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Today we conclude our study of 2 Samuel. Chapter 24 contains one of those challenging passages that is difficult to understand. There is a parallel in 1 Chronicles 21, which has some significant differences from the account here. I will refer to those differences at appropriate places.
In verse one the word “again” refers to the three years’ famine recorded back in chapter 21. You will recall that Lord was angry at Israel then, because of Saul’s decision to kill the Gibeonites. In that case, the Lord held the nation as a whole responsible for the sin of the king. In this case, according to what we see here in 2 Samuel, the Lord “moved” (NKJV) or “incited” (RSV, NRSV) David to number the people, which as we read on, was a sinful decision on David’s part.
This raises a couple of problems. First, taking a census doesn’t seem to be a sin. And second, even if it were a sin, David’s responsibility seems diluted if the Lord incited him to do it. And that brings us to the first major difference between this account and the one in 1 Chronicles. 1 Chron. 21:1 doesn’t say that the Lord instigated David do it. On the contrary, it says that Satan incited him to count the people.
Let’s deal with the second issue first. In light of the larger biblical revelation, we know that God never tempts anyone (James 1:13). He permits Satan to tempt us, and he uses the temptations of Satan to test us. The most famous example of the latter was the temptation of Jesus himself in the wilderness. At the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil, because temptations were going to come to Jesus in any case; and God wanted Jesus to deal with that test immediately.
So I would interpret verse one of our passage in light of the overall revelation and the 1 Chronicles parallel. Satan was the one who led David to sin, not the Lord. However, the Lord permitted him to do it. Therefore the temptation was the permissive will of God rather than his intentional will. That is, God permitted it to happen; he did not make it happen. And that was a distinction the author 2 Samuel didn’t make.
Now then, let’s turn to the sin involved. As suggested earlier, taking a census is not in itself sinful. So scholars have sought other reasons for the Lord’s dissatisfaction. For example, it has been speculated that David failed to collect half shekels for the sanctuary, as the Lord had instructed Moses to do back in Ex. 30:11-12. Those verses read, “The Lord spoke to Moses: ‘When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the Lord, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered.’” And then the Lord went on to give the amount of the ransom, namely, half a shekel. But scholars are generally agreed that the situation in Exodus was entirely different from that here in 2 Samuel; and that failure to collect that ransom money was not David’s sin.
Others have speculated that David carried out the census with the purpose in mind of imposing taxes on each town and village. But there is no indication of that in the text.
Still another suggestion advanced is that David’s intention with the census was to enroll the entire country in military service because he wanted to take over the entire near eastern world. Again there is no way to prove such a theory.
So most scholars believe that, whatever David’s unnamed intention was, his sin was a sin of pride. That is, for some unknown reason David wanted to exalt himself by counting the people. And as we shall see, the result was that the Lord reduced the number of the people. We will never know, in this life anyway, exactly what David’s sinful motive was. It just is not revealed.
All right, let’s move on to verses 3-9. Whatever David’s motive was, it was evident to Joab, who protested taking the census. He saw that the census would not be advantageous to David’s government, but might cause problems among the people. So Joab advised David not to do it (v. 3). But David rejected the advice. So Joab and his commanders began the census (v. 4).
Their route is given in broad outline. It may be that the cities mentioned were places from which they counted the people in the surrounding areas. At any rate, they began on the eastern side of the Jordan River at a place called Aroer, which was located in the southeastern part of the country east of the Dead Sea. Then they headed north to a city named Jazer, which also was situated on the eastern side of the Jordan, but about a quarter of the distance between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee northward (v. 5). From there, they moved to Gilead, though the precise city is uncertain because the Hebrew is obscure (v. 6).
Next they moved to Dan, which was directly north of the Sea of Galilee (v. 6). From there they could count many of the northern families. Then they went to the Mediterranean coast to Sidon and Tyre, which formerly had been the major cities of the Phoenicians and which, at the height of David’s reign, were the extreme northern part of David’s kingdom (vv. 6-7).
From there they headed south to the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites. Those were areas west of the Jordan and north of Jerusalem, where many of the original people of the land still lived among the Hebrews, people who had not been exterminated during the conquest as God had ordered (v. 7).
