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THE LAST WORDS OF DAVID.
2 Samuel 23:1-7.
(See Revised Version and margin.)
OF these "the last words of David," we need not understand that they were the last words he ever spoke, but his last song or psalm, his latest vision, and therefore the subject that was most in his mind in the last period of his life. The Psalm recorded in the preceding chapter was an earlier song, and its main drift was of the past. Of this latest Psalm the main drift is of the future. The colours of this vision are brighter than those of any other. Aged though the seer was, there is a glory in this his latest vision unsurpassed in any that went before. The setting sun spreads a luster around as he sinks under the horizon unequalled by any he diffused even when he rode in the height of the heavens.
The song falls into four parts. First, there is an elaborate introduction, descriptive of the singer and the inspiration which gave birth to his song; secondly, the main subject of the prophecy, a Ruler among men, of wonderful brightness and glory; thirdly, a reference to the Psalmist’s own house and the covenant God had made with him; and finally, in the way of contrast to the preceding, a prediction of the doom of the ungodly.
I. In the introduction, we cannot but be struck with the formality and solemnity of the affirmation respecting the singer and the inspiration under which he sang.
"David, the son of Jesse, saith,
And the man who was raised on high saith,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel:
The Spirit of the Lord spake by me,
And His word was upon my tongue;
The God of Israel said.
The Rock of Israel spake to me" (R.V.).
The first four clauses represent David as the speaker; the second four represent God’s Spirit as inspiring his words. The introduction to Balaam’s prophecies is the only passage where we find a similar structure, nor is this the only point of resemblance between the two songs.
"Balaam, the son of Beor, saith,
And the man whose eye was closed saith;
He saith which heareth the words of God,
And knoweth the knowledge of the Most High;
Which seeth the vision of the Almighty,
Falling down, and having his eyes open"
(Numbers 24:15-16, R.V.).
In both prophecies, the word translated "saith" is peculiar. While occurring between two and three hundred times in the formula "Thus saith the Lord," it is used by a human speaker only in these two places and in Proverbs 30:1. Both Balaam and David begin by giving their own name and that of their father, thereby indicating their native insignificance, and disclaiming any right to speak on subjects so lofty through any wisdom or insight of their own. Immediately after, they claim to speak the words of God. All the grounds on which David should be listened to fall under this head. Was he not ’’raised up on high"? Was he not the anointed of the God of Jacob? Was he not the sweet Psalmist of Israel? Having been raised up on high, David had established the kingdom of Israel on a firm and lasting basis, he had destroyed all its enemies, and he had established a comely order and prosperity throughout all its borders; as the sweet singer of Israel, or, as it has been otherwise rendered, "the lovely one in Israel’s songs of praise" - that is, the man who had been specially gifted to compose songs of praise in honour of Israel’s God - it was fitting that he should be made the organ of this very remarkable and glorious communication. It is interesting to observe how David must have been attracted by Balaam’s vision. The dark wall of the Moabite mountains was a familiar object to him, and must often have recalled the strange but unworthy prophet who spoke of the Star that was to shine so gloriously, and the Sceptre that was to have such a wonderful rule. Often during his life we may believe that David devoutly desired to know something more of that mysterious Star and Sceptre; and now that desire is fulfilled; the Star is as the light of the morning star; the Sceptre is that of a blessed ruler, "one that ruleth over men righteously, that ruleth in the fear of God."
The second part of the introduction stamps the prophecy with a fourfold mark of inspiration, 1. "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me." For "the prophecy came not of old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2. "His word was in my tongue." For in high visions like this, of which no wisdom of man can create even a shadow, it is not enough that the Spirit should merely guide the writer; this is one of the utterances where verbal inspiration must have been enjoyed. 3. "The God of Israel said, "He who entered into covenant with Israel, and promised him great and peculiar mercies. 4. "The Rock of Israel spake to me," the faithful One, whose words are stable as a rock, and who provides for Israel a foundation- stone, elect and precious, immovable as the everlasting hills.
