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.