Lastly they went into the south, to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. That was the deep south on the western side of the Dead Sea. As you can see they made a huge upside down U and covered the entire country. It took the military nearly ten months to complete that part of the census and return to Jerusalem. I say “that part of the census,” because the parallel in 1 Chron. 21:6 tells us that the census “did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.”
This suggests that Joab, because he thought the count was not appropriate, may have spent more time taking the census than was necessary. Of course the Levites, as the priests, would have been exempt from a census that was ascertaining the number of men who could bear arms. But Joab still had not counted the Benjamites, the tribe who lived nearest to Jerusalem.
The numbers reported here in 2 Samuel were 800 thousand in Israel, and 500 thousand in Judah, which made a total of 1.3 million men,. Once again there is a difference in 1 Chronicles. There the number given for Israel was 1.1 million and for Judah 470 thousand, which totals 1.57 million men. As you well know by now, the recording of numbers is a big problem in the Old Testament.
In verses 10-14 David somehow came to realize that he had sinned, but it was too late to avoid consequences. David repented of his sin and asked for forgiveness (v. 10). But the next day, the court prophet, Gad, came to him with a message from God (v.11). The Lord offered David three options: (1) three years of famine (1 Chronicles says seven), (2) flee before human enemies three months, or (3) three days’ pestilence in the land (vv. 12-13).
David didn’t want to fall into the hands of human enemies, so he decided to throw himself and the nation on the mercy of the Lord. And we see the results in verses 15-17. Although the pestilence took a terrible toll, with 70,000 people dying, the Lord stayed the hand of the destroying angel before the pestilence reached Jerusalem. That is, he was merciful.
The angel was visible, and David saw it. So did Araunah (1 Chron. 21:20). The parallel in 1 Chronicles also gives a more detailed account of what David saw. When he saw the angel , he prayed that the Lord would punish him personally, and his family, instead of punishing the people further. But apparently the Lord already had stopped the deaths.
In verses 18-25 we learn that David had seen the angel at the threshing floor of Araunah The prophet Gad brought David a message from God that David was to build an altar to the Lord on that threshing floor (v. 18). So David went to Araunah and bought the threshing floor and everything he needed to make an altar and a sacrifice (vv. 19-24).
Once again we find differences between the two accounts. In Chronicles, the name of the man from whom David bought the floor, etc. is Ornan instead of Araunah. And the numbers differ. The amount David paid for everything is 50 shekels of silver. But in 1 Chronicles, the amount mentioned is 600 shekels of gold. The latter is more reasonable for what he bought. Abraham paid 400 shekels of silver for a burial plot in a much earlier time when land may have been cheaper.
David made the proper offerings and prayed, and the plague in Israel ceased. The parallel in 1 Chron. has an additional interesting historical note. That account goes on to say that David decided that day to build a house, a temple, for the Lord on that spot (1 Chron. 22:1). Thus we learn how the site for the Jerusalem temple chosen.
As we turn to application, I would ask you, first, to ponder whether or not David chose correctly when he chose the plague rather than one of the other options. Sometimes we are faced with difficult decisions, where every option seems to be evil. This is especially true of leaders. Have you ever faced such a decision?
Notice second that David solved the plague problem by turning to God in prayer and by making the proper sacrifices. Many times our only hope in a given situation is prayer and trust in the God who made and loves us.
Last Wednesday to Sunday Tillie and I were at the Southeastern Region retreat. What a glorious few days! I wish all of you could have experienced the rich, loving fellowshop (I realize that someof you did, and I am glad).
Our speaker, Paula D’Arcy, brought wonderful words full of anointed ideas that the Lord used to help many in a variety of ways. But as always, the loving presence of the Holy Spirit permiatd the small groups and one on one conversations. We were exceedingly blessed .
In our last essay, we studied 2 Samuel 22. Our passage for this study, chapter 23, consists of two kinds of content. First, in verses 1-7, is a poetic saying of David’s that the RSV and NRSV describe as an “oracle.” The oracle is presented as “the last words of David.” And then comes a longer section that describes the mighty men of David.
From the content of the oracle, we should understand “the last words of David” to mean the last inspired words. That is, the phrase doesn’t mean literally the last words he ever spoke. Rather it was his last inspired prophetic statement. Therefore in the structure of 2 Samuel, David’s psalm of thanksgiving, in which David praised the Lord for all the deliverances and benefits he had received, is followed by his last prophecy that unfolds the importance of his rule in the future.
God had promised David through the prophet Nathan that his throne would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16). And though David probably did not understand how that would happen, he certainly believed it. And in this oracle we see that faith expressed.
Verses 1-2 are an introduction. David introduces himself with a four-fold description. He is a “son of Jesse;” “the man whom God exalted;” “the anointed of the God of Jacob;” and “the favorite of the Strong One of Israel,” with Strong One capitalized. At least that’s the way the NRSV translates the fourth one. The Hebrew is obscure enough in that clause that one finds a variety of translations.
Unlike the kings of Egypt, David did not think of himself as divine; but he had plenty of qualifications to prophesy. And he is “anointed,” not only as king of Israel, but by the Holy Spirit as a prophet. “The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me,” he declared.
The “oracle” itself begins at verse three. David didn’t use the classic prophetic form, “Thus says the Lord.” Instead he announced, “The God of Israel has spoken,” which means the same thing. So David clearly didn’t hesitate to think of himself as a prophet, even though that wasn’t his primary calling. David’s primary calling was as Israel’s king, but on some occasions he spoke the word of God; and this was one of them.
There is some debate about whether David was speaking about himself in verses 3-4 or about the future messianic King. I believe it is fair to suggest he had both in mind. It seems to me the best way to understand the second half of verse three is this. David was saying, “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God,” as I do (with the “as I do” understood), “is like the light, etc.” But in the back of his mind, or at least in God’s mind, is the truth that the messianic King, who will be a king of David’s house, will also rule justly in the fear of God.
David used two images to describe this just ruler. The first is “the light of morning,” or the “the sun rising on a cloudless morning,” which means the same thing. And the second is “the rain on the grassy land.” Both images have to do life. Light and water are necessary for all life, not just plant life, though plant life is at the forefront of the images in this passage.
At verse five David clearly shifts his primary emphasis to the messianic King. In it David refers to the original promise of God given through Nathan in chapter seven that David’s house and throne would be “everlasting.” The promise was for an “everlasting covenant” that would establish his throne “forever.”
But God not only will establish the messianic kingdom, he will bring judgment on the “godless.” The ungodly are symbolized by thorns, which are not touched by the hand, because they are offensive to the touch. They are gathered with a tool and burned.
That is the oracle. The second portion of the chapter is an account of David’s mighty men. There is a parallel list in 1 Chron. 11:10-47. The heroes are divided into three classes. The first class consists of three men. Their names are Josheb-basshebeth, Eleazar, and Shammah. Certain deeds of these three warriors are given in verses 8-12. The second class is made up of two men. They were Abishai and Benaiah, whose exploits are recorded in verses 18-23. They had distinguished themselves above the rest, but not to the degree of the three. The others belonged to the third class, which consisted of 32 men, of whom no particular deeds are recorded. Their names are in verses 24-39.
According to Chronicles, the five of the first two classes and seven of the others were commanders of David’s 12 divisions, each of which had 24,000 men (1 Chron. 27:1). You will notice that Joab is not listed among them. Presumably that was because he was commander over them all. You also will notice that the group is called the “thirty” in verses 13, 23 and 24, a convenient round number, even though according to verse 38, there were a total of 37 mighty men.
It is interesting that verse eight tells us that Josheb-basshebeth, was the chief of the three, which evidently means he was the greatest of them all. And yet we have not read about him before. His name is listed as Jashobeam in 1 Chron. Also in 1 Chron. he is said to have killed 300 instead of 800 men (1 Chron. 11:11).
Eleazar and Shammah both were used of God to win major battles for Israel in single-handed fashion (verses 9-12). Then in verses 13-17 the story of a different kind of heroic feat performed by these three is given. During one of the Philistine wars, David and his men were hiding in a desert “stronghold” when the Philistines were encamped at Bethlehem. David expressed out loud a longing for some water from the well at Bethlehem. The three heard him and risked their lives to bring David some of that water. David was so moved by their action, he refused to drink the water and poured it out as a drink offering to God.
Next, in verses 18-23, comes the account of the men in the second class, Abishai and Benaiah. We have seen quite a lot of Abishai in the previous chapters. He was the brother of Joab and was “chief.” that is, commander of the 30. Yet he wasn’t as renowned as the three (vv. 18-19).
Several of Benaiah’s exploits are given, and he was the head of David’s bodyguards. But like Abishai, he didn’t “attain to the three” (vv. 20-23). The chapter ends with the names of the rest of the thirty, but without any stories of what they did.
Turning to application, first, in respect to the oracle in verses 1-7, David provides us with an encouraging prophecy of the coming Messiah. The Messiah is going to come to rule with justice in the fear of God. And he is going to come in judgment. The godly will rejoice, and the godless will, like thorns, be burned. In the end, justice will rule. We are well aware justice does not always happen on earth. But God will right all wrongs in the end-times. Holy ones will be vindicated, and evil ones who will not repent, will be punished.
Second, the story in verses 13-17 provides us with two positive examples. The three mighty men showed extraordinary courage in getting the water from the well at Bethlehem for David. They demonstrated their love and loyalty to their king in an amazing way. May we show the same courage as we serve the messianic King. The second positive example is David’s pouring the water out as an offering to God rather than drinking it. Any leader of any generation should appreciate the dedication of his or her people enough to thank God for their love and loyalty.
In our last essay we studied 2 Samuel, chapter 21, which began the last major portion of the book. We decided to call it an “Epilogue,” because it contains a hodgepodge of material that makes it a bit hard to classify. The information comes from various times in David’s reign, and it contains poetry as well as narrative and some historical records.
In this essay we are studying chapter 22, which consists of a song of thanksgiving written by David. It also is found in the Psalter as Ps. 18. There are many differences in the wording of the two, though most of them don’t change the meaning in any way. Of course scholars debate which of the two versions contains the original wording. But it isn’t really possible to tell that. It may be that neither represents the precise wording of the original psalm as David composed it. David himself could have revised it for liturgical use in the Psalter; and it could have received a little different revision for inclusion in this historical book.
Verse one is a heading for the song. David evidently composed the psalm during the latter years of his reign, after the Lord had delivered him from all his enemies, namely, Saul, internal foes, and external enemies as well. It was during a time when David’s kingdom was supreme in the Near East.
Saul is specifically mentioned, not because that was the last deliverance. Indeed the deliverance from Saul was early in David’s career. Rather Saul is specifically mentioned, because David’s deliverance from Saul was the greatest and most important in his life. Without deliverance from Saul, none of the others would have been possible.
Verses 2-4 are a kind of introduction to the song as a whole. They summarize everything we will find in the balance of the psalm. Notice that David used a whole string of images to express what God had been for him during his life: a rock, a fortress (castle), a deliverer, a shield, a horn, a refuge, and a savior.
Several of these images point to one basic idea that was familiar to all in the southern desert in Israel. There are many places in southern Palestine where steep rocky places form natural fortresses in which persons can hide. David took advantage of such places when he was fleeing from Saul. You may remember that the name, in English, used for David’s favorite hideout was “stronghold” (1 Sam. 22:5; 24:22).
But as you can see, David never considered the natural rock fortresses to be his security. The Lord was his rock, his fortress, and hiding place.
At verse five the account of David’s deliverances by the hand of God begins. Again there is a string of images, this time in respect to the threat of death: waves (breakers) of death, torrents (streams) of perdition, cords of Sheol, and snares of death. David was in danger of death many times in his life. Saul tried to kill him several times; Absalom threatened him, as did several of his many wars. But David called on the name of the Lord and was delivered every time.
Verses 8-20 spell out in vivid imagery how God did it. The primary basis of this imagery is the account in Ex. 19:16-19 of the Lord’s coming down on Sinai in smoke and fire. Now God’s deliverance of David hadn’t actually been accompanied by these extraordinary natural events. But to David, his deliverance was supernatural, miraculous. And the imagery of the Exodus expressed that for him.
The line of Exodus imagery is continued in verse 11. The idea of God’s riding on a cherub is a reference to the fact that God dwelled, or was enthroned, between two cherubim on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies.
In verses 12 and following, still using the Exodus imagery, David reminded his listeners (in our case readers) of the fact that God sometimes comes in judgment. The thick darkness under his feet (v. 10) can become a canopy that hides God from men and their prayers (v. 12). And the coals of fire that burst forth from the dark clouds are lightning strikes of judgment against God’s, and in this case David’s, enemies.
But God not only struck David’s enemies, he reached out to save David personally. He snatched David from the “mighty waters” (vv. 18-20). Some have suggested that this image alludes to the rescue of Moses from the waters of the Nile.
Next, in verses 21-25, comes the reason for David’s deliverance. As you see, the paragraph is in the form of a self-testimony by David. He claims to have been rewarded by God according to his righteousness. And the language used is the language of personal righteousness. This is interesting, because it suggests that David thought rather highly of himself. Commentators have difficulty with this paragraph, because clearly David was not always morally righteous.
Some might want to say that David was self-deceived, that he assumed he was personally righteous simply because God delivered him. After all it was a standard view in Israel that God blessed the righteous and brought calamity on the unrighteous. But I think the better approach is to believe that David was righteous because of God’s grace. David certainly sinned many times, but he was forgiven because he genuinely repented and confessed.
With verse 26 David began to provide some philosophical justification, though he wouldn’t have called it that. This is a valid spiritual principle, though not an absolute one. In general God responds to humans according to human attitudes towards God. That is, he delivers the humble, but brings down the haughty.
In verses 29-46 David began to describe the specific help that the Lord had given him. David testified to what the Lord has done for him, presumably because he was among the humble. Once again a series of images are placed before us. First, the Lord was David’s lamp. That is, he was David’s guide. And that guidance enabled David to crush troops and leap walls, meaning overcome fortified cities (vv. 29-30). And notice that God’s light comes from his word verse 31. Second, the Lord girded David with strength (v. 33). Third, he made David’s feet like those of a deer, sure footed in the high places (v. 34). Fourth, he trained David for war (v. 35). Fifth, the Lord provided for David spiritually as well as for his wars. That is, he provided salvation (v. 36). Sixth, David returned to the subject of his military victories. The Lord girded him with strength for the battle (v. 40); and he made David’s enemies turn their backs, meaning David put them to flight (v. 41). Indeed when the enemy cried out for help there was no one to help them, certainly not the Lord (v. 42). They were crushed without mercy (v. 43). David became supreme in the area. Foreign nations came cringing and served him (vv. 44-46).
The psalm ends in verses 47-51 with a conclusion of praise to the Lord. Notice that the praise will be sounded among the nations. The Lord has done far too much for David to confine the praise to Israel. With David’s domination of the surrounding nations, there is opportunity to spread to them both the knowledge and praise of the Lord.
Turning to application, the first point I would make is that David deeply understood that the Lord was his savior, his deliverer; and he proclaimed his gratitude in this psalm. This psalm is a good model in that regard for us as Christians. God, through Christ, is our savior and deliverer; and we must proclaim that fact as loudly and clearly as David did.
Second, David, even from his Old Testament perspective, understood that the Lord was his sanctifier (vv. 21-25). Although David declares that he is righteous (holy), he had not forgotten the extent and depth of his sins (adultery, murder, etc.). The only way that David could declare himself righteous, as he does in these verses, was out of the knowledge that God had forgiven his sins and made him holy. He was a sinner, cleansed by grace. Again he is a model for us. All of us have sinned, some of us in grievous ways. And by God’s grace in Christ we have found ourselves forgiven and cleansed by the Holy Spirit. Like David, we must express our gratitude and praise to God for his love.
My wife Tillie and I had a wonderful month plus of travel, but we are glad to be home. The experiences we had of seeing the pyramids, temples and tombs of ancient Egypt and the magnificent sights of Jordan (especially Petra) was one we will cherish. We learned a great deal about history and the people of current Muslim cultures, and we are grateful to the Lord that we could make the trip.
For any regular readers out there, we are sorry for the lengthy period without posting a Bible study, but there was no way to continue during the overseas tour. In this essay we pick up where we left off in late May. In the last posted essay, we studied 2 Samuel 19:16-20:26, which records what I called “The Politics of David’s Restoration.” Since people took sides during the civil war of David’s reign, much healing was needed when David came back to the throne. Once the war was over, many who had participated in the rebellion came to David even before he returned to Jerusalem to make their peace, or to seek a place in the restored kingdom. As David dealt with the supplicants, we saw both the good and evil of politics at work.
With this essay we begin the last major portion of the book, which contains a hodgepodge of material that makes it a bit hard to classify. The information comes from various times in David’s reign, and it contains poetry as well as narrative and some historical records. So I, like Joyce Baldwin, will call it an “Epilogue.”
The first matter reported in the section is about a three-year famine in the land that led David to ask the Lord the reason for it. That is, after the famine had gone on for a prolonged length of time, David concluded it was a judgment of the Lord rather than a natural event. And he was correct.
In verses 1-9, we see that when David inquired, the Lord told him the famine was due to a sin committed by Saul when he had been king. Now this indicates that the famine took place fairly early in David’s reign, during the glory years. It had to be before David invited Mephibosheth to his table; and that is recorded in chapter nine.
Saul’s attempt to eliminate the Gibeonites is not itself recorded, so we don’t know the exact circumstances that led to the famine. However the covenant that Israel made with the Gibeonites is recorded. That record is found way back in chapter nine of the book of Joshua. The Gibeonites had tricked Israel into thinking they were from a far country rather than being part of the Canaanite peoples. And Israel made a covenant with the Gibeonites in the name of the Lord that they would not harm them.
This was the treaty Saul disregarded when he killed many of the Gibeonites of his day. Perhaps Saul did that near the end of his reign. At any rate, the Lord brought judgment upon Israel in regard to that sin of Saul’s after David became king.
Once David learned the cause of the famine, he called the Gibeonites to him and asked them what they would suggest as a way to forgive the sin. They replied that they didn’t want money as compensation. Instead they required blood for blood to expiate the sin. They asked that seven of Saul’s sons, using sons in the sense of descendants, be given to them for execution. This was in harmony with the Jewish law. Numbers 35:31, for example, declares that a murderer’s life cannot be saved by ransom with money. He must be executed. The number seven, of course, was a holy number.
Scholars differ as to the type of execution intended. Some want to argue for crucifixion, but the Hebrews didn’t do crucifixions. When they hung a man on a tree, he already was dead; and the hanging was an act of humiliation. The best likelihood for the mode of death is that they impaled them and left them unburied, an example of which is seen in Num. 25:4.
David agreed to their demand even though it was in opposition to the law’s requirement that fathers were not supposed to be put to death for the sins of their sons, nor sons put to death for the sins of their fathers. That’s Deut. 24:16.
David spared Mephibosheth, but he handed over two sons of Saul born to a concubine named Rizpah and five grandsons born to Saul’s daughter Merab. And they were killed “at the beginning of the barley harvest, which was in the spring.
The next paragraph (verses 10-14) shows the extraordinary love of Rizpah. Rizpah in her grief went to the site of the execution and protected the bodies day and night from carrion eating birds and animals until the drought-related famine was broken by rain. Of course once the rains came the bodies could be buried.
When the touching act of Rizpah was told to David, he decided to do something nice for Saul’s family. He had the bones of Saul and Jonathan collected from Jabesh-Gilead, and those of the seven “sons” of Saul who had been killed by the Gibeonites from their resting place; and then he had them all buried at the family tomb of Kish, the father of Saul, in the land of Benjamin. And prayers were answered once again in the land.
The balance of the chapter (verses 15-22) tells of four heroic acts performed by David’s men in the wars with the Philistines. Very few details are given, and the events appear to have occurred across a number of years. The same four incidents are paralleled, with only some minor differences of detail, in 1 Chron. 20:4-8.
The first of the four heroic actions involved David himself. David was personally involved in the battle, and he became very tired while fighting one of the descendants of the giants named Ishbibenob. Joab’s brother, Abishai, came to David’s rescue and killed Ishbibenob (vv. 15-16). That led to the decision that David would no longer personally fight in the wars (v. 17).
The second story is extremely brief. It simply states that Sibbecai killed a giant named Saph. Sibbecai was one of David’s commanders of 24,000 listed in 1 Chron. 27:11.
The third account is similarly brief. It tells us that Elhanan killed a giant named Goliath. In the parallel in 1 Chron. 20:5, we are told that he killed Lahmi the brother of Goliath. The scholars disagree about how to handle this. When they are all boiled down, the most likely possibility in my opinion is that the Chronicles account probably is correct; and this one in 2 Samuel is corrupt. But there is no way to know for sure.
The fourth and last incident is about a six-fingered, six-toed giant whom a nephew of David’s named Jonathan killed. The thing that links the four stories together is that descendants of the so-called giants were involved in them all. Since the information is so limited, the author may have taken it directly from some kind of list of heroic exploits.
Turning to application, to me the most admirable character in the chapter is Rizpah. You might want to meditate on what her example could mean to us.
The larger question relating to this chapter is this. Do you believe God really wanted David to sacrifice seven of Saul’s sons and grandsons as the Gibeonites requested? The Lord did send the rains in response (v. 14). But was the method chosen his intentional will? There certainly is room for debate here, but I don’t think so. God’s law clearly declared that sons are not to be put to dearth for the sins of the fathers. Therefore, to me this is an example of how God, in his interactions with human beings, sometimes accommodates himself to human frailties and weaknesses.
Due to a heavy travel schedule during the rest of May and June, this will be my last post on the website until July. We are traveling to PA and NC next week and to Egypt and Jordan next month. We are very much looking forward to seeing friends and relatives next week and the pyramids, etc. in Egypt, along with Petra, etc. in Jordan next month. In the meantime, may the Lord bless and keep you. Bob
In the last essay, we studied 2 Samuel 18:19-19:15, which records the restoration of David to his throne. In this essay we are ready for what I have called “The Politics of the Restoration.” During Israel’s civil war, people obviously took sides. Therefore much healing was needed as David came back to the throne. Many who had participated in the rebellion now were talking support of David for political reasons. They needed to be seen as David’s supporters if they were to have a future in Israel.
We already have seen David reaching out to his own tribe of Judah. But in verses 16-23 we see others taking the initiative and coming to David. Some wanted to patch up their relationships to David even before he returned to Jerusalem, while others desired to strengthen their ties to David.
Among the first to seek reconciliation with David was Shimei; and of those who wished to strengthen their relationship to him, one of the first was Ziba. Since Ziba is mentioned in only two verses (vv. 17-18), we will talk about Ziba first. He was the servant of Saul whom David had assigned to serve Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. You will recall that at the beginning of the revolt Ziba came to David saying that Mephibosheth had stayed in Jerusalem, because he was supporting Absalom in hope of getting the throne. It never occurred to David that Ziba was lying, so on the spot he gave all of Mephibosheth’s property to Ziba (16:1-4). Now we see Ziba rushing out to the Jordan in an attempt to patch things up. However nothing is said about any conversations he had with David.
Shimei is a more interesting case, and he gets more attention from the author. You will remember that Shimei was the Benjaminite of the house of Saul who had cursed David and thrown stones at him as David left Jerusalem (16:5-13). Now here he is, at the head of the line, seeking forgiveness.
Abishai saw right through Shimei’s self-interest and suggested that Shimei be put to death. But David, also playing politics, in demonstration of his secure hold on the throne, declared that no one would die that day. Then the king gave Shimei his oath that he would not kill him. And David honored that public oath. But David did not actually forgive Shimei; and years later, while on his deathbed, David took revenge by instructing his successor, Solomom, to kill Shimei (1 Kings 2:8-9).
The next suppliant we are told about, in verse 24-30, was Mephibosheth. David once again demonstrates his weakness. It rather quickly becomes clear that Ziba, who already had come to the Jordan to proclaim his allegiance, had misrepresented Mephibosheth to David in order to take advantage of his crippled master. Mephibosheth had not washed his feet or clothing, or trimmed his beard, all signs of deep mourning, since David left Jerusalem. And now he comes to David in complete humility asking for nothing but what the king would give.
David, apparently in his embarrassment that he had been taken in by Ziba, refused to completely undo the wrong. Instead he partially corrected it by misquoting himself. He had told Ziba back in 16:4 that Ziba could have all of Mephibosheth’s property. But now he declares that he had given Ziba half of it.
In verses 31-40 the author tells us about one more of the many individuals who undoubtedly came to David in those days. It was Barzillai the Giliadite, who had supplied David with provisions while he was in Mahanaim in Gilead (17:27-29).
David offered, out of courtesy more than anything, to take Barzillai back to Jerusalem where he would find a place for him. Barzillai politely refused the offer by suggesting he was too old. But then he asked David to take Chimham, who apparently was Barzillai’s son, and use him as David would, meaning of course show him favors. David agreed. And when David was giving Solomon those deathbed instructions that we mentioned earlier, he asked Solomon to let the sons of Barzillai continue to eat at the king’s table (1 Kings 2:7).
Unfortunately, as David prepared to return to Jerusalem, escorted by Judah and half of the other tribes, not everything went smoothly. Perhaps David miscalculated when he rallied the tribe of Judah to him. At any rate, we see in verses 41-43 that his action sparked a conflict.
“All the people of Israel” here refers to the leaders of the half of Israel that was not already gathered in support of David. They obviously felt that they were being shut out of their proper place in the restoration. The leaders of Judah defended themselves, and the incident escalated into a really angry argument.
Chapter 20 continues the story. What David was doing while this argument was going on is not said. But in any case, the politics spun out of control. The whole situation exploded into a renewal of the war when a Bejaminite named Sheba suddenly called on Israel to withdraw support from David, which they did, though it appears from the following account that most of them quickly abandoned the effort. Then David, accompanied by the tribe of Judah, returned to Jerusalem. Verse three tells us how David resolved the issue of the ten concubines he had left behind to look after his palace, all of whom Absalom had defiled. David took care of them the rest of their lives, but he had no relations with them. They lived as though they were widows.
Verses 4-13 make up an interesting passage. Verse four records David’s first assignment to Amasa, his new army commander. He was to gather the forces of Judah together and return in three days. But Amasa failed. It may have been because the people of Judah would not follow his orders. We aren’t told. But when he didn’t show up on time, David ordered Abishai to pursue Sheba, which he did with his own men, Joab’s men, and David’s bodyguards.
At some point Amasa caught up with them, apparently with the intention of taking command. But Joab, who apparently also was with the army (though unnamed to this point), as he had done so often in the past, took things into his own hands. He assassinated Amasa much as he had Abner years earlier (3:22-39). Then he and Abishai continued to pursue Sheba.
In verse 14-24 we see that the war came to an end in an unusual fashion. Joab, who now assumed command of David’s army, trapped Sheba and his fellow Bechites in the town of Abel, which was located in the extreme northern part of Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee, near the city of Dan. This indicates that the masses of people from the ten tribes already had abandoned Sheba. Only the Bechites, Sheba’s own group, still were with him.
Joab immediately besieged the city and built a ramp to the top of the wall. Then they began to break down the wall (vv. 14-16). All of that is what we would expect. But then something unusual took place.
A woman who is described as “wise” called from the city wall for Joab (v. 16). Joab came to hear what she had to say (v. 17). Therefore he must have had some knowledge that she represented the inhabitants of the city. First, she told Joab that in the past her city had a reputation of settling disputes. Then she explained that many in the city, like herself, were peaceable; and they didn’t want Joab to destroy their city. Joab replied that he would withdraw if they would deliver up Sheba. She told him, rather dramatically, “His head shall be thrown over the wall to you” (vv. 18-21). And that is what happened. So Joab pulled his army away and returned to Jerusalem (v. 22).
The passage ends with a summary of David’s officers of state. You may recall a similar list appeared near the end of the last major section of the book (8:16-18). Most of the names are the same. David’s sons no longer are listed as priests. Instead Ira the Jairite is listed as a priest. And a new department of government, so to speak, appears on the list; namely, a department of “forced labor” under the leadership of a man named Adoram.
Turning to application, we see both the good and evil of politics at work. On the dark side, we saw the self-serving of Shimei and Ziba, the squabbling of the tribes, and the rebellion of Sheba. And of course, once again we saw Joab get away with murder.
On the good side we see the humility of Mephibosheth and David’s treatment of Shimei (even though David’s oath to Shimei turned out in the end to be insincere) and his treatment of Barzillai. One thing is certain. Politics tends to be messy and ugly, and someone always gets hurt.