So remarkable an introduction must be followed by no ordinary prophecy. If the prophecy should bear on nothing more remarkable than some earthly successor of David, all this preliminary glorification would be singularly out of place. It would be like a great procession of heralds and flourishing of trumpets in an earthly kingdom to announce some event of the most ordinary kind, the repeal of a tax or the appointment of an officer.
II. We come then to the great subject of the prophecy - a Ruler over men. The rendering of the Authorized Version is somewhat lame and obscure, "He that ruleth over men must be just," there being nothing whatever in the original corresponding to "must be." The Revised Version is at once more literal and more expressive:
"One that ruleth over men righteously,
Ruling in the fear of God,
He shall be as the light of the morning."
It is a vision of a remarkable Ruler, not a Ruler over the kingdom of Israel merely, but a Ruler "over men." The Ruler seen is One whose government knows no earthly limits, but prevails wherever there are men. Solomon could not be the ruler seen, for, wide though his empire was, he was king of Israel only, not king of men. It was but a speck of the habitable globe, but a morsel of that part of it that was inhabited even then, over which Solomon reigned. If the term "One that ruleth over men" could have been appropriated by any monarch, it would have been Ahasuerus, with his hundred and twenty-seven provinces, or Alexander the Great, or some other universal monarch, that would have had the right to claim it. But every such application is out of the question. The "Ruler over men" of this vision must have been identified by David with Him "in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed."
It is worthy of very special remark that the first characteristic of this Ruler is "righteousness." There is no grander or more majestic word in the language of men. Not even love or mercy can be preferred to righteousness. And this is no casual expression, happening in David’s vision, for it is common to the whole class of prophecies that predict the Messiah. "Behold, a King shall reign in righteousness, and princes shall rule in judgment." "There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and the spirit of the fear of the Lord . . . shall rest on Him, . . . and righteousness shall be the girdle of His loins." There is no lack in the New Testament of passages to magnify the love and mercy of the Lord Jesus, yet it is made very plain that righteousness was the foundation of all His work. "Thus it becometh us to fulfill all righteousness," were the words with which He removed the objections of John to His baptism, and they were words that described the business of His whole life: to fulfill all righteousness for His people and in His people - for them, to satisfy the demands of the righteous law and bear the righteous penalty of transgression; in them to infuse His own righteous spirit and mould them into the likeness of His righteous example, to sum up the whole law of righteousness in the law of love, and by His grace instill that law into their hearts. Such essentially was the work of Christ. No man can say of the religious life that Christ expounded that it was a life of loose, feverish emotion or sentimental spirituality that left the Decalogue far out of view. Nothing could have been further from the mind of Him that said, "Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven." Nothing could have been more unlike the spirit of Him who was not content with maintaining the letter of the Decalogue, but with His "again, I say unto you," drove its precepts so much further as into the very joints and marrow of men’s souls.
It is the grand characteristic of Christ’s salvation in theory that it is through righteousness; it is not less its effect in practice to promote righteousness. To any who would dream, under colour of free grace, of breaking down the law of righteousness, the words of "the Holy One and the Just "stand out as an eternal rebuke, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets; I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill."
And as Christ’s work was founded on righteousness, so it was constantly done "in the fear of God," - with the highest possible regard for His will, and reverence for His law. "Wist ye not that I must be about My Father’s business?" is the first word we hear from Christ’s lips; and among the last is, ’’Not My will, but Thine, be done." No motto could have been more appropriate for His whole life than this: "I delight to do Thy will, O My God."
Having shown the character of the Ruler, the vision next pictures the effects of His rule:
"He shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth,
A morning without clouds,
When the tender grass springeth out of the earth
Through clear shining after rain."
But why introduce the future "shall be" in the translation when it is not in the original? May we not conceive the Psalmist reading off a vision - a scene unfolding itself in all its beauty before his mind’s eye? A beautiful influence seems to come over the earth as the Divine Ruler makes His appearance, like the rising of the sun on a cloudless morning, like the appearance of the grass when the sun shines out clearly after rain. No imagery could be more delightful, or more fitly applied to Christ. The image of the morning sun presents Christ in His gladdening influences, bringing pardon to the guilty, health to the diseased, hope to the despairing; He is indeed like the morning sun, lighting up the sky with splendour and the earth with beauty, giving brightness to the languid eye, and colour to the faded cheek, and health and hope to the sorrowing heart. The chief idea under the other emblem, the grass shining clearly after rain, is that of renewed beauty and growth. The heavy rain batters the grass, as heavy trials batter the soul, but when the morning sun shines out clearly, the grass recovers, it sparkles with a fresher luster, and grows with intenser activity. So when Christ shines on the heart after trial, a new beauty and a new growth and prosperity come to it. When this Sun of righteousness shines forth thus, in the case of individuals the understanding becomes more clear, the conscience more vigorous, the will more firm, the habits more holy, the temper more serene, the affections more pure, the desires more heavenly. In communities, conversions are multiplied, and souls advanced steadily in holy beauties; intelligence spreads, love triumphs over selfishness, and the spirit of Christ modifies the spirit of strife and the spirit of mammon. It is with the happiest skill that Solomon, appropriating part of his father’s imagery, draws the picture of the bride, with the radiance of the bridegroom falling on her: "Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?"
III. Next comes David’s allusion to his own house. In our translation, and in the text of the Revised Version, this comes in to indicate a sad contrast between the bright vision just described and the Psalmist’s own family. It indicates that his house or family did not correspond to the picture of the prophecy, and would not realize the emblems of the rising sun and the growing grass; but as God had made with himself an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, that satisfied him; it was all his salvation and all his desire, although his house was not to grow.
But in the margin of the Revised Version we have another translation, which reverses all this: -
"For is not my house so with God?
For He hath made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things and sure:
For all my salvation and all my desire,
Will He not make it to grow?"
Corresponding as this does with the translation of many scholars (e.g., Boothroyd, Hengstenberg, Fairbairn), it must be regarded as admissible on the strength of outward evidence. And if so, certainly it is very strongly recommended by internal evidence. For what reason could David have for introducing his family at all after the glorious vision if only to say that they were excluded from it? And can it be thought that David, whose nature was so intensely sympathetic, would be so pleased because he was personally provided for, though not his family? And still further, why should he go on in the next verses (1 Samuel 22:6-7) to describe the doom of the ungodly by way of contrast to what precedes if the doom of ungodly persons is the matter already introduced in the fifth verse? The passage becomes highly involved and unnatural in the light of the older translation.
The key to the passage will be found, if we mistake not, in the expression "my house." We are liable to think of this as the domestic circle, whereas it ought to be thought of as the reigning dynasty. What is denoted by the house of Hapsburg, the house of Hanover, the house of Savoy, is quite different from the personal family of any of the kings. So when David speaks of his house, he means his dynasty. In this sense his "house" had been made the subject of the most gracious promise. ’’Moreover, the Lord telleth thee that He will make thee an house. . . . And thine house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee. . . . Then David said, . . . What is my house, that Thou hast brought me thus far? . . . Thou hast spoken also of Thy servant’s house for a great while to come." The king felt profoundly on that occasion that his house was even more prominently the subject of Divine promise than himself. What roused his gratitude to its utmost height was the gracious provision for his house. Surely the covenant referred to in the passage now before us, ’’ordered in all things and sure," was this very covenant announced to him by the prophet Nathan, the covenant that made this provision for his house. It is impossible to think of him recalling this covenant and yet saying, "Verily my house is not so with God" (R.V.).
But take the marginal reading - "Is not my house so with God?" Is not my dynasty embraced in the scope of this promise? Hath He not made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure? And will He not make this promise, which is all my salvation and all my desire, to grow, to fructify? It is infinitely more natural to represent David on this joyous occasion congratulating himself on the promise of long continuance and prosperity made to his dynasty, than dwelling on the unhappy condition of the members of his family circle.
