of this trio has not been mentioned; some conjecture that he was Amasa ("chief of the captains" -"the thirty," R.V., 1 Chronicles 12:18), and that his name was not recorded because he deserted David to side with Absalom. Amoi .g the other thirty, we cannot but be struck with two names - Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and apparently the father of Bathsheba; and Uriah the Hittite. The sin of David was all the greater if it involved the dishonour of men who had served him so bravely as to be enrolled in his legion of honour.
With regard to the kind of exploits ascribed to some of these men, a remark is necessary. There is an appearance of exaggeration in statements that ascribe to a single warrior the routing and killing of hundreds through his single sword or spear. In the eyes of some such statements give the narrative an unreliable look, as if the object of the writer had been more to give éclat to the warriors than to record the simple truth. But this impression arises from our tendency to ascribe the conditions of modern warfare to the warfare of these times. In Eastern history, cases of a single warrior putting a large number to flight, and even killing them, are not uncommon. For though the strength of the whole number was far more than a match for his, the strength of each individual was far inferior; and if the mass of them were scarcely armed, and the few who had arms were far inferior to him, the result would be that after some had fallen the rest would take to flight; and the destruction of life in a retreat was always enormous. The incident recorded of Eleazar is very graphic and truth-like. "He smote the Philistines until his hand was weary and his hand clave unto his sword." A Highland sergeant at Waterloo had done such execution with his basket-handled sword, and so much blood had coagulated round his hand, that it had to be released by a blacksmith, so firmly were they glued together. The style of Eastern warfare was highly favourable to deeds of great courage being done by individuals, and in the terrific panic which followed their first successes prodigious slaughter often ensued. Under present conditions of fighting such things cannot be done.
The glimpse which these little notices give us of King David and his knights is extremely interesting. The story of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table bears a resemblance to it. We see the remarkable personal influence of David, drawing to himself so many men of spirit and energy, firing them by his own example, securing their warm personal attachment, and engaging them in enterprises equal to his own. How far they shared his devotional spirit we have no means of judging. If the historian reflects the general sentiment in recording their victories when he says, once and again, ’’The Lord wrought a great victory that day" (2 Samuel 23:10; 2 Samuel 23:12), we should say that trust in God must have been the general sentiment. "If it had not been the Lord that was on our side, . . . they had swallowed us up quick, when their wrath was kindled against us." It is no wonder that David soon gained a great military renown. Such a king, surrounded by such a class of lieutenants, might well spread alarm among all his enemies. One who, besides having such a body of helpers, could claim the assistance of the Lord of hosts, and could enter battle with the shout, "Let God arise; and let His enemies be scattered; and let them also that hate Him flee before Him," might well look for universal victory. Trustworthy generals, we are told, double the value of the troops; and the soldiers that were led by such leaders, trusting in the Lord of hosts, could hardly fail of triumph.
And thus, too, we may see how David came to be thoroughly under the influence of the military spirit, and of some of the less favourable features of that spirit. Accustomed to such scenes of bloodshed, he would come to think lightly of the lives of his enemies. A hostile army he would be prone to regard as a kind of infernal machine, an instrument of evil only, and therefore to be destroyed. Hence the complacency he expresses in the destruction of his enemies. Hence the judgment he calls down on those who thwarted and opposed him. If, in the songs of David, this feeling sometimes disappears, and the expressed desire of his heart is that the nations may be glad and sing for joy, that the people may praise God, that all the people may praise Him, this seems to be in the later period of his life, when all his enemies had been subdued, and he had rest on every side. Even in earnest and spiritually-minded men, religion is often coloured by their worldly calling; and in no case more so, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, than in those who follow the profession of arms.
But in all this military career and influence of David, may we not trace a type of character which was realized in a far higher sphere, and to far grander purpose, in the career of Jesus, David’s Son? David on an earthly level is Jesus on a higher. Every noble quality of David, his courage, his activity, his affection, his obedience and trust toward God, his devotion to the welfare of others, reappears purer and higher in Jesus. If David is surrounded by his thirty mighties and his two threes, so is Jesus by His twelve apostles. His seventy disciples, and pre-eminently the three apostles who went with Him into the innermost scenes. If David’s men are roused by his example to deeds of daring like his own, so the apostles and disciples go into the world to teach, to fight, to heal, and to bless, as Christ had done before them. Looking back from the present moment to David’s time, what young man of spirit but feels that it would have been a great joy to belong to his company, much better than to be among those who were always carping and criticizing, and laughing at the men who shared his danger and sacrifices? And does anyone think that, when another cycle of ages has gone past, he will have occasion to congratulate himself that while he lived on earth he had nothing to do with Christ and earnest Christians, that he bore no part in any Christian battle, that he kept well away from Christ and His staff, that he preferred the service and pleasure of the world? Surely no. Shall any of us, then, deliberately do to-day what we know we shall repent to-morrow? Is it not certain that Jesus Christ is an unrivalled Commander, pure and noble above all His fellows, that His life was the most glorious ever led on earth, and that His service is by far the most honourable? We do not dwell at this moment on the great fact that only in His faith and fellowship can any of us escape the wrath to come, or gain the favour of God. We ask you to say in what company you can spend your lives to most profit, under whose influence you may receive the highest impulses, and be made to do the best service for God and man? It must have been interesting in David’s time to see his people ’’willing in the day of his power," to see young men flocking to his standard in the beauties of holiness, like dewdrops from the womb of the morning. And still more glorious is the sight when young men, even the highest born and the highest gifted, having had grace to see who and what Jesus Christ is, find no manner of life worthy to be compared in essential dignity and usefulness with His service, and, in spite of the world, give themselves to Him. Oh that we could see many such rallying to His standard, contrasting, as St. Paul did, the two services, and counting all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus their Lord!
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany