We are nearly at the end of the David saga. He has had very high highs and very low lows. David is a mighty warrior, fearless in battle. He trusts in the Lord and is for the most part obedient. But he has many wives and even more sons, all of whom would like to be the next king. There is fighting with neighboring enemies and war among family members. And 2 Samuel ends with a record of not one but two national calamities. First there is the drought caused by Saul's sin against the Gibeonites and then we see David’s sin with the census. In between those two events David wrote two psalms, we see four military victories and the list of David's mighty men...37 in all.
Nearly 400 years earlier the Gibeonites had deceived Joshua into believing they had come from far away to make a peace treaty with the Israelites. Joshua had not consulted the Lord and as a result Joshua ended up making a treaty before God with them. Those treaties could not be broken. As a result, Joshua had put them to work as wood cutters and water carriers. Israel was obligated to protect them but Saul had plans to wipe them all out...an ethnic cleansing if you will. And God was angry with Saul. Saul’s life was a puzzle, especially his relationship with the Lord. He made vows that no one should keep but he did not obey clear commands the Lord had given him. And, we have not gotten to Chronicles yet but there we will discover that Jeiel, Saul's great grandfather was the progenitor of the Gibeonites so he was effectively slaughtering his own relatives. By this point Saul had been dead nearly 30 years and now God was dealing with his sin.
David tried to make retribution with the Gibeonites but they did not want money. They knew their place in Israel as servants and resident aliens and that they had no right to press their case but they also knew that only the shedding of blood would atone for the Gibeonites blood that had been shed. They asked for the bloodshed of seven of Saul's descendants to pay for their blood that was shed by Saul. And David agreed. A couple of notes here. The Mephibosheth mentioned here in 21:8 is not the son of Jonathan and the Barzillai is not David's loyal friend. David had to choose. He did not choose any of Jonathan's descendants because of his promise to him so he chose from Saul's concubine and his daughter. The seven chosen were killed together and the Gibeonites left them in the field. Saul's concubine spread sackcloth on the ground and kept the birds and animals from scavenging the bodies from the beginning of the barley harvest until the first trains. That is May through October!!! David allowed the bodies to be exposed until the rains came as a sign that once again the Lord was blessing his people. And then, we see respect. David not only gathered the bones of the seven who were killed but the bones of Saul and Jonathan as well and buried all of them in the tomb of Kish, Saul's father.
The four battles we saw fought here in today's reading involved giants from the Philistines. One of them was poised to kill David but he was saved from death by Abishai. From then on, the king was left home because he was too valuable to risk losing him in war. And think about this. 1 Samuel 2 records Hannah's song when she brought her son Samuel to the tabernacle to serve the Lord and 2 Samuel 22 records the song of David after the Lord helped him defeat his enemies. How cool is it that these two books of Samuel...books full of bloodshed, fighting, family struggles, and more are bracketed by songs of praise! This Psalm is actually psalm 18:1-50. David sings of how the Lord delivered him from his enemies and then how the Lord rewarded David. This is followed by how the Lord enabled David and then established him.
Chapter 23 records David's last words. We will not see his death until 1 Kings but these are his last words. He begins by recounting his humble beginning as Jesse's son who was then exalted to the throne of Israel by sovereign God. At least 73 of the 150 psalms we have are attributed to David but his last one is found only here. Last words here may mean his actual last words or his last words inspired by the Lord. Verses 3 and 4 speak of the expectations for rulers leading some to think David wrote this for Solomon who would follow him as king. David speaks of the covenant God made with him and his house and David's confidence that God would carry out his promise. This covenant will guarantee David a dynasty that will last forever and be fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Finally, David anticipated God’s judgement on the ungodly, uprooted like thorns and burned.
Davids mighty men are also listed here. These were the elite of David's troops, perhaps his personal bodyguards. They were heroes in the fullest sense of the word with exploits that almost seem unbelievable. There is one incident with three of his mightiest men. David and his men had been fighting and he was hiding in a cave not far from Bethlehem, his hometown. He is thirsty for water from the well just outside of town. These three mighty men fought through enemy lines to get David water but when they returned David poured the water on the ground. There is no indication that David ordered these men to get water. They just wanted to please their leader. So, the water had been provided at such a great risk that David regarded it as too precious to drink and offered it as a sacrifice. No matter what was put in David's hands, he used it to honor God and help God's people...a sling, a sword, a harp, a scepter, even a cup of water. When David looked into the cup of water, he didn't see water. He saw the blood of three men who risked their lives to satisfy his desire. To drink it would have cheapened the bravery of the men who brought it.
Once again, we see a census taken, but this is puzzling. There was nothing Illegal about a census, if it was done according to the rules laid down in Exodus 30:11-16. The half shekel received at the census was used to pay the bills for the sanctuary of God. But this was not why David called for a census. This was a military census to see how big his army was. There had been census taking in the past with no punishment but Joab’s protest indicated that David was doing this out of pride...that the king wanted to magnify his own achievements rather than glorify the Lord. David may have been trusting in military strength rather than trusting in the Lord's provision. God's plan seemed to be for Israel to have a civilian army rather than a large standing army so Israel would trust in His protection. Whatever the reason the Lord was displeased. When Joab returned after nine months of census taking David realized his sin and asked the Lord for forgiveness, which He gave. But there were consequences. David had sinned before, like with Bathsheba. But that was a sin of the flesh and this was a sin of the spirit...a willful act of rebellion against the Lord.
David had three choices for punishment, famine, military defeat, or pestilence. The next day the plague began and ran its course. 70,000 people died. Some suggest that was the number of Israelites who had followed Absalom. God permitted David to see the judgement angel hovering over Jerusalem. Again, God sent the prophet Gad to David, this time with a message of hope. David could stop this plague if he went to the threshing floor of Ornan, built an altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord. And David did as Gad commanded. Once David had followed orders, the plague stopped.
If you were asked to name David's two greatest sins, they would probably be his adultery with Bathsheba and the census...and you would be right. But out of those two sins God built a temple. Bathsheba gave birth to Solomon and God chose him to succeed David on the throne. And the threshing floor of Ornan that David bought and built an altar on was the spot where Solomon built the temple and dedicated it to the glory of the Lord. Paul reminds us in Romans 5:20, ”But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more.”
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W