And the facts of the future correspond to this explanation. Was not the government of David’s house or dynasty in the main righteous, at least for many a reign, conducted in the fear of God, and followed by great prosperity and blessing? David himself, Solomon, Asa, Jehoshaphat, Hezekiah, Josiah - what other nation had ever so many Christ-like kings? What a contrast was presented to this in the main by the apostate kingdom of the ten tribes, idolatrous, God-dishonouring, throughout! And as to the growth or continued vitality of his house, its "clear shining after rain," had not God promised that He would bless it, and that it would continue forever before Him? He knew that, spiritually dormant at times, his house would survive, till a living root came from the stem of Jesse, till the Prince of life should be born from it, and once that plant of renown was raised up, there was no fear but the house would be preserved for ever. From this point it would start on a new career of glory; nay, this was the very Ruler of whom he had been prophesying, at once David’s Son and David’s Lord; this was the root and the offspring of David, the bright and the morning star. Conducted to this stage in the future experience of his house, he needed no further assurance, he cherished no further desire. The covenant that rested on Him and that promised Him was ordered in all things and sure. The glorious prospect exhausted his every wish. ’’This is all my salvation and all my desire."
IV. The last part of the prophecy, in the way of contrast to the leading vision, is a prediction of the doom of the ungodly. The revised translation is much the clearer:
"But the ungodly shall be all of them as thorns to be thrust away,
For they cannot be taken with the hand,
But the man that toucheth them
Must be armed with iron and the staff and spear,
And they shall be utterly burned with fire in their place."
While some would fain think of Christ’s sceptre as one of mercy only, the uniform representation of the Bible is different. In this, as in most predictions of Christ’s kingly office, there is an instructive combination of mercy and judgment. In the bosom of one of Isaiah’s sweetest predictions, he introduces the Messiah as anointed by the Spirit of God to proclaim "the day of vengeance of our God." In a subsequent vision, Messiah appears marching triumphantly "with dyed garments from Bozrah, after treading the people in His anger and trampling them in His fury." Malachi proclaimed Him "the Sun of righteousness, with healing under His wings," while His day was to burn as an oven and consume the proud and the wicked like stubble. John the Baptist saw Him "with His fan in His hand, thoroughly purging His floor, gathering the wheat into His garner, while the chaff should be burnt with unquenchable fire." In His own words, "the Son of man shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." And in the Apocalypse, when the King of kings and the Lord of lords is to be married to His bride, He appears "clothed with a garment dipped in blood, and out of His mouth goeth a sharp sword, that He should smite the nations, and He treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God."
Nor could it be otherwise. The union of mercy and judgment is the inevitable result of the righteousness which is the foundation of His government. Sin is the abominable thing which He hates. To separate men from sin is the grand purpose of His government. For this end, He draws His people into union with Himself, thereby for ever removing their guilt, and providing for the ultimate removal of all sin from their hearts and the complete assimilation of their natures to His holy nature. Blessed are they who enter into this relation; but alas for those who, for all that He has done, prefer their sins to Him! "The ungodly shall be all of them as thorns to be thrust away."
Oh, let us not be satisfied with admiring beautiful images of Christ! Let us not deem it enough to think with pleasure of Him as the light of the morning, a morning without clouds, brightening the earth, and making it sparkle with the luster of the sunshine on the grass after rain! Let us not satisfy ourselves with knowing that Jesus Christ came to earth on a beneficent mission, and with thinking that surely we shall one day share in the blessed effects of His work! Nothing of that kind can avail us if we are not personally united to Christ. We must come as sinners individually to Him, cast ourselves on His free, unmerited grace, and deliberately accept His righteousness as our clothing. Then, but only then, shall we be able to sing: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, He hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels."
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 23". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany