A Study of 2 Samuel

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1. Introduction to 2 Samuel

1 Samuel ends tragically, with King Saul a virtual madman. He turns against David, his loyal servant and friend. He becomes paranoid, seeking to kill David as though he were a traitor. He fails to obey God’s Word, and so brings about his own downfall and demise. Saul even goes so far as to consult with a medium. The closing chapter of 1 Samuel is the account of his death, at the hands of the Philistines and his own. Sad though this may be, we breathe a sigh of relief, for now David’s days of fleeing from Saul as a fugitive are over. Now, David will reign in Saul’s place.

It doesn’t happen quite this quickly, or this easily. Thanks to the intrigue of men like Abner and Joab, Israel temporarily becomes a divided nation – a foreshadowing of future times for the nation Israel. Finally, David becomes king of all Israel. As he sets out to establish his throne, he seems to do everything well, and God’s blessing is clearly upon him.

Nevertheless, David is still a man with “feet of clay.” His sin against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah sets a whole new course of events into motion. There are more dark days for David, darker than he has seen before.

His child dies, one of his sons rapes David’s daughter, and one of his sons kills another son. To cap matters off, David’s son Absalom rebels against his father David and seeks to kill him. And yet through it all God brings David to repentance and ultimate restoration. God in no way winks at David’s sins, because the remainder of 2 Samuel describes the fallout of David’s sin with Bathsheba.

2 Samuel leaves us with an appreciation for the greatness of David, but also a realization of his human weaknesses. If there is to be a king who will dwell forever on the throne of David (2 Samuel 7:12-14), it must be one who is greater than David. If David is the best king who ever ruled over Israel, then God will have to provide, Himself, a better King. And so He will. This is a great book, one well worth our serious study. Let us look to God to work in our lives through our study of 2 Samuel.

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2. What an Amalekite is Dying to Tell David (2 Samuel 1:1-27)


Our text in this first chapter of 2 Samuel reminds me of the story of a young accident-prone American pilot. Everything the young man did always seemed to go wrong. He was stationed aboard an aircraft carrier during World War II, and there was considerable doubt whether this fellow would be allowed to fly, since no one knew what might happen. One particular day he was given a mission, and everything seemed to be going his way. He spotted and sunk a Japanese warship; then he shot down several Japanese Zeros. Out of ammunition and nearly out of fuel, the pilot was trying to return to his aircraft carrier, but he couldn’t locate it. Suddenly the clouds opened up, and there below him was an aircraft carrier. For once, his landing was flawless. With the plane secured, he jumped out and rushed up to the commanding officer, eager to share the details of his successful mission. He reported he had sunk a Japanese warship and downed several fighters -- to which the commander responded, “Ha So!” His successful mission ended with his flawless landing -- on a Japanese aircraft carrier.

This fighter pilot reminds me of the young Amalekite messenger in 2 Samuel 1, who approaches David hoping for a commendation, and even a monetary expression of David’s gratitude. He comes bearing tragic news of Israel’s defeat, expecting David to look upon the deaths of Saul and Jonathan as a great windfall, an unexpected blessing, which rids him of his enemy (Saul) and his competition (Jonathan), and clears the way for him to become king of Israel. Never in the world would he have expected David to respond as he does. Deeply moved by the news of the death of king Saul and his son, Jonathan, David does not respond with a sigh of relief, grateful that Saul, his enemy, is dead, and pleased to assume his place on the throne in Saul’s place. David grieves greatly, and upon learning that this young man has put Saul to death, he has him executed.

The author of our text very skillfully employs contrast to arouse our curiosity and to communicate a very important message. The first half of the chapter depicts the way the Amalekite deals with Saul. The last half shows the way David deals with Saul. On the basis of this contrast, the author explains why David deals with the Amalekite as he does. The first part of our text draws our attention to the young Amalekite, who arrives with torn clothing and the evidences of mourning, along with a report of Saul’s death and the symbols of Saul’s authority as king (his crown and his bracelet). He is the one who bears tidings of Israel’s defeat, of the death of many Israelites, and specifically of the deaths of Saul and his son Jonathan. His report results first in the mourning of David and his men, and then in the sentence of death for the messenger, who took Saul’s life. The latter part of the chapter contains the psalm of mourning David writes, which he recorded so that it might be taught to the sons of Judah. The central thrust of the chapter seems to be the contrast between the Amalekite and David, as well as the key to the lesson it conveys to the reader. We will give this contrast considerable attention as we attempt to grasp the meaning and the message of our text.

As we approach our text, we hardly sense that we have moved from one book to another, from 1 Samuel to 2 Samuel. The transition seems virtually seamless, which in fact it is in the original text. In the original text, there are not two books, 1 and 2 Samuel, but just one book, encompassing both. This one book in the Hebrew text was later divided by the translators of the Septuagint. Since the division of the book by the Septuagint, all subsequent Bibles have followed this precedent, calling these two books 1 and 2 Samuel. It is therefore very natural for us to move from 1 Samuel to 2 Samuel without even realizing it.

Distressing News

1 Now it came about after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, that David remained two days in Ziklag. 2 And it happened on the third day, that behold, a man came out of the camp from Saul, with his clothes torn and dust on his head. And it came about when he came to David that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself. 3 Then David said to him, “From where do you come?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” 4 And David said to him, “How did things go? Please tell me.” And he said, “The people have fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead; and Saul and Jonathan his son are dead also.” 5 So David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” 6 And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and behold, Saul was leaning on his spear. And behold, the chariots and the horsemen pursued him closely. 7 “And when he looked behind him, he saw me and called to me. And I said, 'Here I am.' 8 “And he said to me, 'Who are you?' And I answered him, 'I am an Amalekite.' 9 “Then he said to me, 'Please stand beside me and kill me; for agony has seized me because my life still lingers in me.' 10 “So I stood beside him and killed him, because I knew that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown which was on his head and the bracelet which was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

David and his men are certainly grateful for the defeat of the Amalekites and the recovery of their families and possessions. But this victory must be overshadowed by David’s concern for what is taking place in Israel. When David left Achish to return to Ziklag, the Philistines had mounted a massive fighting force to attack Israel. David knows very well how awesome this military effort was, because he and his men marched in review at the end of the procession. From the time he parted paths with the Philistines, David must have been greatly concerned for Saul and his beloved friend Jonathan, not to mention the rest of his countrymen. During his pursuit of the Amalekite raiding party and the ensuing battle, David has little time to think about how things are going back in Israel. Now, for three days David and his men have been back in Ziklag wondering how the war is going, or perhaps, how it has already gone.

It is his third day back in Ziklag when a young man rushes into David’s camp all out of breath because he has been running for several days. He must have run something like 100 miles to reach David at Ziklag. His clothing almost tells it all, for it is torn and dust is upon his head. It is a sign of mourning. The news is not going to be good. Reaching David, this young man falls on the ground before him, prostrating himself as though approaching royalty, as though he is in the presence of a king.

David immediately begins to question the young man, first wanting to know from where he has traveled. David probably assumes the worst, but he asks a question to determine whether this man has news about Saul. The young man responds that he has come from the camp of Saul.1 Actually his words are more foreboding than this. He tells David he has escaped2 from the camp of Saul. This does not bode well. David then asks how things went in the battle. The young man now reveals what David must have already surmised. Israel has been defeated -- badly. Many Israelite soldiers have been killed, and the rest fled. Included among those killed in battle were Saul and his son Jonathan.3

David is unwilling to accept this man’s report without some verification. Is the messenger absolutely certain that Saul and Jonathan have been slain? The young man goes on to explain. I am not certain that he originally intends to tell David what he now reveals. From all the details this man provides, I believe he was indeed there with Saul, and that he does kill him in his final moments of life. When combined with the facts of the previous chapter (1 Samuel 31), we can arrive at a fairly clear picture of what happened.

This young man just happens to be on Mount Gilboa when he comes upon Saul. He does not really tell us what he is doing there. If I were to guess, I would say it was not to go down fighting to defend Saul from the Philistines, but rather to loot Saul’s post before the Philistines arrive. He certainly is not defending Saul from the Philistines. He comes across Saul while he is still alive.4 Saul is on the ground, or as the text reads, “he had fallen” (1:10). Saul’s body, riddled with Philistine arrows, is now run through by his own sword. Nevertheless, he is not yet dead. He seems to be propping himself up by leaning upon his spear, which probably relieves some pressure and pain from the arrows and the sword.

Looking around, Saul sees the young man arrive and size up the situation. Saul calls out to the fellow, and he responds, “Here I am.” He then asks this young man who he is. He may wonder if he is a Philistine, since they are pressing their attack and will soon be closing in on him (verse 6). The young man informs Saul that he is an Amalekite. Saul then appeals to this fellow to put him out of his misery.

I am indebted to the insight of my friend and fellow-elder, Hugh Blevins, at this point. Hugh points out that the author makes much of the fact that the young man is an Amalekite. Saul seems to take courage in this fact. He seems more confident to ask this fellow to kill him because he is an Amalekite. After all, he has just asked his armor bearer, who declines. An Amalekite will not have such scruples about killing the king of Israel. Indeed, when Saul ordered his servants to kill Ahimelech and the other priests, they declined, and so Saul turned to Doeg, the Edomite, who willingly complied with his orders (see 1 Samuel 22:16-19). Thus, even if an Israelite will not put Saul to death, the king feels relatively certain that an Amalekite will.

Saul asks the young man to come and “stand over” him and put him to death. The NASB renders it more generically: “Please stand beside me and kill me” (verse 9). The King James Version is more starkly literal when it renders these words, “Stand, I pray thee, upon me, and slay me. . . .” The young man then says, “So I stood upon him, and slew him” (verse 10, KJV). My point in emphasizing these words is that the young man must have “been there and done that” to be so precise in his description of Saul’s last few moments and death. Saul is lying on the ground, partially propped up by his spear (not his sword). Saul begs the young man to come and stand over him because he is on the ground, and the young man would have to do this to kill him. The young Amalekite obliges Saul by killing him. We are not told what weapon he uses or how he uses it to dispatch Saul. The irony is that Saul would have been dead in a few moments anyway. This “murder” (recounted as though it was a mercy killing) deprives Saul of but a few minutes of life. Nonetheless, it is murder.

The Amalekite confesses to killing Saul, and then rationalizes his actions in verse 10. He did stand over Saul and kill him, but this was because he knew that having fallen, Saul would never get up again. He would have died anyway, right there in that place. Besides this, he did for Saul exactly what Saul begged him to do. Saul wanted to be put out of his misery, and this young man obliged him. Isn’t this the compassionate thing to do? He thinks a reward might be given for this, but he ends up getting much more than he expected. He did what Saul wanted, and he did what he supposed David wanted. He believed he could not be faulted for doing what Saul and David desired. He removed the crown and bracelet from Saul’s corpse and rushed with them to David, his “lord” (verse 10). Is it not the time for David to assume his place as king?

Before we turn to David’s response to the Amalekite’s report, it might be helpful to sum up some of the key elements of this event:

(1) The messenger seems eager to make this journey to find David and tell him of the death of Saul and Jonathan. Like Ahimaaz in 2 Samuel 18:19-23, he seems to want to bring David the news because he expects David to be pleased with what he hears (see 2 Samuel 4:9-10). Also like Ahimaaz, he does not understand the depth of sorrow and sadness this news will bring to David.

(2) It appears he expects to be rewarded by David.

(3) He knows exactly where to find David.

(4) David questions the Amalekite thoroughly and seems to learn more from him than the messenger intends. Far from lying to David about Saul’s death or his role in it, this messenger seems to tell all.

(5) For some reason, the messenger makes a point of Jonathan’s death, but fails to mention that Saul’s other sons are also killed in battle.

(6) The messenger seems to assume that Saul and Jonathan are David’s enemies, obstacles to his ascent to the throne. He appears to believe that killing Saul is getting him out of David’s way, and thus believes he is doing David a favor (again, see 2 Samuel 4:9-10).

(7) The text emphasizes that this messenger is an Amalekite, which is no coincidence. Saul was to have killed the Amalekites (see 1 Samuel 15). It was Amalekite raiders who sacked Ziklag and kidnapped the families of David and his men. Only three days earlier David had returned to Ziklag, after pursuing these Amalekites and slaughtering them (2 Samuel 1:1).

(8) This messenger knows David is designated to be (or expected to be) Israel’s next king. He brings the crown and bracelet he took from Saul’s body and gives them to David, as the king.

(9) This man almost proudly admits to having killed Saul, God’s anointed.

David’s Response

11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so also did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and his son Jonathan and for the people of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13 And David said to the young man who told him, “Where are you from?” And he answered,” I am the son of an alien, an Amalekite. “ 14 Then David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to stretch out your hand to destroy the LORD'S anointed?” 15 And David called one of the young men and said, “Go, cut him down.” So he struck him and he died. 16 And David said to him, “Your blood is on your head, for your mouth has testified against you, saying, 'I have killed the LORD'S anointed.'“

As I read this chapter in 2 Samuel, I am reminded of the old “good news, bad news” jokes. I’ll spare you any examples. I think the messenger is thinking in terms of “good news” and “bad news” when he reaches David. I believe he expected to come to David in this way:

“David, I’ve got some bad news, and I’ve got some good news. The bad news is that Israel has been defeated by the Philistines. Many men have been killed, and many more have fled from the battle, and even from their land and homes. The good news is that your enemy Saul is dead, and so is his heir, Jonathan. This means that you can now place this crown on your head and rule as king over Israel.”

For David, this is all bad news. He is grief-stricken over the defeat of Israel and the death of Saul. He is devastated by the death of his closest friend, Jonathan. Any thought of personal gain at the expense of others is cast aside.

As we read in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “there is a time to mourn” (Ecclesiastes 3:4b). David sets the pace in the mourning that occurs in response to the messenger’s words. His men promptly follow his lead. We can remember occasions when some of his men wanted to see Saul dead. Okay, so neither David nor they could kill Saul. Someone else has, and this might be seen as grounds for some kind of rejoicing but not while David is around! David tears his clothes, and so do the rest. They all mourn and weep and fast until evening. They mourn for the house of Israel, for king Saul, and Jonathan.

Now there is another matter which must be dealt with, a matter that can wait while David and his men express their grief over Israel’s defeat and the deaths of Saul, Jonathan, and many other Israelites. This messenger has confessed to putting Saul to death. This may not seem wrong to him, but it is an outrage to David. How many times has he refused to put Saul to death, even though he might have claimed self-defense? And yet this Amalekite had no reservations about finishing off Saul.

This Amalekite messenger has no idea of the situation into which he has gotten himself. I am reminded of my oldest daughter and a story she loved to tell as a little girl about a wide-mouthed frog. Mrs. Frog would go about asking other mothers what they fed their babies. She would ask one animal and then another. Finally, she came upon a snake, and she said to it, “Mrs. Snake, what do you feed your babies?” (It was here that my daughter Beth especially enjoyed the story, because she would open her mouth up very wide in an exaggerated expression.) Mrs. Snake responded, “I feed my babies wide-mouthed frogs.” Now, with lips pursed ever so tight, Beth went on to say for Mrs. Frog, “Oh, is that so?”

Mrs. Frog did not realize she was setting herself up for disaster, and neither does the Amalekite messenger. He speaks openly of being an Amalekite, without realizing what he is saying. He almost brags about killing Saul, with no sense of hesitation or impending danger. He also speaks lightly about the death of Jonathan, David’s dearest friend. This young man has put a noose around his own neck, and he never realizes it until it is too late.

The Amalekite messenger has said all that David needs to hear. He is already as good as dead. Nevertheless, David asks the young messenger where he comes from for the second time. I must admit being somewhat puzzled about why David asks virtually the same question twice. I may be starting to get the point. Often we ask someone the same question twice, not because we did not hear the answer, but because the answer catches us off guard and puzzles us. The first time David asks this young man, he answers that he has come from the camp of Saul (verse 3). Then, in his report of what happened on Mt. Gilboa, he includes his statement to Saul that he is an Amalekite (verse 8). During his time of mourning, David may have been saying to himself, “Now just how is it than an Amalekite can be among those in the camp of an Israelite king, especially when the Amalekites are an enemy of Israel?5 The messenger may just be starting to get the drift of David’s question, and so he at least seeks to clarify his answer by indicating that he is the son of an alien, who is an Amalekite.

But his answer is too little and too late to do him any good. No matter what his explanation might be, he has “stretched out his hand to kill the Lord’s anointed,” and then boasted of it. He is without excuse, condemned by his own words. David orders him to be executed. The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes an insightful comment here:

It is ironic that Saul lost his kingdom because he failed to annihilate the Amalekites, and now one who said he was an Amalekite died because he claimed to have destroyed Saul.6

The issues are clear and simple to David, and not as the young man sees them. The young man sees Saul as David’s enemy, an obstacle to his rise to the throne. He sees the death of Saul as good news to David. He sees killing Saul as “putting him out of his misery,” like shooting a horse with a broken leg. David sees it much more simply: he killed the Lord’s anointed. It does not matter that Saul would have died anyway -- it does not matter that he made David’s life hell. It does not matter that Saul was suffering. It does not matter that Saul wanted to die, or that Saul had only moments of life left. It does not matter that the Philistines may soon be upon him. This man killed the Lord’s anointed. And now David has him put to death.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

17 Then David chanted with this lament over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he told them to teach the sons of Judah the song of the bow; behold, it is written in the book of Jashar.

19 “Your beauty, O Israel, is slain on your high places! How have the mighty fallen! 20 “Tell it not in Gath, Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice, Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult. 21 “O mountains of Gilboa, Let not dew or rain be on you, nor fields of offerings; For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil. 22 “From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, The bow of Jonathan did not turn back, And the sword of Saul did not return empty. 23 “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions. 24 “O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, Who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet, Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25 “How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. 26 “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. 27 “How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!”

Let’s face it, it is hard to know what to say or not to say at a funeral, especially if you are the preacher conducting the service. I have heard a lot of lies told at funerals, many of them by preachers. I have heard lies told about God (e.g., “This wasn’t God’s fault. He had no knowledge or control over what has happened.”), and lies told about the one who died. Usually, these lies about the departed tend to exaggerate the good things and deny the bad. I remember hearing the story of a preacher who was very honest at the funeral of a man who was a scoundrel. In the middle of the funeral service, the preacher looked straight at the widow of the man who had died and said something like, “Millie, you know Ralph was a worthless man. Now when you marry again, let’s pick a better man than this.” That’s honesty.

Even though I have conducted many funerals (and some of them were difficult), I think one the toughest funerals ever would be Saul’s. For example, what if you acted in accordance with the saying, “If you don’t have anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything.” What would you do, have 45 minutes of silence for Saul? In our text, it is David who conducts Saul’s funeral, or at least its counterpart. It is certainly not what I would have expected. I think it is safe to say that it is not what his young Amalekite messenger expected either. Since there is not sufficient time or space to carefully expound David’s eulogy (or dirge), let us focus on some overall characteristics.

This eulogy, or dirge, is a psalm of David, a special labor of his love. My father is a retired school teacher and has written poems for years. He has written them for friends who were retiring. He has written them for each of his children on their birthdays. Until there were too many grandchildren, he would write a poem for each of them on their birthday. I know what the Hallmark people say about their cards, but a poem from my father means a lot more than a Hallmark card. It is a labor of love. We know that he has taken the time to think about the one for whom he is composing the poem. We know that it is his way of telling us how much he loves us. That is what David’s eulogy is saying as well. He is expressing his love for Saul and Jonathan, in the finest manner available.

David’s eulogy is a psalm that mourns the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. David mourns over the defeat of Israel and the death of many Israelites, but this is not the focus of his psalm. His psalm expresses David’s sorrow over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. The Amalekite messenger thinks the news of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan will be good news to David. He is wrong. This psalm tells us that David feels a deep sense of loss and sorrow because of their deaths. David genuinely grieves over the news he receives.

David’s eulogy says nothing negative about Saul. When David mourns the death of Saul, there is not even a hint of the mention of any of the evil or unkind things Saul did against David or others. How easy it would have been to include some of these details, to have indicated some kind of divine vindication, but David does not do so.

David’s psalm honors both Saul and Jonathan as fallen heroes. David not only restrains himself from speaking ill of the dead, he honors Saul and Jonathan as war heroes, as men worthy of respect and honor.

David’s psalm begins by focusing upon Saul and ends with the focus on Jonathan. While David has good things to say about his king, it is evident in this psalm that David has a deep love and commitment to Jonathan.7 What may have been somewhat private while Jonathan was alive, David now makes public. Here is something the Amalekite totally missed. He seemed to think that Jonathan was David’s enemy, not his closest friend.

David’s psalm appears to be an expression and consequence of the covenant between David and Jonathan. We have seen the covenant made between these two men (1 Samuel 18), implemented (chapter 19:1-7), and then extended and reaffirmed (chapters 20 and 23). By his eulogy, David is already blessing Jonathan and his descendants as he eulogizes him as a hero, whose memory is to be honored.

David’s psalm has been written for a much wider audience than David and his 600 men. The psalm is written and recorded in the “Book of Jashar.” We see this “book” referred to in Joshua:

12 Then Joshua spoke to the LORD in the day when the LORD delivered up the Amorites before the sons of Israel, and he said in the sight of Israel, “O sun, stand still at Gibeon, And O moon in the valley of Aijalon.” 13 So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, Until the nation avenged themselves of their enemies. Is it not written in the book of Jashar? And the sun stopped in the middle of the sky, and did not hasten to go down for about a whole day. 14 And there was no day like that before it or after it, when the LORD listened to the voice of a man; for the LORD fought for Israel (Joshua 10:12-14).

In this text in Joshua, we read of the victory God gives Israel over the Amorites, assisted by causing the sun to stand still. This incident is so awesome and monumental it is recorded for later generations to read and to be amazed. Not only does David wish to honor Saul and Jonathan, he wants all of the “sons of Judah to join him” (2 Samuel 1:18), and thus instructs that this song be taught to them. I understand this to mean that not only this generation, but the generations to come are to learn this song and thus to honor Saul and Jonathan.

I am not sure we can grasp the significance of what David does here. Those who rise to the top position of power in a nation normally take all kinds of precautions to prevent any rival from overturning their administration and taking their place of power. This often means the execution of the entire family of the dynasty being ousted from power. It can mean rewriting history, so that this family is disgraced and despised. David does just the opposite. He honors Saul and Jonathan and assures that future generations will look upon these men as national heroes. He honors Saul and Jonathan among the “sons of Judah.” The “sons of Judah” are not Saul’s relatives;8 they are the kinsmen of David, the very group he would look to for support as their king. Indeed David does a most remarkable thing in the writing and preservation of this eulogy.


David’s response to the death of Saul is remarkable, but is it sincere? Is David simply gilding the lily here? Is he sweeping all of the evils Saul has committed under the rug? Is this hypocrisy on David’s part? I think we must conclude that David is completely sincere. There is no hypocrisy to be found in what David says or does here. I believe everything David says is true.

This leads to a very important principle which is frequently violated today: Being honest and truthful does not require telling everything that could be told, or everything we know to be true. David is honest and truthful, and godly, while not telling everything he knows to be true of Saul. One principle of pop psychology holds that we should “get it all out,” that every frustration should be vented, every grievance aired, every thought expressed. The Bible simply does not teach this. The Book of Proverbs, in particular, teaches that the wise man carefully chooses what he will say, and how and when he will say it. Some things ought not to be said at all. The New Testament contains a very important guiding principle which should govern what we say or do not say: “We should speak only that which edifies (builds up or benefits) the hearer(s)” (see 1 Corinthians 14:4-5, 17, 26). Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians teaches that the church is edified by our silence as well as by our speech. It is not a sin to refrain from saying what would prove to be unprofitable, even if it is true. David does not say anything about Saul that is untrue. He says only what is true. He tells no lies. Yet he does not tell all. That is the way it should be.

I should go on to say that in those instances in which Saul did sin, and in which David had to speak to Saul, he confronted him with this sin (see 1 Samuel 24 and 26). There is a time to speak to the sinner about his sin. But Saul is dead. David cannot benefit Saul by drawing attention to his sins. In speaking “ill of the dead,” David would only bring hurt and harm upon Saul’s descendants, whom he promised to bless.

We see then that David is right and righteous in not speaking of Saul’s sins at this time. People knew well enough about Saul and his sins. David wants Saul to be remembered and honored for the positive contribution he made to the Israelites over whom he reigned. But this raises an important question: “How does David do it? How does David manage to speak so well of Saul, after all the suffering he caused David to endure?”

There are several answers to this question. First, David trusts in the God whom he serves. David knows that his God is a mighty God. His God is in control of all things. Therefore, his God allowed Saul to pursue and persecute him. David trusts that God has allowed his suffering at the hand of Saul in order to instruct him in the way of righteousness. Saul is used of God to help prepare David for the leadership role he will soon to assume. His suffering was not in vain, and thus he need not feel badly toward Saul. As Joseph was able to be grateful for the hand of God in his life through his suffering (see Genesis 50:20), so David is able to do likewise.

Second, David seems to have already dealt with Saul’s sins against him by forgiving him. This is what seems to have freed Joseph to deal kindly with his brothers, in spite of their wicked actions toward him. I believe David has forgiven Saul, and thus he has no bitterness to suppress or to vent. It is a sad thing to harbor bitterness, because once a person is dead, it is a little bit late to forgive them.9 David does not have to dredge up the past because he keeps short accounts.

Third, from what I read I am forced to conclude that David thinks more highly of Saul than I do. I must confess that I do not like Saul very much. I want to think badly of him, and thus I am inclined to think the worst of him, rather than the best. I believe our author sides with David in thinking more highly of Saul than I may. This seems especially evident in his summation of Saul’s reign in chapter 14:

47 Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment. 48 And he acted valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them (1 Samuel 14:47-48).

These verses seem almost out of place. They are a kind of eulogy or benediction, placed before Saul’s irrecoverable error in chapter 15, and also before the account of his death in chapter 31. I think the author is indicating to us that it is over for Saul, long before his life ends. But wherever in the text the evaluation of his reign might be placed, I must concede that Saul is spoken of much more positively than I would expect. I believe the author of 1 Samuel gives us this relatively positive assessment because we need to keep this in mind as we focus on a very narrow slice of Saul’s life in this book. The author chooses to focus on Saul’s failures to teach the reader some very important lessons. I believe the way Saul failed is the same way Israel failed. To press this a step further, the way Saul failed is also the way we fail today. The focus of 1 Samuel then is on Saul’s failures, those that brought about the end of his reign. In spite of these failures, Saul did many good things. In his eulogy, David dwells on these good things.

Fourth, David illustrates his obedience to a very important command, expressed clearly in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

8 Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things (Philippians 4:8).

Truth is but the first test of what should occupy our hearts and minds and proceed from our mouths. This is the baseline test, but there are many other standards as well, as we see in this text. David has written a psalm to help Israelites of his day and of later generations to remember and honor Saul and Jonathan. If they remember Saul the way David portrays him in the last part of our text, they will most certainly “let their minds dwell on what is honorable, right, pure, lovely, and of good repute.” David will not have us dwell on Saul’s sins. Neither are we to overlook Saul’s sins. The author of 1 Samuel recorded them for us to learn from them.

These days there is a whole lot of emphasis on the wrongs which others, especially our parents, have committed against us. We think we have to dredge them all up, understand them fully, and then dwell upon them. I think David would differ with us on this point. If we have not forgiven our parents for the wrongs they have done against us, then we should do so, and then forget them. If we have not confronted sins that they still practice, we may need to confront them in a biblical manner. But there is no virtue in brooding over past wrongs against us. These are not things which should occupy our minds.

Fifth, David thinks of Saul in terms of his office and honors him in this light. We see this matter of honor mentioned in Philippians 4:8: “. . . whatever is honorable. . . .” But this principle is taught in a number of other contexts as well:

“Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Exodus 20:12; see Matthew 15:4, etc.).

Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor (Romans 13:7).

Honor all men; love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king (1 Peter 2:17).

In these verses, God calls upon us to “honor” others due to their position. In most cases, this honor is clearly to those in a position of authority over us (parents, kings). As Christians, we should honor all men, not only because God created them, but because we are to put their interests above our own (Philippians 2:1-8). David provides us with an excellent example of how we are to honor others.

We should also recognize that honoring the king of Israel had special significance. The king held a very special position of honor. He was referred to as God’s “son” in this capacity (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7-9). In this sense, the Lord Jesus Christ was God’s “Son,” partly because He was God’s appointed King.10 The king was “God’s anointed.” This expression is first employed in 1 Samuel and is used in reference to Saul and then David. It also refers to future kings, especially the Messiah. The Hebrew word rendered “anointed” is the term transliterated “Messiah” in the English language. David honors Saul as “God’s anointed,” and in so doing, honors the “Anointed One” who was to come. As the Old Testament revelation progresses, this becomes more and more clear.

In his eulogy, David speaks of Saul as Israel’s beauty. This same word, translated “beauty” in our text, is employed in Isaiah to refer to Israel’s coming Messiah, who is Israel’s beauty and glory:

In that day the Branch of the LORD will be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the earth will be the pride and the adornment of the survivors of Israel (Isaiah 4:2).

In that day the LORD of hosts will become a beautiful crown And a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people (Isaiah 28:5).

As David honors Saul as Israel’s beauty, he does so in the hope and expectation of seeing Israel’s perfect king, Messiah.

As we close, there is yet another lesson in our text which I dare not neglect to point out to you. It is a word of warning to any who may be trusting in his or her own righteousness for eternal salvation, who expects that God will surely welcome you with open arms though you have rejected His provision for salvation in the person of Jesus Christ.

The young Amalekite takes Saul’s life thinking he is doing Saul, David, and himself a favor. He supposes he is putting Saul out of his misery, that he is getting Saul out of David’s way, and that he is in the process of gaining David’s favor and gratitude, perhaps in the form of a reward. Instead of being rewarded, he kindles David’s wrath and is put to death. We are tempted to be more shocked that David had this young man killed than that the young man killed Saul. David was right to put this Amalekite to death, on more than one count. First, he could and should have killed him simply because he was an Amalekite (see 1 Samuel 15, 31). Second, he was obliged to execute him for killing God’s anointed. David was right to be angered by the Amalekite’s treatment of Saul, and he was right to put him to death.

Many people know that Jesus Christ claimed to be God incarnate, God’s Son. They know that He died on the cross of Calvary, and that He rose again from the dead. They know that He claimed to have died for their sins, and that He alone is the way to eternal life. In spite of all this, they reject Him as their Savior. They suppose there are other ways of salvation, in addition to the shed blood of Jesus Christ. They think that when they stand before God, He will accept them on the basis of their good deeds, or their faith in some other method of salvation. They expect God to receive them warmly into His kingdom and to reward them with eternal life. They are greatly deceived.

If David was right to be angry because a man had killed Saul, God’s anointed, how do you think God will deal with those who reject Jesus Christ, His anointed? If there was more than one way for God to save men from their sins, do you think He would have sent Jesus Christ to die an agonizing death on the cross of Calvary, as one option among others? Those who trust in any other way of salvation reject Jesus Christ as God’s anointed One. And those who reject Him as God’s anointed are as guilty of putting Him to death as those who stood before Pilate centuries ago, crying, “Crucify! Crucify!” How foolish to expect God’s approval and acceptance when one has rejected God’s only provision for salvation. As David dealt harshly with the Amalekite who slew Saul, so God will deal harshly with those who reject His Son, Jesus Christ. The way to receive the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life is to trust in God’s anointed One, Jesus Christ. He is God’s King, who will reign forever and ever. He is also the Lamb of God, who died for the sins of men. All who trust in Him will be saved. All who do not await God’s eternal wrath. If you have never acknowledged your sin and trusted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ on your behalf, will you not do so today?

1 A number of scholars feel this young man is merely telling David a tale that he made up. I find this conclusion hard to accept, however. Our author tells us specifically that this young man “came out of the camp from Saul” (verse 2). Further, the young man’s description of Saul’s physical condition, of the closing pursuit of the Philistines, and of his request to be put to death (not to mention the fact that he has obtained Saul’s crown and bracelet), almost forces us to conclude that he was indeed there just as he said. Also, we must note that David takes his words at face value. David does not have this young man put to death for claiming to kill Saul, but for having done so. As David takes this man’s words at face value, so should we.

2 The NASB may overstate the matter by their use of the word “escaped,” but this is certainly what appears to have happened.

3 It is interesting to me that the messenger is never said to have mentioned Saul’s other sons, who were also killed at the same time (see 1 Samuel 31:2, 6). Is this because it was known to all that Jonathan was the heir apparent?

4 Some think this is inconsistent with the description of Saul’s death in chapter 31 of 1 Samuel. I do not. I believe that when Saul’s armor bearer hesitated (or refused) to kill his master, Saul fell on his own sword. The armor bearer did not stop to pronounce Saul dead, or even to wait for him to be completely dead. He knew Saul either was dead or would soon be. And so he quickly fell on his own sword, dying quickly and leaving Saul still alive. This is the point at which the young Amalekite seems to come on the scene.

5 The same question could have been asked of David, an Israelite who was in the camp of the Philistines. The four Philistine commanders did indeed ask it.

6 Walvoord, John F., and Zuck, Roy B., The Bible Knowledge Commentary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Scripture Press Publications, Inc.) 1983, 1985, en loc.

7 While there should be no need to say so, I will say it again here. The “love” relationship between David and Jonathan was not a sexual one in any way. In fact, David makes it clear that his relationship with Jonathan was a higher and greater one than this (see verse 26).

8 Saul and Jonathan are from the tribe of Benjamin, not Judah. This is why the Messiah could not come through Saul.

9 I am not saying we should not forgive those who have hurt us, even after they have died; I am saying that it should have been done sooner -- better late than never.

10 This is not to deny or ignore the fact that He was God incarnate, the begotten One of God.

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3. Two Bald Men, Fighting Over a Comb (2 Samuel 2:1--3:39)


Several years ago, I attended a meeting for Christian leaders in Dallas, where Luis Palau, a gifted evangelist and teacher, spoke. It was not long after the Falkland Island war between Argentina and England. Luis had conducted evangelistic campaigns in Argentina and Great Britain not long before the war broke out, so he likely ministered to some of those fighting on both sides. Mr. Palau was puzzled about how such a war had come about. When the opportunity arose for him to meet with a Member of Parliament, Luis asked the official to explain the reasons for this conflict and received this concise summary statement: “Two bald men, fighting over a comb.”

As I read these two chapters of 2 Samuel, this man’s diagnosis seems to aptly fit the conflict which arises between the army of David, at least partly led by Joab, and the army of Ish-bosheth, led by Abner. While the conflict is trivial in its origins, its outcome is far from trivial as we shall see. The events of our text are not nearly as “long ago and far away” as we might think; indeed, they are very relevant to Christians and the church today as we shall pursue in this message.

You (and I) may be eager to see David enthroned over all Israel, but it is not yet to be. That will come in chapter 5. Until then, we must tend to our text and its lessons. Our text has much to say about David, and we will consider this dimension of these chapters in our next lesson. We should note that these two chapters focus primarily upon two men, Abner and Joab. These two military men greatly impact David’s life and reign as king and the history of the nation Israel. Their lives converge in chapters 2 and 3. Our text spells the end of Abner’s life and the commencement of Joab’s leadership under king David.

In this lesson, we will attempt to step back and take a look at the lives of both of these men to see the events of our text from the larger context of their lives. Each man has something to teach us. Their individual lives, as well as their relationship with each other and with Israel’s kings, also have much to say to us, so let us begin with a biographical sketch of the life of each man, Abner and Joab.

All About Abner: A Brief Biographical Sketch

When some of the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father run off, Saul is sent to find them and bring them back, with the help of a servant (9:3ff.). During their search for the donkeys Saul and the servant encounter Samuel, who secretly anoints Saul, designating him as Israel’s first king. When Saul and his servant return home, Saul’s unnamed uncle is there to meet them and to probe Saul with questions:

14 Now Saul's uncle said to him and his servant, “Where did you go?” And he said, “To look for the donkeys. When we saw that they could not be found, we went to Samuel.” 15 Saul's uncle said, “Please tell me what Samuel said to you.” 16 So Saul said to his uncle, “He told us plainly that the donkeys had been found.” But he did not tell him about the matter of the kingdom which Samuel had mentioned (1 Samuel 10:14-16).

There is a good chance this “uncle” is Ner, the brother of Kish, Saul’s father. It is easy to see why uncle Ner might be interested in Saul’s encounter with Samuel. Israel has demanded a king like the rest of the nations, and God has granted this request through Samuel (1 Samuel 8). Samuel is the one who will designate him, and this had not yet happened. Ner would not take any encounter between his nephew Saul and Samuel lightly. Saul’s success (by becoming king) will likely spell success for the “family” as well. It is likely his son, Abner, Saul’s cousin, who becomes commander of Saul’s armed forces.

Abner does not appear until David’s encounter with Goliath, as recorded in 1 Samuel 17. If we expect Saul to stand up to Goliath, which he did not, surely the next man in line to take on this giant will be the commander of all of Saul’s army. But Abner is sitting on the sidelines with Saul, apparently watching the battle from a safe distance:

55 Now when Saul saw David going out against the Philistine, he said to Abner the commander of the army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?” And Abner said, “By your life, O king, I do not know.” 56 The king said, “You inquire whose son the youth is.” 57 So when David returned from killing the Philistine, Abner took him and brought him before Saul with the Philistine's head in his hand (1 Samuel 17:55-57).

Though it may seem unduly harsh, I understand the text to say that cousin Abner, commander of Israel’s military, is just as frightened by Goliath as the rest of his men, and Saul:

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid (1 Samuel 17:11).

When all the men of Israel saw the man, they fled from him and were greatly afraid (1 Samuel 17:24).

Cowardice in the ranks suggests cowardice in the upper levels of command as well.

David and Abner must know each other fairly well. Abner is the commander of Israel’s army, and David is a war hero who has been appointed commander of a thousand (1 Samuel 18:13). Through his military victories, David has won the respect of his fellow-commanders (18:30). Furthermore, Abner (like David) is a regular guest at Saul’s table (20:25).

Abner certainly does not know David well at first, but this quickly changes after David’s victory over Goliath. David is promoted to captain of a thousand (1 Samuel 18:13), which could not have escaped Abner’s attention. When Saul turns against David, Abner supports his cousin-king. And since Saul employs his army to search for David to kill him, the commander of the army must be involved (see 1 Samuel 26:3-5, 13-16). Abner may have been more involved in David’s life than we would like to know:

3 Saul camped in the hill of Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon, beside the road, and David was staying in the wilderness. When he saw that Saul came after him into the wilderness, 4 David sent out spies, and he knew that Saul was definitely coming. 5 David then arose and came to the place where Saul had camped. And David saw the place where Saul lay, and Abner the son of Ner, the commander of his army; and Saul was lying in the circle of the camp, and the people were camped around him. . . . 13 Then David crossed over to the other side and stood on top of the mountain at a distance with a large area between them. 14 David called to the people and to Abner the son of Ner, saying, “Will you not answer, Abner?” Then Abner replied, “Who are you who calls to the king?” 15 So David said to Abner, “Are you not a man? And who is like you in Israel? Why then have you not guarded your lord the king? For one of the people came to destroy the king your lord. 16 “This thing that you have done is not good. As the LORD lives, all of you must surely die, because you did not guard your lord, the LORD'S anointed. And now, see where the king's spear is and the jug of water that was at his head.” 17 Then Saul recognized David's voice and said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And David said, “It is my voice, my lord the king.” 18 He also said, “Why then is my lord pursuing his servant? For what have I done? Or what evil is in my hand? 19 “Now therefore, please let my lord the king listen to the words of his servant. If the LORD has stirred you up against me, let Him accept an offering; but if it is men, cursed are they before the LORD, for they have driven me out today so that I would have no attachment with the inheritance of the LORD, saying, 'Go, serve other gods.' 20 “Now then, do not let my blood fall to the ground away from the presence of the LORD; for the king of Israel has come out to search for a single flea, just as one hunts a partridge in the mountains” (1 Samuel 26:3-5, 13-20).

Abner is not only the commander of Saul’s army, but also Saul’s chief of security. When pursuing David with his best troops, Saul slept in the center of his troops, with Abner right beside him. If anyone attempted to harm Saul, they had to get past all of the troops surrounding Saul, and then Abner, stationed beside him. We know that on this occasion Saul and his men are divinely anesthetized (26:12). Nevertheless, having obtained Saul’s spear and water jug, David specifically calls out Abner and accuses him of dereliction of duty, and thus worthy of death (26:14-16). David’s words certainly must publicly humiliate Abner.

It goes even beyond Abner’s performance on the job. After all, Abner is not really guilty of failing to carry out his duties. If God put the army to sleep, how could Abner not have slept? What does David have against Abner in particular? What has Abner specifically and personally done wrong? The answer to this question is suggested in verse 9,11 where David asks Saul why he is pursuing him. Has God instructed him to do so, or has he somehow been incited by someone close to him, someone who has access and a listening ear? David then pronounces a curse on anyone who may be misleading the king and causing him to wrongly view David as a threat to his throne. This is consistent with David’s earlier words in chapter 24:

8 Now afterward David arose and went out of the cave and called after Saul, saying, “My lord the king!” And when Saul looked behind him, David bowed with his face to the ground and prostrated himself. 9 David said to Saul, “Why do you listen to the words of men, saying, 'Behold, David seeks to harm you'? 10 “Behold, this day your eyes have seen that the LORD had given you today into my hand in the cave, and some said to kill you, but my eye had pity on you; and I said, 'I will not stretch out my hand against my lord, for he is the LORD'S anointed'“ (1 Samuel 24:8-10, emphasis mine).

As we put all of these elements together, we see that Abner is guilty for failing to protect his king, and thus worthy of death. His failure is divinely caused (by God putting all of them to sleep), thus making Saul vulnerable to Abishai, who wants to kill him but is prevented from doing so by David. David is shown to be a protector of Saul’s life, more effective than Abner. David then pronounces a curse on the one who may be turning Saul against him. Who comes out looking most guilty in all of this? Is it not Abner?

David says that someone is poisoning Saul’s mind against him, portraying David as his enemy who is out to harm the king. Who has the most to lose? If David is the best warrior and military leader in Israel, who should be the commander of Saul’s forces? Who has more intimate contact with and better access to the king than Abner? Abner is the commander of his army, but even more than this, he is Saul’s cousin. As Abner has much to gain from Saul’s appointment as Israel’s king, he also has much to lose if Saul is removed. Abner knows that David is the one Samuel anointed as Saul’s replacement. Once Saul is dead, Abner is the one who actively resists David’s appointment as king in Saul’s place. It would not be surprising at all if Abner feeds Saul false information, information which makes David look like an adversary who must be hunted down and put to death. Abner is no friend of David’s, nor even a good friend to his cousin Saul.

One wonders why Abner is not mentioned from 1 Samuel 26 to 2 Samuel 2, because, after all, he is the commander of the forces of Israel. Where is Abner when the Israelites fight the Philistines in the intervening chapters? Where is Abner when the Israelites suffer a massive defeat, and many flee for their lives (31:7)? Where is Abner, the man always at Saul’s right hand, when Saul’s sons are slain and Saul and his armor bearer kill themselves? One wonders where Abner is when the going gets tough. (It looks a little like Abner’s motto is: “When the going gets tough, it’s time for me to get going – the other way.”) When the dust settles, Abner is still alive and so is Ish-bosheth, one of Saul’s sons. Our text takes up here just after David mourns the death of Saul and Jonathan. We shall first look at the life of Joab, and then consider the outcome of the clash between Joab and Abner in our text.


Joab is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 26:6. This passage is actually about Joab’s older brother, Abishai, who goes with David into Saul’s camp (where Abner is sleeping beside him to protect him). Abishai volunteers to accompany David on what appears to be a suicide mission – two men trying to get to Saul by going past 3,000 of Saul’s select troops (26:2). Abishai fully intends to put Saul to death, with just one blow (26:8). Every indication is that he will kill Saul if not forbidden by David, and he will probably throw Abner in for good measure! The point here, however, is that Abishai, the oldest brother (it seems – see 1 Chronicles 2:16), is referred to as “Joab’s brother” (1 Samuel 26:6). This seems to suggest that Joab is the better known of the two.12

Joab is not in the limelight until he appears once again in our text (2 Samuel 2:13f.), which is not to say that Joab and David first meet in our text. Joab and David are related to each other. Joab’s mother, Zeruiah, is David’s sister, and Abigail is the other sister, who happens to be the mother of Amasa (1 Chronicles 2:12-17). Amasa appears a little later in the story (2 Samuel 19-20). We know Asahel is buried in the tomb of his father in Bethlehem (2 Samuel 2:32). Abishai, Joab, and Asahel have been with David since they joined him at the cave of Adullam:

So David departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; and when his brothers and all his father's household heard of it, they went down there to him. 2 Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him; and he became captain over them. Now there were about four hundred men with him (1 Samuel 22:1-2).

I take it that once Saul’s feelings toward David (and any who support him – see 22:6-19) are known, Abishai, Joab, and Asahel all flee from Bethlehem, accompanied by the rest of David’s family, knowing (or at least fearing) that Saul might take out his anger on them. These family members are joined by others, who are also out of favor with Saul. Many in this group became a part of David’s fighting band, with Abishai and Joab becoming prominent as warriors and leaders because of their courage and abilities.

Initially, David is the commander of his small band of men. This is the case during the years he flees from Saul and up to the time he leaves Ziklag for Hebron (see 1 Samuel 30:8, 10, 17-25). Joab serves as one of David’s commanders before he becomes king of all Israel. Not until after David becomes king over all Israel and Judah does Joab become the commander of Israel’s army. He wins this spot by taking the challenge to go up against Jebus (Jerusalem) and attack it (1 Chronicles 11:6).13

We will momentarily pass by the events of 2 Samuel 2 and 3 to look at the later events in Joab’s life. Overall, we can say that Joab is a great and courageous military leader. This can be seen in the battle he wages against the Ammonites, the Syrians, and others in 2 Samuel 10 (note especially verses 9-14). He is not only a great warrior and military leader, but a man with some remarkable qualities. When Joab virtually defeats the Ammonite royal city of Rabbah, rather than take credit for this victory personally, he urges David to come and get the glory for himself (2 Samuel 12:26-31). When David foolishly orders Joab to number the people of Israel, Joab strongly protests, but to no avail (2 Samuel 24:2-4).

Joab also shows great discernment and strength of character in his dealings with David and Absalom. It is Joab who serves as the mediator between David and his exiled son, Absalom. Joab recognizes that David wants to be reunited with Absalom (13:39) and arranges for a wise woman from Tekoa to come to David with a story (14:2ff.). When David passes judgment, the woman urges David to deal in the same manner with his son, Absalom. David gets the message and also discerns that Joab must be behind this charade (14:19), but Joab’s plan does not seem to be self-serving. It is intended to reconcile David with his son. Joab is trying to get David to deal with his son in the same way he would deal with anyone else. Joab seems genuinely grateful and happy David responds as he does (14:22). After Absalom rebels against his father and seeks to take over the throne, Joab deals much more severely with Absalom, while David seems to be soft-hearted and soft-headed. David instructs his soldiers to go easy on Absalom, which is certainly foolish. When given the opportunity, Joab personally puts Absalom to death, assisted by some of his men (2 Samuel 18:14-15). When David shames the people by his response to Absalom's death, Joab strongly rebukes him (19:5f), and then David follows Joab’s advice on this matter (19:8).

In spite of all these commendable points, Joab is also a violent man who sometimes acts foolishly, and these actions are rightly condemned. When David commits adultery with Bathsheba and seeks to be rid of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, he finds in Joab a willing accomplice (see 2 Samuel 11:6). He seems to raise no objections to David’s request, but simply obeys. 14 When Absalom temporarily takes over David's kingdom, he replaces Joab with Amasa.15 Later, when Absalom is defeated and David returns to his throne, he appoints Amasa commander of his army in place of Joab (2 Samuel 19:13). When Sheba, another Benjamite (like Saul, Ish-bosheth, and Abner), rebels against David, Amasa is ordered by David to muster the forces of Judah. When Amasa does not appear within the appointed time, David orders Abishai (Joab’s older brother) to go out and capture Sheba (2 Samuel 20:4-7).16 This Abishai sets out to do, along with Joab and his men. When Joab meets Amasa on his way, he kills him in much the same way that he kills Abner (2 Samuel 20:8-10). Joab and Abishai then pursue Sheba (20:10). After the head of Sheba is thrown over the wall of Abel to Joab, he gives up pursuit, and he again becomes commander of the whole army (20:23).

When David is old and becomes unable to rule effectively, he delays in designating and installing Solomon as his successor. Adonijah seeks to take advantage of David’s delay, setting out to beat Solomon to the punch by proclaiming himself to be king (1 Kings 1:5f.). He is a very handsome man, born after Absalom’s death (1:6), and apparently never is told “No” by David (1:6). Joab and Abiathar, the priest, join with Adonijah in his conspiracy. David is finally persuaded by Bathsheba and Nathan the prophet to publicly appoint Solomon as his successor to the throne. When Solomon takes the throne of his father, he allows Adonijah to live (for a time), but he is finally put to death when he seeks once again to oust Solomon and assume the throne over Israel (by being given Abishag, David’s concubine). Joab too is put to death, not only for his part in the conspiracy against Solomon, but also because he murders Abner and Amasa (see 1 Kings 2:5-6, 28-35).

“My Three Sons. . . and Abner”

This message is by no means an exposition of these two chapters. I have one more sermon to try to put all the pieces of this passage together. Here, my goal is to focus on a very few incidents in which Joab and Abner confront one another. I will try to concentrate on the events leading up to the war between the men of Judah and the men of Israel, and the consequences of that conflict.

David seeks divine guidance and is divinely directed to go up to the city of Hebron. After David, his wives, and the rest of his followers arrive at Hebron with their families, the men of Judah anoint David as their king, the king of Judah (2:1-4a). David’s graciousness toward the men of Jabesh-gilead (2:4b-7) gives the people of Israel an excellent opportunity to make David their king as well. It seems from Abner’s words in 3:17-19 that the men of Israel not only know David has been designated as Saul’s replacement, but that they want this. The problem is Abner. This cousin of Saul opposes David’s reign in Saul’s place and orchestrates events so that Ish-bosheth, a surviving son of Saul, becomes king over the rest of Israel. This delays David’s reign over all Israel for several more years (2:8-11).

Gangs are one of the major problems in our cities today. Gangs offer a sense of identity and belonging, a kind of fellowship, and a distorted, rather false, sense of security. Drive-by shootings are becoming more and more frequent, and when they occur, one of the first thoughts is that there may be some kind of gang connection. When the member of one gang is killed by a member of the other, more bloodshed is sure to follow in retaliation. A gang will kill the member of another gang just to increase the “status” of their gang (“We’re so tough we can kill anyone we want, any time we want!”). Gangs do not make sense to us, but to those who think as gang members do, it all seems very logical, if not right.

We think gangs are a twentieth century phenomenon. Yet when we read of this “contest” between 12 members of the servants of Ish-bosheth and 12 members of the servants of David, we look upon this as some kind of ancient tribal dispute, quite unrelated to our times. I suggest there is very little difference between the gang disputes of our day and the “contest” we read about in 2 Samuel 2:12-17. Tribal rivalry and gang rivalry are almost the same thing.

Think about this ancient contest in twentieth century terms for a moment. The two gangs are the Benjies and the Judes. Their leaders are Abner (Benjamites/Israelites) and Joab (Judah). Word is circulated that there will be a rumble between these two rival gangs. A place and a time to meet are set. The Benjies sit in one place, the Judes in another, facing each other. Abner and Joab begin to flex their muscles and put down their opponent. Finally, they agree there should be a contest, which will show the best gang. Twelve fighters are selected to represent each side. The side that wins has the best gang. The problem is that the men on each side are intent on killing their opponent, so when the contest begins, each man grabs his opponent by the hair and thrust’s his switch blade into his chest. All 24 men die, which immediately leads to all out fighting between the two sides, so that many others die in the conflict.

The contest is needless and fruitless. It can accomplish nothing more than intensifying the already existing sense of rivalry and competition between the tribe of Judah and the other tribes of Israel, especially that of Benjamin (the tribe of Abner, Saul, and Ish-bosheth). While Joab is quick to accept the challenge, it is Abner who seems to orchestrate this ill-fated event (is this his purpose?). Had one side won the contest, it would only make the other side more eager for another contest to save face by winning it. The result of the contest is a momentary victory for David's servants and an initial loss for the servants of Ish-bosheth. The latter are able to regroup, however, and to continue carrying on a war with the servants of David (see 2:25; 3:1, 6).

The contest that goes sour has more personal consequences for Joab. In the initial rout, Joab's men prevail over the servants of Abner and Ish-bosheth. Abner retreats, along with his men, and Asahel is in hot pursuit. Asahel seems to be the youngest brother of the three sons, intent on overcoming Abner. He is right behind Abner, who confirms Asahel is indeed hot on his heels. Is this Asahel's opportunity to prove himself a man, a worthy fighter like his two older brothers? It could be so. Abner knows it is either Asahel or himself. He urges Asahel to back off and pursue some other Israelite warrior, if need be. He seems to know that the only other way to stop Asahel is to kill him, and this he is more than able to do. He is not willing to do so, because he knows he will then have to face Joab, his older brother (not to mention Abishai). When Asahel refuses to give up his pursuit, Abner runs him through, not with the point of his spear but with the butt of his spear. This must take incredible strength and ability, and Abner is fully up to it, as he seems to know.

Joab and his older brother, Abishai, are not about to let the death of their brother pass without what they consider the only appropriate response -- killing Abner, who kill Asahel. If they kill Abner in the context of war, it will not be viewed as a murder but a necessary part of war (see 3:28-34; 1 Kings 2:30-33). The problem seems to be that while there is an initial victory for the men of Judah, the servants of David, Abner, and his men are able to reconnoiter, and in a position to be able to successfully defend themselves from atop a hill (2 Samuel 2:25). When Abner recommends that they call a cease fire, Joab agrees, stating that it is inevitable anyway (2:26-28).

There is still a state of war between the men of Judah and the other Israelites (3:1). If Joab or Abishai can get their hands on Abner, they can legitimately kill him. What Joab does not realize is that his opportunity to legitimately kill Abner is about to end. Abner has been taking advantage of the state of war between Israel and Judah (3:6). One can see how this could be true for the commander of the army of Israel. It has been true throughout history that some wars are prompted, or prolonged, because of those who profit from them. Two things happen in chapter 3 that cause Abner to change not only his mind, but his allegiance.

First, while Abner's strength within Israel is growing, the house of Saul is losing ground to the house of David. Abner is gaining a bigger piece of the pie, but the pie itself is shrinking. Second, Abner has become bold in his actions, taking Rizpah, one of Saul's concubines, for himself. This is not a simple act of love or passion, nor even an attempt at marriage. It is a symbolic act, which publicly declares Abner's right to rule in Saul's place (see 2 Samuel 16:20-23; 1 Kings 2:19-25). Abner personally installs Ish-bosheth as king, and it now appears intends to brush aside all pretense and become king himself. Ish-bosheth is distressed by Abner's actions and asks for an explanation. Abner is furious. How dare Ish-bosheth, Abner's puppet-king, question Abner's actions. Abner reminds Ish-bosheth that he has made him king and has protected him from David. How can Ish-bosheth dare question anything Abner does? Ish-bosheth keeps quiet, because he knows enough to be afraid of this man. For all intents and purposes, Abner is now in control in Israel.

What has been a true but unstated fact of life is now crystal clear: Abner is in control, not Ish-bosheth. This abdication of Ish-bosheth is just what Abner has been waiting for. Now he can negotiate an agreement with David, one that will allow him a bigger piece of an ever-growing pie. Abner is about to change sides. He knows it is God's will for David to reign as king over all Israel. He knows it is inevitable. But he is the one who will be the kingmaker; he is about to make it happen. And so Abner approaches David with the offer to make him king over all Israel. With one condition, David accepts Abner's offer (3:13). Abner then goes to the leaders of both sides and negotiates an agreement. David, it seems, is about to become king of all Israel at last.

I must pause to smile at Abner's offer to make David king because it reminds me of something which happened to me a few months ago. I was trying to repair the muffler on my daughter’s car and decided the best way to fix it was to weld the muffler to the exhaust pipe. The problem was that I did not have the right kind of gas welding rod. I knew a local welder who would probably know what I needed and could sell me the small amount of rod required. But his business was closed for the day. On the way home, I passed by a muffler shop that was open. In addition to fixing mufflers, this business also repaired transmissions. I went into the waiting area, where several customers were doing just that. I did not see anyone at work. I went out to the shop area, and this fellow told me I was in the “transmission repair” area, and that I would need to go to the other side of the building to the “muffler repair” area. I did so and found no one there to help me. Eventually, a man came from the back, dressed in clothing that led me to believe he worked there. Going over to him, I told him I was doing a small repair job and needed a short length of gas welding rod to be used on an exhaust system. Bending down, he picked up a short piece of rod that had been left lying on the floor. “Is this what you need?”, he asked. “Yes,” I replied, “how much do I owe you for it?” “I don’t know,” he said, “why don’t you just take it; I don’t work here anyway.”

Eventually I ended up going into the executive offices, where I negotiated a $1 price and left, my conscience intact. The point of this story is that a man offered to give me something that wasn’t really his in the first place. Here in our text Abner “gives” the kingdom of Israel to Ish-bosheth, one of Saul’s surviving sons. It is not really his to give, and it is David who is to be the king, not Ish-bosheth. Then, to make matters worse, when a rift occurs between Abner and Ish-bosheth, Abner offers to “give” the kingship over to David. Once again, it is not his to give. Abner reminds me a bit of Satan, who offers to “give” our Lord His kingdom (see Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12).

Imagine Joab's amazement and distress when he returns from a raid17 only to be told that David has just entertained Abner and his delegation, and that they have been allowed to leave in peace (3:22-23). While Joab is out making war, David has been at home, making peace. I take it that this twice-found expression “in peace” is employed to indicate that the war is over.

This is not good news for Joab or for his brother, Abishai. The war is not over for them until Abner is dead. Joab virtually rebukes David for letting Abner go, insisting that his intentions cannot be noble (3:24-25). Apparently, Joab's words do not find a ready listener in David, who allows his decision to stand. It is hopeless for Joab to change David's mind. So, instead, Joab secretly orders some of his trusted messengers to bring Abner back to Hebron, under some pretense it seems. Then, when Joab is able to get Abner in private, he kills him (3:27). Since this is now officially a time of peace, and not war, the killing of Abner is murder. David is quick to indicate that he has had no part in it, and that he does not approve of it (3:28ff.).

What Can We Learn From Abner and Joab?

(1) We can learn something about men from our text. I have always been a kind of “black hat, white hat” sort of guy. I'm sure I developed this trait during my childhood when I used to watch cowboy (western) movies. It was always easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys -- the good guys always wore white hats; the bad guys wore black hats (at least that's the way I remember it). I've always looked upon people as wearing a white hat or a black hat. I just don't find that happens much in the Bible. David wears a “white hat” much of the time, but there are a number of “black hat” days for him as well. The same can be said for almost any of our Bible heroes.

When I come to a character like Joab, I find my “white hat,” “black hat” standard fails. Joab is a very violent man. He murders two men in cold blood, and we have every reason to suppose he killed many others in war. We know, for example, that his brother Abishai killed 300 men single-handedly in one battle (2 Samuel 23:18-19), and he is more than willing to kill King Saul (1 Samuel 26:6-12). But in addition to Joab's murders, the Bible speaks of many commendable qualities and actions on the part of Joab. The bottom line of it all is that men like Joab are neither a “white hat” or a “black hat” person; Joab is a little of each.

When I stop to think about it, this is true for most all of us. The simple fact is that there is only one “white hat” person who has ever lived without sin -- our Lord Jesus Christ. He alone is without sin, and we may thank God for this, because this is what makes His death on the cross of Calvary of benefit to us. His death was not for His sins, but for ours. He bore the punishment for our sins on the cross of Calvary. He gives us His righteousness in place of our unrighteousness. And all this is by simply acknowledging our sin and our need for salvation, and trusting in the work Jesus Christ has done at Calvary on our behalf.

If indeed only one “white hat” man has ever lived, then we must acknowledge that God usually accomplishes His purposes through less then perfect people. God is not limited in terms of those whom He is able to use. He can use us in our sin and rebellion to accomplish His ends, as He did with Joseph's brothers (Genesis 50:20) or with Pharaoh himself (Romans 9:17-18), or as He will do with every unbeliever (Romans 9:19-24). What an encouraging thought. Nothing we can ever do will undermine God's sovereign plans and purposes. He can use our rebellion and disobedience to achieve His purposes as easily as He can use our obedience. We will be used of God to bring about His glory, and even our own good, one way or the other. God's sovereignty means that He can and does use less than perfect people to achieve His purposes and to fulfill His promises. Thank God for that.

But let us beware of saying or suggesting that if we do not live up to some standard, if we do not live out our lives on the highest spiritual plane, God cannot and will not use us. He will use us, one way or the other. This must not be an excuse for sin or sloppy living. Rather, it should motivate us to give ourselves wholeheartedly to serving God, knowing that even when we fail to be and to do what we should, God's purposes and promises are sure.

Let us beware of idolizing men, as though some really do live sinless, spectacular lives. These men may want us to think they are a cut or two above the norm, they are more pious, more spiritual, and thus more successful. The longer I live, and the more Christian leaders I have come to know, the more I realize that God uses cracked pots, imperfect instruments, to accomplish His purposes. I should be careful to idolize others, to put too much trust, too much confidence in them. Men will fail. Only God faileth not. Let us keep our eyes on Him, and not on men. In this way, men will not disillusion us when they fail, as though God has somehow failed. Only God is above failure.

(2) We learn something about murder from our text. The Old Testament law clearly distinguished between what we might call killing in war, manslaughter, and murder. In our text, Abner is not considered at fault for killing Asahel, nor would Asahel have been guilty of murder had he killed Abner. Joab would not have been guilty of murder either had he killed Abner in war. But the killing of Abner in peace, along with the underhanded killing of Amasa later on, are clear cases of murder. Murder is rather carefully defined, and so it is clearly evident, as it is to David and all Israel when Joab murders Abner.

If it is murder for a man like Joab to kill Abner, even though Abner has killed his brother, surely it must be wrong for a mother to kill the unborn child in her womb. That child (with very few exceptions) does not threaten her life (in which case an abortion may be justified), but only her freedom. If God took the murder of Abner seriously (a violent and self-serving man), than how much more seriously does God take the killing of a helpless child, who looks to its mother to protect its life, not to end it?

Several years ago in a presidential election debate, George Bush was asked whether he thought abortion was murder. His answer was tentative and weak. I believe that question should be answered this way: “Abortion is the taking of a human life. It is not always murder to take the life of another. Sometimes it is an accident. Sometimes it is in self-defense. But when it is the pursuit of self-interest, at the expense of the unborn child, then it is murder.” Until we see the abortion of the unborn child as the taking of human life, the debate is over before it has started. The Bible justifies the taking of a human life in a few, restricted circumstances, and condemns the taking of life in other circumstances as murder. Let’s call things what they are: the unborn fetus is a person, a human life. The “termination” of the fetus is the taking of a human life. And an abortion, for the reasons it is most frequently practiced today, is murder. If David is righteous in his indignation concerning the death of Abner, how much more indignant should we be at the killing of the innocent in the womb.

(3) The ancient Israelites who first read the writing of Samuel, as well as the contemporary reader, should learn from this text how divisions come about. What does God want the first readers of this book18 to understand from our text? What is its message to them? We do not know for certain who the human author of this book is, nor do we know the exact date of its writing. It is likely that 1 and 2 Samuel were written shortly after the United Kingdom (of Israel, under Saul, David, then Solomon) ended in division under Rehoboam and Jeroboam (see 1 Kings 12).

Those first readers must have asked themselves, “How is it that we were once one nation, and are now two nations?” While the story of the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam must have been well known, the roots of this division go back some time. Indeed, they go back to the time of David and to the very text we are studying in 2 Samuel. Unwittingly, Abner paves the way for a divided kingdom by setting up Ish-bosheth as king of Israel, in Saul's place. Both Abner and Joab pave the way for a future division by agreeing to a contest between the two sides. And when this contest turns into a long-standing war, the rift between the two sides becomes even greater. One might say our text describes the origin of a “crack” in the foundation of the united nation of Israel, and that this crack will develop over time into a gaping chasm, one which seems almost impossible to bridge.

The divided kingdom comes about quickly and easily, because the dividing lines are already drawn, the crack in the foundation is already there. It does not take that much to turn the crack into a virtual chasm. But how does this crack come about in the first place? Our text tells us. The crack comes about because of two men who lead two competing armies. Abner and Joab both have their own agendas, and neither of them are commendable. It is like these two men are both trying to prove how macho they can be. The setting is such that each side feels obliged to prove itself, and the proposal of a contest seems to provide the opportunity. It does not prove a thing. It only sets a full-scale war into motion, which costs precious lives, results in a murder, and delays David's reign over all Israel.

I suggest that the contest, and its resulting conflict and division, is a kind of paradigm for much of the division and strife we see today in the home, in the world, and in the church. Before we consider this, let us look at the New Testament church of Corinth. Do we not see a parallel between our text and its division and strife and the church at Corinth? Are the Corinthians not followers of men, rather than of Christ, just as men in our text are followers of Abner and Joab. There is rivalry and strife, based upon which group you belong to. And the leaders of the divisions are men who seek to build their own empires by using others to do so. As a result, God's appointed leadership is rejected by many. I don't want to press this analogy too far, but I wish you to see that there truly is “nothing new under the sun” (see Ecclesiastes 1:9).

So it is in our day as well. Divisions occur in marriages because husbands and wives are more concerned with their ego than with serving their mates. Little “contests” arise in the marriage, and these only escalate to full-scale war. Men and women come into the church intent on furthering their own interests, in building their own empires, in gaining (and impressing) their own following. This appears to force people to choose sides, and then to engage in the battles that ensue.

Almost always, these divisions and conflicts start small, with what appears to be friendly competition (which, we all know, is accepted and promoted these days, even in the church). People do not necessarily intend for a major division to arise, or for many to be hurt. It's just “good, clean fun,” or so we tell ourselves. So two teenagers, each boasting in their souped up hot rods, look at each other at a red light. Each revs up his engine to impress the other driver (and very likely the young lady beside him). When the light turns green, both drivers “go for it.” Nobody means any harm. It's just good, clean fun. But neither driver is willing to stay within the speed limit. Neither is willing to give way and lose face, and so they go faster and faster, until they reach another red light, but neither driver is willing, or able, to stop. And then comes the young mother, with three young children in the back, going through a light which is green, for her. . . . No one meant for anyone to get hurt, but when our ego reigns and contests begin, trouble is not far away.

How many relationships are shattered because of ego and competition? How many marriages are ruined? How many churches split? We may think that because it is all in fun, all good-natured, all is well. Most sin starts out in things that appear harmless, even innocent. That is the way sin starts, with a little ego, a little competition, a little joke. . . . A couple of proverbs bear on this:

“Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
While our vineyards are in blossom” (Song of Solomon 2:15).
So is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, “Was I not joking?” (Proverbs 26:19)

The “little foxes” spoil the grapes, we say. It is a common proverb which we hear today. It is not the big things which destroy us, but the little things, which become big. Eating a piece of fruit seems pretty insignificant; disobeying a direct command of God is something else. What harm can a “little contest” do? We know, don't we?

I have observed that we often joke about things we know are inappropriate in another context. I know there are clean jokes, but I believe dirty jokes are told because somehow the fact that the words we speak are a part of a joke makes it different -- almost acceptable -- somehow. I think men and women in the workplace joke with one another, because it is a way of speaking about forbidden topics which are accepted. I think we often joke about something to test the waters, to see what the response might be. If the response is negative, we can say, “It was only a joke. . . .” If it is positive, we pursue the subject in a more serious vein. Let us beware of the “little things” which lead the way to major sins.

One more word on “little things.” Often the little things cause the cracks in our relationship with God too. Our concern for the lost and our zeal to see them saved begins to wane. It seems like a little thing, so little that we do not even recognize it is happening. Our prayer life declines, almost imperceptibly. Our time in the Word of God decreases, or the amount we read diminishes. It is just a little thing. Suddenly a crack is there. It may not show up for months, even years. But when a time of stress arises, the crack becomes a break, a division. Let us beware of the cracks which appear because of neglect and decline.

I have been talking mainly to Christians, who by faith in Jesus Christ have a relationship with God. Cracks can occur, which weaken that relationship. They do not weaken the reality of salvation from sin or the security of the saint in Christ. But they can weaken the intimacy and fellowship of the relationship. But it is also possible that you are not a Christian. You may never have personally acknowledged your sin and your need of forgiveness from your sins. You may not have the certainty of knowing that your sins are forgiven, and you are destined to live through all eternity in the presence of God. If so, your problem is not a crack, it is a chasm -- a chasm which your sins have created between you and God. Jesus Christ came to the earth as the sinless Son of God -- fully God and fully man -- to reveal God to men, and to die on the cross of Calvary, to bear the punishment for your sins. He came to remove the divider between men and God. All you need to do is to acknowledge your sin, your need of forgiveness, and then trust in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ at Calvary on your behalf. It is in Jesus Christ's life, death, and resurrection that God has made salvation available to you. It is by trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation that you receive it. If you have never trusted in Him, I pray that you might do so now.

11 I must caution the reader that I am now moving from clear statement to inference, one that many might not accept, and perhaps rightly so.

12 First Chronicles 2:16 seems to inform us that Abishai is the oldest, followed by Joab, and then Asahel as the youngest of the trio. I am tempted to call them “my three sons” (for those old enough to remember this television program of a bygone day).

13 Since this is after Joab has killed Abner, I doubt David would have appointed him commander, but David had made the general promise that whoever went up first against Jebus would be commander, and Joab was the first to seize the opportunity (1 Chronicles 11:6).

14 What is really interesting about the death of Uriah is the hypocrisy of it all. Think about it. Joab sinned by killing Abner, but not in war. Abner did not sin, because he killed Asahel in a time of war. But when David has Uriah killed, it appears to be legitimate. Uriah is not seen (at least at first) as the victim of a murder, but as a casualty of war.

15 We have already pointed out that Amasa was a relative of Joab, and of David. Amasa’s mother and Joab’s mother were both David’s sisters – see 2 Samuel 17:25; 19:13; 1 Chronicles 2:16-17.

16 No suspicion is hinted at, as though Amasa’s tardiness was due to his change of loyalty. He was simply late.

17 Is this a raid on the Israelites? It could well have been so, but we are not told who the raid is against.

18 Remember that in the original (Hebrew) text 1 and 2 Samuel were one book, not two.

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4. Waiting on the Lord (2 Samuel 2:1-5:5)


The longest and most difficult delay of my life was waiting to drive . . . legally. My problem was that I started driving when I was about 12. Now before any of you that age get too excited, I must tell you that I grew up in the country where I could drive a great deal without ever getting on the highway. Even so, I could not enjoy the thrill of cruising down Shelton’s main streets, a town of about 6,000 people. I found waiting for this great moment in my life most difficult. When preachers spoke about the rapture and the “soon return of our Lord,” I was terrified -- not because I was a lost sinner -- but because I, as a believer, would be taken before I could legally drive.

I must confess I have not gotten a lot better about waiting. I am writing this sermon on a reasonably fast computer (though not as fast as I would like -- I can hardly wait to get a faster one). Because the main processor chip runs so fast, some of the other components cannot keep up; thus a certain number of so-called “wait states” are used. A “wait state” (in my limited grasp of the inner workings of the computer) is like having to “pass” in a card game when you have no card to play. When I buy ram (random access memory) for my computer, I will not accept 70 nanosecond memory; it must be 60 nanosecond memory. If not, it costs me a “wait state,” meaning a delay of a very small portion of a second.

Having admitted to you that I do not like to wait, I may now remind each of you that you don't like waiting either. Why do we have so many “fast food” chains? Why are microwave dinners so popular? It is all because we don't like to wait. Several years ago, someone had the bright idea of how congestion on North Central Expressway could be improved. They installed a computer system to monitor traffic flow, and then metered the entrances to the expressway. At the beginning of the entrance ramp was a little traffic light, which would turn green when you were allowed to enter the road. This had nothing to do with whether there was room to get on the expressway, only that the computer now thought the expressway could handle you. Those lights are not there today. There may be other reasons, like road construction, but I believe one reason was that people simply refused to wait. If the way was clear and the light was red, people entered the expressway anyway. How foolish to wait! We must all confess that we are not a nation of waiters.

As I study the life of David, I find he spent a great deal of his time waiting. David had to wait something like 15 years from the time he was first anointed by Samuel to the time he became king over Judah (as recorded in our text). It was another seven years before David was anointed king over all Israel. This means David waited over 20 years of his life to be made king. How David handled this more than two decade delay is the subject of this message. David's life during the days we have been studying can teach us a great deal about “waiting on the Lord.”

Our first two messages on this text focused on two prominent leaders: (1) Abner, cousin of Saul and commander of the armies of Saul, of his son Ish-bosheth, and thus of Israel; and (2) Joab, nephew of David, brother of Abishai and Asahel, and eventually commander of David's army, the army of Judah. This message will focus upon David, upon the lengthy, often twisting, path to becoming king of all Israel, and upon his character and conduct as he awaited his time to rule as king of all Israel. Our previous lesson covered chapters 2 and 3 of 2 Samuel. This message covers these same chapters once again, but now with a focus on David. I have added one more chapter -- chapter 4 -- plus the first 5 verses of chapter 5, for it is in these additional chapters that David actually becomes king of all Israel.

From the Sheepfolds of Bethlehem to the City of Hebron:
A Brief Review of 1 Samuel 15:1--2 Samuel 1:27

God is finished with Saul. He has disobeyed for the last time. His kingdom is doomed. And so Samuel is dispatched by God to Bethlehem to anoint Saul's replacement. When Samuel arrives, David is not even present, because no one ever dreamed David was a contender for king. He was doing what young lads his age do -- tending a small flock of his father's sheep (1 Samuel 16:11; 17:28). When Samuel has David summoned and then anoints him, David must wonder how long it will be before he becomes king. The answer is that it is much longer than he imagines, and much more difficult, too.

We are still in 1 Samuel 16 when we read of David's selection as Saul's private musician and armor bearer (16:14-23). There he is in the king's palace. Surely he can't be far from ruling over Israel now. David is still too young to go to the front lines and fight Philistines, it seems, and so he continues to tend his father's sheep, as well as comfort Saul with his music. When the Philistines attack Israel, Goliath, their champion, dares any to fight him. He promises that the winner of this one-on-one contest will take all. So it is that David comes to stand up to Goliath and to kill him. This makes David an instant national hero. The people love David, and so does the king (16:21; 19:5). If it is David's music that calms Saul’s troubled spirit, it is other music, about David, which pushes Saul over the edge. After David's victory over Goliath, the women begin to sing this song:

“Saul has slain his thousands, And David his ten thousands” (1 Samuel 18:7).

At first Saul keeps his jealous rage to himself. He seeks to bring about David's death in a way that will make it look like an accident. He throws his spear at David, but people probably write this off to “temporary insanity.” Then Saul seeks to be rid of David by having him killed in battle.19 He appoints him commander of a thousand (18:13), thinking that the same zeal which prompts David to take on Goliath will cause him to engage in a military effort that is “over his head,” thus getting him (not to mention his men) killed. Everything Saul does to destroy David serves to elevate him in power and in popularity. Saul also offers David one of his daughters for a mere 100 Philistine foreskins. Instead of getting himself killed, David kills 200 Philistines, gains a wife who loves him (more than her father), and further admiration and respect from all but Saul.

Then Saul's jealousy becomes public. He gives orders to Jonathan and all his servants that David is to be put to death (19:1). Jonathan appeals to Saul and receives a short-term reprieve for David (19:2-7), but when another conflict with the Philistines arises and David once again finds great success in battle, Saul attempts to pin David to the wall with his spear (19:8-10). Then Saul sends men to arrest David in his own home, but his efforts are foiled, largely by his own daughter (19:11-17). From this point on, David keeps his distance from Saul, turning first to Samuel (19:18-24), and then to Jonathan (20:1-42).

It becomes evident to David that he must no longer attempt to get along with Saul, living and working beside him. He must flee and become a fugitive, until God brings about some remedy. And so David flees first to Nob, where he is given assistance by Ahimelech the priest (21:1-9). This act of kindness costs Ahimelech his life, along with the other priests and their families at Nob (22:6-19). David flees next to Gath, and then to the cave of Adullam, where family, friends, and other people out of favor with Saul join with him (22:1-5). David has a number of close calls, but God always delivers him from the hand of Saul. During these times, David twice puts himself at risk by attempting to reconcile with Saul. In spite of momentary repentance, Saul persists in pursuing David as an enemy. While Saul makes promises to David on these occasions that he does not keep, David makes a commitment to Saul that he will keep:

16 When David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” Then Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I; for you have dealt well with me, while I have dealt wickedly with you. 18 “You have declared today that you have done good to me, that the LORD delivered me into your hand and yet you did not kill me. 19 “For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safely? May the LORD therefore reward you with good in return for what you have done to me this day. 20 “Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand. 21 “So now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants after me and that you will not destroy my name from my father's household.” 22 David swore to Saul. And Saul went to his home, but David and his men went up to the stronghold (1 Samuel 24:16-22).

One might think that while fleeing from Saul, David is unable to serve his people, but this is not the case. David delivers the people of Keilah from the Philistines (23:1-5). During the days David spends at Ziklag, he continually carries out raids against the enemies of Israel. And David shares a portion of the spoils with the people of the cities of Judah (27:1-12; 30:26-31). It is no wonder that the people of Judah are the first to receive David as their king.

While it appears David may end up fighting for the Philistines and against his own people, God takes him out of the picture at the last moment (29:1-11). David returns to Ziklag to discover the city has been sacked by a band of raiders, their wives and families kidnapped, and their goods plundered. This takes David on a mission to the south, where he defeats the Amalekites and recovers all that is lost. It puts David and his men far to the South, while the Philistines wage war with Saul and the army of Israel far to the North. It is in this battle that Israel is defeated, and Saul and three of his sons are killed (30:1--31:13).

David and his men have been back in Ziklag for two days when a young Amalekite arrives, breathless from his journey from the camp of Israel, where he manages to escape the Philistines. He tells David the sad news of the defeat of Israel and of the death of Saul and Jonathan. When David presses this young man for more details, he claims he was the one who “mercifully” put Saul out of his misery. He presents David with Saul's crown and bracelet, expecting David to be most grateful and generous. After David and his men mourn over the defeat and death of their countrymen, David has this young man executed for raising his hand against the Lord's anointed (2 Samuel 1:1-16). David then composes a psalm of mourning, which memorializes Saul and Jonathan as heroes. It is a song which all the sons of Judah are to be taught, and which they are to sing in honor of their king and his son Jonathan (1:17-27).

David's Response to the Events of 2 Samuel 2:1--5:5

And so it is that David has been designated as Saul's replacement -- Israel's next king -- approximately 15 years before the events in our text. David has risen from a lowly shepherd boy, tending a few sheep his father owns, to a beloved member of Saul's own household and family, a man of great courage and military prowess. This does not quickly bring about the demise of Saul or the appointment of David as his replacement. David falls from Saul's favor, due only to his trust in God, his loyalty to his king, and his successes. David ceases to be the “rising star” in Israel with whom all are eager to be associated, and he becomes a fugitive with whom most Israelites are now afraid to associate lest they too incur Saul's wrath. David has gone through many different experiences, all of which will make him a better king for having endured them. He is now much better prepared to reign as Israel's king. But God is not yet ready to make him king. David is here a lot like Jacob, who rejoiced in obtaining his wife after laboring for Laban, only to learn that he still had seven years to serve before he could have all for which he had hoped. Even after David is anointed as king of Judah, he must wait a full seven years to be anointed king of all Israel. Let us consider the events leading to the fulfillment of Samuel's prophetic anointing, years earlier, and see how David has learned to “wait on the Lord.”

After nearly 15 years of waiting, most spent fleeing from Saul, David learns of Saul's death and the death of three of his sons. After mourning their deaths, David inquires of the Lord, seeking to learn what he should do in response to Saul's death. God indicates that David and his men should return to the city of Hebron in the land of Judah. It is there that the men of Judah anoint David king of Judah (2 Samuel 2:1-4a).

David's first recorded act as king of Judah is described in 2:4b-7. David may be seeking more information about Saul's battle with the Philistines and his death. One way or the other, it is reported to David that the men of Jabesh-gilead have acted courageously in retrieving the body of Saul and giving him a proper burial. David responds as a king should do. He responds by executing the Amalekite who, by his own admission, raised his hand against God's anointed. Now David responds by commending the men of Jabesh-gilead for honoring Saul, at great risk to themselves. Like the granting of a presidential medal of valor, the righteous deeds of noble men are rewarded.

I must also point out that David does include in his message to the men of Jabesh-gilead the fact that he has been anointed king over Judah by the people of Judah (2:7). This may well be an indirect way of indicating his availability to be anointed as king over Israel also. I doubt this thought is offensive to the people of Jabesh-gilead, or anyone else in Israel (except Abner -- see 3:17-19). But David is not about to try to make this happen, and indeed it does not.

The reason David is not anointed king of all Israel is Abner, the cousin of Saul, and commander of the armed forces of Israel (2:8-11). Abner's actions can hardly be justified. He knows God has designated David as the next king of Israel, and so do the people (3:8-10, 17-19). Abner is either attempting to avoid or to delay David's reign in the place of Saul (and his descendants). Abner installs Ish-bosheth as Saul's replacement. Few would argue the point with Abner, a man who is personally intimidating, not to mention that he has the armed forces under his authority. Who would dare oppose Abner or Ish-bosheth?

David does not oppose either of these men, not because he is afraid of them nor because he cannot do so. He does not oppose them because he will not, out of principle. Ish-bosheth is a descendant of Saul. David seems to embrace the principle laid down centuries later by the apostle Paul:

1 Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves (Romans 13:1-2).

One would be hard pressed to say Ish-bosheth has been installed as king over Israel by popular demand, or out of the godly motives and intentions of Abner. Abner seems to be seeking his own interests in appointing Ish-bosheth king. Nevertheless, David grants the fact that he is, indeed, king, and thus that it is God who ultimately put him in this position of power and authority. He will not resist the king, even to become king in his place. Furthermore, David made a promise to Saul, a promise not to cut off his descendants, and not to destroy his name from his father's household. David will not remove Ish-bosheth because he cannot do so and keep his word to Saul. Here is a man of principle, a man who will wait seven more years just to keep his word, just to wait on the Lord.

David is plainly absent in 2:12--3:11. His name may be mentioned, but he is not one of the central characters. The central characters are Abner, commander of Israel's armies, and Joab, one of David's men and one of the commanders of Judah's military force. These two men agree upon the “contest,” which not only gets the 24 contestants killed, but brings about open war between the people of Judah and the people of Israel. All appearances are that it is a senseless contest, a projection of the ego-centered competition of Abner and Joab. This war drags on, undermining the unity of Israel, causing needless suffering and death, and leading to the murder of Abner by Joab.

In many ways, it is a rather sordid story. The two sides met for a contest, and blood was shed, leading to all out war. In this fighting, Asahel, brother of Abishai and Joab, is hot on the heels of Abner. Abner does not wish to kill Asahel, but knows this young man is not about to give up the chase. Finally, after failing to talk Asahel out of his pursuit, Abner kills him. It is not murder, because it is an action which takes place during war. It is almost an act of self-defense, but Joab will never accept this. He is intent upon revenge.

The problem is that David and Abner ended the war. Abner has been getting more and more bold. He always was the real power behind the scenes, but he eventually casts aside all pretenses by taking Saul's concubine for himself. This act is symbolic, virtually announcing that he is taking over Saul's place (see 1 Kings 2:13-25; compare Genesis 35:22; 49:3-4). Ish-bosheth finds this action too much to handle, and so he works up the courage to confront Abner. When Abner is rebuked by Ish-bosheth, he blows up. He scolds Ish-bosheth for ingratitude and reminds him who is really in charge. He chooses this opportunity to change sides. The house of David is steadily prevailing over the house of Saul (3:1); in Abner's mind, it is time to switch to the winning side. He tells Ish-bosheth he is now going to throw his support to David, thus making him king. Abner, the king-maker, has made Ish-bosheth king; now he will make David king. Ish-bosheth is duly impressed and frightened. It is the last protest he will ever register with Abner (3:6-11).

Abner then approaches David with the offer to make him king. He claims to be “in charge,” that the land is really his. If David will but make a covenant with Abner, Abner will handle the rest. He promises to bring all Israel over to David. It seems that if he had lived, he would have done as he promised. Before his death, Abner meets with the leaders of both sides. There is an agreement in principle. All that has to be done is finalize it.

Abner's “untimely” death brings things to a screeching halt. What Abner promised David he would do, and what it looks like he almost finished doing, is suddenly interrupted by his own death. Abner comes to David with a delegation of men. The deal has been made. A truce has been declared, and the war between Israel and Judah is formally ended. Twice in our text we are told that Abner left “in peace” (3:22, 23). I understand this to mean that the war has ended. This means that Joab cannot kill Abner legally; to kill Abner now would be murder, because it is not in a time of war (see 1 Kings 2:5).

While David had been “making peace” with Abner, Joab has been out “making war.” He has conducted a very successful raid. We are not told who this raid is against, but it is certainly possible that Joab's raid is against Israelites. When Joab returns from this raid, he is told that Abner has been there, meeting with David, and that he has been sent away in peace. Joab is furious. How can David be so foolish to be taken in by Abner? Does he not know that this is a ploy? David does not give in to Joab, and when Joab leaves David, he secretly sends to have Abner brought back to him. Deceitfully, Joab manages to get Abner to a place where he can kill him, and this he does.

When David learns of the murder of Abner by Joab, he acts quickly and decisively. He publicly renounces the actions of Joab as reprehensible. There is no excuse for what he did. David condemns the murder and calls down divine judgment on Joab and his family (3:28-29). David then mourns the death of Abner, seeing to it that his burial is honorable, even if his death was not (he died the death of a fool). David not only walks behind the bier, weeping loudly and chanting a lament for Abner, he refuses to eat all day long. It is obvious to all that David has no part in the death of Abner. Everybody knows it and likes it (3:31-39). David's standing with the people continues to increase.

I am inclined to think God providentially removes Abner so that David will not become king thanks to Abner, the king-maker, but rather thanks to the King-Maker. Abner's reasons for switching his allegiance from Ish-bosheth to David are questionable. In some ways, Abner's approach to David seems similar to Satan's approach to our Lord in His temptation (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-12). Like Satan, Abner claims that the kingdom he offers is really his (compare 2 Samuel 3:12; Luke 4:5-7). Abner wants David to enter into a covenant with him (2 Samuel 3:12), but when David does become king of all Israel, he enters into a covenant with them (the people) “before the Lord” (2 Samuel 5:3). Somehow, I see Abner's offer as a shortcut, an easier path to what God wants to give David another way. If so, Abner's death and the resulting delay in David becoming king make sense.

When David initially accepts Abner's offer of the kingdom, he agrees, but with one condition. That condition is that he be given back his wife, Michal (2 Samuel 3:13-15). Merab is first offered to David, but David does not accept this offer. He does, however, accept Saul's offer with regard to Michal. This woman was given to David, and this marriage was certainly consummated. Nevertheless, after David fell out of favor with the king and fled for his life, Saul took Michal and gave her to a man named Laish for a wife (see 1 Samuel 25:44).

Why is David so insistent about the return of his wife? First and foremost, I believe it is because she is his wife. David does not take Michal with him when he flees from Saul, but he has married her and lived with her as his wife. The fact that Saul has given her to someone else does not make her less than David's wife. David believes in the permanence of marriage. She is still his wife, and he wants her back. Secondly, David insists that Ish-bosheth give Michal back to him. His father, King Saul, has taken Michal away from David; let the one who rules in Saul's place right this wrong. Thirdly, as the “contest” between Abner's 12 men and Joab's 12 set a war in motion, so the reuniting of David and Michal will symbolically join the house of David with the house of Saul. David wants Michal back because she is still his wife and he loves her, but also because it is what is best for his own people.

With the death of Abner at the hand of Joab, Ish-bosheth loses all his courage. He is hardly able to stand up to Abner, let alone even think about standing up against David. Now Ish-bosheth is on his own, knowing that Abner has already set up David to rule in his place. As our author informs us, Ish-bosheth is “scared spitless” (as we say), and Israel is troubled. What will happen now?

Two men think they are the solution. These men are fellow members of the tribe of Benjamin and commanders of divisions of Israelite soldiers (4:2). Their names are Baanah and Rechab, both sons of Rimmon. To put the matter bluntly, Ish-bosheth is a lame duck. He cannot really rule on his own because Abner provides the brains and the brawn (soldiers) of this puppet-king's administration. But there he is, a token king who is a weak man, ruling an ever-weakening nation. David is destined to be the king of all Israel, and everyone knows it, but no one knows how to turn this situation around to make it happen. And so these trusted leaders come to the king's house in the middle of the day, pretending to get wheat. The king is taking his midday nap when the two enter his bedroom and kill him in his sleep. They then cut off his head and travel all night to reach David at Hebron. They proudly present the head of Ish-bosheth, the son of Saul, “David's enemy.”

They do not understand at all. They do not understand David's submission to God and his refusal to raise his hand against God's anointed (or even one who has in some less noble way been made king). They do not understand David's love for Saul, or his commitment to protect the lives of his offspring and the honor of his name (1 Samuel 24:16-22). They do not learn from David's previous actions that David is not so eager to gain the throne that he will wink at the wickedness of those who seek to kill God's anointed.

9 David answered Rechab and Baanah his brother, sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, and said to them, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life from all distress, 10 when one told me, saying, 'Behold, Saul is dead,' and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him in Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news. 11 “How much more, when wicked men have killed a righteous man in his own house on his bed, shall I not now require his blood from your hand and destroy you from the earth?” 12 Then David commanded the young men, and they killed them and cut off their hands and feet and hung them up beside the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the grave of Abner in Hebron (2 Samuel 4:9-12).

Once again, David is no opportunist who will stoop to any means to gain the throne God has promised him. Neither will David look the other way when others do evil to facilitate his ascent to the throne. David is a man who understands what being God's king is all about:

A divine decision is in the lips of the king; His mouth should not err in judgment (Proverbs 16:10).

A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes (Proverbs 20:8).

A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the threshing wheel over them (Proverbs 20:26).

Take away the wicked before the king, And his throne will be established in righteousness (Proverbs 25:5).

In the first five verses of 2 Samuel 5, David is anointed king of all Israel, at last, at long last! It started many years before, when David must have been in his teens.20 Much to the surprise of David and his family, he is anointed as the next king of Israel. It is around 15 years before David is anointed king of Judah, and another seven before he is king of all Israel. But now, at long last, David is king. In the final portion of this message, I would like to take a step back from all the details and look at the big picture given to us by the author in 1 Samuel 16 through 2 Samuel 5.

Lessons to be Learned from David's Delayed Kingdom

(1) We should begin by observing that the promise God made to Israel and to David (implied when David was anointed by Samuel) took a long time being fulfilled. David becomes king of Israel after a considerable delay, and with a great deal of adversity. That is what 1 Samuel 16:1--2 Samuel 5:5 is all about. This period of David's life can be summed up by two words: “time” and “trouble.”

(2) The delay in David becoming Israel's king is not unusual, but it is typical of the way God brings about His promises and purposes. Stated concisely, God is not in a hurry. God has all the time in the world. In fact, God is bigger than time and certainly not limited by time. Throughout the Bible I find God promising things men must wait to receive:

  • God promised Abram and Sarai a child, but they had to wait 25 years to get him.
  • God promised Noah there would be a flood, but it was a long time coming.
  • God made Jacob wait 14 years to get the wife he wanted.21
  • Joseph had to wait a considerable time to see his father and family, and he did not get back home until after his death (they carried his bones back to the promised land).
  • The Israelites had to wait 430 years in Egypt, before returning to the promised land.
  • The writer to the Hebrews tells us that all the Old Testament saints had to wait for us (Gentiles?) before they could see the promised kingdom (Hebrews 11:39-40).
  • For 2,000 years, saints have been waiting for the Lord's return and the coming of His Kingdom.

Waiting is a part of the divine design of things. Waiting is no accident, it is purposed.

(3) It is in times of waiting for God that many have failed in their faith and obedience. Waiting is a form of adversity, a test of our faith and endurance.

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).

For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God (1 Peter 2:20).

Many of the failures we see in the Bible are failures related to waiting. I am inclined to believe this began at the very beginning, with Adam and Eve. The more I consider the story of the fall, the more I lean toward an interpretation that sees the temptation and the sin as that of taking a shortcut to a good thing. The knowledge of good and evil is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. If Adam and Eve would become “like God” in knowing good and evil, then how can knowing good and evil be bad? Is being like God bad? Is this not what God is doing in us now, conforming us to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29)? Will we not be “like Him,” when we “see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2)? David is commended for “knowing good and evil” (2 Samuel 14:17). Solomon prays for wisdom to discern between “good and evil” (1 Kings 3:9). Christians, by their obedience to God's Word, “have their senses trained to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). I believe, therefore, that God wanted Adam and Eve to know good and evil, but not by the quick and easy way of stealing a piece of forbidden fruit. It was not wrong to know good and evil, but it was wrong to know it in a way God had forbidden. I believe God had a better, slower, way, but they chose the shortcut. They refused to wait on the Lord for such knowledge.

Abraham and Sarah had to wait for the promised son, and at least one of their failures was in the area of patience, of waiting on God to fulfill His promise. Is this not why Abram spoke of Eliezer of Damascus as his heir (Genesis 15:2)? Is this not why Abram gave in to Sarai's suggestion that they have the promised seed through Hagar, her handmaid (Genesis 16:1-2)?

The Israelites sinned in the making of the golden calf, as described in Exodus 32. Was their failure not a failure to wait 40 days for Moses to return from the top of Mt. Sinai? Was Saul's sin in 1 Samuel 13 not his failure to wait for Samuel to arrive? Were the disciples not constantly asking when the kingdom would come and trying to hurry up the plan? Did the 11 apostles and others not fail to wait when they went ahead to appoint Matthias as the replacement for Judas, when Jesus had instructed them to wait for “what the Father promised” (Acts 1:4)?

The church at Corinth had many problems. One of their problems was in the area of waiting. They could not wait for God to bring justice, and so they took one another to court (1 Corinthians 6). They could not wait for their brethren to arrive, so they went ahead with the meal, overindulging themselves with food and drink, and turning the Lord's Supper into a sham (1 Corinthians 11). They could not wait for the fulfillment of God's promises regarding full spirituality, and so they embraced teachers and teachings of triumphalism -- you can have it all now, not later.

No wonder our Lord devoted considerable time and attention to teaching His disciples how they should conduct themselves while they waited for His return:

40 “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. 45 “But if that slave says in his heart, 'My master will be a long time in coming,' and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; 46 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. 47 “And that slave who knew his master's will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, 48 but the one who did not know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more (Luke 12:40-48).

(4) Satan often attacks by trying to capitalize on divine delays. Satan tries to put the unbeliever's mind at ease by pointing to divine delays as proof God either does not know, or does not care, when we sin:

1 This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 2 that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles. 3 Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:1-4).

Satan seeks to undermine the faith and obedience of God's children by deceiving us about God's goodness in divine delays. I believe he did this with Adam and Eve in the garden. I believe this is at the core of Satan's temptation of our Lord at the beginning of His earthly ministry. Satan was saying to our Lord, “Oh, sure. I know that you are God's King. But rather than deny yourself (by obeying God and being 40 days and nights without food), why not serve yourself? Why wait to eat? Why get to your kingdom through suffering? Why not worship me, and I will give you a kingdom now?” Isn't that the way Satan thinks and acts?

In times of waiting, Satan wants us to doubt that God's promises will ever be fulfilled. He seeks to get us to act independently of God to obtain these things on our own, rather than to wait for God to give them to us. He seeks to raise doubts about the goodness of God, as though He is withholding something good from us out of pettiness. He works at promoting distrust in God, and especially in His Word. He prompts us to disobey God and to follow our own judgment. He urges us to seize the moment, to use questionable means, to use others as means to our desired ends.

(5) Times of waiting on the Lord are designed to be those times when our faith is stretched and our intimacy with Him is enhanced. Have you ever noticed how many of the Psalms are written during times of waiting? The question, “How long. . .?” is found fairly frequently in the psalms, as is, “wait on the Lord.” David is often the author of such “waiting” psalms. Waiting on the Lord is good for us. It helps us to develop patience and endurance. It calls upon us to exercise faith in God's promises and to act on the basis of what God has said, rather than upon what we see. Waiting enhances our appetite for the good things God has in store for us. Waiting requires us to deny fleshly lusts and to set aside our desire for immediate gratification some easier way. Waiting is one of the ways that we “take up our cross and follow Him.”

(6) Waiting on the Lord is what sexual purity is all about. There is a lot of talk about “safe sex” today and very little about abstinence. This is because waiting for the pleasures of marital sex is taboo. Virginity is disdained as a curse, not a gift which one mate gives to the other. Waiting on God for the joys and pleasures of marital sex enhances the joy and pleasure of this gift, if and when God gives it. The point I wish to make here is that sexual purity is about waiting, and waiting is a good part of what the Christian life is about. Let us not look upon this matter as something God is cruelly withholding from us, but as a good gift, for which we are willing to wait upon the Lord so that we may enjoy it fully and without guilt.

(7) Some waiting is not pious. How often we are prone to wait when we should work and to work when we should wait. Waiting to do what we know to be right, what God has commanded us to do, is not pious; it is sin (James 4:17). Waiting to accept the offer of salvation and forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ is a most dangerous thing (Hebrews 3:12-15). The waiting which pleases God is when He has made a promise, which we cannot bring about ourselves apart from unbelief and disobedience to His Word.

(8) Waiting is not necessarily a time of passivity. Have you ever watched what people do while they are waiting? Some do absolutely nothing. But I notice that some people (not just men) may crochet or do needle work while they wait. There are constructive things to do while one waits. David waited over 20 years to reign over all Israel, but that was a very busy time in his life. David did much more than merely flee for his life. David delivered the people of Keilah (1 Samuel 23:1-5), and he did good to the people of Judah (1 Samuel 30:26-31). One of the things we can do while we wait is to praise God and to pray, as David and others did in the psalms. While we may not be able to do what we would most like to do, we can do what God has given us to do, while we wait on the Lord to fulfill His promises and purposes.

(9) Waiting is a significant part of each of our lives. When I was young, I could hardly wait to get to my 16th birthday so I could drive a car, legally. I could not wait until I grew up and had all the privileges and liberties of an adult. When I was engaged, I could not wait until the day of our wedding. Every one of us is waiting for a number of things at this very moment. Let me mention just a few.

  • Our youth are waiting to grow up and to enjoy the rights, privileges and responsibilities of adulthood. Teen-age rebellion and premarital sex are attempted short-cuts that often turn out to be a short circuit.
  • Some couples are waiting for children. Most every parent has to wait at least nine months for a child, and a number of parents wait much longer.
  • Many wait for recognition and rewards in their work, while others take short-cuts to get ahead.
  • Almost every Christian has some form of pain or suffering, for which they await deliverance.
  • All Christians have unsaved loved ones, relatives and friends, for whose salvation they wait.
  • We all find ourselves waiting for God to change someone near, and perhaps dear, to us.
  • All of us wait for the coming of our Lord and His kingdom.
  • Strangely enough, a number of saints wait for death. There are those who will not wait for God's time, and choose suicide as the method for relieving pain. Others cannot bear to watch loved ones suffer, and choose euthanasia. We all know of circumstances where we wish the Lord would “take them” or “us,” but God calls on us to wait.

(10) Finally, be assured that God always makes it worth the wait. If you want to eat in a hurry, you can drive through McDonald's and buy a “Happy Meal.” But if you want a gourmet meal, you know you will have to wait a while. That is because great meals don't happen quickly, or easily, no matter what the TV commercials tell you. I have never once seen or heard of anyone putting food into a microwave oven because they thought that it would be tastier than something which comes out of the oven, or a crock pot. We make use of the microwave oven because we want to eat, fast. We use the oven when we want to eat well. God's plans and promises are not of the microwave variety. God slow cooks His plans and His people, to bring out the very best in them. You can almost always plan on the fact that God will make you wait for what is best. He is never late, but He is also seldom quick. But of this fact I can assure you: When God's plan is for you to wait, He will make it all worth the wait.

Let us learn from David that waiting is a part of the normal Christian life. We will be tempted to short-cut this waiting, but this would be sin. Others are often willing to help us with such short-cuts. But let us resolve in our hearts to be like David, and to wait upon the Lord to fulfill His purposes and promises in His good time. Let us be assured that while we wait, God is working in us to prepare us for the good things that lie ahead. Let us not doubt that we shall see them. And let us devote ourselves to doing the good we know to do and that we are able to do, while we wait.

19 One cannot help but wonder if David’s dealings with Uriah were not patterned after Saul’s attempts to kill him.

20 This occurs to me now, a little late, but perhaps better said late than never. I have wondered why Saul reneges on his first offer to give one of his daughters to the one who would fight Goliath. I attributed Saul’s not doing so to his character. Is it possible that the reason David is not given one of Saul’s daughters at that time is that he is thought too young to marry? Later on, Saul makes the offer specifically to David, and David is willing to accept the offer of Michal. Anyone big and strong enough to kill 200 Philistines (I take it they would not give up their foreskins voluntarily.) must be old enough to marry.

21 I remember from my seminary days that some scholars attempt to show that Jacob didn’t have to wait the full additional seven years to get Rachel. Our efforts to try to shorten Jacob’s time of waiting may only betray our problem in waiting, or watching others wait. On the face of it, Jacob had to wait an additional seven years before getting Rachel as his wife.

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5. A Place of One’s Own (2 Samuel 5:1-25)


It has been several years since I read the excellent book by Langdon Gilkey entitled Shantung Compound. One chapter is entitled, “A Place of One's Own.” Gilkey was interned in a Japanese detention camp, along with a diverse group of people, who all had one thing in common -- they were all Westerners. The Japenese did not know what to do with all the Westerners present in the country when the Japanese overran China during the Second World War, so they detained them in various encampments. Shantung Compound was an old Presbyterian encampment which was converted for use in confining these Westerners. Gilkey was given the task of assigning rooms for each of the people interned in the camp, which led to some very interesting situations, as he so well describes.

In the chapter, “A Place of One's Own,” Gilkey tells of the people’s strong feelings for having a place they could call their own. In one instance, a very gentle, gracious lady manifested this strong craving for her own “space.” A woman whose bed was right next to this lady began to sense her bed was moving. Each day as she looked out her window, the view was slightly different. She realized her bed was being moved. The lovely lady beside her was moving her own bed, and the bed of her roommate, tiny fractions of an inch each day to give her more space, at the expense of her roommate. We all want “a place of our own” don't we?

We come in 2 Samuel 5 to the point where David becomes king of all Israel and, at the same time, he finally obtains a place of his own. The place has been known as Jebus up to this point in time, and its inhabitants, were called the Jebusites. But from our text onward, Jebus becomes Jerusalem, Zion, the “city of David.” In the next chapter, Jerusalem will become the dwelling place of God, as the ark of the covenant is brought to the city, where Solomon will later build the temple. This text is climactic for David and very instructive for us. Let us look to the Spirit of God to learn what He has to teach us as David finds “a place of his own.”

The Structure of our Text

As a result of my study of 2 Samuel 5, I now understand there are four major sections which I have outlined below:

  • 5:1-5 -- Israel submits to David as “God's king.”
  • 5:6-10 -- David takes Jebus and makes it Jerusalem, the “city of David.”
  • 5:11-16 -- The building of David's house (his physical house, and his household).
  • 5:17-25 -- David defeats the Philistines.

Israel Submits to David as God's King

1 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and your flesh. 2 “Previously, when Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel out and in. And the LORD said to you, 'You will shepherd My people Israel, and you will be a ruler over Israel.”' 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months, and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty-three years over all Israel and Judah (2 Samuel 5:1-5).

The Israelites are in the spotlight in verses 1-3. They are the ones who come to David in Hebron and are also the ones who recognize and anoint him as their king. Once we recognize that the people are the initiators, we should also recall the people were the initiators when Saul became their king. We really cannot grasp the significance of the submission of the Israelites to David as God's king without seeing this event in comparison and contrast to 1 Samuel 8:1-22, where the people demanded a king, and Saul was given to them as their first king.

You may remember that in 1 Samuel 8, Samuel is getting up in years, and his sons are certainly not ideal replacements for their father (8:1-3). His sons are dishonest, misusing their authority as judges in Beersheba. And so, in verse 4 of chapter 8, the elders of Israel come to Samuel, demanding that he give them a king, “to judge them, like all the nations” (8:5). Samuel is greatly distressed by the people's demand, and God is displeased as well. They are not just rejecting Samuel as their judge, they are rejecting God as their King (8:7-8). Nevertheless, God instructs Samuel to warn them of the high price tag for having a king, and then to tell them they will indeed have their king. In chapters 9 and 10, Saul is designated and anointed as Israel's first king. In chapter 11, Saul leads Israel in war against Nahash and the Ammonites, who have besieged Jabesh-gilead and threatened to humiliate all of its inhabitants by gouging out the right eye of each citizen (11:1-2). God gives Saul and Israel a great victory over the Ammonites, and the people are jubilant. They want to get their hands on those who looked down upon Saul and put them to death (11:12-13).

Samuel puts this whole matter into perspective in chapter 12. Israel's demand for a king is a sin against God, for which a storm is sent to destroy their wheat crop (12:12-18). In one sense, this generation of Israelites is just like their forefathers. Opposition from foreign powers is a divine chastisement for Israel's disregard of God's laws. But in another sense, their sin of asking for a king is even greater than that of their forefathers. In the past, God sends Israel a deliverer in response to the nation's repentance and cry for deliverance. In this case, there has been no repentance at all. They do not plead for deliverance; they demand a king. I believe Israel wants a deliverer without repentance, and they want a king so that future deliverances is assured as well. They want a king so that they will not have to trust in or obey God. When Samuel points this out and underscores it with a storm, the people repent.

Samuel then gives the people a promise:

13 “Now therefore, here is the king whom you have chosen, whom you have asked for, and behold, the LORD has set a king over you. 14 “If you will fear the LORD and serve Him, and listen to His voice and not rebel against the command of the LORD, then both you and also the king who reigns over you will follow the LORD your God. 15 “If you will not listen to the voice of the LORD, but rebel against the command of the LORD, then the hand of the LORD will be against you, as it was against your fathers” (1 Samuel 12:13-15).

24 “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart; for consider what great things He has done for you. 25 “But if you still do wickedly, both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:24-25).

I wish to note here is the connection Samuel makes between the people and their king. Both the people and their king must trust and obey God. If they do not, then God will chasten them. If they do, then God will bless them. I believe Samuel is indicating to us that the people will get the kind of king they want, and that they deserve. God gives the people a king like Saul because he is just like them. He rebels against God's Word, just as the people do. He falls short of fully obeying God, just as they do. In the case of 1 Samuel 8-12, the people demand a king, for all the wrong reasons. I believe now that the sins of Samuel's sons was merely a pretext, and that their real reasons for demanding a king were far less noble than “justice.” In 1 Samuel 12:12, Samuel informs the people that their real reason for demanding a king is fear of Nahash, who is advancing against Israel. They want a king to lead them in war and give them victory over their enemies. They want a deliverer like Samson, not a deliverer like Samuel. Samuel strips aside the sham and hypocrisy to expose the sin of Israel, which makes them worthy of a king like Saul.

But when we come to 2 Samuel 5, we see a distinct change. The change is not just that from a pathetic king like Saul to a patriot and leader like David; the change is also evident in the people. I have a confession to make at this point. Up until now, I have felt unkindly toward the Israelites. I have been standing on the sidelines of this story with my hands on my hips, impatiently tapping my foot. As I read verses 1-5 of chapter 5, I find myself thinking, “Well, its about time!” I have changed my mind, however. I now look differently upon the Israelites delay. Let me try to explain why this is so.

You will notice that there is no crisis here, no pressing danger, which forces the Israelite leaders to act. Saul is dead, along with his sons, including Ish-bosheth. But there is no Philistine attack, no Ammonite threat. The Philistines attack in response to hearing David is anointed king over all Israel (2 Samuel 5:17). The Israelite elders come to David while he is in Hebron, submitting themselves to him as God's king. In 1 Samuel 8, they are rebelling against God as their King, but not here. Here, the Israelite leaders are acting out of obedience to God, not in rebellion against Him. The king they gain in David is, in some measure, the king they deserve. When they approach David, they acknowledge several vitally important truths, which are the basis for David's kingship and thus their submission to him as their king.

(1) The Israelite leaders acknowledge their physical ties to David: “We are your bone and flesh . . . .” This is a very significant profession on the part of the Israelite elders. They acknowledge their essential unity, rooted in their common father, Jacob (whom God renamed Israel). They do not say to David, “You are one with us,” but rather, “We are one with you.” From the very beginning, there is a problem of unity among the sons of Jacob, as seen in their hatred of Joseph. Saul is of the tribe of Benjamin and David of the tribe of Judah. Abner certainly aggravates the friction between these two tribes and polarizes the rest. Now the Israelites are willing to see themselves as one nation, not two. This is key to David's leadership of the whole nation. We only need to recall the words of the Israelites when this division recurs to see how important this unity is:

16 When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion do we have in David?

We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!” So Israel departed to their tents (1 Kings 12:16).

(2) The Israelites recognize David's leadership over them in the past, even while Saul was their king. When the people demand a king, they want a king who will “go out before them to fight their battles” (see 1 Samuel 8:19-20). Fundamentally, Saul defaults on his responsibility to lead Israel in battle, and it is David who does what they have sought in a king. It was not Saul who went up against Goliath, but David. It was not Saul who led Israel in battle, but David (at least a one of their commanders). The Israelite elders recognize David's leadership in doing what a king is supposed to do. In effect, the elders of Israel are acknowledging that even when Saul was their king, David acted more like a king than he did. They are not choosing to follow an unknown commodity (as they do with Saul), but a man who has proven himself to be “a mighty man of valor, a warrior” (see 1 Samuel 16:18).

(3) The elders of Israel submit themselves to the Word of God as they recognize David as God's choice for the next king of Israel. David has been publicly anointed as Israel's next king (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Saul knows that David is to be Israel's next king (1 Samuel 24:20), as do Abigail (1 Samuel 25:30), as do the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:11). All Israel has to know that David is the one God has designed to be king in Saul's place (2 Samuel 3:9-10, 18). The Israelites are not surprised to learn that David is Israel's next king; although they are a little slow to act on this revelation. When the elders of Israel come to David, it is in obedience to the revealed will of God. This is far better than their previous rebellion against God by demanding a king in 1 Samuel 8.

It is no surprise that when David is anointed (for the third time) as Israel's king by these elders, it is done in the context of a covenant which is made with David before the Lord (2 Samuel 5:3). This is an act of obedience and faith. This is a far cry from the confrontation that we see between Samuel and Israel's elders in 1 Samuel chapter 8. The reign of David is a reign of righteousness, due in part to the repentance and obedience of Israel and its leaders.

David Captures Jebus,
Which Becomes Jerusalem, the “City of David.”

My wife and I have some “young friends,” who come to visit us, as we go to visit them. One night, Jeannette and I were reading a children's story to two young friends at bed-time, written by a well-known theologian. As the story (and time) went on, the youngest child lost interest. She fooled around and got in and out of bed several times. I could hardly blame her. The older child endured through the whole story. But when the story was finally over, Katie turned to us and said, “That was a long story.” It most certainly was.

There are a lot of long stories. When I ask someone how they became a Christian, they usually smile and say, “Well, that's kind of a long story.” The story of the city of Jerusalem is a long one as well. Jerusalem was, until the time that David captured it, known as Jebus. Its inhabitants were known as the Jebusites. The Jebusites are first named in Genesis 10;15-16, where we are told that they are truly Canaanites, the descendants of Canaan, the third son of Ham (Genesis 10:6). It was this Canaan who saw the nakedness of Noah (Genesis 9:22), and who brought a curse upon himself and his descendants (Genesis 9:25). It was on Mt. Moriah that Abraham offered up his son, Isaac (Genesis). This Mt. Moriah is the same mountain on which Solomon built the Temple (2 Chronicles 3:1).

Repeatedly, God promised the Israelites that He would bring them into the promised land. This land was possessed by the Canaanites (including the Jebusites), and God promised to drive them out (Genesis 15:18-21; Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 23:23; 33:2; 34:11). When the spies were sent into the promised land to check it out, among those inhabitants of the land the spies named the Jebusites (Numbers 13:29). God not only promised to drive out the Canaanites (Joshua 3:10), He commanded the Israelites to do so (Deuteronomy 7:1ff.; 20:17). When the Israelites crossed the Jordan, the Jebusites were among those Canaanite peoples who joined forces to oppose Israel's entrance into the land (Joshua 9 & 11; 24:11).

In the Book of Joshua, Jebus was first described as one of the cities belonging to the sons of Judah, who were not able to drive them out (Joshua 15:63). In Joshua 18:28, Jebus seems to be a Benjamite city, and the Benjamites are not able to drive out the Jebusites, either (Judges 1:21). This leads to a kind of coexistence, which results in the Israelites embracing the sins of the Jebusites (Judges 3:1-7). The result of this was oppression from their neighbors as a divine chastening (3:8ff.). In Judges 19:10-12, the city of Jebus is still portrayed as non-Israelite. There may have been times when Jebus was under Israelite control (cf. 1 Samuel 17:54), but the victory was far from complete. It is not until David's day (and our text-- see also 1 Chronicles 21:15) that Jebus falls to the Israelites once and for all. There is even more to say about this city of Jebus, now to become Jerusalem, but we shall wait until our next lesson on chapter 6 to do this.

I believe that the taking of Jebus in verses 6-10 is to be understood in comparison to verses 17-25, where David twice defeats the Philistines. It is not difficult to understand why David fought against the Philistines in this chapter, because it was a matter of self-defense. The Philistines attacked the Israelites, and specifically David. I can imagine how they felt, knowing that they (or at least Achish, the King of Gath) had given David sanctuary in their land. They had even allowed him to be a part of their army. There was little David did not know about them, their methods, their routes, their resources. David would be a formidable foe. Better to deal with him quickly, before he was too entrenched. When the Philistines came up against David, there was little choice but to fight them. But the Jebusites were not at war with the Israelites. They had come to some form of coexistence. There was no apparent “need” for this fight. Why, then, Did David lead all of Israel up against this city, a city which the Israelites had never been able to thoroughly defeat before?

I believe that that there are several reasons. First and foremost, it was a city that God had promised to give to the Israelites, and a people that He had ordered the Israelites to destroy. Their presence among the Israelites was corrupting God's people (Judges 3:5-6). Saul was reluctant to deal decisively with attacks from Israel's enemies from without. He was even willing to live with the enemy dwelling within Israel. The Jebusites were left alone, so far as we can tell. Even the garrison of Philistines was not resisted, until Jonathan could bear their presence no longer, virtually forcing both the Philistines and his father to act (1 Samuel 13:3). David recognized that no kingdom could be viewed with fear (or even respect) if it were not able to expel its enemies from its midst. The Jebusites had to be dealt with, and David knew it. It was time for these enemies of God to be defeated. The defeat of the Jebusites and the taking of Jebus would be the first step in Israel's conquest of their enemies, a conquest that was partial in the times of Joshua and the judges. This victory would overshadow the victory of Saul and the Israelites over the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11). What a way to start a reign as king!

Second, David needed a new capital city. When David had been king of Judah alone, Hebron served well as his capital city. But now David was the king of all Israel. He needed a capital that was farther north. He needed a capital which would be more centrally located, and one which would unify the nation. Jebus was the perfect city. Israel's victory over the Jebusites would unite the nation. The possession of Jebus as David's new capital would do likewise. The city was virtually on the border of Judah and Benjamin. It was a city that neither the sons of Judah nor the sons of Benjamin had been able to capture. Thus, taking this city as his capital would not seem to favor either of these two tribes. In addition to all of this, its natural setting made it difficult to defeat (which is why the Israelites had not taken and held it before). It was in the hill country, on the top of more than one mountain, and with valleys around it. With a little work, it was a virtual fortress (5:9).

There is a three fold reference to the “blind and the lame” in verses 6-10. Nearly everyone would agree that this must be significant, but there is little agreement as to what the significance is. I am inclined to take these words at face value, and to interpret them in the light of the context. I do not believe that the people of Jebus have anyone particular in mind when they say, “You shall not come in here, but the blind and the lame shall turn you away” (verse 6). We know that they said this because they believed there was no way that David could ever enter the city and overtake it.

Have you ever been charged by a mean dog, only to learn that he was chained, and the angry dog was stopped just inches short of you? If the dog were loose, you would either run or talk very kindly to it, trying to talk it out of mauling you. You would certainly not aggravate or tease the dog, if you thought it was loose. But once you see that it is confined by a large chain or a fence, you suddenly find the courage to speak harshly to the dog, and perhaps even to tease it. When we feel smugly secure, we speak with much more boldness.

Now, when the people of Jebus saw David and the Israelite soldiers coming against their city, it was not something new or frightening to them. In their history, such attacks had occurred with some frequency, but never successfully. And so, safely behind the walls of the city, the Jebusites mocked David and his men. It was something like an arrogant bully threatening, “I can whip you with one arm tied behind my back.” Were they intimidated by David's army? Not at all! And so they mocked them by bragging that they were so secure they could turn their defense over to those who were blind and lame.

David's anger is aroused, much as it was by Goliath's arrogant boasting. He took up the words of their boast in his orders to his men. “Let his men go and do battle with the 'lame and the blind,' and let them reach them by entering the city through the water tunnel. This they did, and when they did they defeated the Jebusites. And from that time on there was a saying amongst David's followers,22 “The blind or the lame shall not come into the house.” This seems to be an excuse, a pretext, for those who have no compassion on the handicapped, and who have seized upon an incident to justify their lack of mercy. I believe that these words much have been recorded in the light of 2 Samuel 4:4 and 9:1-13. Would Ish-bosheth's own servants kill their master in his bed? Would the Israelites actually forbid the handicapped to be in their house? David would seek out the handicapped Mephibosheth, to show him love for Jonathan's sake by having him eat at his own table.

Is this attitude and action on David's part not a foreshadowing of the ultimate King of Israel, when He came to this earth? Would the self-righteous not look the other way, and walk on the other side of the street, lest they come into contact with a wounded man (see Luke 10:25-37). They wondered why Jesus would associate with sinners and be touched by the impure. The very people that they shunned, Jesus sought. David was a prototype of the One who would come after him, who would seek out those who were infirmed, and minister to them (see Luke 4:16-21; 5:29-32; 7:18-23). And just as David represents the Messiah, the arrogant and boastful Jebusites represent the self-righteous, who scorn Jesus, and will eventually suffer defeat at His hand. David's enemies were defeated, as he became greater and greater. He could not be stopped for God was with him.

David's house is built, in Jerusalem

11 Then Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David with cedar trees and carpenters and stonemasons; and they built a house for David. 12 And David realized that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel. 13 Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to David. 14 Now these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, Solomon, 15 Ibhar, Elishua, Nepheg, Japhia, 16 Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet.

Essentially, there were but two responses to David's rise to the position of King of Israel: (1) embrace him as a friend and ally, or (2) resist and attack him as an enemy. Hiram, the king of Tyre, chose the former, while the Philistines opted for the latter. Even though most translations suggest that verses 11-16 are two paragraphs, I have chosen to view these verses as one unit of thought, namely the building of David's house. Hiram helps David build a literal house, a palace, in Jerusalem. But while living there in Jerusalem, David continues to build his “house,” that is his family. In building both “houses” David is enhancing his position as the King of Israel.

Verses 11 & 12 introduce us to Hiram, the king of Tyre. Here is a man who could easily have viewed David as his enemy, but who chose to seek him as an ally. When God made His so-called Abrahamic Covenant with Abraham (see Genesis 12:1-3), He promised him that those who cursed him, He would curse, and that those who blessed him, He would bless. The Jebusites and the Philistines cursed David; Hiram blessed him. He sought to provide David with things he would need to build himself a palace in the city he had just defeated, and which he proceeded to strengthen and fortify. Hiram offered David the materials and the workmen who could build for him a great palace, and David gratefully accepted. Hiram's friendship with David

The text informs us that it was not until after this palace had been built that David fully grasped that he was indeed king of all Israel. It was like a dream to him for so long, but now he knew that God's promise had been fulfilled. What was it about the building of this house that brought about this realization? I am inclined to think that the reason may be related to this proverb:

Prepare your work outside And make it ready for yourself in the field; Afterwards, then, build your house (Proverbs 24:27).

Israel was an agricultural nation. One would not be wise to build his house before he had prepared his field. Once the field was prepared, the farmer could devote himself to building his house, because the crops would need time to grow. It was simply a matter of putting first things first. It would be like a man moving to Dallas from Detroit, buying a house in Duncanville and fixing it up nicely, only to find that the only job available was in McKinney. He would have been far better off to tend to getting a job first, and then finding a home to purchase. Now that David had a house, a place of his own, it was obvious that his “job” as Israel's king was certain and secure. The reality that God had finally and fully fulfilled His promise that David would reign over His people finally sank in. What David had waited for more than 20 years was now his. The building of his palace in Jerusalem convinced David it had all come true.

There was a second part to the building of David's house, and that was the building of his family. While David did have wives and children before moving to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 2:2; 3:2-5), it was there in Jerusalem that he added a number of other wives and they bore him other children. In the minds of those in the ancient orient, many wives and many children meant prosperity. Measured by this standard, David truly prospered in Jerusalem! The problem was that in adding a number of wives David came dangerously close to multiplying wives, in a way that disregarded this warning to Israel's kings:

“He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:17).

David defeats the Philistines

17 When the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek out David; and when David heard of it, he went down to the stronghold. 18 Now the Philistines came and spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. 19 Then David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You give them into my hand?” And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly give the Philistines into your hand.” 20 So David came to Baal-perazim and defeated them there; and he said, “The LORD has broken through my enemies before me like the breakthrough of waters.” Therefore he named that place Baal-perazim. 21 They abandoned their idols there, so David and his men carried them away. 22 Now the Philistines came up once again and spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. 23 When David inquired of the LORD, He said, “You shall not go directly up; circle around behind them and come at them in front of the balsam trees. 24 “It shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees, then you shall act promptly, for then the LORD will have gone out before you to strike the army of the Philistines.” 25 Then David did so, just as the LORD had commanded him, and struck down the Philistines from Geba as far as Gezer.

One can only imagine the conversations which must have taken place among the 5 Philistine kings when they received word that David had become king of Israel. Achish must have caught the brunt of the criticism for his role in offering David sanctuary among them (1 Samuel 21:10-15; 27:1--28:2; 29:1-11). David was actually a part of the Philistine army for a short time, and this would give him knowledge that could now be used against the Philistines. And so it was that the Philistines chose to go on the offensive, hoping to break the back of David's army, and to rid themselves of a formidable foe.

From a strictly military point of view, it may have been a good decision. The longer they waited, the more David would consolidate his kingdom, and the greater his military strength would be. But David's was God's king, ruling over the people of God, and thus he would not be defeated. When David learned of the Philistine attack, he went down, we are told, to the stronghold (verse 17). From 1 Chronicles 11:15, it would seem that David and his men fled to the cave of Adullam. It was while David and his men were there that the Philistines had taken Bethlehem and were camped there (1 Chronicles 11:16ff.). Did the Philistines expect to find David there? Regardless, this is where David expressed his desire for a cup of water from his favorite well in Bethlehem, and three of his brave men broke through the Philistine lines to get it for him (1 Chronicles 11:16-19).

If, indeed, David was in the cave of Adullam at the beginning of the battle with the Philistines, I find it interesting and encouraging. God does not waste His efforts. It was at the cave of Adullam that David's family and many of his fighting men came to him. (I now see why his family came to him there. It cannot have been that far from his home in Bethlehem, so that his family could slip away, without being seized by Saul's men.) In the process of David's fleeing from Saul, he found a number of “strongholds” which would serve him well in later years, when he was fighting folks like the Philistines.

In David's first confrontation with the Philistines, it was David whom they were after, and the new king turned to God for guidance. David inquired of God if he was to go up against the Philistines. God instructed him to go up against them, with the assurance that He would give the Philistines into his hands (verse 19). At Baal-perazim David met the enemy and defeated them, naming the place Baal-perazim as a reminder that God had given this “break-through” victory over the enemy. It was there, we are told, that the Philistines abandoned their idols, and David's men gathered them (verse 21). From 1 Chronicles 14:12 we learn that they were gathered in order to be burned.

I noticed in the paper today that Mike Tyson is eager and confident about his boxing rematch with Evander Holyfield, to whom he lost last November. He is not willing to let his defeat stand. He believes that he did not take his opponent seriously enough. The Philistines must have felt the same way about David and the Israelites. They would not give up that easily; they were unwilling to let their first defeat stand. They wanted a rematch. And so they made yet another attack against David. And so once again they spread themselves out in the valley of Rephaim. (It is almost as though they wished to recreate the first battle all over again, isn't it?) David wondered somewhat the same thing. Should he go up against them, just as he had done before? God's answer was that he should fight the Philistines, but not in the same way he had done in the past. This time, rather than attacking them head-on, David was told to circle around behind them. They were not to attack until they heard the “sound of marching in the tops of the balsam trees” (verse 24).

Some seem to think that is was merely the noise of the wind in the trees that concealed the sounds of David's approach. I think there is more to it than this. God is infinite, and He seems to delight in bringing military victory to His people in an endless array of means. He has used a thunderstorm, with its bolts of lightening and rains, which is downright unhealthy for those whose weapons are made of iron, and the mud caused by the rains don't help chariots to function well, either (see 1 Samuel 7:10). God later employed an earthquake to shake up the enemy (1 Samuel 14:15). Earlier, God gave Israel victory over the Amorites by stoning the enemy with hailstones (Joshua 10:11). In 2 Kings chapter 7, God frightened off the Syrian army by causing them to hear the sounds of a great army, yet there was none (verses 6-7). I am therefore inclined to take the words of our text (2 Samuel 5:24) as a report of another great “multimedia presentation” by God, which served to unnerve the enemy and to pave the way for their defeat at the hand of David. This defeat was such that David pursued the Philistines back to their own territory (Gezer is virtually on the border of Philistine territory). The defeat of the Philistines is decisive. Though it was Saul's task to deliver Israel from the Philistines (1 Samuel 9:16), he was killed and Israel was defeated by the Philistines (1 Samuel 31). It was King David who gave Israel relief from the Philistines (2 Samuel 19:9).


There is, of course, a great sense of relief and of joy to arrive at this point in David's life. It has been many years since Samuel anointed David as Israel's king. David has been through many painful experiences in order to reach this point. There have been the good times, such as serving in Saul's house as his musician, and becoming close friends with his son, Jonathan. There was the defeat of Goliath, and there were promotions by Saul. There was the blessing of marriage to one of Saul's daughters, making David a part of the royal family. But there were many bad times as well. There were years of waiting, of hiding out from Saul in fear for his life. There were those times when David had to seek refuge among his enemies. Now, all of that has culminated in his reign over all Israel. It is indeed a joyous moment, a time for celebration.

I am impressed with David, especially when compared with Saul. Unlike Saul, David continually seeks God's will and endeavors to obey His commands. When David is wrong, he repents and seeks to do what is right. Though Saul does not give Israel victory over the Philistines, David does. Though Saul does not exercise moral leadership over the nation, David does. Over and over, David sets the moral and spiritual pace for Judah and the other tribes of Israel. He responds rightly to the news of Saul's death, and to the wickedness of those who raised their hands against the Lord's anointed.

Unlike Saul, David is not just a king who knows nothing other than crisis management, who seems only willing to “put out fires.” Saul only dealt with the problems he could not avoid. David dealt with problems that those before him had avoided, and with some success. The taking of Jebus is one such example of David's initiative and leadership. I believe that David understood God's promise that He would give over the Jebusites and their land. I further believe that David sought to obey God's command, though given to Israel in an earlier day, to defeat the Jebusites and drive them out of the land. I believe that David saw the city of Jebus as an ideal capital, and one that would serve to unite the tribes of Israel under his rule. He could have chosen to “peacefully co-exist” with the Jebusites, as others before him had done, but instead he took the difficult path and prevailed over them. And it was a victory such as this which gave Israel (and her king) status and respect (even fear) among the nations.

If I were to sum up the entire 5th chapter of 2 Samuel, I believe it's unity can be found in one central theme: men's response to God's king. While Saul, Abner, and others may have resisted David's rise to the throne, it was the will of God. After Abner's death, the people of Israel recognized that David should be their king, and it was their leaders who approached David, expressing their desire for him to be their king. In short, the tribes of Israel submitted to David as God's king (5:1-5). The Jebusites opposed God's king, and so it was that God gave David -- His king -- the victory over the Jebusites (5:6-10). They were overthrown by God's king, because they opposed him. Hiram, king of Tyre, seems to have recognized to one degree or another that David was God's king, and by his offer to help build David a palace, he demonstrated his submission to God's king (5:11-12). In the taking of more wives and the bearing of more children, David was thriving as God's king (5:13-16). The Philistines, however, would not submit to David as God's king. They attacked David, seeking to kill him and to remove the threat that he and a united Israel posed (5:17-25). Not once, but twice, did these Philistines come against David and the army of Israel. And twice God gave David the victory over his enemies. Those who received David as God's king were blessed; those who rejected David as God's king were crushed.

David is most certainly a prototype of the “Son of David” who is to come, God's King, who will come to the earth to defeat His enemies, and to rule over His kingdom.

1 Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 9 'You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.”' 10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. 11 Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. 12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2:1-12)

This psalm speaks prophetically of the day when God will install His King, the Lord Jesus Christ, upon His throne. The enemies of God and of good will seek to unite themselves in order to resist and to overthrow the reign of Christ as King. It is clear that such resistance is foolish and fatal. When God sets His King upon His throne, no one will be able to resist or overthrow Him. Those who seek to do so will be crushed. There is only one wise response to the coming of God's King, and that is to humbly submit to Him, for in this is great blessing (verses 10-12).

David serves as a prototype of our Lord Jesus Christ as God's King, the King who is the subject of Psalm 2. Those who opposed David were eventually crushed. Those who submitted to him were blessed. When our Lord came to this earth 2,000 years ago, God made it clear that He was indeed the Son of God, God's King:

1 Six days later Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground and were terrified (Matthew 17:1-6).

9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; 11 and a voice came out of the heavens: “You are My beloved Son, in You I am well-pleased” (Mark 1:9-11).

30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; for you have found favor with God. 31 “And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. 32 “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end” (Luke 1:30-33).

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” (John 1:47-49; see also Matthew 2:1-6).

In spite of all the evidence, many of those in the religious establishment chose to reject Jesus as God's Messiah. They grasped at straws to prove to themselves and others that He could not possibly be God's King. But their best efforts failed. They thought that they had triumphed over Him when they brought about His crucifixion and death, but when God raised Him from the dead, it was clear that He had triumphed over them.

Jesus Christ is God's King. When our Lord Jesus came to the earth the first time, He added unblemished humanity to his deity. While He was introduced as God's King, He was rejected and crucified by sinful men. The purpose of His first coming was not to establish His kingdom by overthrowing Rome, it was to die for the sins of men, so that they could enter into His kingdom. Those who trust in Him for the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life await His second coming. It is at this future time that He will defeat His enemies and establish His throne on the earth. Those who reject Him as God's king will be overthrown, just as the enemies of David were. There is no more important issue for you to settle than your relationship with Jesus Christ, God's king. Those who are His friends will reign with Him. Those who are His enemies will be destroyed. May you be like Hiram king of Tyre, rather than like the Philistines, who set themselves against David and against God.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

22 Actually, the text only says, “Therefore, they say, ‘The blind or the lame shall not come into the house.’“ The they seems to be contrasted with “David said” in verse 8. I doubt very much that this they can refer to the Jebusites, and thus it must refer to the Israelites. Based on this experience and upon David’s response, the people assumed that the ‘blind and the lame’ would never be allowed into this city, and most certainly not into the king’s house.


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6. When God Rained on David’s Parade (2 Samuel 6:1-23)


My wife and I were privileged to participate in the marriage of our daughter Jenny recently. As the time for the wedding drew near and things became a little intense, someone passed a book along to my wife with the suggestion that we read a particular chapter. I do not remember the title of the book, but I do remember the essence of the chapter. It was written by a minister, who told of the most memorable wedding ceremony he had ever conducted.

The bride-to-be was a young woman whose mother was, to say the least, obsessive-compulsive. She wanted the wedding to be just perfect, and so she owned the entire ceremony. She planned the ceremony down to the last detail, and then checked and rechecked to make sure nothing had been overlooked. Of course, there had to be an orchestra. The dress was breathtaking. The church was an architectural wonder. The flowers, the ceremony, the cake and refreshments were all arranged under the watchful eye of the mother of the bride. This mother virtually harassed every person who had a part in the ceremony. The rehearsal was flawless, assuring the mother of the bride that everything was under control -- her control.

Then came the fateful day and the actual ceremony -- with its unplanned events. As the moment for her entrance approached, the bride nervously waited with her father in the reception room. Pacing around the tables, she picked at the nuts, then the punch (which was spiked with champagne), then a little appetizer. . . . When the moment came for her to walk down the aisle with her father, she had visited each table and sampled its contents several times. She hardly thought of what she was doing, and neither did her father. Then came the processional. All groomsmen were in place. The groom stood in the front of the church, alongside the minister, awaiting his bride. The bridesmaids gracefully made their way down the aisle and took their places. Now was the bride's finest hour.

As the bride and her father proceeded down the aisle to the front of the church, no one seemed to notice her flushed face, nearly matching the color of her wedding gown. Just as she reached the front, as her mother watched in her seat to her left, all of the food she had eaten chose to depart -- the bride vomited. I do not mean a polite little heave, hardly noticed when coughed into a handkerchief. I mean a complete emptying of the insides; the bride completely hosed down everyone and everything anywhere near her at the front of the sanctuary. The mother of the bride was the first to be baptized, followed by the groom and the nearest bridesmaids. The stench was immediate and gut wrenching. It was obvious that a chain reaction might be imminent. The bride's mother was horrified. The bride fainted, but was caught nicely by her groom. The father was able to avoid the line of fire and stepped out of the way, with a faint smile on his face, slightly amused by the humor -- and the irony -- of it all.

Quickly, the pastor pronounced a brief recess. The bride was cleaned up, along with the mess at the front of the church. Those who had been hosed down by the bride regained some semblance of cleanliness and dignity. In a short while, the wedding resumed, and the deed was done -- without the pomp and circumstance the mother of the bride had in mind. Ten years later, they all laughed as they watched a replay of these events, captured more than adequately by the three video cameras the mother of the bride had carefully arranged, each capturing the event from a slightly different angle in grim detail.

Some days, no matter how carefully we plan and orchestrate events, things just have a way of going wrong. This is the way it happened with King David. After David captured the city of Jebus, he had it in his heart to retrieve the ark of the covenant (here called the “ark of God”), which had been kept privately in the home of Abinadab at Kiriath-jearim.23 David carefully consulted the leaders of the nation, so that this was an action taken by the whole nation:

1 Then David consulted with the captains of the thousands and the hundreds, even with every leader. 2 David said to all the assembly of Israel, “If it seems good to you, and if it is from the LORD our God, let us send everywhere to our kinsmen who remain in all the land of Israel, also to the priests and Levites who are with them in their cities with pasture lands, that they may meet with us; 3 and let us bring back the ark of our God to us, for we did not seek it in the days of Saul.” 4 Then all the assembly said that they would do so, for the thing was right in the eyes of all the people. 5 So David assembled all Israel together, from the Shihor of Egypt even to the entrance of Hamath, to bring the ark of God from Kiriath-jearim (1 Chronicles 13:1-5).24

As in the wedding story, all the details of transporting the ark to Jerusalem had been thought through and the necessary preparations made. A new cart was acquired to carry the ark some six miles or so east and a little south to Jerusalem. This journey involved some changes in elevation since Kiriath-jearim was located in the hills, and so was Jerusalem, but in between there were lower lying areas, which meant some up and down hill maneuvers. There was great rejoicing as David and the Israelites brought the ark to Jerusalem. David and those with him celebrated with all their might (1 Chronicles 13:8; compare 2 Samuel 6:5). All sorts of musical instruments and singers participated in the celebration, and from the context, we can infer that there was enthusiastic dancing as well.

Suddenly something went wrong, and one of the oxen nearly upset the cart. We are not told exactly what happened. Perhaps the oxen stumbled, or they may have been startled by some enthusiastic gesture on the part of someone who ventured too close. In some way, the oxen momentarily got out of control, and this motion was transferred to the cart, causing the ark to be jolted in such a way that it appeared it would fall off the cart. The thought of the ark crashing to the ground was too much for Uzzah, walking along side the cart close to the ark. Instinctively, he reached out his hand and took hold of the ark to steady it. When he did, God struck him dead. The celebration came to a screeching halt. Joy turned to amazement and bewilderment. David's joy turned to anger, because God had “rained on his parade.” All of this was being done to honor God. Did God not understand? Why would He strike one dead who had helped for years to care for the ark? Why would God ruin such a wonderful occasion?

David wanted the ark of God there in Jerusalem, with him. Now that Uzzah had been struck dead, David was unwilling to continue, fearful of bringing the ark near him in Jerusalem. He decided it was safer to keep the ark at a safe distance, at least until he could figure out what had gone wrong. What was the problem? What went wrong? And what was the solution? Our text never actually tells us. It is almost like a riddle we are supposed to figure out for ourselves. The answer is in the Bible, as we shall see, and it has application to our lives today, just as it did for those long ago. There is yet another dimension to this story which we have not mentioned, and that is the story of Michal, who also “rains on David's parade.” From that too we have lessons to learn. Let us listen then and learn what the Spirit of God has for us in this text.

God Rains on David's Parade

1 Now David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim. 3 They placed the ark of God on a new cart that they might bring it from the house of Abinadab which was on the hill; and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were leading the new cart. 4 So they brought it with the ark of God from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill; and Ahio was walking ahead of the ark. 5 Meanwhile, David and all the house of Israel were celebrating before the LORD with all kinds of instruments made of fir wood, and with lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals. 6 But when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out toward the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen nearly upset it. 7 And the anger of the LORD burned against Uzzah, and God struck him down there for his irreverence; and he died there by the ark of God. 8 David became angry because of the LORD'S outburst against Uzzah, and that place is called Perez-uzzah to this day. 9 So David was afraid of the LORD that day; and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” 10 And David was unwilling to move the ark of the LORD into the city of David with him; but David took it aside to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. 11 Thus the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and the LORD blessed Obed-edom and all his household.

We find what went wrong here by going back in Israel's history to the time God gave Israel the Law, when He gave them instructions concerning the construction and transporting of the ark. These are the words God spoke to Moses concerning the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant.

8 “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. 9 “According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it. 10 “They shall construct an ark of acacia wood two and a half cubits long, and one and a half cubits wide, and one and a half cubits high. 11 “You shall overlay it with pure gold, inside and out you shall overlay it, and you shall make a gold molding around it. 12 “You shall cast four gold rings for it and fasten them on its four feet, and two rings shall be on one side of it and two rings on the other side of it. 13 “You shall make poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. 14 “You shall put the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark, to carry the ark with them. 15 “The poles shall remain in the rings of the ark; they shall not be removed from it. 16 “You shall put into the ark the testimony which I shall give you. 17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 “you shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 “Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 “The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 “You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 “There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” (Exodus 25:8-22).

When the tabernacle was first set up, the Lord's presence appeared there at the tabernacle:

34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-35).

God gave very clear instructions about the ark of God. He not only gave specific instructions about how it should be made, He indicated who should carry it and how it should be transported from one place to another. In Numbers 5, God tells exactly how the tabernacle should be taken down and carried to its next resting place. Notice especially the words of verse 15:

15 “When Aaron and his sons have finished covering the holy objects and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, when the camp is to set out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry them, so that they will not touch the holy objects and die. These are the things in the tent of meeting which the sons of Kohath are to carry” (Numbers 4:15; see also 7:9).

We should recall from Exodus 25:14-15 that the ark had rings, through which poles were inserted, and these poles were the means by which the Kohathites were to transport the ark.

The ark had accompanied the Israelites wherever they went while they were in the wilderness. It went before the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 3:14-17). We find the ark mentioned quite often in 1 and 2 Samuel. Samuel slept near the ark as a child (1 Samuel 3:3). When the Israelites were being beaten by the Philistines, they unwisely took the ark into battle with them as a kind of magic charm. They not only lost the battle, they lost the ark as well (1 Samuel 4). The next two chapters (5-6) of 1 Samuel are the account of how God plagued the Philistines, so that they finally decided they did not want the ark among them. What is most interesting is the method they chose to transport the ark back to Israelite territory. The Philistine priests and diviners gave the Philistine leaders instructions concerning how the ark should be removed. Notice these instructions and their outcome:

7 “Now therefore, take and prepare a new cart and two milk cows on which there has never been a yoke; and hitch the cows to the cart and take their calves home, away from them. 8 “Take the ark of the LORD and place it on the cart; and put the articles of gold which you return to Him as a guilt offering in a box by its side. Then send it away that it may go. 9 “Watch, if it goes up by the way of its own territory to Beth-shemesh, then He has done us this great evil. But if not, then we will know that it was not His hand that struck us; it happened to us by chance.” 10 Then the men did so, and took two milch cows and hitched them to the cart, and shut up their calves at home. 11 They put the ark of the LORD on the cart, and the box with the golden mice and the likenesses of their tumors. 12 And the cows took the straight way in the direction of Beth-shemesh; they went along the highway, lowing as they went, and did not turn aside to the right or to the left. And the lords of the Philistines followed them to the border of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6:7-12).

It is not surprising that the Philistines chose to transport the ark on a new cart, drawn by two cows. First, the Philistines did not possess the law, so they surely did not know how God instructed for the ark to be carried. Furthermore, where would they get the Kohathites to carry it? Most importantly to the Philistines, this method of transporting the ark provided them with a test, so that they could determine whether all their plagues were really the hand of God or simply “bad luck.” The fact that two cows would leave their calves and without a driver draw the cart into Israelite territory was too difficult to be a coincidence. This was the hand of God.

The problem is that the Israelites imitated the Philistines rather than to obey God. I believe the instructions given by God in the law were simply forgotten rather than willfully ignored or disobeyed. The ark had not been carried for many years. It had remained out of circulation, out of use, in the home of Abinidab for a good 20 years before it was put back into any kind of use (see 1 Samuel 7:2; 14:18-19). It is easy to see why no one paid any particular attention to the instructions given Israel by God for its transportation in the wilderness.

Besides all this, who would want to carry the ark by hand when it could simply be loaded on an ox cart? When I was growing up a good many years ago, my father decided to move one of the buildings he had constructed. It was made of logs and used as a kind of garage. He wanted to move it a hundred feet or so. He planned to use what we called a “stump puller,” a very heavy gearbox with a long cable attached. By pacing back and forth 16 feet, the cable could be advanced about an 1/8th of an inch. This worked very well on stumps. I can remember that stump puller suspended by a cable so tight it literally would sing -- a kind of scary thing, I might add. As a young and lazy lad, I was eager to think of a faster, easier way to move that shed, so I proposed that we hook a chain to the shed and pull it with the pickup. I would drive, of course. My dad momentarily weakened and agreed to try. I hooked the chain up to the truck and was ready to go when my dad came to his senses and changed his mind. He told me to go get the stump puller, as he had originally planned. At least I got to drive to get the stump puller. I jumped into the truck and sped off, forgetting to unhook the chain. Much to my father’s dismay, I nearly pulled the building down.

If I had been living back in those days, I would have wanted to use the ox cart too, especially if I were one of the men chosen to carry the ark on my shoulder. It made sense. It was easier. But it was not the way God prescribed. And the method God prescribed was not just a senseless rule. It was a rule which had its reasons. The reason touching the ark was such a serious matter is disclosed to us in verse 2 of our text:

2 And David arose and went with all the people who were with him to Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God which is called by the Name, the very name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned above the cherubim.

In Exodus 25, God told Moses He would meet with him and speak to him from above the ark, between the cherubim (25:22). God chose to manifest His presence in the tabernacle, specifically from the ark. When God’s glory first filled the tabernacle, even Moses was not able to enter (Exodus 40:34-35). Sinful men cannot get too close to a holy God.

No wonder Uzzah was struck dead for having laid hands on the ark. The ark was holy. It could not be touched. Anyone who touched it would die. By using poles, men could transport the ark without touching the ark itself. And these men, walking in step with each other, gave the ark stability. Putting the ark on that ox cart made it susceptible to the movements of the cart and less stable, and thus more likely to fall off the cart. The only way to keep this from happening was to grab hold of the ark, as Uzzah did, and to die, as Uzzah did.

David and those involved in transporting the ark erred in several ways. First, they had already lost the awe and reverence one should have for the holiness of God. Second, they had forgotten the clear instructions God set down in the law for the transporting of the ark. And third, they had forgotten a hard lesson Israel had learned in their not-too-distant past. When the ark was returned to the Israelites by the Philistines, carelessness on the part of some Israelites cost them their lives:

19 He struck down some of the men of Beth-shemesh because they had looked into the ark of the LORD. He struck down of all the people, 50,070 men, and the people mourned because the LORD had struck the people with a great slaughter. 20 The men of Beth-shemesh said, “Who is able to stand before the LORD, this holy God? And to whom shall He go up from us?” 21 So they sent messengers to the inhabitants of Kiriath-jearim, saying, “The Philistines have brought back the ark of the LORD; come down and take it up to you” (1 Samuel 6:19-21).

How ironic it is to see the Israelites imitating the Philistines. The irreverence of the Philistines brought plagues upon their cities. They came to fear the Lord and particularly His ark, and sought to send it away to others. Now, when the ark is returned to the Israelites, they are irreverent and are smitten of God so that they too wish to send the ark to someone else. The lesson of 1 Samuel 6 is already forgotten by 2 Samuel 6, and may I remind you that in the original text, these two books are really one. A few years, or a few chapters, and lessons learned the hard way are all too quickly forgotten. Why do we find it easier to relive history rather than learn from it?

Home at Last

12 Now it was told King David, saying, “The LORD has blessed the house of Obed-edom and all that belongs to him, on account of the ark of God.” David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with gladness. 13 And so it was, that when the bearers of the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 And David was dancing before the LORD with all his might, and David was wearing a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel were bringing up the ark of the LORD with shouting and the sound of the trumpet. 16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. 17 So they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 19 Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house.

There must have been an air of sadness in Jerusalem during those days when the ark remained in the house of Obed-edom. They were great days for Obed-edom and his family, however. We are not told what form the blessings took, but we are told that during the time the ark was in his house, Obed-edom and his family were blessed of God. People heard about it, and word reached David as well. It was a sign of sorts. Had David concluded the ark was a kind of curse on those close to it? If this were the case, David certainly did not want the ark there in Jerusalem with him. That is why he had it kept a safe distance away in the home of Obed-edom. But now it became apparent that the ark was really a source of blessing. What went wrong that brought about the death of Uzzah? How could this be rectified so that the ark and its accompanying blessings could come to Jerusalem? These questions must have been heavy on David's mind, and on the minds of other Israelites as well.

I believe we are expected to know the answer, which is the reason the author does not spell it out for us. The author of the Chronicles does not assume as much on the part of his readers, so he tells us directly:

1 Now David built houses for himself in the city of David; and he prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent for it. 2 Then David said, “No one is to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for the LORD chose them to carry the ark of God and to minister to Him forever.” 3 And David assembled all Israel at Jerusalem to bring up the ark of the LORD to its place which he had prepared for it. 4 David gathered together the sons of Aaron and the Levites: 5 of the sons of Kohath, Uriel the chief, and 120 of his relatives; 6 of the sons of Merari, Asaiah the chief, and 220 of his relatives; 7 of the sons of Gershom, Joel the chief, and 130 of his relatives; 8 of the sons of Elizaphan, Shemaiah the chief, and 200 of his relatives; 9 of the sons of Hebron, Eliel the chief, and 80 of his relatives; 10 of the sons of Uzziel, Amminadab the chief, and 112 of his relatives. 11 Then David called for Zadok and Abiathar the priests, and for the Levites, for Uriel, Asaiah, Joel, Shemaiah, Eliel and Amminadab, 12 and said to them, “You are the heads of the fathers' households of the Levites; consecrate yourselves both you and your relatives, that you may bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel to the place that I have prepared for it. 13 “Because you did not carry it at the first, the LORD our God made an outburst on us, for we did not seek Him according to the ordinance.” 14 So the priests and the Levites consecrated themselves to bring up the ark of the LORD God of Israel. 15 The sons of the Levites carried the ark of God on their shoulders with the poles thereon, as Moses had commanded according to the word of the LORD (1 Chronicles 15:1-15).

David is first angered by the death of Uzzah, which quickly turns to fear. David's fear is healthy and well-founded, but God wants to be near His people to bless them. The only way this could happen was for men to approach Him in the way He prescribed. His presence was associated with the ark. Men could draw near to Him, but not too near. They could not touch the ark, lest they die. This meant the only way the ark could be moved was to move it as God had declared, by the Kohathites, who were to carry the ark by its poles, placed through the rings of the ark.

David now was assured that the nearness of the ark was a blessing, but that it must be brought to Jerusalem in accordance with God's directions. And so David assembled the Israelites and commissioned the sons of Kohath to carry it, instructing them carefully about the way they were to carry out their duty. The author informs us that after the ark was carried six steps, a sacrifice was offered. Those first six steps were no doubt the most tense steps of the entire journey. After the death of Uzzah, those nearest to the ark (the Kohathites) were surely nervous about being so close to this sacred box, indeed, to the presence of God Himself. As the journey continued, men's courage and joy must have increased. Soon there was great celebration as they made their way to the holy city.

Our text in 2 Samuel informs us that there was great celebration as the ark was brought to Jerusalem. The parallel account in 1 Chronicles is even more detailed. It was not just a small group of Israelites, but “all the house of Israel” (2 Samuel 6:15). On the first ill-fated journey with the ark, musicians accompanied the ark (2 Samuel 6:5). On the second successful journey, there were a whole host of musicians (1 Chronicles 15:16-24). It was one of the great moments in Israel's history:

28 Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres (1 Chronicles 15:28).

It was a time of celebration, of offering sacrifices and feasting:

17 So they brought in the ark of the LORD and set it in its place inside the tent which David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings before the LORD. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offering and the peace offering, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts. 19 Further, he distributed to all the people, to all the multitude of Israel, both to men and women, a cake of bread and one of dates and one of raisins to each one. Then all the people departed each to his house (2 Samuel 6:17-19).

Sour Grapes
(6:16, 20-23)

16 Then it happened as the ark of the LORD came into the city of David that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. . . . 20 But when David returned to bless his household, Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David and said, “How the king of Israel distinguished himself today! He uncovered himself today in the eyes of his servants' maids as one of the foolish ones shamelessly uncovers himself!” 21 So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me above your father and above all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel; therefore I will celebrate before the LORD. 22 “I will be more lightly esteemed than this and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished.” 23 Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

It seems there was only one person in all of Israel who did not, who would not, enter into the spirit of rejoicing and celebration, and that person was Michal, David's wife. The author of the Chronicles makes very little of this, devoting only one verse to the subject and informing us that as Michal looked on, she despised her husband in her heart for his role in the celebration (1 Chronicles 15:29). The author of 1 and 2 Samuel has a similar verse (2 Samuel 6:16), but he then follows up by describing the confrontation between David and Michal which followed, and telling us the outcome (verses 20-23).

Let us first consider what appears to be Michal's perception of the whole event. Michal was not a part of the celebration; she was a spectator, not a participant. She was looking out the window of the palace, watching the ark arrive within the city (verse 16). All the rest of the nation were in the streets. Indeed, all the rest of the nation had been with the ark from the time it left the house of Obed-edom. She was not a part of the caravan which accompanied the ark. She seems to want no part of it. Even if she had not been personally thrilled about the event, you would think she could have made some kind of token appearance with her husband, but it didn’t happen.

After all the celebration ended, David went home to bless his household. Michal had no intention of being a part of this, and so she proceeded to “rain” on David's praise and blessing. She must have been standing in the doorway as David arrived, with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. Before he could open his mouth, she seems to vent her anger toward him. What was it she saw, or thought she saw, that made her so angry? By her own words, she saw a king, a man of position and power, acting like a fool. She saw a man indecently clothed -- not naked, grant you, but dressed in a way that was far below his position -- and she was livid about it. David had acted like a fool; he had embarrassed himself, and most certainly he had embarrassed her.

Before we turn to David's perception of this same situation, let us first look at what the author tells us. How does the author see David here? Does the author's assessment of the situation square with Michal's? First we must note that our author does not suggest that David was naked or improperly dressed. He does tell us that David was dancing with all his might, and that he was wearing a linen ephod (6:14). He tells us that when his wife Michal saw this, she despised him in her heart (6:16).

The author of Chronicles tells us more about David's actions:

25 So it was David, with the elders of Israel and the captains over thousands, who went to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-edom with joy. 26 Because God was helping the Levites who were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD, they sacrificed seven bulls and seven rams. 27 Now David was clothed with a robe of fine linen with all the Levites who were carrying the ark, and the singers and Chenaniah the leader of the singing with the singers. David also wore an ephod of linen. 28 Thus all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, and with sound of the horn, with trumpets, with loud-sounding cymbals, with harps and lyres (1 Chronicles 15:25-28).

The first thing I would emphasize here is that David was not acting alone. He was celebrating with all Israel. If he was dancing, so were the rest, and the rest included Israel's top leaders. Was David joyful and exuberant? So was everyone else; well, nearly everyone except Michal, of course. Was David dressed in a linen ephod? That was what Samuel used to wear as he ministered to the Lord (1 Samuel 2:18). It was what the priests wore (1 Chronicles 15:27).

Michal was not angry with David for doing something wrong and thus standing out from the rest of the people. She was angry with David for behaving like the people, the commoners, and looking like a lowly priest. She was angry with David because he was not acting like a king as he worshipped God. He had humbled himself. He had demeaned himself. He had lowered himself. And Michal would not forgive David for doing so. If God rained on David's first parade by striking Uzzah dead, Michal rained on David's second parade, by despising her husband and criticizing him for acting like less than a king.

David's words to his wife are strong and may even seem harsh, but that is because they reflect the wickedness of Michal's heart. A righteous man cannot take her rebuke lightly. David had several things to point out to his wife:

(1) His conduct, which Michal found so disgusting, was “before the Lord” (6:21). David's actions may have been seen by his wife, but they were not done for her benefit; they were done for God's benefit. David was not performing for his wife. He was not even performing for the crowd. He was performing for the Lord. His worship was not intended to please her. I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul here:

10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ (Galatians 1:10).

3 For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. 5 For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed -- God is witness -- 6 nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority (1 Thessalonians 2:3-6).

Worship has become a performance in our day, I fear, a performance for the audience and not for God. David's words to his wife could just as well apply to us. Worship should be “before the Lord,” performed for His pleasure and for His approval, not for man's. Far too much of what passes for worship today may be only a man-pleasing performance.

(2) David will not be kept from celebrating, especially when the one whom he is seeking to please is also the One who promoted him (6:21). I think Michal was disgusted because David was celebrating, because he was joyful. She was like all too many Christians today who seem to be saying, “Wipe that smile off your face. Don't you know you're in church?” David was celebrating because he had much to celebrate. He was celebrating his kingship, and this kingship had been given Him by God. How then could his celebration be wrong? It was wrong to refuse to rejoice over that which gave God pleasure.

I wonder how long it has been for many of us since we last did something joyfully, exuberantly, enthusiastically? There is no virtue in being somber. There is no excuse for being somber when God Himself is rejoicing, when God is finding pleasure. We should rejoice not only with those (fellow-men) who rejoice (Romans 12:15), we should rejoice with God who rejoices. I fear we are more like Michal than David when it comes to the joyful celebration of our God and His works.

(3) Third, David reminded his wife that she was acting like her father, and that her husband was the one God elevated as king in her father's place. God exalted David above Saul, Michal's father. He made David king in Saul's place. He set Saul's entire household aside and started all over with David and his house. Here was Michal, taking her father's place. How could Michal be so proud, proud of her status as the daughter of the king (Saul)? Why did she disdain David so much, even though he was God's choice for Israel's king? This was only because she was the daughter of her father. Did it trouble her that David had won the hearts of the people, and that her husband refused to distance himself from those he ruled? Instead of standing with her husband, as Jonathan did, she stood up against him. And in this, she was just like her father. But let her be reminded that God set her father aside. And so David likewise sets Michal aside. Whether David ceased to have intimate relations with Michal or God simply closed her womb, Michal died childless. This we know was a source of great sorrow, sadness, and shame from the first chapter of 1 Samuel. God's judgment was upon her.

(4) Fourth, David ruled over his people as a humble servant, and not as a tyrant. Michal had despised and criticized David for not acting like a king. David's response appears to be that because God had made him king, he would be God's kind of king. He would not be a king like Saul, her father, because God removed Saul, setting that kind of king aside. God raised up David to be a different kind of king, a servant-king. If this was the kind of king Michal loathed, so be it; David would be the kind of king God appointed him to be. David identified with the people rather than distinguish himself from them. Even more, David dressed and worshipped God “as a priest” (6:14-19; 1 Chronicles 15:25-27). Did God not call Israel to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6)? In wearing a linen ephod, David exercised a legitimate form of priesthood.

Saul was wrong for usurping Samuel's role as a priest and prophet (1 Samuel 13:8-9). This was wrong because it was disobedience to a clear command. David was exercising his priesthood in a way that was pleasing to God. But in Michal’s mind, this humble position was below the dignity of a king, and so she despised her husband for humbling himself before the people.


This text is filled with lessons for us. First, there are lessons we can learn from Uzzah. We do not know much about Uzzah. We cannot be certain about his relationship to God. We do not know what his motivation was for reaching out and touching the ark. Generally speaking, I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I tend to think he was genuinely concerned that the ark might fall to the ground, and touching the ark did not seem to him to be such a serious matter if he was attempting to save the ark.

We do know that Uzzah grew up with the ark in his home (1 Samuel 7:1-2; 2 Samuel 6:2-4). Did he become too accustomed to things holy? It is certainly a possibility. The same danger exists for us. Each and every week we remember our Lord's atoning work on the cross of Calvary by celebrating communion at the Lord's table. The saints at Corinth began to see this as a ritual, and their conduct at the Lord's table was not pleasing to the Lord. Paul told these saints that they failed to “judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:29). For this failure, a number of the Corinthians were stricken with illness, and some even died (11:30). Let us be very mindful of the holiness of God and the sacredness of our worship. God does not take our insensitivity to His holiness lightly.

Ananias and Sapphira were more concerned about what people thought about them than how God saw them. And so they lied to the Holy Spirit by saying they had given all of the proceeds of the sale of their property, rather than just part of them (Acts 5:1-11). God is a holy God who calls His people to holiness (see 1 Peter 1:14-16). He takes our sin very seriously. When Herod failed to give God the glory and accepted people's praise as praise to a god, God struck him dead (Acts 12:20-23). Disregarding the holiness of God can be deadly.

Uzzah is a reminder to us that God's holiness is such that sinful men cannot draw near to Him, unless He provides the means to do so. After the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, God had to expel Adam and Eve from the garden. God provided them with coverings, but this was only a partial solution. When God delivered the nation Israel from their Egyptian bondage, He gave them His law from Mt. Sinai. His glory and majesty were revealed to the Israelites:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. 20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up (Exodus 19:16-20).

More than once God established boundaries, beyond which neither man nor animal could pass. God had Moses warn the people of the danger of drawing too near to Him:

12 “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 'No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain” (Exodus 19:12-13).

20 The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. 21 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the LORD to gaze, and many of them perish. 22 “Also let the priests who come near to the LORD consecrate themselves, or else the LORD will break out against them.” 23 Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.”' 24 Then the LORD said to him, “Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, or He will break forth upon them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them (Exodus 19:20-25).

I recall the words of Moses, spoken to the Israelites before they entered the promised land:

15 “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. 16 “This is according to all that you asked of the LORD your God in Horeb on the day of the assembly, saying, 'Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, let me not see this great fire anymore, or I will die.' 17 “The LORD said to me, 'They have spoken well. 18 'I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 'It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15-19).

There at Mt. Sinai, the Israelites began to grasp the holiness and the glory of God. They rightly perceived that to get too close to God would be fatal. They decided they needed a mediator to intercede with God on their behalf. They asked Moses to fulfill this role, and he agreed, commending them for their decision. They were not cowardly (or at least not just cowardly); they were wise. Sinful men need a mediator to approach a holy God.

The tabernacle, the ark, the priests and the sacrifices provided a short-term solution, but there was still the need for a permanent solution to the problem of sinful men approaching a holy God. It was God who solved this problem in the person of Jesus Christ. In His incarnation (his birth as a child in Bethlehem), God took on human flesh. He identified with sinful men to provide an eternal solution for the problem of our sin, and the danger of drawing near to Him.

We can only stand in awe of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in His incarnation (his birth, coming to this earth as the sinless God-man). With wonder, we read these words of the apostle John:

14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life -- 2 and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- 3 what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ (1 John 1:1-3).

It is through Him that we have the forgiveness of God and the boldness to enter into God's presence:

5 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:19-23).

The invitation of the Gospel in the New Testament is that sinful men draw near to God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ:

16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

25 Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded (James 4:8).

The warning of the Bible is that the Lord Jesus Christ will draw near in judgment upon all who have refused to draw near to Him by faith:

5 “Then I will draw near to you for judgment; and I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers and against the adulterers and against those who swear falsely, and against those who oppress the wage earner in his wages, the widow and the orphan, and those who turn aside the alien and do not fear Me,” says the LORD of hosts (Malachi 3:5).

Have you drawn near to God through faith in Jesus Christ, God's only provision for men to enter into fellowship with Himself? If not, I urge you to do so this very hour. God will allow us to go to hell any way we please, but if we would go to heaven, it must be by way of the means God Himself has provided -- the shed blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

We can learn from Michal. Michal serves as a kind of prototype of the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees of our Lord's time. As Michal had come to enjoy her position as daughter of the king, so the scribes had come to enjoy their privileged position as religious leaders in Israel. They feared losing their power, and they feared losing their status. They challenged Jesus about His authority. They looked upon our Lord with disdain because He associated with the lowly. Just as Michal bore no fruit (i.e., children), neither did the scribes and Pharisees. Those who would worship God must come to Him in humility, not in pride. So far as our story is concerned, Michal was the only person not joyfully worshipping God. No wonder, since she was preoccupied with herself.

We can also learn from David. David serves as a prototype of Christ in our text and beyond. He was both a king and a priest (he wore a linen ephod). David laid aside his royal robes and humbled himself, just as our Lord laid aside His royal robes and humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-8; see also John 13:1ff.). David refused to allow any class distinctions when it came to worship. Godly worship will not tolerate classes of inferiors and superiors. The gospel equalizes all men. We are all sinners, condemned to God's eternal torment. And we are all saved apart from our own merits or works, solely on the basis of Christ's atoning work on the cross of Calvary. How then could David do anything but humble himself in worshipping God, even though his wife despised him for doing so?

Finally, this chapter has a great deal to say in relationship to the charismatic/non-charismatic controversy so prevalent in the church today. There are two extremes, two polarities, and we are prone to drift toward one or the other (and sometimes one and then the other). The first is that of reckless abandon. David and the rest were so caught up with their worship they seemed to forget who they were worshipping -- a holy God. We can get so carried away with the emotional element of our worship that we lose all self-control. In the excitement of the moment, things that God has clearly forbidden somehow seem permissible, even necessary (like grabbing the ark). Uzzah was “caught up” in the excitement of bringing the ark of God back, but he forgot to pay close enough attention to God and to His Word. Uzzah died for his irreverence. Let us never forget this. Enthusiasm is never an excuse for disobedience to the Word of God.

For many, the danger I have suggested is hardly a danger. We are in no danger of getting carried away with our worship. Our worship is so stiff or so structured that nothing unplanned could possibly happen. Listen well. I am not opposed to structure, and there is much to be said for an appreciation of God's majesty in our worship. But some of us don't raise our hands or our voices because we are too proud to do so. Like Michal, we are more concerned with our dignity than with God. Let us beware of avoiding enthusiasm in our worship because we think it beneath us.

Two extremes are exposed in our text, and both are wrong. Enthusiastic worship, which underestimates the holiness of God and violates the Word of God, is wrong, and no matter how much enthusiasm you may add, it is still wrong until it rightly views God and until it rightly approaches God. Stately worship that avoids emotion and enthusiasm, purely because we are too proud to humble ourselves before God, is just as wrong. The former produces barrenness; the latter produces death. Let us seek to worship God as David and Israel eventually did, in accordance with His Word, with humility, with hearts filled with joy and gratitude, and with enthusiasm.

23 Kiriath-jearim here is called Baale-judah in 1 Chronicles 13. In Joshua 15, which speaks of the inheritance of the tribe of Judah, the city is called Baalah (Joshua 15:9-11), and then further designated as Kiriath-jearim (15:9).

24 What the author of 1 and 2 Samuel passed over briefly in 2 Samuel 6:1, the author of Chronicles spelled out with greater detail.

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7. Building God’s House (2 Samuel 7:1-29)


One of my favorite movies is “Crocodile Dundee,” and one of my favorite scenes is when Dundee is in New York City walking down the street with his girl friend. Suddenly, from out of the shadows, a gang of thugs emerges. One of the hoodlums brandishes a knife and demands that Dundee hand over his possessions. Calmly, Dundee looks at the thugs before responding, “That's not a knife . . . this is a knife!” And he pulls out an incredibly large knife, which makes the would-be mugger’s switchblade look like a penknife as the thugs flee for their lives.

This scene reminds me of our text. David has just completed the construction of his palace. He looks out and sees the ark of the Lord, housed in a tent, and then begins to wonder. . . . A plan begins to formulate in his mind. Why not build a house for God, a temple? So David calls his friend and confidant, Nathan the prophet, and outlines his intentions. Nathan hastily consents, thinking that David's plans for such a “house” will be pleasing to God. But that night, Nathan is corrected by God, and he has to return to David with his revised prophetic evaluation. Through Nathan, God speaks to David. It is as though God were looking down at the blueprints which David had drawn up for God's “house.” God then looks at David and says, in effect, “David, that's not a house, . . . this is a house.” If David thinks he can build a house for God, he is wrong. It is God who plans to build a “house” for David. And what a house that will be. Let us listen carefully to the words of our text and learn what kind of a house God will build for David, and how it surpasses the temple-house David wants to build for God.

This is a very crucial text in the Old Testament. One can hardly over-estimate its importance not only for David, but for Israel and all mankind.

“Walter Brueggemann identifies this David and Nathan story as 'the dramatic and theological center of the entire Samuel corpus . . . one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith.'“25

Our text contains what theologians have come to call the Davidic Covenant, one of the great covenants of the Bible. We shall seek to explore the meaning and significance of this covenant in this message.

David's Plan and a Prophetic Approval

1 Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the LORD had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, 2 that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.” 3 Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your mind, for the LORD is with you.”

David has come a long way from his sheep-tending days as a young lad. It has just begun to dawn on David that God has established him as king over Israel (2 Samuel 5:12). The Philistines have twice sought to overthrow him, and twice David has defeated them. The enemies around Israel are, for the time being, at peace with David. With the help of Hiram, king of Tyre, David has completed his own palace, and he is now living in royal splendor. David now has the time to devote to other enterprises.

After a failed first effort, the ark of God has been successfully brought to Jerusalem, housed in a tent. David may have been looking out from the rooftop of his palace, his eyes fixed on the tabernacle-tent in which the ark was kept. Somehow it seems inappropriate for David to live in such splendor, while the ark of God is kept in such plain and seemingly provisional surroundings. The idea comes to him that he can build another house; this second house will be a temple in which the ark can be kept in far more fitting surroundings.

It is settled in David's mind. That is what he will do. And so David confides in Nathan the prophet, who seems also to be a friend and confidant of the king. How can such a generous gesture possibly be wrong? Why shouldn't God have a more fitting dwelling place? And so, without consulting God, Nathan gives David the go ahead. In effect, Nathan says to David, “Sounds good to me, and I'm sure it will be okay with God as well.” In biblical terms, Nathan says, “God, do all that is in your mind, for the LORD is with You” (verse 3).26

A Vision and a Revision

4 But in the same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying, 5 “Go and say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD, “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? 6 “For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. 7 “Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, 'Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?””

I remember years ago when I was a part of the administration of a small college. Actually, there were two schools. One was a college, and the other was a remedial educational program, designed to bring educationally handicapped young people up to a college level. I was not a part of the college program, but of the remedial program. When the college needed a teacher, I thought I had the perfect candidate. The problem was that the dean of the college had already made his decision. Unwisely, I spoke to the president of both schools, and he encouraged me to go to the dean with my idea. That was not a good thing to do. The dean's response to my suggestion caught me completely off guard. “Mr. Deffinbaugh,” he responded rather hotly, “who is running this school, you, or me?” Oops. I was in trouble. By the way, he was right. My idea was just that, and I was not the one running the school.

Nathan could surely identify with how I felt that day. In the middle of the night, God gives Nathan a direct revelation, which he is to convey to David. In a way, it put both Nathan and David in their place. Like me, David had a bright idea, but it did not correspond with God's plan. The question which God asks David sets the tone for what is to follow: “Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in?” Oops. I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it:

“But there are times when our grand human plans to do something for God are seen, after a night of prayer, to be a huge human distraction from what God is doing for us. That's what Nathan realized that night: God showed Nathan that David's building plans for God would interfere with God's building plans for David.”27

Before we go any further, it is time for me to point out a couple of significant details. Note that in verses 1, 2, and 3 David is referred to as the king, but when God refers to David, He calls him My servant David (verse 5). I think it is safe to suggest that David is a little too conscious of his position as king. Now in relation to all the people of Israel (and those outside Israel for that matter), David is the highest authority in the land. But in relation to God, David is merely a servant. David is living in a palace, and God is living in a tent, at least in David's mind. David almost appears to be wanting to give God a helping hand. It would be like me, wearing a tuxedo, sending Ross Perot a gift certificate to buy himself some decent clothes. It is for this reason, I believe, that God appears to put David in his place, first by referring to the king as His servant, and second by saying to him, “Who are you to be building Me a house?”

We should note yet another detail here. This very issue of the value of a temple, as opposed to the tabernacle, is addressed by Stephen in Acts 7:

44 “Our fathers had the tabernacle of testimony in the wilderness, just as He who spoke to Moses directed him to make it according to the pattern which he had seen. 45 “And having received it in their turn, our fathers brought it in with Joshua upon dispossessing the nations whom God drove out before our fathers, until the time of David. 46 “David found favor in God's sight, and asked that he might find a dwelling place for the God of Jacob. 47 “But it was Solomon who built a house for Him. 48 “However, the Most High does not dwell in houses made by human hands; as the prophet says: 49 'HEAVEN IS MY THRONE, AND EARTH IS THE FOOTSTOOL OF MY FEET; WHAT KIND OF HOUSE WILL YOU BUILD FOR ME?' says the Lord, 'OR WHAT PLACE IS THERE FOR MY REPOSE? 50 'WAS IT NOT MY HAND WHICH MADE ALL THESE THINGS?'“ (Acts 7:44-50).

Stephen had been brought before the Sanhedrin on trumped up charges, one of which was that he spoke against the temple (Acts 6:13). Stephen did not deny the charge brought against him by false witnesses. Instead, he defended himself by pointing out from the Old Testament Scriptures that God was not nearly as impressed with the temple as the Jews were. He argued that God gave Israel the tabernacle, and that the temple was David's idea. He then went on to show that the God who created all things surely cannot be confined to a dwelling made by human hands. In short, God did not need a temple, and He did not ask for one. He allowed David's son to build the temple because David wanted it. It wasn't wrong; it just wasn't God's idea. God did not need a temple, and for some, a temple would convey the wrong message.

Second Samuel 7 is in agreement with Stephen's argument. In verses 6-11a, God explains to David why He does not need a temple made by him. The first reason is given in verse 6 and can be summed up in these words: “If it isn't broken, don't try to fix it.” Think about it. Why buy a new car if your present car performs perfectly? When God gave the law to Moses, He instructed him as to how a tabernacle should be constructed. Throughout Israel's history, from Mt. Sinai to the reign of David, the tabernacle had functioned flawlessly. God was with His people as the ark was kept in the tabernacle. And when the people moved from one place to another, the tabernacle and the ark went with them. God was with His people wherever they went. He gave them victory over their enemies. He gave them the possession of the promised land. Israel's history bore testimony to the fact that there was nothing to fix; the tabernacle did the job very adequately. If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

In verse 7, God gives yet another reason for there being no real need for a temple: “I didn't ask for one.” On Mt. Sinai, God gave Israel the law through Moses, and in this law, He specified how the tabernacle was to be constructed, how it was to be moved, and who was to care for it. God instructed the Israelites to build the tabernacle; He did not even ask for a temple. If a temple were needed, surely God would have asked for one, and since He did not ask, we must conclude it was not necessary.

In verses 8-11a, God gets to the heart of the matter. I want you to notice how often the pronoun “I” is found. This section is very clearly God-centered. I like the way Peterson puts it:

The message that Nathan delivers to David is dominated by a recital of what God has done, is doing, and will do. God is the first-person subject of twenty-three verbs in this message, and these verbs carry the action. David, full of what he's going to do for God, is now subjected to a comprehensive rehearsal of what God has done, is doing, and will do for and in David. What looked yesterday like a bold Davidic enterprise on behalf of God now looks picayune.28

Does David want to offer God a helping hand by building Him a better house in which to live? God reminds David Who is taking care of whom. Would David do something great for God, like build Him a temple? History would remind David (and us) that it has always been God helping us, not us helping God. David, God's servant, should recall that it was He who took him out of the pasture, from following (not leading) the sheep, and made him ruler of all Israel (verse 8). God has been with David, wherever he went, and it was He who gave David's enemies into his hand, resulting in his fame and reputation. It is God who has always come to man's aid, and not man who rescues God.

In verse 10, there is a significant change in the tense of the verbs. Previous verbs are in the past tense, referring back to what God has done in the past. Now, in verse 10, the verbs become future. After pointing out all that He has done for David and Israel in the past, God goes on to say something like: “David, My servant, you have not seen anything yet. The best is yet to come.” God promises to appoint a place for His people where they will be planted. They will have a place of their own (as David intended to give God a “place of His own”), and they will dwell in peace there because the wicked will no longer afflict them. It won't be like it used to be, from the time of the judges till the present. God will give David rest from all his enemies.29 Would David dare to think he could do something for God? It was God who gave David all that he had, and it was God who would give him yet even more.30

The question must arise: when are these promises to David fulfilled? It is clear that they were not yet fulfilled, for they are expressed as a future reality. Some might think they are fulfilled in the next three chapters (8-10), when David prevails over all his enemies who surround Israel. I don't think we can see a complete fulfillment in David's lifetime or even in that of his son Solomon. I believe these promises to David are fully realized only in the coming Kingdom of God, when the Lord Jesus Christ subdues all His enemies and establishes His kingdom on the earth. It is that time spoken of in the last chapters of the Book of Isaiah. These promises are given to David here because they pave the way for the promise God is about to make to David in the following verses, the promise to build a “house” for him.

The House God Will Build For David:
The Announcement of the Davidic Covenant

11 . . . The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever.””' 17 In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.

The story of this chapter begins with David's intention to build a house (a temple) for God. God gently rebukes David for this heady plan. David has taken the wrong posture, of helping out God, rather than being the one who has constantly been helped by God. God did very well in taking care of His people when He associated Himself with the ark and the tabernacle. God did not ask for a temple, because He did not need one. God has been behind all of David's successes, and now He is promising even greater glory. And now God returns to the subject of a “house.” Would David build a house for God? No, he will not, though his son will. But God now announces to David that He is going to build a “house” for him. The details concerning this “house” are laid out in verses 12-17.

This prophecy, like many others, has a near and a distant fulfillment. On the near end is Solomon, David's second son by Bathsheba. It is he who will take David's place and reign over Israel after his death. We know that Nathan's words must refer to Solomon because they include the fact that David's “son” will sin, and that God will correct him. This statement cannot be made of the Messiah, the Son of David who will come to take away the sins of the world and to sit on the throne of His father, David. Unlike Saul, whose dynasty was taken away, David's “house” (his descendants) will be a dynasty, and will reign over Israel.

The descendants of David -- his “house” -- will enjoy a very unique and privileged relationship with God. It is described as a father/son relationship, or should I say a Father/son (and Father/Son) relationship. In the Bible, to be a “son” sometimes means much more than just being the physical offspring of one's father. The term “son” is employed to refer to one who rules in the place of another (the father). Adam was the “son of God” in the sense that he ruled over God's creation as His agent (see Luke 3:38). Satan and the angels are also referred to as “sons” of God in this same sense. Here, Solomon (David's descendant) is also referred to as enjoying a Father/son relationship with God.

In this sense, one does not become a “son” at one's birth; a king becomes a “son” of God when God installs him upon the throne:

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 9 'You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware”' (Psalm 2:4-9, emphasis mine).

This is exactly what God announces to our Lord Jesus Christ. God calls our Lord His “Son” at His baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) and at His transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35). Peter makes mention of these words, linking these words to the transfiguration (2 Peter 1:17). The writer to the Hebrews also makes use of these words as proof that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah (1:5; 5:5). In 5:5, the author of Hebrews specifically refers to our text in 2 Samuel 7:14 as having been fulfilled in Christ. In Acts 13:33, Paul turns to these words in Psalm 2 as having been fulfilled in Christ, particularly in relationship to His resurrection from the dead.

This word “son” or “sons” is also used of those who have come to faith in Jesus Christ. When we are saved by faith, we become the “sons” of God. This term “sons” not only means we become a child of God, but that we become those who will reign with Him:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body (Romans 8:18-23).

When Christ returns to this earth and we are raised from the dead, we are adopted as sons in Christ, and we shall reign with Him for all eternity.

David will have sons, and these sons will become “sons” of God in that they will rule over Israel. But there will come one very special “son,” and through Him all of the promises God has made here and elsewhere (pertaining to the Kingdom of God) will be fulfilled, either in His first coming, or in His return to the earth. David will have many sons, who will reign after him, and he and his sons will become “sons” of God. But the greatest promise of all is that a very special “son” will come, who is a descendant of David, and His kingdom will be eternal. It is in this “Son” that all of David's hopes, all of Israel's hopes, all of our hopes are fulfilled. And this is the essence of the Davidic Covenant. God will give David sons who rule in his place, but God's promises will be fully and finally fulfilled in that special “Son” who is yet to come.

These words, spoken by Nathan, are the very word of God. They are given to Nathan in the vision, which necessitates a “revision” of the permission he has given David to build a house for God. God thus speaks to David through Nathan. These are the sure word of God.

David's Response

18 Then David the king went in and sat before the LORD, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that You have brought me this far? 19 “And yet this was insignificant in Your eyes, O Lord GOD, for You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future. And this is the custom of man, O Lord GOD. 20 “Again what more can David say to You? For You know Your servant, O Lord GOD! 21 “For the sake of Your word, and according to Your own heart, You have done all this greatness to let Your servant know. 22 “For this reason You are great, O Lord GOD; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears. 23 “And what one nation on the earth is like Your people Israel, whom God went to redeem for Himself as a people and to make a name for Himself, and to do a great thing for You and awesome things for Your land, before Your people whom You have redeemed for Yourself from Egypt, from nations and their gods? 24 “For You have established for Yourself Your people Israel as Your own people forever, and You, O LORD, have become their God. 25 “Now therefore, O LORD God, the word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and his house, confirm it forever, and do as You have spoken, 26 that Your name may be magnified forever, by saying, 'The LORD of hosts is God over Israel'; and may the house of Your servant David be established before You. 27 “For You, O LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, have made a revelation to Your servant, saying, 'I will build you a house'; therefore Your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to You. 28 “Now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are truth, and You have promised this good thing to Your servant. 29 “Now therefore, may it please You to bless the house of Your servant, that it may continue forever before You. For You, O Lord GOD, have spoken; and with Your blessing may the house of Your servant be blessed forever.”

We should pay attention to the principle of proportion in this chapter. Two verses are devoted to David's expressed desire to build a house for God (1 and 2). One verse is devoted to Nathan's hasty response (3). Verses 4-17 record the vision which Nathan receives and his communication of this revelation to David (14 verses in all). The last 12 verses record David's response to this revelation. David now has his “house” in order. He sees things from God's point of view. These closing verses of chapter 7 are David's response to the Davidic Covenant. I contend that they provide us with a pattern for our worship as well.

Verses 18-21 are an expression of David's regained humility, of his realigned self-appraisal. Here is the kind of self-esteem that ought to characterize every Christian, especially (but by no means exclusively) in worship. At the beginning of chapter 7, David is a little too full of himself. Three times he is called “the king” in the first three verses. He is also referred to as “the king” in verse 18, but only to highlight the change in David's thinking from earlier in the chapter. It is not found again in this chapter.

Is David impressed with his position and power, with being the king? Does David think more in terms of what he can do for God than in terms of what God has and will do for him? Well, he has it right now, at least for the moment. Instead of finding the word “king” three times in verses 18-21, we find the word “servant.” Are we surprised? That is what God calls David in verse 5. David now stands in awe of the fact that God takes him, a man of no status or standing, and makes him king of Israel. This too is what God has reminded David through Nathan (see verses 8 and 9). David sees his standing and status as Israel's king as the result of God's sovereignly bestowed grace, and not as the recognition of his potential greatness. It is amazing how pride and arrogance distort our thinking. No wonder humility is the starting point, the prerequisite, for wisdom (Proverbs 11:2; 15:33; 18:12; 22:4; 29:13).

David is now starting on the right foot. He sees himself as he really is in God's eyes. He recognizes his weakness, his insignificance. He is struck with awe and wonder that God would choose to use him. He is not puffed up with his power as king of Israel, but humbled by the awareness that God uses him as His servant. Now, in verses 22-24, David thanks and praises God for who He is, as demonstrated by His marvelous works on behalf of Israel and David in the past. Verse 22 encapsulizes that self-revelation of God in Israel's past. God is God alone. There is no other god; there is no God like Him. He is a great and awesome God. This is in accord with all that they have heard of Him and from Him.

God has done great things for David, but these were not done for David. God has worked in David and through David, to bring about the fulfillment of His promises to the nation Israel. Verses 23 and 24 recount the greatness of God as revealed in His acts on behalf of His people, Israel. These verses sound remarkably similar to the words of God through Moses in Deuteronomy:

7 “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? 8 “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today? . . . 32 “Indeed, ask now concerning the former days which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and inquire from one end of the heavens to the other. Has anything been done like this great thing, or has anything been heard like it? 33 “Has any people heard the voice of God speaking from the midst of the fire, as you have heard it, and survived? 34 “Or has a god tried to go to take for himself a nation from within another nation by trials, by signs and wonders and by war and by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm and by great terrors, as the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? 35 “To you it was shown that you might know that the LORD, He is God; there is no other besides Him. 36 “Out of the heavens He let you hear His voice to discipline you; and on earth He let you see His great fire, and you heard His words from the midst of the fire. 37 “Because He loved your fathers, therefore He chose their descendants after them. And He personally brought you from Egypt by His great power, 38 driving out from before you nations greater and mightier than you, to bring you in and to give you their land for an inheritance, as it is today” (Deuteronomy 4:7-8, 32-38).

David sees himself as Israel should have seen herself. It is not due to her greatness, not due to her size, not due to her merits, that God chose to bless her. It is His sovereignly bestowed grace, apart from works or merit:

10 “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, 12 then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 13 “You shall fear only the LORD your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name” (Deuteronomy 6:10-13).

10 “When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 “Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 15 “He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. 16 “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. 17 “Otherwise, you may say in your heart, 'My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.' 18 “But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:10-18).

David has fallen into the very trap that God warned Israel to avoid. He has begun to take credit for what God has done. He begins to think of God as dependent upon him, rather than to worship God as a dependent creature. When David sees life from God's point of view, he sees life clearly, as it is. He sees life as Israel was supposed to view it. Now he is thinking clearly, and when he does, he recognizes that both he and Israel are great by the grace of God and nothing else. And for this David humbly praises God.

In verses 8-10, God reminds David of His blessings in the past. In verses 10-16 God promises David even greater blessings for himself and for the nation Israel in the future. In verses 22-24, David praises God for His grace in the past. Now, in verses 25-29, he will petition God to do as He has promised, and at the same time he worships and praises God for the things He will yet do. David picks up on the promises which God has just made, on the Davidic Covenant, which He has just made, and makes this the basis for his petitions. In short, David prays for what God has promised.

David is not just repeating God's promise back to Him; he is now putting this promise and its fulfillment in its proper perspective. David was wrong to think in terms of his successes. God reminds him that all of his apparent successes were really gracious gifts from His hand (see verses 8-9). And so too the things which God promises David in the future are gracious gifts (see verses 10-16), for which He is to be praised. And so David now petitions God to fulfill these promises, not so that David's name will be exalted, but in order that God's name may be magnified (verse 26).

Through Nathan, God gently rebukes David for his arrogance in thinking he could build a suitable dwelling place for God, that he could better assess the need for one than God. This kind of rebuke tends to cause one to wish to hold his tongue indefinitely. Have you ever said something very stupid, with a whole lot of folks listening to you do so? If you have, then you know the urge never to speak again in public. David has that same feeling, but God's promise of an eternal house gives David the courage to ask God for the fulfillment of this very promise (verse 27).

Verses 28 and 29 continue the petition, reminding God of His promise, and asking Him to fulfill it. The reason for David's confidence is God, and not himself. The presumptuous self-confidence that characterizes David in the early verses of this chapter is gone, replaced by a humble confidence, based in the God who made it. God has promised this good thing to His servant (not, to the king). The promise is clear, and it is made by God. Any promise made by God is a sure thing, and thus David petitions God for its fulfillment. May the promise be fulfilled by the blessing of David's “house,” and may this blessing come from the God of all blessings. Finally, David prays that this blessing will be eternal. Such blessings can only be God's blessings.


The first lesson I learn from our text is that even our highest, most noble ambitions and goals are flawed by sin. David's desire to build a house for God is so lofty even Nathan is taken in by it. Who could fault David for wanting to build God a glorious house? God could and did. And the reason is that David's motives and his ambitions fall far short of what God intended. David seems to have become a little too caught up by his recent successes, by his own position and power, and even by the splendor of his own palace. God's response to David most certainly contains a rebuke to David's arrogance: “Who are you to be building Me a house?” No matter how pious my plans for God and His work appear to be, they fall far short of the purity of thought and motive God requires. In the final analysis, there is nothing we can do for God in our own strength. It is God who must accomplish great things through us, and very often in spite of us.

Related to this first lesson is yet a second lesson: No matter how high and lofty our goals and plans may be, God's plans are greater. Paul put it this way:

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen (Romans 11:33-36).


Does David plan to build a house for God? David could not even imagine the “house” that God was going to build for him. God's “house” far surpasses David's proposed “house.”

Third, the greatness and glory of God's presence and power are not to be interpreted in the light of how spectacular the surroundings and setting are. Long ago Elijah was taught that God's presence was not to be assumed in the midst of spectacular phenomenon (although sometimes He does employ the spectacular -- see Exodus 19, 34). God was not present in the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in a still, small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13). The disciples to some extent, and the Jews in large measure, expected the Messiah to be revealed by means of the miraculous and the spectacular, and thus the frequent demand for a sign. The Corinthians of the New Testament came to regard those with style and sensationalism as the most spiritual, while at the same time they came to despise those who were less spectacular, like Paul and the other true apostles (see 1 Corinthians 4; 2 Corinthians 4-6). Our Lord Himself did not come in a blaze of glory and sensationalism. He came with his glory veiled (see Isaiah 53:1-3; John 1:9-11; Philippians 2:5-8), and thus many failed to recognize Him as the Messiah. The second temple was not nearly as spectacular, but in God's eyes, it was glorious. The true glory comes not in the external surroundings, but in the fact that God Himself is among us, indwelling us, His body. We should learn from David and from others in the Bible that God's glory is to be found where God is present, and not necessarily where we see the spectacular.

Does David suppose that God will be more present in a spectacular temple than in a tent? He is about to be reminded that God is “enthroned upon the praises of His people” (Psalm 22:3). God has chosen to dwell in a very different “temple” these days; it is the “temple” of His body, the church:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).

4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God, 5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ (1 Peter 2:4-5).

In the eternal kingdom of God, there will be no “temple” as such, for our Lord Himself will be the “temple”:

“And I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (Revelation 21:22)

Fourth, we see that David does not need a temple nearby in order to worship His God. In fact, David is drifting away from worship when he proposes the construction of a temple. It is after David has been reminded that all he is and all he accomplishes is of God that he begins to worship in the right manner. He then begins to acknowledge his own insignificance and to praise God for His greatness, power, and presence in his life. This is where all true worship begins, not in a spectacular building, but in focusing on the greatness and the grace of our God.

There is a great deal of emphasis these days on the planting and building of churches, great churches. Planting churches is a good thing, and the building of large churches is not necessarily evil. But let us be on guard against the false assumption that larger and more impressive buildings are proof of God's presence and power. We need to be on guard against prideful thoughts of our own contribution to the kingdom of God, of thinking that God really needs us. It is always He who will be carrying us, rather than us carrying Him. How easily we begin to focus on what we have done and can do for God, rather than on all He has done and will do for and through us.

Fifth, David's divine rebuke should serve as a lesson to every Christian. Have you not thought that if you could ever grow up, ever gain maturity and wisdom as a Christian, that you would somehow become exempt from temptation, and protected from sin? Growth, maturity, and success do not insulate us from sin; often, these things can easily become new temptations for us to sin. David is in more danger in his palace than he was fleeing from Saul and hiding out in some cave. Too often we take our “successes” far too seriously. We should be reminded that there is no success that we can honestly claim as our own, for every spiritual success is a gift of God's grace:

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Finally, I am once again reminded that the greatest blessings of our lives are not the result of our labors, but always the result of God's work, and often as He uses our failings and shortcomings. David is rebuked for requesting to build God a temple, and yet out of this request, God promises to build a house far greater than David could ever imagine. David is wrong when he commits adultery with Bathsheba and kills her husband, but in spite of this, she becomes David's wife and the mother of Solomon, the next king of Israel. David is wrong to number Israel, but as a result of this sin, the property on which the temple is to be built is procured by David.

What a wonderful and awesome God we serve! We cannot thwart His purposes and promises. And even our efforts to thwart His purposes only serve to advance His kingdom. Let us rejoice that God no longer dwells within a tent or a temple, but in the Lord Jesus Christ and in His body, the church. We are God's house if we have trusted in Jesus Christ.

25 Walter Brueggemann, I and II Samuel (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), p. 253, as cited by Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over A Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians (Harper San Francisco, 1997), p. 166.

26 We should not be overly surprised at Nathan’s response, or the fact that he did not directly consult God. While prophets did speak directly for God from time to time, often they taught from God’s Word and gave their judgment about the application of the Law to real-life situations. They did not seek a direct divine response for every question they answered, so far as I see in the Scriptures. In this case, however, Nathan judged wrongly, and God directly responded to correct his judgment.

27 Eugene H. Peterson, Leap Over A Wall: Earthly Spirituality for Everyday Christians, p. 160.

28 Eugene H. Peterson, p. 161.

29 The “you” here is singular, not plural. While God will give Israel rest from their enemies, this is not God’s point. He made David the king of Israel. He protected David and gave him the victory over his enemies. Likewise, in the future, God will give David (“you” singular) rest from his enemies. It was God who gave David what he had gained. It was God who would give David what God promised him for the future.

30 This is virtually the same argument we see in 12:7-8. Do we see the roots of David’s problem in chapters 11 and 12 here?

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8. War and Peace (2 Samuel 8:1—10:19)


Many who seem to be “good” are only “good” because they lack the power to do the evil they wish to do. Can you recall your childhood well enough to remember a time when one of your parents told you that you could not do something? At such times, you may have even thought to yourself, or said, “Just wait until I grow up, because them I'm going to . . . .” Sometimes such statements are amplified: “When I grow up, I'm going to be the president, and then I’m going to . . . .” Power is a test of our character. When we can do whatever we want, what we choose to do reveals to us, and to others, what we truly are.

For years, David had very little power. He was put out in the fields to keep a small flock of sheep for his family. When Samuel came on the scene to anoint Israel's future king from among the sons of Jesse, David was not even considered a possibility. They had to be instructed to bring him in from the field. There were times when David exercised a certain amount of power and authority under Saul, but he soon became a fugitive, and then his official power was taken away. Even his wife was taken from him.

Now, years later, Saul is dead and David has become the King of Israel in his place. In our text, David will subdue his enemies and bring about peace. He now has the power to do whatever he desires. This is the time when we shall see David at his best, and unfortunately, at his worst as well. In chapters 8-10, we find David in his finest form. He employs the power God has given to accomplish God's will. In chapter 11, David stumbles, falling to an all-time low in his spiritual life. Here, he employs his power to avoid going to war, to take another man's wife, and then to have her husband killed. But that is another story which we will save for our next lesson.

In this lesson, we will focus on three chapters of 2 Samuel, chapters 8-10. The reasons for this choice should become evident in the process of the exposition of these verses. It will suffice to say for the moment that chapters 8 and 10 describe David's use of power at war with the enemies of Israel, and thus of God. Chapter 9 depicts David's use of his power to fulfill his covenant commitment to his beloved friend Jonathan, and his promise to Saul. Chapter 9 beautifully contrasts with chapters 8 and 10, thus putting the sovereignty of David (and thus of God) in its proper perspective. We will consider first chapters 8 and 10, and then return to David's kindness to Mephibosheth in chapter 9. Let us listen to the words of these chapters and to the teaching of the Holy Spirit, as we look to Him to learn those lessons pertinent to our own lives today.

David Deals With His Enemies
(8 & 10)

It may be helpful to our understanding of the events of these chapters to establish the background for what is about to happen by calling attention to several relevant facts:

First, the peoples and the places we are about to discuss are those which surround the nation Israel. These are not distant places and peoples, but those near Israel, which impact Israel's past, present, and future.

Second, these are peoples and places that occupied the territory God gave to Israel (see Genesis 12:1-3; 13:14-18; 15:18-21; Exodus 23:31), which the Israelites had neither overcome nor possessed (see Judges 1:1-36; 3:1-6).

Third, these are not international super-powers but small kingdoms, much like city-states. The Bible does speak of the super-power nations such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, and Rome, but these are not what David and the Israelites are dealing with in our text. These are small nations which surround Israel. To protect themselves and to promote their own interests, they must enter into alliances with other small kingdoms.

Fourth, we know from chapter 7, verse 1, that this is a time of relative peace. It is not a permanent peace, however. Israel's enemies are not presently attacking the people of God or her king. The Philistines have tried -- twice -- to nip David's reign in the bud, but they have not succeeded (2 Samuel 5:17-25). In chapter 8, David is not on the defensive as much as he is on the offensive. This is due, in part, to the promise of a more permanent peace God gives David in this time of temporary peace:

8 “Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel. 9 “I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. 10 “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, 11 even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies” (2 Samuel 7:8-11a).

Fifth, David is acting on the basis of this promise, made in chapter 7, when he actively and aggressively sets forth to subdue the enemies of Israel and to possess the liberty and the land God had promised. There is no command to David recorded here, just as there is no crisis caused by foreign aggression (as with the Philistines in chapter 5). I believe David acts on the basis of the promises God made earlier to Israel, and on the basis of his previous commands to Israel to possess the land. David does not ask for divine guidance here because he does not need it, and he does not need it because it has already been given. David is now in power, and he sets out to do the things that heretofore have been left undone.

    The Philistines Subdued (8:1)

The Philistines, located to Israel's west, are perhaps Israel's most troublesome neighbor (see Genesis 26:1, 8, 14, 15, 18), especially from the time of the Judges onward (Judges 3:3, 31; 10:6-7). Samson fought with the Philistines (Judges, chapters 13-16). It was the Philistines who took the lives of Eli's two sons and indirectly caused the death of Eli, as well as taking the ark of God (1 Samuel, chapters 4-7). Jonathan attacked a Philistine garrison in Israel, precipitating another confrontation with the Philistines (1 Samuel 13:3ff.). David killed Goliath, a Philistine, and then led the pursuit of the Philistines (1 Samuel 17). It was the Philistines who eventually defeated the army of Israel and killed Saul and his two sons (1 Samuel 31). It was also among the Philistines that David sought and found sanctuary (1 Samuel 21:10-15; 27:1ff.). Once David had become king, the Philistines thought it best to attack quickly in an attempt to nullify the threat he would pose. They failed, and now David will subdue31 them, ending their tyranny for some time. We know from the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:1 that the “chief city” was actually Gath. No wonder David is able to capture it; he knows it like the back of his hand.

    The Moabites Subdued (8:2)

This verse is puzzling for at least two reasons. First, the Moabites appear to have been on friendly terms with David. David's lineage included Ruth, who was a Moabite (Ruth 4:5, 10, 13-22). When it appeared Saul would harm David's family, they fled to him while he was at the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1), and David shortly sought protection for his family from the king of Moab (1 Samuel 22:3-4). There is a Jewish tradition that the king betrayed this trust and harmed David's parents, but this cannot be substantiated. Based upon David's dealings with Hanun, king of the Ammonites, depicted in 2 Samuel 10, I think it is safe to assume that David is loyal to his friends. Something must have gone terribly wrong for David to have dealt so severely with the Moabites, though we have no certain explanation of what that was (nor, in this brief account, do we need one).

Second, the reader may well be troubled by the severity of David's dealings with the Moabites. When I taught school, many times I would divide a group of students into smaller groups. I would simply have the group form a line and then number off: one, two, three, one, two, three, . . . . In effect, this is what David did. He then took two groups and put them to death, sending the third group home as his (very frightened) subjects.

Some might be troubled that David let so many people live. In the case of Saul and the Amalekites, Saul lost his kingdom because he left the king alive and kept some of the best of the flocks of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). David let far more than this live, so why does God not punish him for letting so many live? The answer is simple. God had a long-standing problem with the Amalekites, and He therefore ordered Saul to kill every person and all their cattle (1 Samuel 15:1-3). Saul was at fault because he failed to obey a direct order. David had no such order nor was it necessary that all the Moabites be killed. In the midst of divine judgment (in the killing of the two-thirds), mercy was shown to the one-third.

I think if we had been there, we would have found it very difficult to carry out the mission David and the Israelite soldiers undertook. The very arbitrariness of it all seems harsh. It almost sounds like one of the Nazi death camps, doesn't it? One group of Jewish inmates went to take “showers” and were gassed to death. Another group went to “shower” as well, and they came out alive and clean. How could David have his men do something so similar?

Allow me to give a short answer for now, and then come back to this matter at the conclusion of this message. David is God's king. He is the King of Israel, who rules for God. He is God's representative. These Moabites became the enemies of Israel, and thus the enemies of God. As such, they all deserve to die. The wonder is not that two-thirds of the Moabites are killed, but that one-third are left to live. And in the killing of the two-thirds, any thought of resisting David or rebelling against him is laid to rest.

    David and Hadadezer, King of Zobah (8:3-12)

According to the chronology suggested by out text, David begins by defeating the Philistines to Israel's west. He then turns to the Ammonites to the east. Having subjected both, he turns to the north. The Aramaean kingdom of Zobah is within 25 miles or so of Damascus, directly north. We know that king Saul engaged in military conflict with this kingdom (1 Samuel 14:47). At that time Hadadezer was its king. He had apparently suffered some losses to the north, where he once had ruled “at the River” (8:3). He may have viewed David's attacks on his neighbors to the south as his golden opportunity to turn his attention to the north, where he could reestablish his supremacy. His plan did not work. David seems to recognize Hadadezer's northward maneuver as his opportunity to attack from the south. It seems that while most of Hadadezer's military forces are in the north, David captures his kingdom in the south, and then when this king returns, he and his forces find David in control of what was once his kingdom. When the Syrians of Damascus see that David is a threat to their “national security,” they come to the aid of Hadadezer, resulting in their defeat as well (8:5-6).

The kingdom of Hamath is to the north of Zobah. Toi, king of Hamath, seems to see the handwriting on the wall and makes the wise choice . . . surrender. Toi sends a delegation to David, led by his son Joram, formally surrendering and becoming his ally, which he indicated by a substantial payment of tribute. Toi is delighted that David has defeated Hadadezer, because his nation has been at war with him. To become an ally with the victor is to share in his victory over the enemy.

    Victory in the Valley of Salt (8:13-14)

These two verses describe yet another victory of King David and the Israelites. It seems from our text that this victory is over the “Syrians,” but there are good reasons for giving this a second look. Verse 14 speaks of the Edomites, who became servants of David. In verse 13, a note in the text informs us that some texts read “Edom” rather than Syrians. The difference in the Hebrew word is one letter, and the two letters are easy to confuse. The parallel text in 1 Chronicles 18:12 indicates that the 18,000 killed are Edomites. It would seem from all this evidence that the Edomites are in view.32 This, incidentally, is much to the south, which would mean that the author has described David's victories in the west, the east, the north, and finally in the south. David has defeated and subjected the nations all around him.

    The Outcome of David's Victories -- 2 Samuel 8:15-18

The outcome of all of David's activities in chapter 8 is that he defeats and subjects his enemies. Israelite garrisons are now found among the neighboring nations (verse 14), whereas foreign garrisons had once been found in Israel (see 1 Samuel 10:5; 13:3-4). This means they will no longer be able to resist, harass, or oppress Israel for some time. It means that there will be peace in the land, just as God promised. All of the success David achieves is from the hand of God (see verses 6, 14). David's dominion grows such that he has to add administrative and secretarial personnel to his staff, recorded in verses 15-18. Where David rules, there is justice and righteousness (verse 15). As a result, David's name becomes great (verse 13), just as God had promised (7:9). In addition, the tribute paid to David is great. He obtains great quantities of silver and gold and bronze (verses 7-12). These riches are stored, and at least some become building materials for the temple which Solomon is to construct (see 1 Chronicles 18:8).

    David's Power Further Expanded, as a Result of Ammonite Folly -- 2 Samuel 10

In chapter 8, we see David taking the initiative to subject his enemies who surround Israel. One almost gets the impression that David would have been content with the victories he gained over his enemies. In chapter 10, David is virtually forced to fight with some who are formerly his friends. The central figure in this chapter is Hanun, the son of Nahash, deceased king of the Ammonites. We first met Nahash in 1 Samuel 11. There, he and his army had besieged Jabesh-gilead and threatened to settle for peace only if they gouged out the right eye of every man in the city.33 Saul rose to the occasion, empowered by the Spirit of God, and led Israel to a victory over Nahash and the Ammonites. Nevertheless, they were not irradicated, and in time Nahash becomes David's ally. It seems likely that Nahash became David's ally when he was fleeing from Saul. Whatever the reason, our text makes it clear that David considered Nahash an ally and a friend. David had every intention of honoring him when he sent a delegation to mourn his death.

Hanun, the son of Nahash and heir to his throne, is not the same kind of man. It seems he has little desire to maintain the status quo in his relationship to David or in the Ammonites relationship to Israel. This situation seems similar to that described in 1 Kings 12 when Solomon died and the people of Israel appealed to his son, Rehoboam, to give the people more liberty. Rehoboam received counsel from his younger advisors to rule with a heavy hand, which resulted in the division of the kingdom. When Nahash died, Hanun took over.

It was early in Hanun's reign that David sent a delegation to Ammon to convey his respect for Nahash and to mourn his death. The advisors of this newly installed king give him some bad counsel. They assure Hanun that David's intentions cannot be honorable. He is only sending these men as spies to obtain intelligence so that he can attack them, as he has so many other nations. It seems to me that this explanation of events gives Hanun the excuse he is looking for, a reason to break the alliance his father made with David and Israel. If Hanun has expansion plans of his own, he will have to go to war with David. If he can defeat David, then he will gain control over all of those nations David has defeated and subjected.

No other explanation -- other than blatant stupidity34 -- seems to make any sense. It is one thing to conclude that a delegation has come for less than noble reasons. It is quite another to deliberately humiliate this delegation and provoke a war with Israel. I could understand Hanun calling out additional troops to protect his borders and to enhance security. But to humiliate this delegation, who must have been protected by what we would call international law and the rules for diplomats, is to insure there would be conflict. Hanun appears to be picking a fight. If this is his plan, it works. There is a fight. But it fails in that it brings about not only a defeat for the Ammonites, but serves to dishearten their Syrian allies, who will no longer come to the aid of the Ammonites.

David receives word that his delegation has been abused and humiliated. Their beards are, for the Hebrews, a mark of dignity. Hanun has half of the beard of each man shaved off. In addition, he has their garments cut off, to embarrass them. If this were a century ago in the old Wild West, the king would have forced these dignitaries to walk down the street in their long-johns, with the “trap door” in the seat of them open or cut off. Some of you are not old enough to know what I am talking about, so I'll give another illustration. It would be something like forcing each of these men to disrobe and put on a hospital gown, and then march them through the streets with the gowns unfastened in the back. It was a move calculated to humiliate David's Israelite delegation and to precipitate a war with David.

David takes pity on the dishonored delegation. He sends to meet them and then instructs them to wait in Jericho until their beards grow back, and then to return to Israel. We are not told that David summoned his troops, intending to go to war. We are told that the sons of Ammon recognize that they have “become odious35 to David” (verse 6). Rather than apologize or attempt to reconcile themselves with David, the sons of Ammon36 seek to make an alliance which will strengthen them in their conflict with Israel. Syrians from several regions are hired as mercenaries (10:6). Only after David learns of this military buildup does he call his army into active duty.

David and his forces draw up to battle with the Ammonites and their Syrian mercenaries. This coalition army divides into two groups, intending to attack the Israelites from the front and the rear. When Joab sees this, he divides the army of Israel into two forces. He leads one division, and his brother Abishai leads the other. Joab sets himself against the Syrians, and Abishai is to fight the Ammonites. If either of the two becomes hard pressed by their opponent, the other is to come to their aid. The words of verse 12 evidence faith in God as they set out for battle:

“Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight” (2 Samuel 10:12).

The Syrians flee before Joab and his men, and when the Ammonites see this, they lose heart as well. The Syrians flee home, and the Ammonites head for the protection of their chief city, Rabbah (see 11:1; 12:26). The Israelites return to Jerusalem. David appears willing to leave it at this, but the Syrians have not yet learned their lesson. They, like the Philistines in 2 Samuel 5, are not willing to give up after one defeat. They want a rematch, and they get it, only to lose again, more decisively. The Syrians assume they can win this time if they bring in more Syrians from “beyond the River” (verse 16). Hadadezer is the leader of these Syrians. He has a grudge of his own to settle with David (see 8:3ff.).

When David learns that another attack is imminent, he gathers all Israel and crosses the Jordan. The rematch is staged, and once again the Syrians flee from David and his army. This time their defeat is even greater than before. David kills 700 charioteers and 40,000 horsemen, and he also kills Shobach, the commander of the Syrian army. The Syrians finally get the point. It does not pay to attack God's people and to fight against God's king. The surviving kings make their peace with David. The Syrians determine they will not make the mistake again to align themselves with the sons of Ammon in their conflict with Israel. The Ammonites have not yet been subjected to David. This will come about in chapters 11 and 12.

Mercy for Mephibosheth
(2 Samuel 9)

Every election year we brace for another barrage of “campaign promises,” which we know will be forgotten as quickly as the candidate reaches office. We don't even expect him or her to keep them, and if they do, we are shocked. David is a man who makes promises and keeps them. Before he became Israel's king, he made promises to both Jonathan and Saul. To Jonathan, he promised to protect his life and to show lovingkindness to his house forever (1 Samuel 20:12-17). To Saul, he vowed not to cut off his descendants after him (1 Samuel 24:21-22). Now Saul and Jonathan are dead, and David is king. How easy it would be for David to forget his commitment.

David not only remembers his commitment to Saul, he goes far beyond it. To Saul, David promised he would not harm his descendants. To Jonathan, David covenanted to show lovingkindness. It seems as though all of Saul's descendants are dead. No descendant of Saul approaches David, seeking his favor. David is now king, and he is in a position to carry out his promise to Jonathan. All he needs is one of his descendants. David inquires as to whether there is a descendant of Saul to whom he may show kindness for Jonathan's sake (verse 1). In verse 3, David speaks of this act of kindness as the “kindness of God.” It certainly is.

No one among David's servants is aware of any living descendant of Saul. Ziba, a servant of Saul, is remembered, and he is summoned to David's presence. You can imagine his uneasiness at being summoned to the palace of David. Is David like other kings, simply seeking to remove any vestige of Saul's kingdom? Is David seeking to do away with Ziba and his family? The thought surely crosses Ziba's mind, more than once! How relieved he must be to hear David's question, “Is there no yet anyone of the house of Saul to whom I may show the kindness of God?” (verse 3). There is indeed. Ziba remembers Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. There is one son, Ziba informs David, but he is handicapped. He is crippled in both feet. Surely David will not want him to be the one to whom he will show favor.

The author of 1 and 2 Samuel has surely prepared us for this moment. In 2 Samuel 4, he rehearses the account of Ish-bosheth's death at the hand of two of his servants. In the midst of this ugly account, the author seems to drop in verse 4, parenthetically informing the reader of Mephibosheth's injury. The incident seems out of place. But the author is preparing the way for our text. On the way, he tells us another story in chapter 5 of the taking of Jebus. Three times in this chapter the word “lame” occurs (verses 6 and 8). The men of Jebus are so confident they boast that even the “blind and the lame” could repulse David's attack on their city. When David took the city, it became a saying among some that “the blind and the lame shall not come into the house” (verse 8).

Now, we find David seeking a descendant of Saul and of Jonathan to whom he may show favor. The only candidate is Jonathan's crippled son. If it was axiomatic that no lame person would enter a house in Jerusalem, surely no lame person would enter the palace. But that is precisely what happens. David summons Mephibosheth, who is living in Lo-debar, a city east of the Jordan and beyond Mahanaim. It must therefore have been close to Ammon, near Israel's border with Ammon. It appears that Mephibosheth is living as far away from David and Jerusalem as he can, feeling like a marked man who will be put to death if he comes too close to Jerusalem. When he presents himself to David, he prostrates himself before him as David's servant. David notes his fear and puts his mind at rest. He intends Mephibosheth no harm; his intent is to show him kindness for the sake of his father Jonathan. He promises to restore to Mephibosheth all the land which had been his father's, and which he had evidently lost sometime after the death of Saul and his father. Not only will David restore all that to which Mephibosheth is heir, he will make him his regular guest at the palace.

Mephibosheth is overcome with gratitude and relief, falling prostrate before David once again, calling attention to the fact that he is but a “dead dog.” David used this very expression to refer to himself in speaking to King Saul (1 Samuel 24:14). David was attempting to convince Saul that he posed no real threat, no matter what others might be telling him. It seems fairly clear that Mephibosheth is calling attention to his physical handicap. A man who cannot walk can hardly serve as a king, leading his army into battle:

6 But Adoni-bezek fled; and they pursued him and caught him and cut off his thumbs and big toes. 7 Adoni-bezek said, “Seventy kings with their thumbs and their big toes cut off used to gather up scraps under my table; as I have done, so God has repaid me.” So they brought him to Jerusalem and he died there (Judges 1:6-7).

Kings were incapacitated by cutting off their thumbs and their big toes. They could not stand or run in battle, nor could they grip their weapons adequately. When one king prevailed over another by winning in battle, he would cut off the thumbs and the big toes of his opponent, and then keep them as a kind of showpiece. These kings would sit under the table of the king, getting the scraps, it would seem. They were not honored guests; they were trophies of war. David would have none of this with regard to Mephibosheth. He does not want him at his table as a subjected foe, but as an honored guest, the son of his beloved friend, Jonathan. It is an amazing act of grace.

David issues orders to Ziba, instructing him that all that once belonged to Saul now belongs to Mephibosheth and should be restored to him. David makes Ziba and his sons (who apparently have been emancipated by Saul's death and the death of his sons) the servants of Mephibosheth. Ziba graciously accepts this turn of events. From this time on, Mephibosheth is David's honored guest, eating regularly at his table, not as a defeated or humiliated foe, but as one of David's sons (verse 11).


This passage has several lessons to teach us, which we shall give thought to as we conclude the study of this text.

First, this passage illustrates the providential hand of God, working all things to the good of the believer. The battles which David fights with the enemies of Israel, who surround him, he fights having been prepared by God in the days when he fled from Saul. In chapter 5, the Philistines marched against Israel and specifically against David. We know from the parallel text in 1 Chronicles 11:15-16 that this stronghold was the cave of Adullam. Do you not find it interesting that David's hideouts from Saul become his outposts when fighting the surrounding nations? We are told in 2 Samuel 8:1 that David fought the Philistines and captured their chief city. We know from 1 Chronicles 18:1 that this “chief city” was none other than Gath. All the while David was hiding from Saul in Gath, he was unwittingly spying out this land and this city, which he would eventually attack and defeat. We know that when David fled from Saul he went to Moab, and he probably received sanctuary in some of the other nations. Now, when David becomes the king of Israel, he is able to use this information to his military advantage. Surely we see from the Psalms that David cried out to God in those days when he fled from Saul. He had to ask, “Why?” and yet he received no answer at the time. Now we are beginning to see the answer. God was preparing David in those days of his flight from Saul for his days fighting as the King of Israel. I think it is Bill Gothard who points out that Israel's days of slavery in Egypt were a kind of boot camp, preparing them for the hard days they would spend in the wilderness on their way toward the promised land. Our tears, sorrows, and sufferings are never for naught; they always have a purpose, and that purpose is God's glory and our good.

But wait, there's more! The political and military intrigue we see in our text are used providentially of God to give Israel the land and the victory which God had long before promised His people. And the tribute which David obtains from his subjected enemies seems to provide the raw materials which will be required for the building of the temple. The events of our text fulfill not only the promise of God made to David in chapter 7, they fulfill the promises God had made long before to Abraham and the patriarchs and to Moses.

Second, in our text, David's actions anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ as the King of Israel. What will God's King be like? That has always been a question in the minds of those who await His coming. The Old Testament prophets told us, but in a way that perplexed even them:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (1 Peter 1:10-11).

The promised Messiah, on the one hand, was a suffering Servant, who would be rejected by men and who would lay down His life for sinners (Isaiah 52:13--53:12). On the other hand, the Messiah was to be a triumphant King, who would prevail over His enemies and establish His kingdom (see Psalm 2). Men could not understand how both of these predictions could be true. Obviously, they did not grasp that the Messiah would come to the earth twice: the first time to be rejected of men and to die for the sins of lost men; the second time to overthrow the wicked and to rule over His kingdom.

In chapters 8-10, David serves as a prototype of Christ. He establishes his kingdom by prevailing over the enemies of Israel, subjecting them to himself. On the other hand, David shows mercy toward Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan and the grandson of Saul. Mephibosheth is the sole heir of Saul, the last candidate for king. Usually, a king in David's place would kill such potential contenders to the throne, but David seeks this man out and shows mercy to him. This is not because of what he can contribute to David and to his kingdom, because he is handicapped, which in those days made him useless in the eyes of men. It is not because of Mephibosheth's value or potential value to David that the king shows him favor. It is because of David's love for his friend, Jonathan, Mephibosheth's father.

Chapters 8-10 remind us that these two dimensions of God and His King -- sovereignty and grace -- blend perfectly. God's grace is sovereign grace, grace that is not earned or deserved. It is bestowed upon whom He chooses, and solely on the basis of His benevolence. God's righteous reign is a sovereign rule which prevails over all the enemies of God. God will destroy His enemies, as He has done in the past.

People do not wish to think of God in either of these terms. They wish to think of God as one who bestows good things upon those who earn them. They do not like grace, for they cannot take credit for it. They do not like grace because they cannot lay claim to it, as though they deserve it. God is not obliged to bestow His grace on anyone. And neither do men like to think of God in terms of His sovereignty over His enemies. They do not wish to think that He will send His Messiah to the earth to defeat His enemies and to establish His throne in righteousness. They do not wish to think about hell and eternal torment for the wicked. These two dimensions of God are seen in David. They are characteristics that cause the wicked to tremble, or at least to be repulsed. These same characteristics are those that cause the Christian to rejoice. We know that we have been saved by God's sovereign grace. We, like Mephibosheth, were undeserving of God's grace, and were those who were repulsive to God. But in spite of our pitiable condition, God chose to set his love upon us, because of His love for His Son, Jesus Christ. God loves and blesses us because of Christ, just as David loved and blessed Mephibosheth because of his father, Jonathan. What a beautiful picture David portrays here, of God and of His King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is possible that you have not yet come to relate to God as Mephibosheth came to relate to David. You, like Mephibosheth, must come to recognize your unworthiness to dwell in God's presence. You, like Mephibosheth, must humbly accept God's grace, as extended through His Son Jesus Christ. It is by acknowledging your sin, and by accepting God's provision for your sin in Jesus Christ, who died for your sins and was raised to make you righteous in God's sight, that you enter into fellowship with God. God invites you to sit at His table, as you trust in His Son, Jesus Christ (see Psalm 23; Revelation 3:20).

Third, this text exemplifies the proper use of power and becomes the backdrop for David's abuse of power in the next two chapters. It is evident as the story of David progressively unfolds in 2 Samuel that David has come to power. Saul has been divinely removed from power, and then his son, Ish-bosheth. David has been made king, first of Judah and then of all Israel. Now, David has ascended the throne. He has captured the city of Jebus and made it Jerusalem, his capital city. David has confronted his foes and won. David has employed the power God gave him to do His will, to defeat the nations that surround Israel, to possess the land God promised, and to show mercy and kindness to the helpless. David has used the power God gave him properly, as a good steward. It thus provides us with a picture of what Messiah is like and will be like when He returns to establish His kingdom.

But these three chapters also provide us with a kind of backdrop against which the attitudes and actions of David in chapter 11 are contrasted. Chapter 11 is about David's abuse of power. He will abuse his power by staying home and sending his army to the battle without him. He will abuse his power by taking Bathsheba, and then by taking the life of her husband. The picture of David at the pinnacle of his success in chapters 8-10 sets the scene for David's fall to the depths in chapters 11 and 12. Let us learn from our text that spiritual highs do not assure us that we cannot fall, but may in some ways prepare us for a fall.

31 There is a great difference between defeating the Philistines in a particular battle and subduing them, as is said here. To subdue them was to end their dominance and to subject them to David and to Israel. They no longer posed a threat to David or Israel.

32 “The Hebrew text indicates that David fought ‘Arameans in the valley of salt’ (v. 13). It is highly doubtful, however, that the term ‘Aramean’ is the correct one. The text of verse 13 appears to have suffered from a copyist error. On this point almost all commentators are agreed. According to I Chronicles 18:12, the title of Psalm 40, and the immediate context of this chapter, Edom, not Syria, was the enemy defeated in the valley of salt. . . . A careful study of the Hebrew letters indicates a confusion of dalet and resh by the scribes.” John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb, Israel From Conquest to Exile: A Commentary on Joshua--2 Kings (Winona Lake, Indiana: BMH Books, 1994), p. 296.

33 It is a little difficult to be completely certain about whether the eyes of only the men were to be gouged out, or whether the women and children were to be included. The conversation is between the men of the city of Jabesh-gilead and Nahash, and they would be those who would fight against the Ammonites. Therefore I conclude that only the fighting men were to have their right eyes gouged out, thus incapacitating them to war.

34 This is an option which ought not be ruled out altogether.

35 Compare 1 Samuel 13:4.

36 I find it interesting that our author tells us it was the “sons of Ammon” who hired mercenaries to help them fight Israel. Why was it not Hanun, their king? Was Hanun being manipulated by the nobles of Ammon, something like Ish-bosheth was manipulated by Abner?

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9. David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:1-4)


When my Grandmother Palmer was alive, she lived on a farm outside of Shelton, Washington. At the entrance to her driveway was a small lot, where a small mobile home was parked. As I recall, the woman who lived in the trailer and her husband were estranged. The husband, who had served time in prison, was prone to violence. When the husband came to the mobile home to see his wife, another man was there. An argument resulted, and blows were exchanged. Ultimately, the woman's visitor brandished a weapon and demanded that the husband leave. He left, but only while uttering threats about what he was yet to do.

A few hours later, my uncle came by to visit my grandmother. He was just entering the driveway, very near the little mobile home where the altercation occurred earlier. Unfortunately, my uncle was driving a car which looked similar to the one driven by the estranged husband's adversary parked outside the trailer earlier in the day. Gunshots rang out as the enraged husband fulfilled his vow. The rifle easily penetrated the windshield, and my uncle was instantly killed -- by mistake. The angry husband had killed my uncle, falsely assuming that he was his adversary.

Many tragic incidents occur as the unexpected outcome of a sequence of events. Certainly that is the case with King David. A little vacation from war leads to a day spent in bed, followed by a stroll along the roof of his palace as night begins to fall on Jerusalem. By chance, David sees a woman bathing herself, a sight which David fixes upon, and then follows up on with an investigation as to her identity. The woman is shortly summoned to the palace and then to his bedroom, where David sleeps with her, even though he has discovered she is the wife of Uriah, a warrior who is fighting for the army of Israel. The woman becomes pregnant, and so David calls Uriah home, hoping it will be thought that he has gotten his wife pregnant. When this does not work, David gives orders to Joab, the commander of the army, which arranges for Uriah's death in battle. It looks like the perfect crime, but David's sin is discovered and dealt with by Nathan, the prophet of God.

This sequence of events and its accompanying tragedies is the subject of chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel. I have chosen to expound these chapters in three lessons. This first lesson will deal with “David and Bathsheba,” as described in 11:1-4. In the following lesson, we will address the subject of “David and Uriah,” as told by our author in 11:5-27. The third lesson will focus on “David and Nathan,” as this confrontation is put forth in chapter 12. Our text has much to say about the sins of adultery and murder, but rest assured that it addresses much more than this. It is a text we all need to hear and to heed, for if a “man after God's own heart” can fall so quickly and so far, surely we are capable of similar failures. May the Spirit of God take this portion of the Word of God and illuminate it to each of us as we come to this study.

Preliminary Observations

Before we begin to look carefully at verses 1-4 of chapter 11, allow me to make a couple of comments about this event as portrayed in these two chapters of 2 Samuel. First, I want you to notice the “law of proportion” in this text. Only three verses describe David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba. Second, the author pulls no punches in describing the wickedness of this sin. History is not written in a way that makes David look good. Third, the sin of David and Bathsheba is dealt with historically, but not in a Hollywood fashion. Hollywood filmmakers would perform a remake of this account to dwell on the sensual elements. Nothing in this text is intended to inspire unclean thoughts or actions. Indeed, this story is written in a way that causes us to shudder at the thought of such things.

David Stays in Jerusalem

Israel is at war with none other than the Ammonites (verse 1), which may come as a surprise to you as it did to me. I thought the Ammonites had been defeated in chapter 10. I was wrong. The author is very clear on this matter. In chapter 8, the author tells how David began to engage his enemies in battle, ending the strangle-hold these surrounding nations had on Israel. David subjected the Philistines (8:1), then the Moabites (8:2), and then he took on the king of Zobah (8:3ff.). In the process, other nations became involved and found Israel too formidable an enemy to oppose again.

In chapter 10, we find David and the men of Israel deliberately insulted by Hanun, the king of the Ammonites. David had become friends with Nahash, the former king. When he died, David sent a delegation of officials to express David's respect for Nahash and his grief over this king's death. The Ammonites do not seem to wish to continue this peaceful relationship with David and Israel, so they humiliate the men whom David sent. This leads to a war between the Israelites and the Ammonites. The Ammonites recruit the Syrians as their allies against David. In their first conflict, the Syrians flee, forcing the Ammonites to retreat to “the city” (10:14; which must be Rabbah -- see 12:26ff.). The Syrians are not content with their defeat and attempt a rematch, but once again they are defeated. This causes them to give up any thought of backing up the Ammonites in their war with Israel in the future.

So you see, the Ammonites were not subjected to Israel in chapter 10, but they were deprived of Syrian assistance. Now they are on their own. The Israelites make the most of this. They ravage the land of the Ammonites and then besiege the capital (royal) city of Rabbah (11:1; see 1 Chronicles 20:1). This city of Rabbah, incidentally, is now the city of Amman, Jordan. It is not until after David's sin is rebuked by Nathan that the Israelites actually take the city (2 Samuel 12:26-31).

The author of our text informs us that it is spring, the time when kings go to war (11:1). Weather has always affected warfare. Battles have been won and lost due to the season. Winter time is not favorable to war. It is cold and wet, and camping out in the open field (as those who are besieging the city of Rabbah have to do -- see 11:11) hardly is feasible. The wheels of chariots get stuck in the mud, among other problems. And so kings usually sit it out for the winter, resuming their warfare in the spring. It is spring, Israel is still at war with the Ammonites, and it is time to finish the task of subduing them. The army assembles, under the command of Joab and his officers, and “all Israel.” They all go off to complete their victory over the Ammonites, who seem to retreat in their capital and fortress city of Rabbah.

Every man who is able to fight goes to war, except one -- David. David, we are told, “stayed in Jerusalem” (11:1). David's decision to stay at home in Jerusalem becomes a devastating one. The author of Samuel does not include this fact, but the Chronicler does. In 1 Chronicles 20, we read these words:

1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that Joab led out the army and ravaged the land of the sons of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. And Joab struck Rabbah and overthrew it (1 Chronicles 20:1).

We know from the details of this text in Chronicles that it is the same time and the same war. This decision on David's part precedes a serious sin of another kind in 1 Chronicles 21:

1 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.” 3 Joab said, “May the LORD add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?” 4 Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5 Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword (1 Chronicles 21:1-5).

Joab urges David not to number the Israelites, and through the prophet Gad, God rebukes David for doing so, giving him a choice of one of three chastenings. It is a grave sin with great consequences for the nation Israel. Out of this sin, God brings about blessing for Israel, because it is on the plot of ground where David offers sacrifices to God that the temple will be built.

What I am pointing out here is that the decision on David's part -- to remain in Jerusalem -- is the beginning of woes for both David and the nation Israel. Why is it wrong for David to stay home while the rest of the men of Israel go to war against the Ammonites? First, leading the nation in war is one of the main tasks of the king:

19 Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, 20 that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Samuel 8:19-20).

The Israelites were wrong in demanding a king, but they were not too far off in expecting that their “king” would lead them in war. The judges God had raised up for them earlier were usually men like Barak or Gideon, who would lead the nation in battle against their enemies. When God designated Saul as Israel's first king, this military role was clearly indicated:

15 Now a day before Saul's coming, the LORD had revealed this to Samuel saying, 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin, and you shall anoint him to be prince over My people Israel; and he will deliver My people from the hand of the Philistines. For I have regarded My people, because their cry has come to Me” (1 Samuel 9:15-16).

Saul shrunk back from pursuing the enemies of Israel at times, and it was sometimes David who stood in Saul's shoes, leading the nation in battle. This was the case, for example, when David fought Goliath, a battle that should have been fought by Saul, Israel's giant (see 1 Samuel 9:2). Up until now, David has been leading his men in battle, but in chapter 11, David suddenly steps back, sending others to fight for him. In 2 Samuel 12:26-31, the author makes it clear that David may not have been planning to be present for the formal surrender of Rabbah. Joab sends David a message, urging him to come and at least give the appearance of leading his army. If David does not come, Joab warns, David will not receive the glory, and it may go to Joab. Joab knows that David knows this is not the way it was meant to be. And so it is that David makes a formal appearance to be the “official” leader at the time of the surrender of the city of Rabbah.

David is wrong in yet another way, a way he would hardly have realized at the time. David is a prototype of the Messiah who was yet to come as God's King. When Messiah comes, it is He who brings about the deliverance of His people. It is He who will come to subdue His enemies and to establish His throne. How can David represent Messiah as he reigns by staying at home and refusing to enter the battle with the enemies of God and the enemies of God's people? Messiah will come (the second time) as a mighty warrior. If David would portray Him, then he must be a mighty warrior.

What keeps David home in Jerusalem? Why doesn’t David go to the battle? I fear there are perhaps several reasons. The first is David's arrogance. God has been with David in all of his military encounters and given him victory over all his foes. God has given David a great name. David has begun to believe his own press clippings. He begins to feel he is invincible. David seems to have come to the place where he believes his abilities are so great he can lead Israel into victory, even though he is not with his men in battle.

This seems consistent with David's other great sin, which also follows his decision to stay at home. When David instructs Joab to number the Israelite warriors, Joab protests. This is something David should not do. Perhaps this is because David would find too much confidence in the number of his men, rather than in God. It certainly is a far cry from Gideon's army, pared down to a meager 300 men.

A second reason may be boredom. It is one thing to fight battles in which the enemy is quickly overcome. But the besieging of Rabbah is a whole different kind of war. This battle will not be won so quickly. It will take time to starve the Ammonites to the point that they surrender. It is not a very exciting kind of war to wage. And while they wait, the Israelite soldiers (which includes David) have to pitch their tents outside the city, living in the open field. This is no picnic, and David knows it. David's attitude seems reflected in the advertising slogan of a major hamburger chain, “You deserve a break today.”

A third reason -- and I am hesitant to suggest it -- is that David may be getting soft. Let's face it, David had some very difficult days when he was fleeing from Saul. I am sure there were hot days and cold nights. There were certainly days when his food was either limited or lousy, or both. Army food has never been known as a work of culinary artistry. Now, David has moved up in the world, from barren wilderness, which Saul and his army would avoid if possible, to the hills of Jerusalem. His accommodations are better, too. He no longer lives in a tent (if he was fortunate enough to have one in those days); he lives in a palace. Why would David want to stay in a tent in the open field, outside of Rabbah, if he can stay in his own bed, in his own palace, inside Jerusalem?37

David is starting to become Saul-like, in that he is willing to let others go out and fight his battles for him. Among those David is willing to send in his place are Joab and Abishai. This Joab, we should recall, is a violent man. Joab was not the commander of the army of Israel by David's choice. David had distanced himself from Joab and Abishai because of the death of Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-30). Joab had become the commander of Israel's armed forces because he was the first to accept David's challenge to attack Jebus (1 Chronicles 11:4-6). Suddenly, David is willing to stay at home and leave the whole of Israel's armed forces under Joab's command. I do not think David is motivated by trust in Joab as much as he is his disdain for the hardship of the campaign to take Rabbah.

Like my uncle to whom I referred earlier, David is in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is in Jerusalem when he should be at Rabbah. Unlike my uncle, David is in the wrong place at the wrong time because of a wrong decision. David is like the simpleton in Proverbs 7, who was foolishly and yet deliberately in the wrong place at the wrong time. Something almost had to go wrong, and it surely did!

David Stays in Bed

As I read these verses in 2 Samuel, I am reminded of the Alfred Hitchcock movie, “Rear Window.” If my memory is correct, Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly star in this thriller about a photographer who is recovering from an injury and confined to his apartment. From out of his “rear window,” Stewart watches his neighbors through their windows. Eventually he uncovers a murder and is almost killed himself, along with his girlfriend.

King David makes the mistake of staying in Jerusalem, rather than fighting the Ammonites with his army. He does not stay home to meditate on the Law of Moses or to write another psalm or two; he seems to stay home to stay in bed. We know Uriah went to bed when it was evening (that is, when it got dark), and it is very likely that he got up at first light (see 11:13). With David, it is very different. David does not get up until evening, that is, until it is time for a soldier to go to bed. (As a friend of mine pointed out, this is probably a habit developed over days and not just a one-time event.) It is very unlikely that David is doing any “kingly work” in the wee hours of the night. From all appearances, David is simply indulging himself.

Finally, David can stand his bed no longer. Getting up, he goes for a stroll around the roof of his palace. Most certainly, David's palace was built on the highest ground possible, so that it would afford him a commanding view of the city and the surrounding country. Virtually every other residence and building would be below David's penthouse apartment, and thus he would be able to see much that was out of sight for others. (A friend remarked after this message that a truck driver had told him a whole lot can be seen from an 18-wheeler that people in cars don't see.)

I am not suggesting that David purposed to see something he should not. More than likely he is walking about, almost absent-mindedly, when suddenly his eyes fix on something that rivets his attention on a woman bathing herself. The text does not really tell us where this woman is bathing. We only know that she is within sight of David's penthouse (rooftop). David notes her beauty. He does not know who she is or whether she is married. We cannot be certain how much David sees, and thus we do not know for certain whether he has yet sinned. If David saw more of this woman than he should (a fact still in question), then he surely should have diverted his eyes. It was not necessarily evil for him to discretely inquire about her. If she were unmarried and eligible, he could have taken her for his wife. His inquiry would make this clear.

Word comes back to David about this woman's identity:

3b And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2 Samuel 11:3b)

The answer comes to David in the form of a question. I take it that no one else actually saw this woman, but only David. The identification of this woman depends then upon David's description of her age, appearance, and location, and no one could be absolutely certain whether this is the woman or not -- except for David, of course, who would recognize her.

The information David receives should be sufficient for him to end the matter. If this woman is married, he has no business going any further. No matter how great his position and power, nothing gives him the right to take another man's wife. The pattern for David's actions is clearly outlined by Joseph, who was hotly pursued by his master's wife:

7 It came about after these events that his master's wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge. 9 “There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9).

The report David is given concerning Bathsheba gives him all the information he needs, and more, if he is intent upon doing what is right. He knows Bathsheba is married and thus out of the question. He also knows Bathsheba is married to Uriah the Hittite. This is no nameless husband, someone David has never heard of before. David has to know Uriah, even if he does not know his wife. In 2 Samuel 23:39, “Uriah the Hittite” is named as one of David's mighty men, known for his bravery and courage as a soldier. If he does not know it, surely someone there among his servants would inform him.

My fear is that David chose to ignore Uriah's military record and to fix his attention upon his racial origins. It is obvious and noteworthy that David refers to Uriah as “Uriah the Hittite,” while the author of Samuel refers to him only as “Uriah.” The expression, “Uriah the Hittite” is a term of derision, I believe, based solely upon the fact that he is of Hittite stock. Never mind that David has Moabite blood in his veins. Let us briefly review the place of the Hittites in Old Testament history.

As early as Genesis 15:18-21, God promised Abram (Abraham) that his descendants would inherit the land of the Hittites (along with that of other peoples as well; see also Exodus 3:8, 17; 13:5; 23:23, 28, 32; 33:21; 34:11; Deuteronomy 7:1; Joshua 1:4; 3:10). Ephron, the man from whom Abraham bought a burial plot for his family, was a Hittite (see Genesis 23:10; 25:9; etc.). Jacob's brother Esau married several Hittite wives (Genesis 26:34-35; 36:2). The Israelites were commanded to utterly destroy the Hittites (Deuteronomy 20:17). The Hittites opposed Israel's entrance into the promised land (see Numbers 13:29; Joshua 9:1: 11;1-5), and the Israelites had some victories over them (Joshua 24;11). Nevertheless, they did not totally remove them and came to live among them (Judges 3:5). When David was fleeing from Saul, he learned that the king was camped nearby. He asked two of his men who would go with him to Saul's camp. One of the two, Abishai, volunteered to go with David, the other man did not. This man was Ahimelech, the Hittite (1 Samuel 26:6).

It is obvious that Uriah had forsaken his own people and their gods to live in Israel, marry an Israelite woman, and fight in David's army. He is no pagan, to be put to death. He is a proselyte. In spite of all this, I believe David looks down upon him. David has grown accustomed to having the finest of everything. His palace is the finest around. His furnishings, his food, his help, are all the finest. Now, he looks from his penthouse and sees a woman whom he regards as “fine.” How can a woman so “fine” belong to this Hittite? She is fit for a king. And this king intends to have her.

And so David sends messengers to her, who take her and bring her to him. When she arrives, David sleeps with her, and when she is purified from her uncleanness,38 she returns to her house. That is that. If she had not become pregnant, I have little doubt she would never have darkened the door of David's house again. David does not seek a wife in Bathsheba. He does not even seek an affair. He wants one night of sex with this woman, and then he will let Uriah have her.

The sequence of events, so far as David is concerned, can be viewed in this way: (1) David stays in Jerusalem; (2) David stays in bed; (3) David sees Bathsheba bathing herself as he walks on his roof; (4) David sends and inquires about this woman; (5) David learns her identity and that she is married to a military hero; (6) David sends messengers to take her and bring her to him; (7) David lays with her; (8) Bathsheba goes back to her home after she purifies herself. This same sequence can be seen in a number of other texts, none of which is commendable. Shechem “saw, took, and lay with” Dinah, the daughter of Jacob in Genesis 34:2. Judah “saw, took, and went in to” the Canaanite woman he made his wife in Genesis 38:2-3. Achan “saw, coveted, and took” the forbidden spoils of war in Joshua 7:21. Samson did virtually the same in Judges 14. Let us not forget that a similar sequence occurred at the first sin when Eve “saw, desired, and took” the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3.

Does Bathsheba Share David's Guilt?

It is clear from the words of our text that David sinned. It is clear from the actions of David which follow that he sinned. It is clear from the words of God through Nathan that David sinned in a grievous manner. The problem is that many wish to view the text in a way that forces Bathsheba to share David's guilt by assuming that she somehow seduced him. I would like to pursue this matter, because I believe there is absolutely no evidence to support such a conclusion.

The inference is often drawn that Bathsheba should not have been exposing herself as she did, and that it was her indiscretion which started this whole sequence of events. Some think her actions may have been deliberate (She knew David was there and could see. . . .), while others would be more gracious and assume it was simply poor judgment. Let me point out several things from the text. First and foremost, when Nathan pronounces divine judgment upon David for his sin, Bathsheba and Uriah are depicted as the victims, not the villains. When Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically indicted Adam, Eve, and the serpent, and each received their just curse. This is simply not the case with Bathsheba. Nowhere in the Bible is she indicted for this sin. It may be that the author did not choose to focus upon Bathsheba, but even in this case, the Law would clearly require us to consider her innocent until proven guilty.

It is very clear in Samuel that the tragedies which take place in David's household are the consequence of his sin, just as Nathan indicates (12:10-12). Thus, when Amnon rapes Tamar, the sister of Absalom, it is a case of the “chickens coming home to roost.” Note that it is at David's command or summons that Tamar is called to the palace, and then to Amnon's bedside. There is not so much as a hint that when Tamar is raped, it is all of Amnon's doing. Should this not strongly indicate that the same is true in Bathsheba's case, of which this second incident is a kind of mirror image?

When we read of this incident, we do so through Western eyes. We live in a day when a woman has the legal right to say “No” at any point in a romantic relationship. If the man refuses to stop, that is regarded as a violation of her rights; it is regarded as rape. It didn't work that way for women in the ancient Near East. Lot could offer his virgin daughters to the wicked men of Sodom, to protect strangers who were his guests, and there was not one word of protest from his daughters when he did so (Genesis 19:7-8). These virgins were expected to obey their father, who was in authority over them. Michal was first given to David as his wife, and then Saul took her back and gave her to another man. And then David took her back (1 Samuel 25:44; 2 Samuel 3:13-16). Apparently Michal had no say in this whole sequence of events.

To approach this same issue from the opposite perspective, think with me about the Book of Esther. When the king summoned his wife, Queen Vashti, to appear (perhaps in a way that would inappropriately display her to the king's guests), she refused. She was removed (see Esther 1:1-22). She did not lose her life, but she was at least replaced. Then, we read later in this same book that no one could approach the king unless he summoned them. If any approached the king and he did not raise his scepter, they were put to death (Esther 4:10-11). Does this not portray the way of eastern kings? Does this not explain why Bathsheba went to the king's palace when summoned? Does this help to explain why she seems to have given in to the king's lustful acts? (We do not know what protests -- like Tamar's in chapter 13 -- she may have uttered, but we do have some sense of the powerlessness of a woman in those days, especially when given orders by the king.

Now, having looked at the big picture, let's concentrate on a few details. The text informs us that David sees this woman bathing and notes that she is very beautiful. It is sometimes thought that David saw Bathsheba unclothed as she bathed herself publicly, and that the sight of her (unclothed/partially) body prompted David to act as he did. Virtually the identical words employed in our text (“very beautiful in appearance”) are found in Genesis 24:16 of Rebekah, as she came to the well with a water jug on her shoulder. She was neither naked nor partially clothed. Similar (though not identical) descriptions are found, where no exposure of the woman is indicated at all (see Genesis 12:11; 26:7; 29:17; Esther 1:1). I believe one of the reasons David summons Bathsheba to his palace is that he has not seen all that he wishes.

Let's pursue this matter a little more. Bathsheba is bathing herself. We tend to assume that this means she is disrobed, at least partially. I believe Bathsheba is bathing herself in some place normally used for such purposes. Only David, with his penthouse vantage, would be able to see her, and a whole lot of other folks if he chose. The poor do not have the same privacy privileges as the rich. I have seen any number of people bathing themselves on the sidewalks of India, because this is their home. The word for bathing employed here is often used to describe the washing of a guest's hands or feet and for the ceremonial washings of the priests. Abigail used this term when she spoke of washing the feet of David's servants (1 Samuel 25:41). Such washings could be done, with decency, without total privacy. We assume far too much if we assume Abigail is walking about unclothed, in full sight of onlookers.

Incidentally, Bathsheba is washing herself in Jerusalem, from which all the men of fighting age have gone to war. Remember the words of verse 1:

1 Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem (emphasis mine).

It is not as if Bathsheba is acting in an unbecoming manner, knowing that men are around. She has every right to assume they are not. David is around, but he should not be. On top of this, she is not bathing herself at high noon; she is bathing in the evening. This is when the law prescribed (for ceremonial cleansing), and it is when the sun is setting. In other words, it is nearly dark when Bathsheba sets out to wash herself. David has to work to see what he does. I believe Bathsheba makes every effort to assure her modesty, but the king's vantage point is too high, and he is looking with too much zeal. I am suggesting that David is much more of a peeping Tom than Bathsheba is an exhibitionist. I believe the text bears me out on this.


If I am right in what I have been saying, David's sin becomes that much more wicked. In some instances a woman may purposely or unwittingly encourage the one who assaults her. In this case, there is not so much as a hint that this takes place. In fact, if I am reading the story accurately, David's “sighting” of Bathsheba is the result of her keeping the law, while David is failing his responsibilities as king.

This passage, even though we have made our way through the first four verses of it, has much to teach us. Let me seek to summarize some of its lessons.

First, the root of David's sin is not low self-esteem; it is arrogance. I am getting quite weary of hearing that the root of all evils is low self-esteem. I wonder why we see nothing of this in the Bible. David's problem is just the opposite. He has become puffed up and arrogant because of his success and status as Israel's king. He has come to see himself as different/better than the rest of the Israelites. They need to go to war; he does not. They need to sleep in the open field; he needs to get his rest in his own bed, in his palace. They can have a wife; he can have whatever woman he wants.

Second, the nature of David's sin is the abuse of power. Power corrupts, we are told, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. David has come to power. In the previous chapters, David employed his God-given power to defeat the enemies of God and of Israel. He used his power as Israel's king to fulfill his covenant with David and his promise to Saul by restoring to Mephibosheth his family property and by making him a son at his table. Now, David, drunk with his power, uses it to indulge himself at the expense of others. I want you to notice the repetition of the word “send” or “sent” in this chapter. It is a king like David who can send all the men to war but stay home himself (verse 1). It is a king like David who can send people to inquire about Bathsheba, and then to send messengers to “take” her and bring her to his palace (verses 3-4). It is a king like David who can “send” for Uriah and “send” orders to Joab to have him killed. David has the power, and he certainly knows how to use it, only now he is using that power for his own benefit, at the expense of others. This is not servant leadership.

Sexual abuse and sexual harassment are two of the ways people abuse their power. Parents begin to think they own their children, and that they can use their children to satisfy themselves, so they engage in various forms of abuse, often sexual in nature. Bosses get used to being in control and telling people what to do, and it should not be surprising to learn that they sometimes abuse their power over employees and subordinates to sexually satisfy themselves. This sin is no different from that of David.

I must press the point a little further. Of course it is wrong for David to use his power to have sex with another man's wife. But it is not right to abuse power even when sex is permissible. A husband should not abuse his power in order to have sex with his wife. And a wife should not abuse her power (of saying “No,” for example) to punish or put off her husband. Within marriage, sex is simply another area of serving our mate. It is not the opportunity to lord it over our mate.

Third, prosperity is as dangerous -- and sometimes more dangerous -- than poverty and adversity. We all get weary of the adversities of life. We all yearn for the time when we can kick back and put up our feet and relax a bit. We all tire of agonizing over the bills and not having quite enough money to go around. David certainly looked forward to the time when he could stop fleeing from Saul and begin to reign as king. But let me point out that from a spiritual point of view, David never did better than he did in adversity and weakness. Conversely, David never did worse than he did in prosperity and power. How many psalms do you think David wrote from his palatial bed and from his penthouse? How much meditation on the law took place while David was in Jerusalem, rather than on the battlefield? We are not to be masochists, wanting more and more suffering, but on the other hand we should recognize that success is often a greater test than adversity. Often when it appears “everything's goin' my way” we are in the greatest danger.

Fourth, sin is sequential. Sin “happens,” but it seldom “just happens.” Sin does not come out of nowhere. We see this sequence in the Book of James:

13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. 14 But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. 15 Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death (James 1:13-15).

David's sin did not just suddenly appear in a moment of time. David set himself up for this fall. We know he disengaged himself from the battle, choosing instead a life of comfort and ease. You and I may make the same decision, though in a slightly different way. We may choose to ease up in our pursuit of becoming a disciple of our Lord, of the disciplined life which causes us to bring our bodies under our control (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). We may weary of taking up our cross and begin to take up ourselves as our highest cause. We may back off in the area of separation, having become weary of being laughed at for our Christian principles. We may keep quiet, rather than bear witness to our faith, lest we be rejected by our peers. We may hold off from rebuking a fellow-believer, who is falling into sin, because the last time we tried it was very messy. When we retreat from the battle, a fall is not far away.

Sins of commission are often the result of sins of omission. David committed sin by his adultery with Bathsheba and later by the murder of her husband, but these sins were borne out of David's omissions which came to pass when he stayed home, rather than go to war. These sins of omission are often difficult to recognize in ourselves or others, but they are there. And after a while, they incline us to more open sins, as we see in David.

Within those of you who are reading this message, I know there are some who have already fallen in a similar way to David. You have already committed adultery. To you, I would say: “Stop now!” How much better it would have been if David had confessed to his sin with Bathsheba before he went on to murder Uriah. Sin is like a cancer: the sooner it is cut out, the better; the longer it is left, the more it grows. If you have fallen as David did (or in some other way), forsake your sin, confess it, find God's forgiveness, and move on.

Some of you have not yet sinned as David did, but you are already on your way. You are like David when he chose to stay in Jerusalem, and when he chose to stay in bed. You have not yet sinned in a dramatic fashion, but you are laying the groundwork for it. It's only a matter of time and opportunity. My question to you is not whether you are actively committing sin, but whether you are actively committed to Christ, serving Him as you serve others, using the power (spiritual gifts) God has given you to benefit others? Let us learn from David's omissions, rather than learn (experientially) from his commissions.

The apostle John put it this way:

7 But if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us (1 John 1:7-9).

1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

4 Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. 5 You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. 6 No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him. 7 Little children, make sure no one deceives you; the one who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous; 8 the one who practices sin is of the devil; for the devil has sinned from the beginning. The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil. 9 No one who is born of God practices sin, because His seed abides in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:4-9).

37 I don’t think I’m exaggerating here. The interaction between David and Uriah seems to indicate that David was puzzled as to why Uriah would not enjoy the good life in Jerusalem if he had the opportunity to do so. Uriah, on the other hand, chose to live as he would have on the battlefield.

38 This reference to Bathsheba’s “purification” is interesting and perplexing. The King James Version reads, “and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house” at verse 4. The New King James Version is slightly different: “and he lay with her, for she was cleansed from her impurity; and she returned to her house” (note the change from a semi-colon to a comma, and from a colon to a semi-colon). The NIV reads, “and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.)” The NRSV reads, “and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.).” There are two questions, which the text does not clearly seem to answer: (1) From what was Bathsheba purifying herself -- from her menstrual uncleanness, or from her uncleanness due to sexual intercourse? Both are dealt with in Leviticus 15. (2) When did this cleansing occur, and when was it completed? Was Bathsheba’s bathing which David witnessed part of her ceremonial cleansing? If so, there may have had to be a delay before the Law permitted intercourse. Otherwise, David would have caused her to violate the Law pertaining to cleansing, since it may not have been complete. The translations which make her cleansing a past, (continued) completed event seem to be suggesting that she was now legally able to engage in intercourse, though certainly not with David. If she was still in the process of her cleansing, David’s sin of adultery is compounded because it was committed at the wrong time, while cleansing was still in process. It is also possible to read the text (as does the NASB) to say that Bathsheba waited at David’s house until she was ceremonially clean from her evening with David. It is interesting that nothing is said of David waiting until he was cleansed. The inference I take from this “cleansing” reference is that Bathsheba was still concerned about keeping the Law of Moses, even if David was not.

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10. David and Uriah (2 Samuel 11:5-27)


Twenty-five years ago, hotel personnel noticed that a stairwell door lock had been taped in the open position. Three police officers responded to find five unauthorized individuals inside the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee. Burglars had broken in to readjust some of the bugging equipment installed in an earlier break-in in May. Documents of the Democratic National Committee had been photographed in the first break-in.

No one really seemed able to explain just what these burglars expected to gain from their crime. Whatever it was, if there had been an honest confession of all that was done and what they were attempting to do, it may have been taken as a minor crime of political intrigue with minimal impact. It was the attempt to cover up the crime which led to massive repercussions. Richard Nixon, the President of the United States, was forced to resign amid talk of impeachment. A number of his closest associates were indicted, convicted, and sentenced to prison terms.

Throughout history, many attempts have been made to cover up incompetence, immorality, and even crimes. In the Bible, cover-ups appear very early. Adam and Eve sought to cover their nakedness and to hide from God, not realizing their efforts betrayed their sin and guilt. Our lesson from 2 Samuel 11 is one of the great cover-up attempts of all time, and like so many, it too fails miserably.

Our previous lesson attempted to explain David's sin with Bathsheba in a way that placed the guilt squarely upon David, and not upon Bathsheba. This was all of David's doing, not due to temptation or seduction on Bathsheba's part, but because of arrogance, lust, and greed on David's part. David had no desire for Bathsheba to become his wife, or even to carry on an adulterous affair with her. He sought one night's pleasure, and she went home. That was that, or so it seemed. But then David received word from Bathsheba that this one night resulted in Bathsheba's pregnancy. Our text takes up here with the account of David's desperate attempt to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. As we all know, it did not work, and it only made matters worse.

The story of David and Uriah reminds me of the story of the “Sorcerer's Apprentice.” It has been awhile, but as I remember the plot (probably the Walt Disney version), the sorcerer goes away, leaving his apprentice behind to do his chores. The apprentice gets the bright idea that the work would be a whole lot easier if he used his master's magical arts so he could sit back and watch other powers at work. The problem was that he didn't know how to stop what he started, and so more and more helpers came on the scene as the apprentice tried to reverse the process.

At this point in time, David's life is very similar. He begins to stack one sin upon another, certain that each one will somehow wipe out visibility of the previous sin. Instead, his sins only multiply. More and more people become aware of his sin, and a cover up becomes impossible. Many lessons can be learned from this tragic episode of David's life, which if heeded, will keep us from duplicating them in our own lives. May the Spirit of God open our ears and our hearts to listen and learn from David's attempt to cover up his sin with Bathsheba.

The Setting

In our first lesson, we devoted our attention to the first four verses of chapter 11, which depict David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba. I sought to demonstrate that this sin was all of David's doing. The author points his accusing finger at David, not Bathsheba. It was not Bathsheba's indiscretion in bathing herself (as I understand this story), for she was simply obeying the ritual of purification outlined in the law. It was David who, by means of his lofty elevation and view, looked inappropriately at Bathsheba, violating her privacy. I endeavored to demonstrate that David's sin with Bathsheba was the result of a sequence of wrong decisions and attitudes on David's part. In one sense, being on the path he was, his destination (of adultery, or something like it) was to be expected. His sins of omission finally blossomed and came into full bloom.

One of the tragic aspects of our story is that the sequence of sin in David's life does not end with his adulterous union with Bathsheba. It leads to a deceptive plot to make her husband Uriah appear to be the father of David's child with Bathsheba and culminates in David's murder of Uriah and his marriage to Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. As we take up where we left off in our last lesson, a few more bits of background information are vital to our understanding of this text.

(1) It seems likely that David and Uriah are hardly strangers, but that they know each other, to some degree at least. Uriah is listed among the mighty warriors of David (2 Samuel 23:39; 1 Chronicles 11:41). Some of the “mighty men” came to David early, while he was in the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-2), and we suspect that among them were Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, the three brothers who were mighty men (see 2 Samuel 23:18, 24; 1 Chronicles 11:26).39 Others joined David at Ziklag (1 Chronicles 12:1ff.), and still other great warriors joined with David at Hebron (1 Chronicles 12:38-40).40 We do not know when and where Uriah joined with David, but since his military career ends in 2 Samuel 12, his military feats must have been done earlier. It seems very unlikely that David and Uriah are strangers; rather, it would seem these two men know each other from fighting together, and perhaps even from fleeing Saul together.

(2) It seems unlikely that Uriah is ignorant of what David has done and of what he is trying to accomplish by calling him home to Jerusalem. Rumors must have been circulating around Jerusalem about David and Bathsheba, and could easily have reached the Israelite army which had besieged Rabbah. Uriah not only refuses to go to his house and sleep with his wife, he sleeps at the doorway of the king's house, in the midst of his servants. He has many witnesses to testify that any child borne by his wife during this time is not his child. It is clear that Uriah understands exactly what David wants him to do (to have sex with his wife), and that he refuses, even when the king virtually orders him to do so. One finds this difficult to explain if Uriah is ignorant of what happened between David and Bathsheba. At least Uriah knows what David is trying to get him to do on this stay in Jerusalem. The implications of all this we will explore later.

(3) Bathsheba is not said to have any part in David's scheme to deceive Uriah or to bring about his death, much less any knowledge of what David is doing. When she informs David that she is pregnant, David takes decisive action, but nowhere are we told that Bathsheba has a part in his schemes. Verse 26 makes it sound as though she learns of Uriah's death after the fact, through normal channels. After all, would David really want his new wife to know he murdered her husband? David acts without Bathsheba's help.

A Problem Pregnancy

It looks as though Bathsheba never enters David's mind after their encounter described in verses 1-4. It certainly does not seem that David wants to continue the relationship, to carry on an affair, or to marry her. David simply puts this sinful event out of his mind, until a messenger is sent by Bathsheba informing the king that his night of passion has produced a child. Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant, not that she is afraid she might be. This means that she has missed at least one period and probably another. All in all, several weeks or more have passed. It will not be long before her pregnancy will become obvious to anyone who looks at her. This is David's sin and his responsibility, and so she informs him.

Plan A: Enable Uriah To Do What Comes Naturally

David's plan is simple and, at least in his mind, foolproof. In short, David will entice Uriah to think and to act as he himself has done. David does not wish to endure the adversities of the war with Rabbah, and so he goes to Jerusalem, to his home, and to his bed. He does not wish to deny himself, so he takes the wife of another man and sleeps with her. David will give Uriah the same opportunity, except that it will be his own wife he will sleep with. After Uriah has sexual relations with Bathsheba, all will conclude that he is the father of the child which has been conceived by David's sinful act. Only one thing is wrong with David's plan: he assumes Uriah is as spiritually apathetic as he, and that he will act to indulge himself, rather than act like a soldier at war.

David sends word to Joab, ordering him to send Uriah home to Jerusalem. I take it from the context that Uriah is sent to Jerusalem on the pretext that he is needed to report directly to David on the state of the war. I doubt David wants Uriah to know he has ordered Joab to send him. I am certain David does not want Uriah to know the real purpose of his journey to Jerusalem. David is orchestrating this homecoming to appear as though it serves one purpose, while it actually serves David's purpose of concealing his own sin. Even at this level, the order for Uriah to return home has a bad odor. You may remember that when David's father wanted to know how the battle with the Philistines was going (three of his sons were involved), he sent David, the youngest son, as an errand boy to take some supplies and return with word about the war (1 Samuel 17:17-19). One does not need to send a military hero as a messenger (nor is it good practice).

I should also add that Joab is already being drawn into the conspiracy. Joab obeys David's command to send Uriah, and my guess is that Joab knows something is up. He may even have heard about David's liaison with Bathsheba. When he sends Uriah to Jerusalem, he has to give him some mission, some task to perform. Joab and Uriah may have sensed that this was no “mission impossible” (as you would give a mighty warrior), but that is a “mission incredible.” In any case, the web of deceit and deception is already being woven, and more people are being drawn into the conspiracy.

When Uriah arrives in Jerusalem, he reports to David, who acts out the charade he has planned. He asks Uriah about the “welfare of Joab and the people,” and the “state of the war.” It troubles me that David needs such a report at all. If he were with his men in the field, this would not be necessary. But even worse, David does not really care about Joab, the people, or the war. David's one preoccupation is to cover up his sin, to get Uriah home and to bed with his wife, and thus to get David off the hook. How sad to read of David's hypocrisy. The king who had compassion on the crippled son of Jonathan now lacks compassion for the whole army, and specifically for Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.

David goes through all the right motions with Uriah. He listens to his reports, and then he gives him the night off, some time to go to his house and “wash his feet.” David is not worried about this soldier's personal hygiene; he is worried about his own reputation. When one entered his house, he usually took off his shoes and washed his feet, in preparation for eating and for going to bed. David very delicately encourages this man to go home and go to bed with his wife. Uriah knows it; our author knows it; and we know it.

Uriah leaves David's presence. Now David adds a further touch. He sends a “present from the king” after, or with, Uriah. How we would love to know just what that “gift” was. Was it a night for two at the Jerusalem Hilton? Was it dinner and dancing at a romantic restaurant? I think we can safely say this: (1) We are not told what the present was. (2) We are not supposed to know, or it would not add to the story for us to know what it was. (3) Whatever it was, it was very carefully planned to facilitate David's scheme of getting Uriah to bed with his wife, as quickly as possible.

Uriah has to understand what the king is suggesting. Who wouldn't want to go home and enjoy his wife after some time of separation, thanks to the war with the Ammonites? Instead, we are told that Uriah never leaves the king's house. He sleeps in the doorway of the king's house, in the presence of a number of the king's servants. I am inclined to understand that at least some of these servants, if not all of them, are the king's bodyguards (compare 1 Kings 14:27-28). Uriah is a soldier. He has been called to his king's presence, away from the battle. But as a faithful servant of the king, he will not enjoy a night alone with his wife; instead, he will join with those who guard the king's life. This is the way he can serve his king in Jerusalem, and so this is what he chooses to do rather than to go home. The irony is overwhelming. The king's faithful soldier spends the night guarding the life of the king, the king who has taken his own wife in the night, and who will soon take his life as well.

Plan B: Be Clearer and More Emphatic With Uriah

David has his spies watching Uriah as though he is the enemy. They know what David wants; he wants Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife. If they do not know all of the details of what David has done with Bathsheba (which is hard to believe) and what he intends to accomplish by Uriah's visit, they certainly know something out of the ordinary is taking place. One way or the other, David is making these servant-spies co-conspirators with him.

The servant-spies come to David in the morning with an amazing report: “He didn't do it. He didn't even go home!” David then seeks to gently rebuke Uriah. The hypocrisy of David's actions and words are hard to accept. He plays the role of a benevolent master. Uriah, his servant, has “come home from a journey” (verse 10). Is this not the time for him to concern himself with his needs and desires? Is this not the time to concern himself with his wife's needs? How insensitive of Uriah not to go home to be with his wife and to sleep with her. “Shame on you, Uriah!” Uriah has a lot of explaining to do, or so it seems to David.

And explain he does; Uriah's words to his commander-in-chief are as stinging a rebuke as David receives from Nathan in the next chapter. Uriah clearly understands that what David once encouraged him to do (i.e. go to be with his wife) he is now strongly urging -- even commanding -- him to do. Uriah humbly but steadfastly refuses to do this:

Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah are staying in temporary shelters, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? By your life and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing” (2 Samuel 11:11).

Uriah first points out to David that his terminology is inaccurate. David speaks of Uriah returning from a journey (verse 10). The truth is that Uriah has been called from the field of battle. He is not a traveling salesman, home from a road trip; he is a soldier, away from his post. In heart and soul, Uriah is still with his fellow-soldiers. He really wants to be back in the field of battle, and not in Jerusalem. He will return as soon as David releases him (see verse 12). Until that time, he will think and act like the soldier he is. As much as possible, he will live the way his fellow-soldiers are living on the field of battle. There, surrounding the city of Rabbah, are the Israelite soldiers, led by Joab. They, along with the ark of the Lord, are camping in tents in the open field. Uriah cannot, Uriah will not, live in luxury while they live sacrificially. He will not sleep with his wife until they can all sleep with their wives.

With all due respect, Uriah declines -- indeed Uriah refuses -- to do that which would be conduct unbefitting a soldier, let alone a war hero. I think it is important to see that there is no specific command here which Uriah refuses to disobey. To my knowledge, there is no specific law in the Law of Moses which forbids a soldier to have sex with his wife during times of war. (Had this been true in the earlier days of Israel's history, there would not have been another generation of Israelites, since Israel was almost constantly at war with one of their neighbors.) This is the conviction of Uriah as a soldier, and he will not violate his conscience, even when commanded to do so by the king.

To fully grasp the impact of Uriah's words, let us turn back a few pages in Samuel's writings to recall David's own words, spoken to Ahimelech the priest, as they relate to this encounter with Uriah:

1 Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” 2 David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, 'Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.' 3 “Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” 4 The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” 5 David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” (1 Samuel 21:1-5).

You may remember that when David first fled from Saul he went to Ahimelech the priest and asked for some provisions and a sword. The priest had nothing but the sacred bread, which he would allow David and his men to eat, if they had only “kept themselves from women” (verse 4). The priest assumes they may have conducted themselves otherwise. David's answer, and especially the tone of it, is very pertinent to our text. He confidently assured the priest that he and his men had kept themselves from women, almost incensed that the priest would think otherwise. And the reason David gives is that he and his men are on a mission for the king. The inference is that this is a military (or at least official) mission.

Now here is a most amazing thing. David, years earlier, was adamant about the fact that those on a mission for the king should keep themselves from sexual intercourse. Now, years later, David is amazed that a man on a mission for the king is willing to abstain from sexual intercourse with his wife. Worse yet, David sets out to convince -- even to compel -- Uriah to go to do so, even though it will cause him to violate his conscience. This is not “causing a weaker brother to stumble;” this is cutting off a stronger brother's legs at the knee. Uriah is an example of the commitment expected of every soldier, and of David in particular -- at least the David of the past. Uriah is now acting like the David we knew from earlier days. Uriah is the “David” that David should be.

Uriah's words should have shocked David into a realization of the depth of his sin. The author uses these words in an ironically pivotal way. Uriah has just told David that he will not go to his own house, that he will not eat and drink and sleep with his wife.41 He has put this matter emphatically: “By your life, and the life of your soul, I will not do this thing” (verse 11). In the very next verses, David compels Uriah to “eat and drink” with him, with the hope that he will lie with his wife. And when Uriah swears by the life of the king that he will not do so, the king ends up taking Uriah's life. How ironic! How tragic!

Plan C: Get Uriah to Do Drunk What He Will Not Do Sober

David is getting desperate. David has not even entertained the possibility that Uriah will refuse his offer. Uriah speaks with such conviction, David knows that he will never violate his duty as a soldier with all of his mental faculties. David lands upon one last modification to his original plan -- get Uriah drunk and then into bed with his wife. After all, don't people do things when they are drunk that they will not do when sober? This will surely bring about David's intended outcome.

It must be with great apprehension that Uriah joins David for dinner this last night in Jerusalem. David begins to eat and to drink, and he will not take no for an answer when he offers food and drink to Uriah. Eventually, it works, for David makes sure that Uriah has enough alcohol in his system to make him drunk. And in this condition, David sends Uriah home to “sleep it off,” in his own bed, of course. Even drunk, Uriah will not violate his conscience!42 Once again, Uriah spends the night at the doorway of David's house, along with his servants. He does not go to his own house, and thus he does not sleep with his wife. David is in trouble.

Plan C: In Desperation, David Has Uriah Put To Death

David has set out on a course of action that backfires. He intends to put Uriah in a position that will make it appear that he is the father of Bathsheba's child. But Uriah's conduct has publicly exhibited his loyalty to his duties as a soldier, making it more than evident that he cannot possibly be the father of this child. It is worse for David now than it had been when he summoned Uriah to Jerusalem. David concludes -- wrongly -- that his only course of action now is to have Uriah killed in action. I don't know that David actually thinks he can deceive the people of Jerusalem as to whose child Bathsheba's baby is. How can he when everyone knows Uriah has never been with his wife to get her pregnant? It seems now as though David is simply trying to legitimize his sin. By making Uriah a casualty of war, he makes Bathsheba a widow. He can now marry this woman and raise the child as his own, which of course it is.

It must be an agonizing night for David, seeing that even drunk Uriah is a better man than he. And so in the morning, David acts. He writes a letter to Joab, which will serve as Uriah's death warrant. In this letter David clearly orders Joab to murder Uriah for him. He even tells him how to do so in a way that might conceal the truth of the matter. In so doing, David will honor Uriah as a war hero, and magnanimously take on the duty of being a husband to Uriah's wife, also taking care of the child she is soon to bear. Joab is to put Uriah on the front lines of battle, at the fiercest place of battle, no surprise for a man of his military skills and courage. Joab is to attack and then retreat in such a way as to make Uriah an easy target for the Ammonites, thus assuring his death. There is no mistaking David's orders to Uriah: he wants Uriah killed in a way which makes it look like a simple casualty of war. Joab complies completely with David's orders, and Uriah is eliminated, no longer an obstacle to David's plans. In giving this order to Joab, David makes him a part of this conspiracy, making him share the guilt for the spilled blood of Uriah. David's sin continues to encompass more and more people, leading to greater and greater sin.

How strange it is to see David, the mighty man of valor, (1 Samuel 16:18) dealing with Uriah, another mighty man of valor, like the enemy. Here is Uriah, a man who will give his life for his king, and David, a man who is now willing to take Uriah's life to cover his sin. We all know that it doesn’t work. How strange it is to see David making Joab his partner in crime, especially after what Joab has done to Abner:

26 When Joab came out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David did not know it. 27 So when Abner returned to Hebron, Joab took him aside into the middle of the gate to speak with him privately, and there he struck him in the belly so that he died on account of the blood of Asahel his brother. 28 Afterward when David heard it, he said, “I and my kingdom are innocent before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. 29 “May it fall on the head of Joab and on all his father's house; and may there not fail from the house of Joab one who has a discharge, or who is a leper, or who takes hold of a distaff, or who falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” 30 So Joab and Abishai his brother killed Abner because he had put their brother Asahel to death in the battle at Gibeon (2 Samuel 3:26-30).

David condemned Joab and put him under a curse because he shed the innocent blood of Abner. Now, this same David (well, not really the same David) now uses Joab to kill Uriah and get him out of his way. David's enemy (Joab) has become his friend, or at least his ally. David's enemies (the Ammonites) have become his allies (they fire the fatal shots which kill Uriah). And David's faithful servant Uriah has been put to death as though he were the enemy. Not only is Uriah put to death, but a number of other Israelite warriors die with him. They have to be sacrificed to conceal the murder of Uriah. Uriah's death has to be viewed as one of a group of men, rather than merely one man. Without a doubt, this is the moral and spiritual low-water mark of David's life.

Joab Handles a P.R. Problem

These eight verses, devoted to the way in which Uriah's death is reported, are double the length of the account of David's sin with Bathsheba. They virtually equal the length of the account of David's dealings with Uriah. These verses begin with Joab's careful instructions to the messenger, who is to bring the news of Uriah's death to David. They conclude with the messenger's actual report and David's response to it. Why does the author devote so much time and space to the way in which Uriah's death is reported to David? Let us see if we can find the answer to this question as we look more closely at these verses.

Mission accomplished: Uriah is dead. Joab has carried out David's instructions to the letter. Now Joab must send word to David, in a way that does not completely disclose this conspiracy. Joab calls for a messenger to go to David. He gives very exacting instructions to him. He is first to give a full and complete report of the events of the war, including the ill-fated attack on the city, and the slaughter of Uriah and those with him. Why is how the messenger reports this incident so important?

The answer is quite simple, as is evident by Joab's own concerns. The entire mission is a fiasco. The Israelites have besieged the city of Rabbah. This means they surround the city, giving the people no way in or out of the city. All the Israelites have to do is wait them out and starve them out. There is no need for any attack. The mission is a suicide mission from the outset, and it does not take a genius to see it for what it is. Joab has to assemble a group of mighty men, like Uriah, and including Uriah, to wage an attack on the city. This attack is not at the enemy's weakest point, as we would expect, but at the strongest point. This attack provokes a counter-attack by the Ammonites against Uriah and those with him. When the Israelite army draws back from their own men, they leave them defenseless, and the obvious result is a slaughter. How can one possibly report this fiasco in a way that doesn’t make Joab look like a fool (at best), or a murderer (at worst)?

This the reason for Joab's careful instructions to the messenger. He is to report the attack on the city of Rabbah to David, and then tell of the Israelite losses which result. Joab knows that David will react (perhaps hypocritically) to the report of the attack and the resulting losses. It is at this point, Joab instructs the messenger, that he is to inform David of the death of Uriah. This will certainly end any protest or criticism on David's part.

And so in verses 22-25 we are given an account of the messenger's arrival, of his report to David, and of David's response. I must point out that the messenger does not do as he is told, at least the way I read the account. The messenger goes to David and tells the king how the Ammonites prevailed against them as they left the city and pursued the Israelites into the open field. The Israelites then pursued the Ammonites, pushing them back toward the city as far as the city gate. It was here that Uriah and those with him were fighting. It was here that they were within range of the archers, who shot at them and killed a number of servants. And quickly the servant adds, “and your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead” (verse 14).

Now why does this messenger not wait for David to respond in anger, as Joab instructed? Why does he inform David that Uriah has been killed, before he even utters a word of criticism or protest? I believe the messenger gives the report in this way because he understands what is really going on here. I think he may know about David and Bathsheba, and perhaps even of her pregnancy. He certainly knows that Uriah was summoned to Jerusalem. I think he also figures out that David wants to get rid of Uriah, and that Joab has accomplished this by this miserable excuse for an offensive against the enemy. I think the messenger figures out that if David knows Uriah has been killed, he will not raise any objections to this needless slaughter. And so, rather than wait for David to hypocritically rant and rave about the stupidity of such a move, he just goes on and tells him first, so that he will not receive any reaction from David.

And the servant is absolutely right, as the verse 25 indicates:

Then David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, 'Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as another; make your battle against the city stronger and overthrow it'; and so encourage him” (2 Samuel 11:25).

These words of David are the frosting on the cake. They seem gracious and understanding, even sympathetic. In effect, David is saying, “Well, don't worry about it. After all, you win a few, and you lose a few. That's the way it goes.” Uriah, a great warrior and a man of godly character, has just died, and David does not express one word of grief, one expression of sorrow, not one word of tribute. Uriah dies, and David is unmoved. Contrast his response to the death of Uriah with his responses to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:11-27), and even of Abner (2 Samuel 3:28-39). This is not the David of a few chapters earlier. This is a hardened, callused David, callused by his own sin.


Our text has many applications and implications for today. Let me suggest a few as I conclude this lesson.

First, “Can a Christian fall?” Yes. Some folks in the Bible may cause us to question whether they really ever came to faith in God, folks like Balaam or Samson or Saul. But we have no such questions regarding David. He is not only a believer, he is a model believer. In the Bible, David sets the standard because he is a man after God's heart. Nevertheless, this man David, in spite of his trust in God, in spite of his marvelous times of worship and his beautiful psalms, falls deeply into sin. If David can fall, so can we, which is precisely what Paul warns us about:

11 Now these things happened to them as an example were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Corinthians 10:11-12).

Second, “How far can a Christian fall?” This far. David not only commits the sin of adultery, he commits murder. I think it is safe to say that there is no sin of which the Christian is not capable in the flesh. I have heard people say, “I don't know how a person who _______ could have ever been a Christian.” There are times -- like this time for David -- when others will hardly know we are saved by the testimony of our actions.

Third, “How fast can a Christian fall?” This fast. It is amazing how quickly David falls into the sins depicted in this one chapter. Apart from God's sustaining grace, we can fall very far, very quickly. Let us be reminded of this fact from David's tragic experience.

Fourth, sin snowballs. Sin is not stagnant; it is not static. Sin grows. Look at the progression of sin in our text. David's sin starts when he ceases to act like a soldier and becomes a late sleeper. David's sin grows from adultery to murder. His sin begins very privately, but as the story progresses, more and more people become aware of it, and worse yet, more and more people become participants in it. His sin first acted out by his taking another man's wife, and then taking her husband's life, and along with his life, the lives of a number of men who must die with him to make his death credible. David's sin blossoms so that it transforms a true and loyal friend (Uriah) to his enemy, and his enemies (the Ammonites, and in some senses, Joab) into his allies.

Fifth, when we seek to conceal our sin, things only get worse. Thus, the best course of action is to confess our sins and to forsake them.

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Proverbs 28:13).

How much better it would have been for David simply to have confessed his sin with Bathsheba and found forgiveness then, but he tries to cover up his sin, and it only makes matters worse.

Man has been seeking to cover up his sins ever since the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve thought they could cover their sins by hiding their nakedness, and if not this, by hiding themselves from God. But God lovingly sought them out, not only to rebuke them and to pronounce curses upon them, but to give them the promise of forgiveness. It was God who provided a covering for their sins. The sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is God's provision for covering our sins. Have you experienced it, my friend? If not, why not confess your sin now and receive God's gift of forgiveness in the person and work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary?

Sixth, our text makes Uriah a hero and a model, not a chump and not a sucker. There are those who might conclude that Uriah's elevator may not “go to the top floor” (as my neighbor used to say of those she considered less than bright). Is Uriah gullible? Is he ignorant of what David is trying to do? I don't think so. This is what makes his loyalty to David and to God's Law so striking. I think it is safe to say that here Uriah is very much like David in his earlier days, in terms of his response to Saul. As Saul sought to kill David unjustly, because he was jealous of his successes, so also David submitted himself to faithfully serving Saul, his master. He left his safety and future in God's hands, and God did not fail him.

Seventh, Uriah is a reminder to us that God does not always deliver the righteous from the hand of the wicked immediately, or even in this lifetime. Daniel's three friends told the king that their God was able to deliver them. They did not presume that He would, or that He must. And God did deliver them. I think Christians look upon this deliverance as the rule, rather than the exception. But when Uriah faithfully serves his king (David), he loses his life. God is not obliged to “bail us out of trouble” or to keep us from trials and tribulations just because we trust in Him. Sometimes it is the will of God for men to trust fully in Him and to submit to human government, and still to suffer adversity, from which God may not deliver us. Spirituality is no guarantee that we will no longer suffer in this life. In fact, spiritual intimacy with God is often the result of our sufferings (see Matthew 5).

In the Old Testament, as in the New, God sometimes delivers His people from the hands of wicked men, but often He does not. Their “deliverance” comes with the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Uriah, like all of the Old Testament saints of old, died without receiving his full reward, and that is because God wanted him to wait. Uriah, like many of the Old Testament saints, was not delivered from the hands of the wicked. This is pointed out by the author of Hebrews:

13 All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. 15 And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. . . . 32 And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection; and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; 36 and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated 38 (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. 39 And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect (Hebrews 11:13-16, 32-40).

Uriah should not be criticized or looked down upon for his loyalty and submission to David. He should be highly commended. In fact, a friend suggested a new thought for my consideration: “Suppose that Uriah was added to the list of war heroes because of his loyalty and courage in this battle which cost him his life? It is a possibility to consider. Uriah is one of those Gentile converts whose faith and obedience puts many Israelites to shame. He is among many of those who have trusted and obeyed God who have not received their just rewards in this life, but who will be rewarded in the coming kingdom of God. Too many Christians today want their blessings “now” and are not willing to suffer, waiting for their reward then. Let them think carefully about the example of Uriah for their own lives.

39 We know that while David was at the cave of Adullam, his brothers and all his father’s household, along with others in distress, came to David there, fearing the wrath of Saul (1 Samuel 22:1-2). Joab, Abishai, and Asahel were all the sons of Zeruiah, the sister of David (1 Chronicles 2:16). I infer from this that these three men joined David at the time his family joined him.

40 Note here that there was a three-day feast of David and the men who joined with him. This was certainly a time to get to know these men.

41 Is this, by any chance, a clue as to what the “present” was that David sent after Uriah in verse 8? Was the present some “food and drink”? I wonder.

42 Uriah’s actions raise some interesting questions about those who get themselves drunk. It seems to me that our text strongly implies that even drunk, a man cannot be forced to violate his convictions, unless of course he wants to do so. I wonder how many people get drunk because they want to do what they do drunk, and they think they can blame alcohol for their own sin? It seems like another version of, “The Devil made me do it.”

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11. David and God (Nathan) (2 Samuel 12)


A couple of years ago, my wife Jeannette and I went to England and Scotland with my parents. Each night we stayed at a “bed and breakfast” as we drove through Wales. There were a number of farms, but not so many towns in which to find a place to stay for the night. We saw a “bed and breakfast” sign and traveled along the country road until we found the place -- a very quaint farm. We saw several hundred sheep in a pasture, a stone trestle, and stone barns. It looked like the perfect place, and in many ways it was. What we did not realize was that the stone trestle was a railroad trestle for a train that came by late at night, a few feet from the house where we slept. Two cows also calved that night. I have spent my share of time around farms, but I have never heard the bellow of a cow that was calving echo throughout a stone barn.

In addition to the hundreds of sheep in a nearby pasture, there was a small lamb in a pen, very close to the house. It was a frisky, friendly little fellow, and we loved to play with it. We were somewhat perplexed as to why this fellow was kept by himself, away from the rest of the flock. The farmer's nephew came by, and I asked him. It took a while to understand his strong accent, but finally I realized he was telling me this was a “pet lamb.” The problem was that he said it as though it were one word, “petlamb.” This was obviously a separate category, distinct from the category of mere “sheep” or a “lamb.” This “pet lamb” was given a special pen, right by the house, and a lot more attention and care than the rest.

Now this little fellow was one lamb among a great many. Nevertheless, he enjoyed the distinction of being regarded as a “pet lamb.” In the story which Nathan tells David, it is not quite the same. Nathan tells David of a “pet lamb” who is the only sheep of a poor farmer. This lamb does not live in a pen outside the house; it lives inside the house, often in the arms of its master, and eats the same food he eats. This is the story Nathan tells David, which God uses to expose the wretchedness of David's sin. It is our text for this message, and once again, it has much to teach us, as well as David. Let us give careful heed to the inspired words of Nathan, and learn from a lamb.


David has become king of both Judah and Israel. He has, in large measure, consolidated his kingdom. He has taken Jebus and made it his capital city, renaming it Jerusalem. He has built his palace and given thought to building a temple (a plan God significantly revises). He has subjected most of Israel's neighboring nations. He has done battle with the Ammonites and prevailed, but he has not yet completely defeated them. The Ammonites have retreated to the royal city of Rabbah, and as the time for war (spring) approaches, David sends all Israel, led by Joab, to besiege the city and to bring about its surrender. David has chosen not to endure the rigors of camping in the open field, outside the city. He has chosen rather to remain in Jerusalem. Sleeping late, David rises from his bed as others prepare to go to bed for the night. David strolls about the rooftop of his palace and happens to steal a look at a beautiful young woman bathing herself, perhaps ceremonially, in fulfillment of the law.

It is not due to any intent on her part, nor even any indiscretion. She is bathing herself as darkness falls, and being poor (see 12:1-4), she does not have the privilege of complete privacy, especially when the king can look down from the lofty heights of his rooftop vantage point. David is struck with her beauty and sends messengers to inquire about her identity. They inform David of her identity, and that she is married to Uriah, the Hittite. That should have ended his interest, but it does not. David sends messengers who take her, bringing her to his palace, and there he sleeps with her. When she cleanses herself, she goes home.

It all seems to be over. David is not looking for another wife; he is not even looking for an affair. He is looking for a conquest. That should have happened on the battlefield, not in the bedroom! Things take a very different turn when Bathsheba sends word to David that she is pregnant. David first seeks to cover up his sin by ordering Joab to send Uriah home on furlough, ostensibly to give David a report on the war. David's efforts to get Uriah into bed with Bathsheba begin as subtle hints, then change to veiled orders, and then turn crass as David seeks to get Uriah to do drunk what he will not do sober. When these efforts fail (due to Uriah's noble character), David sends Uriah back to Joab, with written orders to Joab to put him to death in a way that makes it seem like a casualty of war. Joab does as he is told and sends word to David: “Mission accomplished.” It is here that our story resumes.

Responses To Uriah's Death

Bathsheba's response to the death of her husband is as we would expect, as we would also hope. From what the text tells us, she has absolutely no part in David's plot to deceive her husband, let alone to put him to death. Undoubtedly, she learns of Uriah's death in much the same way every war widow does, then or now. When she is officially informed of Uriah's death in battle, she mourns for her husband. We cannot be certain just how long this period of mourning is. We know, for example, that if a virgin of some distant (i.e., not Canaanite) nation was captured by an Israelite during a raid on her town, the Israelite could take her for a wife after she had mourned for her parents (who would have been killed in the raid) for a full month (Deuteronomy 21:10-13). As I will seek to show in a moment, I believe Bathsheba's mourning is genuine, and not hypocritical. I believe she mourns her husband's death because she loves him.

David, on the other hand, does not even bother to go through the pretense of mourning. He does not even try to be hypocritical. When other mighty men of Israel died, David led the nation in mourning their loss. David mourned for Saul and his sons, killed in the battle with the Philistines (2 Samuel 1). David mourned the death of Abner, wickedly put to death by Joab (2 Samuel 3:28ff.). He even sent a delegation to officially mourn the death of Nahash, king of the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10). But when Uriah is killed “in battle,” not a word of mourning comes from David's lips. He is not sorry; he is relieved. Instead of instructing others to mourn for Uriah, he sends word to Joab not to take his death too seriously.

When Bathsheba's mourning is complete, David sends for her and brings her to himself as his wife. I do not see him bending down on his knees, proposing. I do not see him courting her, sending her roses. I see him “taking” her once again. The question in my mind is, “Why?” Why does David take Bathsheba into his house as one of his wives? I do not think he is any longer trying to “cover up” his sin; it is far too late for that. She must be “showing” her pregnancy by now, and it is hard to imagine how all Israel cannot know what has been going on. It appears that at this point, David is not trying to conceal his sin, but to legitimize it. Whatever David's reasons may be, they are hardly spiritual, and they are most certainly self-serving.

Nathan has a response to the death of Uriah too, which is taken up in the first part of chapter 12. But let us save that until after drawing your attention to something which has been going on in David's life that we have not seen from our text, and which the author of Samuel has not recorded. But David himself discloses this to us in one of his psalms, written in reflection of this incident in our text.

David is Divinely Prepared for Repentance
(Psalm 32:3-4)

3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.

Psalm 32 is one of two psalms (the other is Psalm 51) in which David himself reflects on his sin, his repentance, and his recovery. Verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 32 are the focus of my attention at this point in time. These verses fit between chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel. The confrontation of David by Nathan the prophet, described in 2 Samuel 12, results in David's repentance and confession. But this repentance is not just the fruit of Nathan's rebuke; it is also David's response to the work God has been doing in David's heart before he confesses, while he is still attempting to conceal his sin.

In these verses, David makes it clear that God is at work even when it does not appear to be so. During the time David tries to cover up his sin, God is at work exposing it in his heart. These are not times of pleasure and joy, as Satan would like us to conclude; they are days of misery. David is plagued with guilt. He cannot sleep, and it seems he cannot eat. He is not sleeping nights, and he is losing weight. Whether or not David recognizes it as God who is at work in him, he does know he is miserable. It is this misery which tenderizes David, preparing him for the rebuke Nathan is to bring, preparing him for repentance. David's repentance is not the result of David's assessment of his situation; it is the result of divine intervention. He has gone so far in sin that he cannot think straight. God is at work in David's life to break him, so that he will once again cast himself upon God for grace.

Nathan Tells a Shepherd a Sheep Story

1 Then the LORD sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said, “There were two men in one city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 “The rich man had a great many flocks and herds. 3 “But the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb Which he bought and nourished; And it grew up together with him and his children. It would eat of his bread and drink of his cup and lie in his bosom, And was like a daughter to him. 4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, And he was unwilling to take from his own flock or his own herd, To prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him; Rather he took the poor man's ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”

5 Then David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die. 6 “He must make restitution for the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing and had no compassion.”

There are several important things to note about this meeting between Nathan and King David.

First, note that Nathan is sent to David. Nathan is, of course, a prophet. However it comes about, he knows what David has done. If you will pardon the pun, David cannot pull the wool over his eyes. His words are, in the final analysis, the very word of God (see 12:11). If Nathan is a prophet, he is also a man who seems to be a friend to David. One of David's sons is named Nathan (2 Samuel 5:14). David informs Nathan of his desire to build a temple (chapter 7). Nathan will name Bathsheba and David's second son (12:25). He will remain loyal to the king and to Solomon when Adonijah seeks to usurp the throne (1 Kings 2). Nathan does not come to David only as God's spokesman, he comes to David as his friend.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).

Second, note that Nathan is sent to David. Twelve times in the last chapter the word “sent” is employed by the author. A number of these instances refer to David “sending” someone or “sending” for someone. David is a man of power and authority, and so he can “send out” for whatever he wants, including the death of Uriah. Now, it is God who does the “sending.” Is David impressed with his power and authority? Has he gotten used to “sending” people to do his work for him (like sending Joab and all Israel to fight the Ammonites)? Let David take note that God is sending Nathan.

Third, Nathan comes to David with a story. In the New American Standard Bible, this is not just a story, but a kind of poetic story. In my copy of the NASB, the words of the story are formatted in such a way as to look like one of the Psalms.43 It took me a while to take note of this, but if this is so, it means that Nathan comes to David prepared. Under divine inspiration, I am sure God could inspire a prophet to utter poetry without working at it in advance, but this does not seem to be the norm. Nathan comes to David well prepared. He is not just “spinning a yarn;” Nathan is telling a story, a very important story with a very important message for David.

Fourth, Nathan's story is a “sheep story,” one that a shepherd can easily grasp and with which he can readily identify. David was a shepherd boy in his younger days, as we know from the Book(s) of Samuel (see 1 Samuel 16:11; 17:15, 28). I wonder if in those lonely days and nights David does not make a “pet lamb” of one or more of his sheep? Did this sheep eat of his food and drink from his cup? Possibly so.

Fifth, the story Nathan tells David does not “walk on all fours” -- that is, there is no “one to one correspondence” with the story of David's sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. The sheep (which we would liken to Bathsheba) is put to death, not the owner (whom we would liken to the sheep's poor owner). I think it is important to take note of this fact, lest we press the story beyond its intent.

Why a story? Why not just let David have it head-on, with both barrels? Many will point out that this is a skillfully employed tactic, which gets David to pronounce judgment on the crime before he realizes that he is the criminal. I think this is true. David is angry at this “rich man's” lack of compassion. If he could, he would have this fellow put to death (!). But as it is, justice requires a four-fold restitution. But having already committed himself in principle, Nathan can now apply the principle to David, in particular.

As I understand the Bible, there is more to the story than this, however. Our Lord frequently told stories. Why was this? Was it because He was trying to “put the cookies on the lowest shelf”? Was He accommodating His teaching to those who might have difficulty understanding it? Sometimes our Lord told stories to the religious experts, who should have been able to follow a more technical argument. I am thinking in particular of the story of the Good Samaritan, as recorded in Luke 10. A religious lawyer stood up and asked Jesus a question, not to sincerely learn, but with the hope of making our Lord look bad before the people. He asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus turned the question around. This man was the expert in the Law of Moses, what did it teach? The man answered, “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND; AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Luke 10:27). In effect, Jesus responded, “Right. Now do it.” That was the problem with the law, no one could do it without failing, and so no one could earn their way to heaven by good works.

The lawyer knew he was in trouble and tried to dig himself out (bad choice). He (like many lawyers then and now) thought he could get himself off the hook by arguing in terms of technicalities. And so he had a follow-up question for Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus did not debate this man on his own terms. He was not willing to get into a word study in the original text. Instead, Jesus told a simple story, the story of the Good Samaritan. At the end of the story, Jesus asked a simple question,

36 “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers' hands?” 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same” (Luke 10:36-37).

The lawyer was in trouble; the story had no technicalities over which to argue. It brought the issue home, with little ground for quibbling over details. When push came to shove, the lawyer knew our Lord's functional definition of “neighbor” was absolutely right. He had nowhere to hide. The story did the trick; it cut to the heart of the matter, while avoiding trivial details to quibble over for hours. It was not the lawyer who made Jesus look bad with all his minutia but Jesus who made the lawyer look bad with a simple story.

That is part of the reason Nathan told David this story. It was never meant to be a makeover of David's sin; it is meant to expose David's sin in principle, in a way that cannot be denied. Having done this very well, Nathan then presses on to deal with David's sin specifically.

The story Nathan tells David is very simple. Two men lived in the same city; one was very rich and the other was very poor. The rich man had flocks and herds.44 The rich man did not just have a large flock and a large herd; he had many flocks and many herds. We would say this man was “filthy rich.” The poor man had but one ewe lamb; this was his “pet lamb.” He purchased it and then raised it in his own home. The lamb spent much time in the man's lap and being carried about. It lived inside the house, not outside, being hand fed with food from the table and even drinking from its master's cup. Some of you cannot even imagine what this is like. It is a horrifying thought to you. How could anyone treat an animal that way? I have only one response: Obviously you haven't been to our house lately to be greeted by two cats (who, to the dismay of my wife, can be found around -- and sometimes on -- the table) and four dogs (none of them are ours, technically).

The rich man had a guest drop in for a visit, and as the host he was obliged to provide him with a meal. The rich man decided upon lamb, and yet he was not willing to sacrifice one lamb from all those he owned. Instead, he took the poor man's lamb, slaughtered and served it to his guest, so as not to suffer any losses personally. He not only let (i.e., forced) the poor man to pick up the tab for the meal, he deprived this man of his only lamb, and one that was like a member of the family.

I hope I am not guilty of attempting to make this story “walk on all fours” when I stress the same thing the story does -- that there is a very warm and loving relationship between the poor man and his “pet lamb.” Considered along with everything else we read about Uriah and Bathsheba and David, I must conclude that the author is making it very clear that Uriah and Bathsheba dearly loved each other. When David “took” this woman to his bedroom that fateful night, and then as his wife after the murder of Uriah, he took her from the man she loved. Bathsheba and Uriah were devoted to each other, which adds further weight to the arguments for her not being a willing participant in David's sins. It also emphasizes the character of Uriah, who is so near to his wife, who is being urged by the king to go to her, and yet who refuses to do so out of principle.

David does not see what is coming. The story Nathan tells makes David furious. The David who was once ready to do in Nabal and all the male members of his household (1 Samuel 25) is now angry enough to do in the villain of Nathan's story. In some ways, David's response is a bit overdone. He reminds me a bit of Judah in Genesis 38, when he learns that Tamar, his daughter-in-law is pregnant out of wedlock. Not realizing that he is the father of the child in her womb, Judah is ready to have Tamar burned to death. How ironic that those who are guilty of a particular sin are intolerant of this sin in the life of others.

David identifies two evils that have been committed by this fictional rich man. First, the man has stolen a lamb, for which the law prescribed a fourfold restitution (Exodus 22:1). Second, David recognizes what he views as the greater sin, and that is the rich man's total lack of compassion. David is furious because a rich man stole and slaughtered a poor man's pet. He does not yet see the connection to his lack of compassion for stealing a poor man's beloved companion, Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. The slaughtering of Uriah is most certainly an act which lacks compassion. The crowning touch in David's display of righteous indignation is the religious flavoring he gives it by the words, “as the Lord lives” (verse 5).

Nathan's Indictment

7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 'I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.”'

David has just sprung the trap on himself, and Nathan is about to let him know about it. The first thing Nathan does is to dramatically indict David as the culprit: “You are the man!” In stunned silence, David now listens to the charges against him. David thinks only in terms of the evils the rich man committed against his neighbor, stealing a man's sheep and depriving him of his companion. Put another way, David thinks only in terms of crime and socially unacceptable behavior, not in terms of sin. In verses 7-12, Nathan draws David's attention to his sin against God and the consequences God has pronounced for his sin. Note the repetition of the pronoun “I” in verses 7 and 8: “It was I who. . .

  • . . . anointed you king
  • . . . delivered you from the hand of Saul
  • . . . gave you your master's house and your master's wives
  • . . . gave you the house of Israel and Judah

God speaks to David as though he has forgotten these things, or rather as though he has come to take credit for them himself. Everything David possesses has been given to him by God. Has it been so long since David was a lowly shepherd boy that he has forgotten? David is a “rich” man because God has made him rich. And if he does not think he is rich enough, God will give more to him. David has begun to cling to his “riches,” rather than to cling to the God who made him rich.

I fear some of us tend to miss the point here. We read Nathan's story and we hear Nathan's rebuke as though David's sin is all about sex. David does commit a sexual sin when he takes Bathsheba and sleeps with her, knowing she is a married woman. But this sexual sin is symptomatic, according to Nathan, and thus according to God. God is not just saying, “Shame on you, David. Look at all the wives and concubines you had to sleep with. And if none of these women pleased you, you could have obtained another woman, just one that was not already married.” Nathan tells David the story of a rich man and a poor man. God tells David through Nathan that all that he possesses (his riches) He has given to him. God will even add to David's riches (and not just to his harem). David's problem is that his possessions have come to own him. He is so “possessed” with his riches that he is unwilling to spend any of them. He wants “more” and “more,” and so he begins to take what isn’t his to take, rather than to ask the divine Giver of all he has.

We can see now why David wrote these words in Psalm 51:4: “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned.”

First and foremost, David's sin is against God. He has ceased to humbly acknowledge God as the Giver of all he possesses. He has ceased to look to God to provide him with all his needs -- and his desires. David has not only ceased to ask God to supply his needs, he has disobeyed God's commands by committing adultery and murder. David's sin against God manifests itself by the evils he commits against others. Nathan outlines these, employing a repetitive “you:”

You despised the Word of the Lord by doing evil in His sight.

You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword.

(You) have taken his wife to be your wife.

(You) have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon.

Nathan now proclaims the irreversible consequences to come upon David and his family due to his sin:

Therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife

I will raise up evil from your own household

I will even take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your companion

He will lay with your wives in broad daylight

You did this secretly

I will do this openly, before all Israel, and under the sun.

The evil David commits against others is clear disobedience to the revealed Word of God. David is a “man after God's own heart,” and yet in this instance, David “despised the Word of the Lord.” While David does repent and the guilt of his sin is forgiven, these consequences will not be reversed. These consequences are just; they fit the crime David committed. He used the sword of the Ammonites to kill Uriah, and so the sword will not depart from his house. He took the wife of another man, and so his own wives will be taken by another, another from his own house.

The consequences are not only appropriate, but intensified. David took one man's wife; another will take several of his wives. This happens when Absalom rebels against his father's rule and temporarily takes over the throne. Following the advice of Ahithophel, Absolom pitches a tent on the roof of David's palace (the place from which David first looked upon Bathsheba) and there, in the sight of all Israel, sleeps with David's concubines as a declaration that he has taken over his father's throne and all that goes with it (2 Samuel 16:20-22). While David seeks to commit his sins in private, God sees to it that the consequences are very public.


The story goes on as you well know, but we shall stop here, having focused on Nathan's divinely directed rebuke of David. In our next lesson we will give thought to David's repentance and to the immediate consequences of his sin. But let us close this message by considering some very important lessons for us to learn from David's sin and Nathan's rebuke.

(1) Nathan is a prophet, but he is also an example of a faithful friend. Proverbs puts it this way:

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy (Proverbs 27:6).

I do not know how many people I have known who refused to rebuke or even caution someone close to them, thinking that they are being a friend by being non-condemning. A good friend does not let us continue on the path to our own destruction. Nathan was acting as a prophet, but he was also acting like a friend. Would that we had more prophet-friends. Would that we were a prophet-friend to one on the path of destruction.

Deliver those who are being taken away to death, And those who are staggering to slaughter, Oh hold them back (Proverbs 24:11).

(2) God sees our sin, even when men do not. Our sins never slip past God unnoticed. The wicked refuse to believe that God sees their sin, or that if He does, that He will deal with it:

And they say, “How does God know? And is there knowledge with the Most High?” (Psalm 73:11; see 2 Peter 3:3ff.)

God may delay judgment or discipline, but He will never ignore our sin.

20 So Moses said to them, “If you will do this, if you will arm yourselves before the LORD for the war, 21 and all of you armed men cross over the Jordan before the LORD until He has driven His enemies out from before Him, 22 and the land is subdued before the LORD, then afterward you shall return and be free of obligation toward the LORD and toward Israel, and this land shall be yours for a possession before the LORD. 23 “But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:20-23, emphasis mine).

(3) God is under no obligation to stop us from sinning. Sometimes people justify their sin by saying something like: “I've prayed about it and asked God to stop me if it is wrong. . . .” When God does not stop them, they somehow assume it must be right. God could have stopped David after he chose to stay home from the war, or after he began to covet Uriah's wife, or after he committed adultery, but instead He allowed David to persist in his sin for some time. God even allowed David to get away with murder, for a time. God's Word forbade David's sins of coveting, adultery, and murder. God's Word commanded David to stop, and he did not. God allowed David to persist in his sin for a season, but not indefinitely. God allowed David's sin to go full circle, to reach full bloom, so that he (and we) could see how sin grows (compare Genesis 15:12-16).

(4) David's sin was not intended as an excuse for us to sin, but as a warning to all of us how capable we are of sin. I have heard it said more times than I wish to recall, “Well, even David sinned. . . .” What they mean is, “How can you expect me not to sin? If David, as spiritual as he was, sinned as he did, then how can you expect me to do any better?”

If we look very carefully at the Bible, we will see why stories like that of our text were written. They were not written to encourage us to sin, but to warn us of the danger of sin, and thus to encourage us to avoid sin at all costs. After outlining the major sins of the nation Israel in the wilderness in 1 Corinthians 10:1-10, Paul then applies the lesson of history to the Corinthians, and thus to us:

11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 12 Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:11-13; see also Romans 15:4-6).

Let me press this matter even further. David did not plan to sin, as many who try to use his sin as an excuse do. David “fell” into sin; those who would use his sin for an excuse “plunge headlong” into sin. There is a very important difference. In addition, David's sin was the exception, not the rule:

Because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:5, emphasis mine).

(5) David's sin, like all sin, is never worth the price. I have actually had people ask me what the penalty for a certain sin would be, planning to do it and then be forgiven. There are those who toy with sin, thinking that if they sin, they may suffer some consequences, but that God is obliged to forgive them, and thus their eternal future is certain and secure, no matter what they do, even if intentionally. I know of one situation in which a church leader left his wife and ran off with the wife of another, planning to later repent, and then expecting to be welcomed back into the fellowship of that church. This is presumptuous sin, sin of the most serious and dangerous kind. Rather than open a “can of worms” at this point in this message, let me simply say this: “No one ever chooses to sin, and then comes out of it with a smile on their face.”

I used to teach school. From time to time the principal would call a misbehaving student to his office. I will never forget when one of my students was called to his office, and then returned with a smirk on his face. One of my students protested publicly, “Will you look at that? He went to the principal's office and came back with a smile on his face!” My young student was absolutely right. Being called to the principal's office for correction should produce repentance and respect, not a smile. In those few times when I found it necessary to use the “rod” of correction, I purposed that no student would come back into the room with a smile, and none did (including the principal's own son, I might add, who was not even in my class).

I have never met a Christian who chose to sin, and after it was all over felt that it was worth the price. David's sin and its consequences should not encourage us to sin, but should motivate us to avoid sin at all costs. The negative consequences of sin far outweigh the momentary pleasures of sin. Sin is never worth the price, even for those whose sin is forgiven.

(6) It was the story of the slaughter of a lamb which exposed the immensity of David's sin. It is the story of the slaughter of The Lamb of God which exposes the immensity of our sins. Isn't it amazing that David was so blinded by his own sin that he could not see it? It was by means of the story of the slaughter of a poor man's pet lamb that David was gripped with the immensity of the sin which was his own. David could see his own sin when he heard the story of what appeared to be the sin of another.

That is precisely what the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ does for us. We were dead in our trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). We were blinded to the immensity of our sins (2 Corinthians 4:4). The coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, His perfect life, His innocent and sacrificial death, His literal and physical resurrection are all historical events. But the gospel is also a story, a true story. When we read the New Testament Gospels, we read a story that is even more dramatic, more amazing, more disturbing than the story Nathan told David. When we see the way unbelieving men treated our Lord, we should be shocked, horrified, and angered. We should cry out, “They deserve to die!” And that they do. But the Gospel is not written only to show us their sins -- those who actually heard Jesus and cried, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him” -- it is written so that the Spirit of God can cry out in our hearts, “Thou art the man!” When we see the way men treated Jesus, we see the way we would have treated Him, if we were there. We see how we treat Him today. And that, my friend, reveals the immensity of our sin, and the immensity of our need for repentance and forgiveness.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is “Good News.” The “Good News” is that the death of our Lord, which reveals the immensity of our sin, is the immense work of God by which He can and will forgive us of our sin. By His innocent and sacrificial death, Jesus died in our place, paid the penalty for our sins. He bore ours sins on the cross! And by trusting in His death, burial, and resurrection, we die to sin and are raised to newness of eternal life, in Christ. The Gospel must first bring us to a recognition of the magnitude of our sin, and of our guilt, and then it takes us to the magnitude of God's grace in Jesus Christ, by which our sins can be forgiven. Have you come to see how great your sins are before a holy God? Then I urge you to experience how great a salvation is yours, brought about by this same God, through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. What a Savior!

His own iniquities will capture the wicked, And he will be held with the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22).

“But he who sins against me injures himself; All those who hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36).

Who can say, “I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin”? (Proverbs 20:9)

He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion (Proverbs 28:13).

43 I should also say that other translations don’t seem to follow the NASB in dealing with these words as poetry.

44 The expression “flocks and herds” occurs rather frequently in the Bible. The term “flock” refers to smaller animals, like sheep and goats. “Herd” refers to larger animals, like oxen and cows.

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12. Real Repentance (2 Samuel 12:1-13 )

See Psalms 32 & 51


At the end of my first year of seminary, I had a unique summer job. I was hired to teach high school history and psychology at the medium security prison in my hometown. My uncle worked there as a guard, and a number of the prison teaching faculty and staff had once been my teachers when I was a high school student (even my high school principal was the principle of the prison high school). One of my fellow-teachers told me an interesting and mildly amusing story of one of his experiences while teaching there.

The prison attempted to rehabilitate the inmates by enabling them to complete their high school courses and then receive a high school diploma. The school was held inside the prison in some of the very finest facilities I have ever seen.45 Classes were seldom larger than 20 students, and a guard was posted out in the hall, “just in case. . . .” One school rule was that you could not sleep in class. As my colleague showed a movie to his class one day, one of his students was particularly sleepy. He did not even try to stay awake, but put his head down on his desk and slept. As my friend walked around the classroom, he noticed this sleeping student and made his way around to his desk where he gently tapped him on the shoulder, and then walked on. A little later, he again made his way past this fellow's desk, and he was still sleeping soundly. My teacher friend gently tapped him again. The third time around, my friend grasped the fellow by the shoulder, and gently shook him (my friend was not the aggressive type). This time the young man awoke, jumped to his feet, and then turned to my friend and threatened, “If you ever do that to me again, you're going to get it!” My friend backed away and made his way to the door, where he beckoned for Mr. Look, our faithful guard. (Mr. Look was a sergeant in the Navy, and he knew how to deal with such matters.) Mr. Look escorted the student to the “hole” (solitary confinement).

A month later, the student was released from solitary confinement and returned to his classes. The first day he returned to my friend's class, he made his way up to him to “apologize.” “I'm really sorry about what I said to you,” he explained, “but I think you misunderstood me. What I said to you was, 'If you ever do that again, you might get it.'“ That, my friend, is not repentance.

This young man's “repentance” is all too common. True repentance is a rare thing to find, even in the Bible. In our text, David said to Nathan, “I have sinned. . . .” These same words (or their equivalent) are found elsewhere in the Scriptures, but not always with the same sincerity. For example, Pharaoh twice told Moses, “I have sinned . . .” (see Exodus 9:27; 10:16-17). It is obvious to all that his was not a sincere repentance. Balaam was intercepted by the angel of God on his way to Balak, and when he realized he had barely escaped death at the hand of the angel of God, he exclaimed, “I have sinned . . .” (Numbers 22:34). Later biblical texts inform us that his repentance was also false. Judas, who betrayed our Lord, confessed to his sin, but he did not truly repent of it either (Matthew 27:4). Thus, we must conclude that merely saying, “I have sinned” is not proof of genuine repentance.

This is most certainly the case with the repentance of many of those who came to John the Baptist, seeking to be baptized:

5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 “Therefore bear fruit in keeping with repentance; 9 and do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father'; for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham” (Matthew 3:5-9).

John the Baptist raised the issue of real repentance, because he saw many whose “repentance” fell far short of the mark. Today the issue of real repentance is very much alive. Some undoubtedly go too far by laying down their own legalistic demands as the only “fruit in keeping with repentance.” On the other hand, there are those who teach that repentance is simply a matter of “agreeing with God.” But their definition of repentance results in a mere mouthing of guilt, in a manner that minimizes the guilt and horror of sin and sets one up to repeat that same sin again. To top it all off, we see the teary-eyed confessions of televangelists and other prominent professing Christian leaders and wonder whether their repentance is for real. I believe David's repentance is genuine and that it provides us with an example of repentance that is real.

I know I have restricted our study to a very small portion of our text -- one verse to be precise. Our focus is not really as narrow as it might seem, however. I wish to consider 2 Samuel 12:13 in the light of David's life after this confession, as well as his expanded confession in two of his psalms which deal specifically with his sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba -- Psalms 32 and 51. Let us listen carefully then to see what real repentance looks like.

Common Characteristics of Pseudo-Repentance

I have already mentioned some instances of false repentance in the Bible, but let us pursue this matter a little further, so that David's real repentance can be viewed in contrast to the false repentance of others. Specifically, I would like to draw your attention to Saul, who three times before has uttered these same words, “I have sinned . . .” (1 Samuel 15:24, 30; 26:21). What is it about Saul's “repentance” which falls far short of real repentance? Let us pause to reflect on Saul's “repentance.”

(1) Saul's first response to a prophetic rebuke is silence. I must point out that while Saul may appear to repent in 1 Samuel 15, and again in chapter 26, this “repentance” is both too little and too late. The place repentance should first be found is in chapter 13. There, the Philistines have invaded Israel in force. Saul has but a handful of men, and they are quickly deserting. Although Saul was instructed to wait for Samuel, who would offer the sacrifices (1 Samuel 10:8), he felt time was short and that he could wait no longer. And so Saul offered the burnt offering himself, only to see Samuel arrive just after he had done so. When Samuel rebuked Saul for this act of rebellion against God, Saul sought to defend himself, claiming that he had acted appropriately, given the circumstances. Samuel did not accept Saul's excuse and rebuked him for his foolishness and disobedience, informing him that it would cost him his kingdom. Saul's response was silence. Here was a man who had just been told his days as Israel's king were numbered, but rather than confess his sin, he parted company with Samuel in silence.

(2) Saul's second response to Samuel's prophetic rebuke is met with resistance, and then with a reluctant confession. In 1 Samuel 15, Saul is commanded by God through Samuel to annihilate the Amalekites and their cattle as the outworking of divine judgment (15:1-3). Saul partially obeys, keeping back some of the best cattle and sparing the life of Agag, the Amalekite king. When Samuel arrives, Saul approaches him boldly, pronouncing God's blessing on him, and claiming that he has carried out God's command (15:13). Hearing the bleating of the sheep that have been spared, Samuel is not impressed by Saul's greeting. Sensing Samuel's displeasure, Saul quickly begins to make excuses, laying the blame for his sin off on the people and insisting that the cattle were only kept alive as sacrificial animals.46 Even after Samuel's rebuke (one which sounds very similar to God's two-fold rebuke of David in 2 Samuel 7:8-9 and 12:7-8), Saul still denies his guilt, maintaining that he really did “obey the voice of the Lord” (1 Samuel 15:20). Only after Samuel persistently refused to accept his excuses did Saul finally confess that he had sinned in verses 24 and 30. I can only call this “repentance” reluctant repentance.

(3) Saul's “repentance” fails to take personal responsibility for his sin and seeks to pass off his guilt to others. Like Adam and Eve, Saul sought to pass off the responsibility for his own sin to someone else (compare Genesis 3:11-13). Even as late as verse 24, Saul is still hedging. He tries to convince Samuel that even though he had sinned, he did so under pressure from the people (15:15, 21, 24).

(4) Saul “repents” in an effort to minimize the consequences of his sin. Saul seems to have no interest in the cause of his sin, or in its cure. He is only concerned that his suffering be minimized. He asks Samuel to quickly forgive him, and then to go on (with worship!) as though nothing has happened. He wants Samuel to accompany him and thereby to honor him, so that he does not lose face with the people (15:30). Saul's “repentance” would better be labeled “damage control.”

(5) Saul's “repentance” is short-lived. For Saul there is no “fruit worthy of repentance,” no change in attitude or action which lasts. Saul's “repentance” does not last any longer than a breath mint. As soon as the pressure is off, and the danger seems to have abated, Saul is back to his sin, if not in the same form, in another. In 1 Samuel 26:21, Saul confessed to David that he had sinned in seeking his life, but had his life not been taken in battle, we have little doubt as to what he would have done to David if given the opportunity. (You will remember that David did not “return” with Saul as he asked here. He knew better!) Saul's repentance was temporary.

Let us now summarize the sequence of events that resulted in Saul's pseudo-repentance in 1 Samuel:

  • Saul seeks to justify his disobedience as though his actions were dictated by the circumstances (a kind of moral “martial law” -- 13:11-12).
  • Saul is silent when it is apparent that God will not accept his excuses (13:15).
  • Saul seeks to re-define his sin of disobedience, as though it were righteous obedience (15:13).
  • Saul seeks to put the blame for his sin on the people, seeking also to excuse their “sin” as a desire to worship (15:15).
  • Saul claims he was seeking to obey God, but was unable to control the people who sinned by keeping some of the animals (while neglecting any mention of his responsibility to kill Agag -- 15:20-21).
  • Saul reluctantly admits to his sin, but still insists that others share in his guilt (15:24).
  • Saul sought to quickly “repent” and be forgiven, so that he could “worship” (15:25).
  • Saul sought desperately to minimize the consequences of his sin, so that he would not need to suffer greatly for his sin (15:25-31).

Saul and David

Before we turn to David's real repentance, let me pause momentarily to make some comparisons between Saul and David. In many ways, I have painted a pretty dismal picture of Saul, which is probably distorted. Regardless of his failures and sins, the author of 1 and 2 Samuel gives us a fairly decent overall report of Saul's administration:

47 Now when Saul had taken the kingdom over Israel, he fought against all his enemies on every side, against Moab, the sons of Ammon, Edom, the kings of Zobah, and the Philistines; and wherever he turned, he inflicted punishment. 48 He acted valiantly and defeated the Amalekites, and delivered Israel from the hands of those who plundered them (1 Samuel 14:47-48).

Earlier comparisons of Saul and David (e.g., in their response to Goliath) made Saul look very bad and David look good. In the light of the sins of David described in 2 Samuel 11 and 12, Saul no longer looks quite so bad. Nowhere do we see Saul taking another man's wife and killing her husband. While Saul does seek to kill David, this was out in the open, rather than done in secret (as David had Uriah killed by Joab). David's sins make Saul look a lot better than he once did. There is, however, something that distinguishes these two men dramatically: David genuinely repented of his sins; Saul did not. David was a man after God's heart. This did not exempt him from the fallenness of man, nor keep him from sinning, but it did result in his genuine repentance for his sin. As we now turn to the subject of David's real repentance, let us seek to identify what real repentance looks like.

Real Repentance

Two short sentences sum up much of chapter 12. The first is that spoken by Nathan: “You are the man!” (verse 7). The second is spoken by David: “I have sinned against the Lord” (verse 13). It is this second statement and its outworking which I wish to explore. Consider the following characteristics of David's repentance, simply stated here, and more fully expounded in Psalms 32 and 51, and evidenced in David's life.

(1) David's repentance was the culmination of a painful process, climaxing in the confrontation of David by Nathan. In our text, David's confession follows shortly after the account of his sin. But the text itself indicates that David's sin took place over a considerable period of time, slightly more than nine months by normal estimates. While our text only informs us of the time and events that have elapsed, Psalm 32 gives us some very pertinent insight into God's work in David's heart during this time:

3 When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away Through my groaning all day long. 4 For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. 5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; And You forgave the guilt of my sin (Psalm 32:3-5).

In this psalm, David informs us that he was silent about his sin. David knew what he did was wrong, but he chose to persist for a time. He did not confess his sin, and the result was “pure hell.” It is an amazing thing, but while sin has its momentary pleasures (see Hebrews 11:25), they are not as pleasurable for the saint as they are for the heathen. The reason is that God's Spirit indwells the saint. As sin grieves the Spirit who indwells us, our spirit cannot take great pleasure in the sin either. I am not saying there is no pleasure; I am saying that the pleasure is minimized by that which gives us joy in obeying God and enjoying fellowship with Him. The agony David describes finally brought him to cease his silence and confess his sins. His repentance was the result of a painful process, most of which took place privately.

This seems often to be the case. I am thinking of the “repentance” of Joseph's brothers, which Joseph brings about through the events described in Genesis 42-45. They clearly sinned against Joseph by selling him into slavery. (They may have salved their consciences by thinking that at least they didn't kill him as they had first conspired to do.) When Joseph rose to the second highest position in Egypt, he had the power to deal with his brothers any way he chose. When they came down to Egypt to buy grain, he could have easily gotten his revenge, but instead he chose to bring them to repentance.47 He did this by disguising his identity. (If he had wanted to get even with them, he would have told them who he was.) Joseph orchestrated events so that his brothers had to make a decision almost identical to the one they had made years before. He put his brothers in a situation where they could hand over Benjamin, abandoning him as a slave in Egypt, or they could all stick together and seek to save him. Judah, who had recommended the sale of Joseph as a slave, now offers himself as a slave so that Benjamin may return to Jacob, his elderly father. This is real repentance. Real repentance not only regrets having done what is wrong (Joseph's brothers regretted the evil they did to Joseph earlier in the story -- 42:21-22), it will not repeat the same sin if given the chance to do so. Joseph gave his brothers the chance, and this time they chose to do what was right. Real repentance is often the result of a long and painful process.

(2) David's repentance was expressed by an unqualified confession of His guilt before God. The brevity and simplicity of David's confession is most impressive. Saul's confessions were not simple, straightforward. Today, he would have had a lawyer (and a press agent) draft his words for him. David takes full responsibility for his sins; Saul seeks to place the blame on others, or at least to share it with others. David confesses his sin as sin, without any excuses, without any finger pointing toward others. He sees his sin as against God.

(3) David took his sin very seriously. Saul constantly sought to minimize his sin, to make it appear less sinful than it was. David did the opposite. Psalms 32 and 51 indicate to us that David gave his sin a great deal of thought, and the more he reflected on it, the more heinous it was. Since these psalms were preserved for worship and for posterity, David's sin and his confession became public knowledge. Ultimately, his sin was against God, God alone. This is not to diminish the evil he had done to Uriah and Bathsheba. Sin is the breaking of God's law, and in this sense, all sin is against God, for it breaks His laws. Crimes are offenses against people, but sin (in this highly specific sense) is only against God, in that it breaks His laws. David had broken at least three laws. He coveted his neighbor's wife, he committed adultery, and he committed murder (Exodus 20:13, 14, 17).

(4) David did not expect any of his good works to offset or reduce the guilt of his sin. We come now to one of the great errors of all time -- the false assumption that God grades on the curve. It is commonly thought (or, more accurately assumed) that men need only outnumber their sins with their good deeds. If they do more “good” than “evil,” then they believe that, on the whole, they are more good than bad, and thus qualified to be accepted by God. They do not understand that the kind of righteousness God requires of men is perfect obedience to His Word. One failure is all it takes to make us unrighteous, and thus worthy of death:

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all (James 2:10; see also Matthew 5:19; Galatians 5:3).

David was a man after God's own heart. He loved God's law. The hand of God was upon him in nearly all he did. Overall, David's life was an example for us to follow, setting a standard for which we should strive. His sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba was clearly the exception, rather than the rule:

Because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:5).

If there was ever a man who could have pointed out that his good deeds outweighed his sins, it would have to be David. But instead, we find David confessing his sin, avoiding all reference to anything good he had done, knowing he deserved God's wrath.

3 For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, So that You are justified when You speak And blameless when You judge (Psalm 51:3-4, emphasis mine).

(5) David did not presume upon God's grace, expecting to be forgiven and to have his life spared. There are those who plan and purpose to sin, believing that God is obligated to forgive them, no matter what. They think that going through some ritual, through repeating some formula, they will then automatically be forgiven, and that life can go on, just as it was. Those who presume upon God's grace in forgiveness confess their sins on the one hand, while planning to repeat them on the other. David confesses his sin against God, and then asks for nothing. He knows what he deserves, and he does not ask to escape it.

In this way, David is like the prodigal son of the New Testament:

17 “But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 18 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.”' 20 “So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. 21 “And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' 22 “But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; 23 and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate (Luke 15:17-24).

This son “messed up” completely, and he knew it. He had deserted his family and spent his inheritance. He had no claim to his forsaken sonship. But this son knew his father, and that being his slave was better than being a slave to his heathen employer in that distant country. And so he returned home, confessing his sin and hoping for nothing more than to become a hired servant. The father's response was gracious, for he gave to this young man what he did not deserve. David, like the prodigal, knew he did not deserve God's forgiveness or His blessings, and so he did not even ask. He only confessed his sin.

(6) David's repentance resulted in a renewed joy in the presence and service of God, and a commitment to teach others to turn from sin. From Psalm 51, we know that David prayed for a renewal of his joy in the Lord (51:8, 12). We have every reason to believe that he was granted this request. In addition, David now desired to teach others:

Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners will be converted to You (Psalm 51:13).

David will now be teaching sinners as a repentant sinner. His teaching will seek to turn sinners from their sin. How different this is from the wicked, who seek to entice others to follow them in their sin:

And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them (Romans 1:32).

I am reminded of Simon Peter, whose denial our Lord foretold, along with these words of hope:

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; 32 but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Peter was cocky, impatient, and impulsive before the cross and before his denial of our Lord. Having failed miserably and received the grace of God, Peter was restored. It was then that Peter's ministry truly began. There is a sense in which God uses our sin to instruct others. This may be as others observe the painful outcome of our sin (Proverbs 19:25), or by observing the restoration and deepened sense of God’s grace that is produced in the life of a repentant and restored sinner.

(7) David's divinely wrought repentance produced fruit worthy of repentance. God responded to David's repentance with grace, and thus David responded graciously to those who wronged him and repented. When Absalom rebelled against his father and was about to take over the kingdom, David fled from Jerusalem with those who followed him. As he was leaving the city, a man named Shimei came out to curse David and to throw stones at him (2 Samuel 16:5-8). Abishai wanted to cut off his head, but David would not allow him to do so. When David returned to Jerusalem, one of those there to meet and welcome him was Shimei, who confessed to David that he had sinned in what he had done earlier (2 Samuel 19:16-20).

Abishai once again wanted to execute Shimei, and this time he had a biblical reason. He called attention to the fact that Shimei had cursed David, the King of Israel. The Law of Moses forbade cursing a ruler of the people (Exodus 22:28). Technically -- or should I say legally -- Shimei should have been put to death, but David forgave him and granted him his life. In so doing, David dealt with Shimei in the same gracious manner God had dealt with him. This incident reminds us of the story our Lord told about the unforgiving slave (see Matthew 18:23-35), whose great debt had been forgiven by the king but who refused to forgive the smaller debt of his fellow-slave. Those who have truly experienced God's grace manifest this same grace toward others. The grace David received as a result of his repentance he showed to a “repentant” Shimei.48

(8) David's repentance produced enduring fruit: David forsook his sin and did not repeat it. There are those, like Pharaoh and like Saul, who seem to repent, but their repentance is short-lived. It certainly did not take Saul long to take up his efforts to kill David, or Pharaoh to again resist Israel's departure from Egypt. This is because their repentance was not real. Indeed, their repentance was simply the path of least resistance, the way to stop the pain of the moment. Stuart Briscoe differentiates between false repentance and real repentance:

“I remember a friend of mine in England who said something to me long ago. 'Baby repentance is sorry for what it has done. Adult repentance is regretful for what it is. If I am merely sorry for what I have done. . . I will go out and do it again.”49

David manifested “adult repentance.” He saw his sin for what it was, and he was genuinely regretful. As a result, he did not repeat the sin.

Forgiveness Granted

And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.

What David did not dare to ask for, he received. What a wave of relief must have swept over David as he heard these words from Nathan, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.” David had condemned himself in his response to Nathan's story of the stolen and slaughtered pet lamb (2 Samuel 12:1-4):

Then David's anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die (2 Samuel 12:5).

Legally, of course, the Law of Moses would only have required four-fold restitution from the culprit of Nathan's story (Exodus 22:1). But David should have died, both for his adultery and for the murder of Uriah.

Under the Law of Moses, David had no hope. He was a condemned man. He was a dead man! How, then is it possible for Nathan to tell David that he will not die? You will notice the promise that David will not die follows this statement: “The LORD also has taken away your sin.” David's “salvation” from divine condemnation, like ours, did not come from law-keeping, but by grace. And the reason David's sin could be forgiven was because the Lord had taken it away.

This “taking away” of sin is not some magic trick, where God simply takes the sin of David and makes it disappear. It has been “taken away.” I believe Nathan's statement can only have been made on the basis of the sure and certain work of Jesus Christ, on the cross of Calvary, centuries later. On the basis of the work of Christ on Calvary, David is forgiven. His sins were borne by our Lord, and thus God's justice was satisfied.

The expression, “has taken away,” in verse 13 of the NASB, would be literally rendered, “caused your sin to pass away,” as you can see in the marginal note. It is a common verb, often used with the sense of passing through or passing over, such as when the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. Here, the term is causative (Hifil) in the original text, so that the rendering, “caused to pass over or away,” is found. Both the New King James Version and the original King James Version render it “put away.” I believe the Hebrew word found in our text is twice employed elsewhere in the Bible in a way that closely approximates the sense of the term in our text.

8 Then Abner was very angry over the words of Ish-bosheth and said, “Am I a dog's head that belongs to Judah? Today I show kindness to the house of Saul your father, to his brothers and to his friends, and have not delivered you into the hands of David; and yet today you charge me with a guilt concerning the woman. 9 “May God do so to Abner, and more also, if as the LORD has sworn to David, I do not accomplish this for him, 10 to transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and to establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan even to Beersheba” (2 Samuel 3:8-10, emphasis mine).

The king took off his signet ring which he had taken away from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman (Esther 8:2).

In both these cases above, the same Hebrew term we find in our text is used to describe the “transfer” of something from one person to another.50 The kingdom of Israel was transferred from Saul to David (2 Samuel 3:8-10). The king's ring, giving a subordinate the authority to act on the king's behalf, was taken from Haman and given to Mordecai. The ring was transferred from one person to another. David's sin was forgiven, and he was assured he would not die because God had transferred his sins. This transfer took place centuries later, when David's “son,” the Lord Jesus Christ, died on the cross of Calvary. David's sins were borne by our Lord, and He paid the penalty for what David had done. David would not die for his sin because Christ was destined to die, bearing the penalty for them.

Nathan speaks of this transfer as though it was a past event. Old Testament prophets often used the past tense to speak of a future event. They did this, it would seem, to emphasize the certainty of the prophesied event. When God promises to do something, it is as we say, “as good as done.” When the prophets spoke of God's future promises, they often did so by employing the past tense. Even centuries before the birth and death of Christ, men were granted forgiveness, based upon this event. David was forgiven because Christ died for his sins on the cross of Calvary. This is the only basis for forgiveness. David rightly confessed that he had sinned against God, and now Nathan assures David that his sin against God has been forgiven by God, through the sacrificial and substitutionary death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. This has always been the only basis for the forgiveness of sins.


Let us conclude this message with several principles and areas of application.

(1) Repentance is a divinely wrought action which employs God's Spirit, God's Word, and God's people, as they are implemented in response to known sin. We cannot change hearts; only God can. In this sense, repentance is the work of God. But God has chosen to employ certain means to bring about His ends, and so it is with repentance. God uses His people, like Nathan, to confront people with their sin. He uses His Word and His Spirit to convict sinners of their sin. Today, as in times past, it is easier to talk to others about sin in someone's life, rather than to talk with that person. The Bible gives us very clear instructions about our obligation toward a brother or sister who appears to have fallen into sin (see Matthew 7:1-5; 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; Galatians 6:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 5:14; 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Titus 3:9-11; James 5:19-20). No one really wants to be a “Nathan” to a “David,” but this is the normal means God has appointed for dealing with sin, or for encouraging the sinner to repent. Nathan was never a better friend to David than when he pointed out his sin, preparing the way for his repentance.

(2) Repentance is the divinely appointed means of obtaining the forgiveness of sins and enjoying fellowship with God. It is clear from David's psalms that when he sinned and sought to conceal his sin, there was a breach in his fellowship with God. David lost the joy of his salvation and the assurance of God's presence in his life. These returned when David repented. Repentance is the expression of faith, and thus the means God has appointed for a lost sinner to receive the forgiveness of sins and assurance of eternal life, in fellowship with God.

1 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 3:1).

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).

And He wondered at their unbelief. And He was going around the villages teaching. 7 And He summoned the twelve and began to send them out in pairs . . . . 12 They went out and preached that men should repent (Mark 6:6a, 12).

45 Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, 47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem (Luke 24:45-47).

38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

18 When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

18 And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, 21 solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:18-21).

Repentance is also required for sinners to forsake their sin and to return to fellowship with God which has been broken by sin. Thus, Paul sought to bring the Corinthian saints to repentance:

9 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 10 For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).

In the Book of Revelation, the letters to the seven churches of Asia contain a call to repentance:

'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place -- unless you repent (Revelation 2:5).

“'Therefore repent; or else I am coming to you quickly, and I will make war against them with the sword of My mouth'“ (Revelation 2:16).

“'So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you” (Revelation 3:3).

'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent” (Revelation 3:19).

Repentance is not a very “in” word, and certainly not a very popular practice. It begins, I believe, with a renewed grasp of the holiness of God, and thus a realization of the immensity of our sin. It leads to a whole new way of looking at life, this time through God's eyes, as conveyed through the Holy Scriptures. It is a revulsion toward sin, so that we determine not to repeat it. It results in a renewed sense of God's presence, a new joy in our salvation, and a desire to turn others from sin.

In my opinion, one of the earmarks of genuine revival is real repentance. Relationships that seemed irreversibly broken are suddenly reconciled. Dead and dying marriages are revitalized. Lost love is found once again. The bondage of sin which leads to compulsive behavior and an endless cycle of sin is broken. It is sad that in our therapeutic age, we use psychological terms to describe spiritual problems, for which the bible has a description and a prescription. We come to accept the belief that many spiritual problems cannot be dramatically reversed or improved, but that it will take years of therapy and with very gradual change, if any. That is not the way the Bible speaks of our response to sin through repentance. Real repentance can and does bring radical change. We must first turn back to the Word of God, we must begin calling sin by its biblical name, and we must call for people to respond in a biblical way -- repentance and faith.

When real repentance takes place, I believe it will be obvious. Our text not only describes real repentance as it relates to our sin, it describes real repentance so that we will be able to recognize it in others. And when there is repentance, we have the obligation to forgive and to receive that individual back into fellowship. Many churches do not practice church discipline, and they do not call for repentance. But those churches which do so also need to be ready and willing to recognize real repentance, and to receive the repentant sinner back into fellowship.

I do not wish to be like one of Job's friends, calling for repentance where it is not appropriate. Not every instance of trial and tribulation is proof of sin on our part. But there are times when our trials are graciously given us by God to call attention to our sin and to call us to repentance. In such times, let us be quick to take responsibility for our sin, let us confess that sin, and then let us forsake it. Let us seek to see things clearly again and to once again enjoy the blessings of salvation and of fellowship with God.

45 The food was so good I did not dare tell my wife what I had for lunch. Even so, one of the inmates complained about the way his steak was cooked.

46 It is most interesting to note here that Saul makes no mention of King Agag. He may have sensed pressure from the people to keep some of the spoils, but who among the people would have pled for Saul to spare Agag’s life? No one comes to mind. Agag was Saul’s personal trophy, whom he planned to keep alive for his own self-serving purposes. And so in his excuse to Samuel, he does not mention Agag, for there was no reasonable excuse for keeping him alive.

47 Joseph had already come to realize that God had elevated him to his position of power, so that he understood that all the evil things his brothers had done to him, God had used for good (see Genesis 41:51-52; 50:20). When he saw his brothers, he remembered his dreams, and now understood that his position of power was given him so that he could minister to his brothers through this authority (Genesis 42:9).

48 Incidentally, later Scripture may cast some doubt on the sincerity of Shimei’s repentance. Nevertheless, David seems to take his confession at face value.

49 D. Stuart Briscoe, A Heart for God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1984), p. 141.

50 In Esther 8:10, the form of the verb is exactly the same as in our text. In 2 Samuel 3:10, the same verb is employed as a hifil infinitive construct. My point is that the same causative verb is used in these two other texts where the idea of “transferring” is implied by the context.

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13. The Death of David’s Son (2 Samuel 12:14-31)


There is something especially tragic about the death of a child. My wife and I, like many other parents, have experienced the shock of waking up to find our child dead in his crib. The malady is now known as SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. One moment the child is healthy and happy; the next, the child is gone. It is indeed a shock. For us, there was an unexplainable peace in the midst of our sorrow. Several years later, the subject of where babies go when they die came up in a theology class at seminary. I remember the academic discussion, the Bible verses quoted, and the conclusions reached. Finally, I raised my hand and shared something like this:

The subject we are discussing here is one that is no academic matter for my wife and me. We lost a child as an infant. We know what losing a child is like. We also know the biblical texts which have been quoted, and we are familiar with the different views as to where babies go when they die. But when my wife and I lost our child, we had a peace and a confidence that went beyond what we have been talking about here. We knew that the God to whom we had entrusted our souls was a good and perfect God, who would do what was right with our child. It was not the arguments discussed today which gave us peace, but God Himself, and in that peace we rest.

Our text for this lesson is one that is most often used to comfort parents who have lost little ones. I would have to say that my own views on this subject are undoubtedly shaped by our experience in losing a child. I must therefore warn you that I do not speak with great objectivity here, but from the perspective of one who has experienced the loss of a child. I know that the conclusions I have reached concerning the fate of children who die are not held by all in our church, perhaps not even by all of the Elders of our church.

As one who has lost a child in infancy, I am satisfied with the conclusions I have reached here. I must point out that my conclusions are the result of inferences and logical processes. They are not always grounded on clear propositional statements. As such, they should be held less dogmatically than views that have clear, straightforward, repetitive biblical support. As such, they can and will be rejected by those who have reached different conclusions, also based upon logic and inference. In the final analysis, we all must say that our conclusions here are less dogmatic than other truths that are much more clearly stated in Scripture. In the end, we must cast ourselves upon the God to whom we have entrusted our souls and our eternal destiny. As Abraham said so long ago, “Shall not the judge of all the earth deal justly?” (Genesis 18:25).

Having said this, we can see from our text that David had a remarkable peace about the death of his first child by Bathsheba, a peace which caused those who witnessed it to marvel, and to question David about it. As we approach this text, let us listen to David's answer to the question posed by his servants. Let us seek to learn from David's lips the reason he could praise and worship God at the time of the loss of this child.

Review and Overview

After becoming King of Israel, things were going very well for David, perhaps too well. He seemed to have the Midas touch -- everything he touched turned to gold. God had given him success in all he undertook. Like Israel of old, David appears to momentarily forget that his success was the result of God's grace, and not a tribute to his efforts alone. The first glimpse of this overconfidence comes in 2 Samuel 7, where David expresses his desire to build a house for God. In response, God reminds David his successes are the manifestations of His grace (7:8-9). He goes on to assure David that there are good things yet in store for Israel, and that these too will be His doing (7:10-11). Having gently rebuked David for supposing that He really needed a “house,” God promised to build David a better “house,” one that is an eternal dynasty:

‘“The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. 12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever (2 Samuel 7:11b-16).’”

But in the chapters which follow, David's arrogance seems to increase. It is most evident in 2 Samuel 11. Israel is at war with the Ammonites, and in the Spring (the time that kings go to war), David sends his army to besiege Rabbah, the capital city of the Ammonites, where the last of the Ammonite opposition has sought refuge. David does not go to battle with his soldiers, but stays at home in Jerusalem, indulging himself in the good life while his soldiers camp in an open field. David gets up from his bed about the time his soldiers (and others) usually go to bed. As he is strolling on the roof of his palace, David happens to see something that was not meant to be seen -- a young woman cleansing herself, most likely a ceremonial cleansing ceremony done in keeping with the law. The woman is beautiful, and David decides that he wants her. He sends messengers to find out who she is. Their answer -- that she was Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite -- should have ended the matter, but David had no intention of being deprived of anything he wanted. He sent for the woman and lay with her.

For David, it was all over after that one night of self-indulgence. He did not want another wife; he did not even appear to want an affair, just a night of pleasure. But God had other plans. Bathsheba conceived and eventually sent word to David that she was pregnant. When David's efforts to deceive Uriah (and the people) into thinking Uriah had fathered this child, he had Uriah killed in battle with the help of Joab. After she had mourned for her husband, David brought Bathsheba into his home, taking her as his wife. Now at last, David hoped, it was over.

This thing which David had done displeased God, however, and God would give David no rest or peace until he had come to see his sin for what it was and repented of it. After some period of distress (see Psalm 32:3-4), God sent Nathan to David with a story, a story which deeply upset David. David was furious. He insisted that the rich man who stole the poor man's pet lamb deserved to die! Nathan then stopped David in his tracks with the words, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). As David heard Nathan's recital of his sin, he broke, declaring to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13).

Nathan's response to David's confession was both comforting and disturbing. Although he deserved to die for his sins, David would not die because God had taken away his sin (12:13). What a relief these words must have been. But what followed would pierce David through: the son his sin had produced would die. It is David's response to the death of this son that will be the focus of our lesson.


Before we turn to the story itself, I would like to make a few observations which may influence our understanding of this text.

This is the first of a number of painful events David will experience as a result of his sin regarding Uriah and Bathsheba. In our text, David will suffer the loss of the child conceived through the sinful union of David and Uriah's wife, Bathsheba. Next, David's daughter will be raped by one of his sons. In retaliation for Amnon's sin, Absalom murders him. Later, David's son, Absalom, will rebel against his father and temporarily take over the throne. In the process, he will sleep with some of David's concubines, before all Israel, and on the roof of the palace from which David first looked upon Bathsheba. All of these things are directly or indirectly the consequences of David’s sin with Bathsheba.

The tragic death of David’s son is a consequence of David's sin, but it is not the penalty David deserves for his sin. The penalty for adultery and murder is death, on each count. David deserves to die, on two counts: adultery and murder. But Nathan has made it very clear that David's sin has been “taken away.” The death of this child is a painful consequence of David's sin, but it is not punishment for his sin, per se. That punishment has been taken away, borne by the Lord Jesus Christ.

The fast which David observes is a very serious one. In the Hebrew Old Testament, there is a unique way of emphasizing a point. The Hebrew language of the Old Testament repeats the word for emphasis. Thus, when God told Adam that he would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17) He said something like this: “You shall die a death.” Thus, Young's Literal Translation reads,

“And of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou dost not eat of it, for in the day of thine eating of it--dying thou dost die.”

In our text, God uses this doubling method to emphasize the certainty of the child's death:

“However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:14).

The same doubling is found in verse 16:

David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.

Only in the marginal notes of the KJV do we see the literal rendering, “fasted a fast.” The point is that David's fasting was not entered into casually. He was dead serious about this fast, for it was a matter of life and death.

Once again, Bathsheba is not prominent in this text, but David. The sin of adultery was David's doing, while (in my way of reading this story) Bathsheba was a victim. So it is only fitting that it is David who is prominent in this text which depicts his fasting and prayer, pleading with God for the child's life.

The author changes the way he refers to Bathsheba in our text. In verse 15 he speaks of Bathsheba, the mother of the child who died, as “Uriah's widow.” In verse 24, there is a very significant change. Here, the author refers to this same woman, the mother of David's second child Solomon, as “his wife Bathsheba.” Not only has God come to accept this second child, He has come to accept Bathsheba as David's wife.

The final events of chapter 12 give us a definite sense of closure. David's sin is to be understood as the exception, rather than the rule in his life:

Because David did what was right in the sight of the LORD, and had not turned aside from anything that He commanded him all the days of his life, except in the case of Uriah the Hittite (1 Kings 15:5).

Chapters 11 and 12 of 2 Samuel are almost parenthetical, then, as they depict this exceptional period in David's life. This was a time when he was not a “man after God's heart.” And so we find chapter 11 beginning with a description of Israel going to battle, while David stays at home (11:1). We find verses 26-31 of chapter 12 reporting how David showed up for the war, and when it was won, all Israel returned home to Jerusalem. There is a sense of closure, of finality, here, which I think the author intended us to feel. In addition, we find that our text records the death of Bathsheba's first son, followed rather quickly by the account of the birth of the second, Solomon, who was to rule on the throne of his father, David.

Our Approach

There are several ways to approach this passage. We could dissect the passage, giving attention to the nuance of each word and of each phrase. I am choosing not to do this, having already noted the details I think are important. Rather I will approach the passage somewhat like Michael Landon, the late television actor and director, would have done. We have probably all watched (at least the older ones among us) some of the works which Michael had a hand in directing. He had a way a catching the emotion of the moment and then portraying it dramatically. I can still remember one television show in which he learned, much to his surprise, that a woman was blind. When he brought his audience to that moment when the truth of her condition struck him, even I had to mop my eyes. Our text has some very emotional moments, which I believe Michael Landon would have appreciated and emphasized. I will therefore attempt to capture the emotions of David and those near him as he dealt with the death of his son, the product of his sin.

Nathan's Announcement

13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die.” 15 So Nathan went to his house.

David had condemned himself with his own words in response to Nathan's story of the stolen pet lamb: “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5). The law certainly did not pronounce such a penalty on a thief, but it did condemn adulterers and murderers. According to the Law, David should have died for his sins. Based upon divine grace through the coming death of Christ, David was forgiven for his sins and assured that he would not die. These words from Nathan must have been a huge relief to David, who knew he did not deserve anything but God's wrath. His sense of relief was short-lived, however, because Nathan was not finished with what he had to say:

“However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (verse 14).

Nathan assured David that the punishment he deserved has been taken away (we know this means it has been transferred to Christ). But God cannot allow His name to be blasphemed by allowing it to appear that He does not care about sin. From the very beginning the Bible teaches us that the wages of sin is death (see Genesis 2:17; 4:8, 23; 5:1ff.; Romans 6:23). For God to allow David's sins to have no painful consequences would enable the wicked to conclude that God does not really hate sin, nor does He do anything about it when we do sin.

The Law of Moses was given to set Israel apart from the nations. It was given so that Israel could reflect God's character to the world. When David sinned, he violated God's law, and he also dishonored God. This hypocrisy was observed by the nations, and it resulted in their dishonoring God. Paul would make this same charge against the Jews centuries later:

21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written (Romans 2:21-24).

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul instructs Timothy that elders -- those church leaders whose lives are publicly under scrutiny -- who persist in their sin are to be corrected publicly, so that all will learn (1 Timothy 5:19-20). God is very concerned about his reputation. He works in such a way as to instruct not only men who look on, but also angels who do likewise (see Exodus 32:9-14; 34:10; Ephesians 3:8-10).

God could not look the other way when David sinned, for his disobedience to God's commands was a matter of public knowledge. As his victories and triumphs were known among the Gentiles, so his sins would be widely known as well. By taking the life of this child, conceived in sin, God makes a statement to those looking on. If God does not deal with the sin of His saints, they might reason, then He will not be concerned with mine, either. Thus, they will mock God with the confidence that they can get away with their sin.

Years ago I taught sixth grade. It did not happen very often, but occasionally a child would blatantly disobey one of the rules, and it was necessary to take him outside and introduce him to the paddle. My class (and all those within hearing range) knew what to expect when I stepped outside with a student.51 But when a child was sent to the principal's office, it was frequently a different matter. The principle would give a little lecture, and the student would come back with a big smile on his face. The willful student and everyone else knew he had gotten away with his unacceptable conduct. God could not allow David to come through this monumental sin without doing something about it, something visible to all. This was for David's discipline, and to silence those who would use David's sin as an occasion to blaspheme the name of God; it was to proclaim and promote the glory of God.

David's Response to His Son's Sickness and Death

Then the LORD struck the child that Uriah's widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. 16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground. 17 The elders of his household stood beside him in order to raise him up from the ground, but he was unwilling and would not eat food with them. 18 Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was still alive, we spoke to him and he did not listen to our voice. How then can we tell him that the child is dead, since he might do himself harm!” 19 But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David perceived that the child was dead; so David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” And they said, “He is dead.” 20 So David arose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes; and he came into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he came to his own house, and when he requested, they set food before him and he ate. 21 Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” 22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

After Nathan left David, God struck the child born to David and “Uriah's widow.” We do not know what the malady was, but we do know that after seven days the child died.52 David had mourned when Saul and Jonathan died in battle (2 Samuel 1), when Abner was killed by Joab (2 Samuel 3), and even when Nahash the Ammonite king died (2 Samuel 10). His mourning here, however, is not a mourning over the death of his son (for he has not yet died), but is instead the mourning of repentance. David mourns as a sign of his repentance as he beseeches God to spare the life of his son.

Is it right for David to beseech God to spare the life of this child when He has already said that He is going to take the life of the child? I believe the answer is “Yes!” David knew that some prophecies were warnings of what God would do unless men repented. God sometimes foretold future judgment, which would come to pass if men did not repent. The hope for divine relenting in response to human repenting is set down in Jeremiah 18:5-8:

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, 6 “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. 7 “At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; 8 if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it.

This hope of forgiveness proved to be true for ancient Nineveh (much to Jonah's displeasure -- see Jonah 3 and 4), and also for Manasseh (2 Chronicles 33:10-13).

Further, it may be that David viewed this situation through the eyes of the Davidic Covenant, which God had recently made with him:

12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you” (2 Samuel 7:12-15).

Is it possible that David felt this child might be the heir to his throne? If this were the case, then David surely had reason to hope that God would spare the child's life.

David was certainly right in his assumption that the life of this child was in God's hands, and that his best course of action was to appeal to God to spare the child's life. David believed in the sovereignty of God, and thus he rested his case with God. David's prayers are not only the expression of his repentance, but the exercise of his faith. Believing in God's sovereignty did not keep David from taking action (fasting and praying); his faith prompted him to act.

In spite of David's sorrow, sincerity, and persistence in petitioning God to spare the child's life, his request was denied. The child died. David must not have been with the child when it happened or he would have seen this for himself. David did see his servants whispering to one another, perhaps furtively glancing in his direction as they did so. They were afraid to tell David because they feared he might cause harm. The text is not altogether clear about whom the servants feared David might harm. You will notice that by the use of italics the NAB indicates to us that the word himself is supplied by the translators. I am not so sure David's servants feared only for David's safety. They may have feared for themselves as well. I think that the NIV best conveys the ambiguity of the original text:

On the seventh day the child died. David's servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they thought, “While the child was still living, we spoke to David but he would not listen to us. How can we tell him the child is dead? He may do something desperate” (2 Samuel 12:18, NIV).53

The long and short of it is that no one wanted to be the bearer of bad tidings to David. After all, if David had taken this child's illness so seriously, would he not take the news of his death even more so?54 They did not need to inform David because he instinctively knew the child was gone. The words of Nathan were fulfilled as David could see on the faces of his servants. When David asked if the child was dead they could not deny it. They told him the child was indeed dead.

It is what happens from this point on that perplexes David's servants. While the child was ill they had not been able to get David up from the ground, nor to eat any food. They assumed it would only get worse once he knew the child was dead. Instead, David arose from the ground, washed and anointed himself, changed his clothes, and went into the house of the Lord, where he worshipped. When he had finished worshipping God, he came home and asked for food. When they set it before him, he ate it.

The servants were amazed and puzzled. A New Testament text may help explain what was normally expected:

14 Then the disciples of John came to Him, asking, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but Your disciples do not fast?” 15 And Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:14-15, NAB).

David was expected to mourn for the child after he died. From the servants' perspective, David had mourned so much for this child while he was still alive that they feared what would happen when they told him he was now dead. Finally David’s servants worked up the courage to ask the king how he could respond so calmly, knowing that the child was dead. David now explains his change in behavior. I think David’s unusual response can be explained in this manner:

The death of this child came as no surprise to David because it had already been foretold by Nathan. Through Nathan God had informed David that this son, the fruit of David's sinful union with Bathsheba, “Uriah's widow,” would surely die. The death of this child was the revealed will of God. For David to mourn excessively would have been to express his regret over God's will. David's actions indicated that he had accepted the death of this child as God's will.

Nathan had already explained the reason for death of this child to David. The purpose for the death of this child was not to punish David. The appropriate punishment for David's sins under the law would have been the death penalty. Nathan has not given David news of a reduced sentence, but of complete forgiveness, because the guilt and punishment for his sins had been “taken away” (12:13). The purpose for this child's death was instructive. It was meant to silence any blasphemy on the part of the “enemies of God.” Lest any might wrongly conclude that Israel's God was oblivious to David's sin in the breaking of God's law, God made it apparent that He would not wink at sin, even the sin of a man after His own heart. The death of David's son was an object lesson to the enemies of God.

David's mourning during the child's sickness was an act of repentance, not the mourning of the loss of a loved one:

22 He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' 23 “But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”

The death of this child was accepted as God's final answer to David's petitions for the child's life. This is the substance of David's answer to the question posed by his servants. While the child was alive, David fasted, wept, and prayed. But now the child is dead. David has done all that he could. God has given David a clear and final answer: “No.” David sees death as the time to cease those activities which were only appropriate in life. Someone has said, “Where there's life, there's hope.” As far as David's hope for the healing of this child is concerned, God has indicated to David that he should cease his efforts to persuade God to relent concerning this child's death.

I see a similar example of David's acceptance of death as a point of termination in chapter 13, where David finds a certain comfort in the fact that his son Amnon was dead:

The heart of King David longed to go out to Absalom; for he was comforted concerning Amnon, since he was dead (2 Samuel 13:39).

David's comfort, to some degree, was found in Amnon's death. In David's mind, it was as if God had closed a chapter. The death of David's child by Bathsheba was God's final answer to his request that the child might live.

David was comforted by the fact that what he asked for (and was denied) was grace. God's grace, by its very nature, is sovereign grace. Grace is often defined as “unmerited favor.” Allowing this simple definition to stand for the moment, let us see how David can be comforted by the fact that what he asked for -- and was denied -- was a matter of grace.

I have already called attention to the words of Jeremiah 18, where repentance is encouraged, and where God leaves His options open concerning the canceling (or even delaying) of threatened judgment. There is a very similar passage in the Book of Joel, where repentance is encouraged, and divine relenting is spoken of as a possibility:

12 “Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, And with fasting, weeping and mourning; 13 And rend your heart and not your garments.” Now return to the LORD your God, For He is gracious and compassionate, Slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness And relenting of evil. 14 Who knows whether He will not turn and relent And leave a blessing behind Him, Even a grain offering and a drink offering For the LORD your God? (Joel 2:12-14, emphasis mine).

In both Jeremiah 18 and this passage in Joel, sinners are encouraged to repent in precisely the way we see David repenting and petitioning God in our text. The appeal of the penitent sinner -- that God would relent and withhold judgment -- is based upon God's grace, and not on the sinner's merits. And just because it is a matter of grace, we dare not presume that God must relent. Thus, in Jeremiah and Joel55 we are encouraged to hope for the possibility of God relenting, but not to presume that He will indeed relent.

We can see an example of the right kind of thinking in the Book of Daniel. Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, refused to bow down to King Nebuchadnezzar's golden image. He was furious, but he gave these men a second chance. If they would bow down at the next opportunity, they would not be punished, but if they refused, they would be cast into a fiery furnace. This is the response of the three men to this offer:

16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17 “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18).

These men knew they were obeying God rather than men. They knew that God was able to deliver them from the fiery furnace. They did not dare to presume that He would do so, and so they responded to Nebuchadnezzar in a way that left the option open. God could deliver them, for He was able. But whether or not He would do so, they did not dare to presume. Either way, they would not do as the king demanded, for they were committed to serve God first and foremost.

David knew that God was able to save his son. He also knew that if He did so, it would be by grace alone, and not on the basis of merit. If God had spared his son, David would have rejoiced greatly. But when the child's death made it apparent that God had declined to spare him, David could still find comfort, because he knew that grace is always sovereignly bestowed. God's choice is not determined by man's merits, and thus it is a sovereign choice, one that is not determined by any outside force, but by the independent choice of God Himself. This is the point Paul makes when he speaks of man's salvation as the result of God's sovereign choosing, long before man is even born, before man can do anything good or evil (as if this would affect the outcome of God's choosing):

8 That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. 9 For this is the word of promise: “AT THIS TIME I WILL COME, AND SARAH SHALL HAVE A SON.” 10 And not only this, but there was Rebekah also, when she had conceived twins by one man, our father Isaac; 11 for though the twins were not yet born and had not done anything good or bad, so that God's purpose according to His choice would stand, not because of works but because of Him who calls, 12 it was said to her, “THE OLDER WILL SERVE THE YOUNGER.” 13 Just as it is written, “JACOB I LOVED, BUT ESAU I HATED” (Romans 9:8-13).

In the case of the men of Nineveh, God did relent, and the city was spared (much to the displeasure of Jonah). In the case of David, God did not relent. David cannot legitimately be angry with God, for he did not deserve that for which he petitioned God. Indeed, he deserved much worse than what he received. One dare not be distressed with God when He does not give us what we do not deserve. We have no claim on divine grace. When it is granted, we should gratefully receive it as those unworthy of it; when it is not, we should humbly acknowledge it was nothing we deserved in the first place.

These five reasons alone are sufficient basis for David's actions in our text. But there is yet one more thing we are told in this text to which I call your attention: David found consolation and comfort in the death of the child because he was assured that, although the child could not return to be with him in life, he would go to be with the child in heaven:

“But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (verse 23).

I believe there is only one way this verse makes any sense, and that is by understanding David to be saying something like: “I cannot bring the child back to life, to be here with me once again, but I can look forward to being with this child in heaven, after I die.”

This conclusion, expressed above, is not accepted by all. Some would understand David to be assured that he will be reunited with this child in heaven. They would not necessarily conclude that this means that all babies who die go to heaven. Some who believe in infant baptism may be tempted to believe that those babies who are baptized as infants will go to heaven if they die as babies. There are also those who are strongly convinced that since babies cannot repent and trust in Jesus Christ, none who die go to heaven. If this were the case, David would have to be understood to say something like this: “I cannot bring this baby back to life, but I will join him in the grave.” I want to address this last view first, and then seek to defend my own view, which is that babies who die (before the age of accountability) go to heaven.

There are some who understand David to be speaking of joining the child in the grave. In the context of our text, I find it difficult to understand how. David has fasted, wept, and prayed, so much so that his servants have become concerned for his own well-being. They could not convince him to get up off the ground or to eat. Suddenly, after the child dies, David goes on with his life as though nothing had happened, and when asked why by his servants, he gives the answer we find in our text. A part of this answer is that while he cannot bring the child back, he will someday be with the child. In the minds of some, David would be saying something like this:

“I was greatly intent on expressing my repentance, and in petitioning God for the life of this child. But now the child is dead, and I know that he will be buried in lot #23 at Restland Cemetery. To my great joy and comfort, I know that I will be buried in lot #24. This is the reason why I can be comforted in my grief. We will be side by side in the grave.”56

I simply do not find this explanation to be an adequate explanation for David's comfort and conduct. I believe that David is looking beyond the grave, to his reunion with this child at the resurrection. Is that not the same sense that we gain from Paul's words below?

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

Caveats and Cautions

I think we must admit that the view that all babies go to heaven if they die is the one we would most like to believe. For this reason alone, we are obliged to approach this matter with skill and caution. I would also agree that our text in 2 Samuel 12 alone would be thin evidence for my conclusions, if there were not other supporting texts and truths. It is certainly true that my conclusions are based upon inferential evidence. Having said this, I would also say that any other point of view on this subject is also inferential, and based (in my opinion) on even thinner evidence.

Let me say one final thing before proceeding with some of my arguments. This subject (Do babies who die go to heaven?) is not one which should divide evangelical Christians. It is not a fundamental of the faith, and it should not be viewed as heresy, no matter which of the views (stated above) are held. In the final analysis, we should be willing to say that God would be righteous and just in sending every human being (including babies) to hell, if He chose to do so. Further, those of us who know and love God should be willing to trust Him in this matter. Sometimes certain subjects and questions are not clearly answered. In such cases, I believe this is deliberate so that we have to trust in God Himself.

Supporting Evidence

With all these caveats, let me list the factors which incline me to the conclusion that babies who die go to heaven. I will focus on four lines of evidence.

First, in the Book of Jonah, God clearly makes a distinction between children and adults, and rebukes Jonah for desiring that divine judgment come upon little children. We all know the story of how Jonah, the prophet of Israel, was instructed to go to Nineveh and to proclaim the coming of God's judgment on this wicked city. We remember how Jonah rebelled, but was finally compelled to go to Nineveh, where he announced the coming of God's wrath on Nineveh in 40 days. The people of Nineveh repented, and God relented. Jonah was furious. He wanted God to destroy this wicked city and all who lived in it. Defiantly Jonah stationed himself outside the city, where he waited for the destruction that God had threatened and canceled. Jonah waited in the heat, still intent on watching the Ninevites perish. Then, this account follows:

5 Then Jonah went out from the city and sat east of it. There he made a shelter for himself and sat under it in the shade until he could see what would happen in the city. 6 So the LORD God appointed a plant and it grew up over Jonah to be a shade over his head to deliver him from his discomfort. And Jonah was extremely happy about the plant. 7 But God appointed a worm when dawn came the next day and it attacked the plant and it withered. 8 When the sun came up God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on Jonah's head so that he became faint and begged with all his soul to die, saying, “Death is better to me than life.” 9 Then God said to Jonah, “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “I have good reason to be angry, even to death.” 10 Then the LORD said, “You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. 11 “Should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (Jonah 4:5-11, emphasis mine).

Jonah was angry with God. The cause for his anger is astounding. He was angry with God because of the grace He had shown to these sinful Ninevites. He was incensed that God would forgive unworthy sinners, when they repented of their sins. To a large degree he was wrong because he seems to have assumed that God blessed the Jews on another basis -- the simple fact that they were Jews. Jonah hated grace, especially when bestowed upon those he considered unworthy sinners.57 The sad irony is that he failed to understand that God’s blessings to Israel and to him were also based solely on divine grace. Ultimately, Jonah himself seems to have trusted in something other than grace.

God gave Jonah a lesson in grace. He gave this pouting, rebellious prophet a source of shade, even though he had no good reason for staying out in the heat. When God took the plant away, and thus the shade it afforded Jonah, the prophet was hopping mad. God challenged him concerning his anger. Did Jonah deserve the plant and its shade? Then why was he angry when God took it away? Jonah did not deserve this gracious provision, yet Jonah somehow felt he did deserve it.

Now God turns Jonah’s attention from this object lesson to the real issue, the destruction or deliverance of the Ninevites. Why would Jonah be so intent on the condemnation of 120,000 who could not tell their right hand from their left? It seems to me that this text suggests that God views the 120,000 differently than He does the older Ninevites. Those who can tell their left hand from their right can also discern between what is good and what is evil. While Jonah is eager to condemn such children, God is not. God does not argue with Jonah about the grace He has shown the repentant (adult) Israelites. He rebukes Jonah for desiring the children to suffer divine wrath along with the adults. Jonah does not distinguish between the children and the adult Ninevites; God does. The basis for this distinction is what is of concern to us in our study of the death of David’s son.

God’s rebuke of Jonah is based upon the fact that Jonah is unwilling to make a distinction between the sinful (but repentant) adult Ninevites and the 120,000 children of Nineveh. The distinction is not just one of age, but of rational ability. These 120,000 children cannot distinguish between their right hand and their left. If this is so, and they cannot make concrete distinctions, how can they possibly make abstract distinctions like the difference between good and evil? How can they consciously choose to willfully disobey God, or to trust and obey Him? God also mentions the cattle. They cannot choose to serve or reject God either, not because of their age, but because of their nature as beasts which lack the capacity to reason. Jonah would delight to watch these children and cattle suffer the wrath of God; God rebukes Jonah for this thinking. Does this principle not apply to all children, and not just the children of Nineveh? I believe it does.

Second, according to both the Old and the New Covenants, children are not to suffer divine condemnation for the sins of their parents.

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin (Deuteronomy 24:16).

27 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of man and with the seed of beast. 28 “As I have watched over them to pluck up, to break down, to overthrow, to destroy and to bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the LORD.

29 “In those days they will not say again, 'The fathers have eaten sour grapes, And the children' s teeth are set on edge.'30 “But everyone will die for his own iniquity; each man who eats the sour grapes, his teeth will be set on edge. 31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. 33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 “They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more” (Jeremiah 31:27-34, NAB, emphasis mine).

Whether under the Old Covenant or the New, children are not to suffer condemnation for the sins of their parents. Each one is to suffer for their own sins. In Romans 5, Paul writes:

12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned -- 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come (Romans 5:12-14).

In other words, Adam’s sin has been imputed to the entire human race. Even before the Law was given, men were sinners by nature. And for this, all die a physical death. Adam’s sin makes the whole human race sinful by nature.

In Romans 7, Paul speaks of being alive apart from the law, and then coming alive to the law:

I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died (Romans 7:9).

It would seem from this text Paul is speaking of the coming of the age of accountability. In his infancy, Paul was “alive apart from the Law,” because he was not yet able to grasp the law, and thus to discern good and evil. Since he was unable to grasp either the need or the nature of the choice before him, he was not yet alive to the law. But there came a time when he became alive to the law, and at that moment, he fell under its curse.

In chapters 1-3 of Romans, Paul lays a foundation for the rest of the epistle. He seeks to demonstrate that all men are sinners, subject to the eternal wrath of God, and unable to save themselves by any work of their own (and thus in need of the gift of salvation in Christ through divine grace). Paul’s conclusion (that all men are sinners) is summed up in chapter 3, as he draws together a list of Old Testament citations:


This indictment is the conclusion of all that Paul has written up to this point, beginning with chapter 1, and especially verse 18:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

How did Paul prove men to be sinners, under divine condemnation? In chapter 1 Paul shows that the heathen who have never heard the gospel are sinners, under divine condemnation. These folks are assumed not to have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, they have received a divine revelation about God, which they have willfully rejected. This revelation comes through nature:

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. 21 For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures (Romans 1:20-23).

I believe the argument goes like this. God has revealed Himself to all men through nature. This revelation is not complete, and it does not include the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the substitutionary work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. Even so, a person’s response to what God has revealed to them in nature is a demonstration of how they would have responded if more had been revealed to them. Those who have received the revelation of God in nature have rejected it, twisting it into a religion of their own making, so that they worship God’s creation rather than God the Creator. In Romans 2 and the first part of chapter 3, Paul shows that God justly condemns men as sinners for failing to live according to the standard of their own conscience, and most certainly for failing to live according to the standards set down in the Law of Moses. He shows that all men are sinners, deserving God’s eternal wrath, because they have been given some revelation about God and they have spurned it, perverting the truth that was revealed to them and exchanging it for something they would rather believe.

Everyone who is condemned as a sinner in Romans 1-3 is one who has received a revelation about God, who has the mental capacity to grasp it and respond to it, and has rejected this revelation. I contend that unborn children and infants (I won’t try to define where the so called “age of accountability” begins) have never received such revelation and have no capacity to reject it as evil or embrace it as good. They have not sinned in the sense of knowing what is right and willfully choosing to do what is wrong.

Here is where some folks begin to get uneasy. They fear that saying this is to deny the sin nature of all mankind, including children. They fear that this is tantamount to declaring young children innocent. I am not saying this at all. Whether an unborn or an infant, every offspring of Adam (i.e., every human being, regardless of age) is a sinner by nature. This sin nature is the result of Adam’s sin, which has been imputed to all his offspring. There is a difference, however, in being a sinner by nature and being a sinner in deed. A tiny newborn baby is a sinner by nature, but he will not become a sinner by deed until he willfully chooses to do what he knows to be wrong. Apart from a premature death, every child who is a sinner by nature will blossom into a child who is a sinner by deed.

But what of those children who die before they have become a sinner by deed? If we were to conclude they are condemned to hell for all eternity, for whose sin(s) are they being eternally punished? I would have to say they would be punished for Adam’s sin. They would suffer eternally for being a sinner by nature, for being born. I believe the distinction God was making in Jonah 4 was between those Ninevites who were sinners by deed, and those who were sinners by nature, but not by deed. I believe God was rebuking Jonah for wanting to see sinners by nature (only) suffer God’s wrath as though they were sinners by decision and deed. On what basis can God save sinners by nature, so that they need not be condemned? That is our next topic of discussion.

Third, in Romans 5 Paul teaches us that the sacrificial death of our Lord Jesus Christ atones for the sin of Adam, so that no descendant of Adam’s is condemned to hell for Adam’s sin. If I understand the Scriptures correctly, the only reason that an infant could go to hell is because of Adam’s sin. The Old and New Covenants tell us that this cannot be, since children must not be punished for the sins of their parents. Romans 5 tells us how God has accomplished a means for infants to be saved from condemnation. The issue addressed by the fifth chapter of Romans is this: “How can one person – Jesus Christ – be the Savior of all those who believe in Him?” “How can one man save many by dying for them?”

The answer Paul gives us in Romans 5 is very simple: “It was one man (Adam) who brought sin upon the human race; so, too, it was one Man (Jesus Christ) who provided the solution to the problem of sin for all who believe.”

17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ. 18 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men (Romans 5:17-18).

45 So also it is written, “The first MAN, Adam, BECAME A LIVING SOUL.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. 46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual. 47 The first man is from the earth, earthy; the second man is from heaven. 48 As is the earthy, so also are those who are earthy; and as is the heavenly, so also are those who are heavenly. 49 Just as we have borne the image of the earthy, we will also bear the image of the heavenly (1 Corinthians 15:45-49).

Our Lord Jesus Christ is called “the last Adam” because He is the only One who can reverse the effects of Adam’s sin. He does so, not by automatically saving all men, but by making atonement for the sins of men, so that all who receive the gift of salvation have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. All children have a sin nature which they have inherited from Adam. They obtained this, not by committing any sin, but by being born into the human race. They involuntarily obtained a sin nature. Paul’s argument in Romans 5 is a “much more” argument. He argues that whatever Adam did by his sin, Christ did (or rather undid) much more. If any child goes to hell simply because of Adam’s sin, then Christ’s work on Calvary is not “much more” than Adam’s. All those who suffer the eternal wrath of God for their sin are those who have, by their own willful choice, rebelled against God and rejected the revelation of Him He made known to them. All those who have not yet made this willful choice to identify with Adam in his sin, and who die before doing so, are involuntarily covered by the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Adam could thus corrupt the whole human race, but Christ could do much more in that He could atone for Adam’s sin and transform guilty sinners into forgiven saints. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary is the means by which infants are saved from the guilt and condemnation of their sin nature, just as it is the means by which all (adults) who believe are saved.

This is how I explain the confidence and peace David demonstrated when his son died. David was assured that he would not die, and this was due to the fact that his sins were “taken away.” Under the Old Covenant, there was no salvation for David, only the condemnation of death. David must therefore be delivered from divine wrath due to God’s provision in Jesus Christ, in accordance with the New Covenant. This is the basis for the salvation of every saint, Old Testament or New. If God dealt graciously with David, on the basis of the new covenant, would He not also deal with his son on the same basis?

Fourth, the belief that infants are saved by the blood of Christ is the view held by some of the most highly regarded students of Scripture. The doctrinal position of the church throughout its history does not have the authority of Scripture, but it does help to validate or call into question contemporary interpretations of the Scriptures. When one holds a view or interpretation of Scripture that the church has consistently rejected throughout the history of the church, it certainly calls that interpretation into question. Allow me to cite a few quotations which express the viewpoint of some respected theologians and preachers of the past.

First, let us hear from Charles Haddon Spurgeon:

Now for one or two incidental matters which occur in Scripture, which seem to throw a little light also on the subject. You have not forgotten the case of David. His child by Bathsheba was to die as a punishment for the father's offence. David prayed, and fasted, and vexed his soul; at last they tell him the child is dead. He fasted no more but he said, “I shall go to him, he shall not return to me.” Now, where did David expect to go to? Why, to heaven surely. Then his child must have been there, for be said, “I shall go to him.” I do not hear him say the same of Absalom. He did not stand over his corpse, and say, “I shall go to him;” he had no hope for that rebellious son. Over this child it was not—”O my son! would to God I had died for thee!” No, he could let this babe go with perfect confidence, for he said, “I shall go to him.” “I know,” he might have said, “that He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure, and when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for he is with me; I shall go to my child, and in heaven we shall be re-united with each other.”58

And once again:

Now, let every mother and father here present know assuredly that it is well with the child, if God hath taken it away from you in its infant days. You never heard its declaration of faith - it was not capable of such a thing; it was not baptized into the Lord Jesus Christ, not buried with him in baptism; it was not capable of giving that “answer of a good conscience towards God,” nevertheless, you may rest assured that it is well with the child, well in a higher and a better sense than it is well with yourselves; well without limitation, well without exception, well infinitely, “well” eternally. Perhaps you will say, “What reasons have we for believing that it is well with the child?” Before I enter upon that I would make one observation. It has been wickedly, lyingly, and slanderously said of Calvinism, that we believe that some little children perish. Those who make the accusation know that their charge is false. I cannot even dare to hope, though I would wish to do so, that they ignorantly misrepresent us. They wickedly repeat what has been denied a thousand times, what they know is not true. In Calvin's advice to Knox, he interprets the second commandment, “showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me,” as referring to generations, and hence he seems to teach that infants who have had pious ancestors, no matter how remotely, dying as infants are saved. This would certainly take in the whole race. As for modern Calvinists, I know of no exception, but we all hope and believe that all persons dying in infancy are elect. Dr. Gill, who has been looked upon in late times as being a very standard of Calvinism, not to say of ultra-Calvinism, himself never hints for a moment the supposition that any infant has perished, but affirms of it that it is a dark and mysterious subject, but that it is his belief, and he thinks he has Scripture to warrant it, that they who have fallen asleep in infancy have not perished, but have been numbered with the chosen of God, and so have entered into eternal rest. We have never taught the contrary, and when the charge is brought, I repudiate it and say, “You may have said so, we never did, and you know we never did. If you dare to repeat the slander again, let the lie stand in scarlet on your very cheek if you be capable of a blush.” We have never dreamed of such a thing. With very few and rare exceptions, so rare that I never heard of them except from the lips of slanderers, we have never imagined that infants dying as infants have perished, but we have believed that they enter into the paradise of God.59

Finally, let us hear from Loraine Boettner, who cites the position of a number of other theologians:

Most Calvinistic theologians have held that those who die in infancy are saved. The Scriptures seem to teach plainly enough that the children of believers are saved; but they are silent or practically so in regard to those of the heathens. The Westminster Confession does not pass judgment on the children of heathens who die before coming to years of accountability. Where the Scriptures are silent, the Confession, too, preserves silence. Our outstanding theologians, however, mindful of the fact that God's “tender mercies are over all His works,” and depending on His mercy widened as broadly as possible, have entertained a charitable hope that since these infants have never committed any actual sin themselves, their inherited sin would be pardoned and they would be saved on wholly evangelical principles.

Such, for instance, was the position held by Charles Hodge, W. G. T. Shedd, and B. B. Warfield. Concerning those who die in infancy, Dr. Warfield says: “Their destiny is determined irrespective of their choice, by an unconditional decree of God, suspended for its execution on no act of their own; and their salvation is wrought by an unconditional application of the grace of Christ to their souls, through the immediate and irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit prior to and apart from any action of their own proper wills . . . And if death in infancy does depend on God's providence, it is assuredly God in His providence who selects this vast multitude to be made participants of His unconditional salvation . . . This is but to say that they are unconditionally predestinated to salvation from the foundation of the world.”60


We have lingered long on this sad incident in which David finds joy and comfort, but allow me to conclude by pointing out several areas of application.

First, this text (along with the others I have mentioned) offers comfort to all those who have suffered (or will suffer) the loss of a little one. I believe that our Lord summed it up as concisely as possible when He said, “Permit the children to come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these” (Luke 18:16). What comfort there is to know that our little ones are in His arms.

Second, we learn from this incident that even when God forgives our sins He does not remove all painful consequences. David’s sins with Bathsheba and with Uriah were forgiven, but the death of this child was still necessary. Sin has painful consequences. Even though our sins are forgiven, they are never worth the price tag that comes in terms of consequences.

Third, God is more concerned with His reputation than our happiness. Some people think that God is a kind of magic Genie, who awaits our every command, and who seeks to satisfy our every whim. David would have been happy to receive his child back, but God’s reputation required that He deal with sin in a way that makes it very clear how a holy and righteous God feels about sin.

Fourth, we can learn a lesson about unanswered prayer. David prayed as earnestly as a man could pray, but God clearly answered, “No!” David was content with that. He did not protest or complain. He accepted God’s will as that which was best. He worshipped God in spite of his loss and his pain. He did not agonize that he simply lacked faith. He knew God had heard him and He had answered. How many of us praise God when He has told us “No!”?

Finally, the believer’s hope and joy in the midst of trials and tribulations is the context for witnessing to our faith in Jesus Christ. David’s servants expected him to (re)act in a very different way, once he learned that his son was dead. They were amazed at the way he found comfort, joy, and a desire to worship God when his family was struck by tragedy. They asked David concerning this hope, and David was able to give an explanation of that hope. Our response to our sufferings and trials affords us the same opportunity. Let us learn to rest in Him in Whom we have placed our hope, and then to share this hope with those who do not possess it (see 1 Peter 3:15).

51 Incidentally, this was done with another teacher present, as a witness.

52 When God struck Nabal, he died after ten days -- see 1 Samuel 25:38.

53 The NKJV is similar, when it renders, “He may do some harm.”

54 We do not really know whether any of the servants knew of Nathan’s word that this child would surely die. If not, then they may not understand why David is so serious in his mourning of repentance and petition.

55 See also Jonah 3.

56 I am duty bound to point out the words of Barzillai in 2 Samuel 19:37. There was some comfort in being buried near one’s relatives, but this does not seem to be sufficient comfort to explain David’s words and actions in our text.

57 In this, Jonah is not that different from the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day.

58 “Infant Salvation,” The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, a sermon delivered on Sunday morning, September 29th, 1861, By the Rev. C. H. Spurgeon, at the Metropolitan Tabernacle, Newington.

59 Spurgeon in the same sermon as above.

60 Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1963 [eleventh printing]), pp. 143-144.

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14. Tragedy in the Royal Family (2 Samuel 13:1-36)


A few years ago, several of our daughters were with my wife Jeannette and me on the way home from a school function. We pulled into a store to buy some ice cream for dessert. As we turned back onto the road toward home, a car suddenly appeared from behind us traveling at a fairly high rate of speed. As I watched him approach, I decided he was going to rear-end us, so I quickly changed lanes. I was wrong. Either the driver was not paying attention (or was not sober), or he had intended to change lanes at the last moment. I'm not sure which. The moment I moved from the far right hand lane to the center lane, so did he. I was driving one of my diesel-powered automobiles and did not have much chance to increase my speed quickly. The driver saw what was happening and swerved yet another lane to the far-left lane -- too quickly -- and at too high a rate of speed.

We watched as the man sped past our car, lost control, and ran up over the center divider. As he did so, the concrete divider ruptured his gas tank and gasoline streamed out, leaving a wet trail behind the still speeding car. The metal on the underside of his car was also scraping against the concrete, creating a shower of sparks. What happened next was inevitable. The sparks ignited the trail of gasoline left in the path of the careening car. All this happened along side and then to the front of us. We could not stop any more than he could. Finally, his car bounced over the center divider, over the three on-coming lanes, and up onto the other side of the road. We watched it all, horrified by the wall of fire that had ignited, separating us from the car and its driver. Helpless, we watched the trail of fire catch up to the now finally stopped car. The gas tank ignited, and from our point of view, it looked as though the driver was engulfed. We could not get to him as we were too far away, and the wall of fire separated us from him. It was with great relief that we watched a bystander pull the man from the car, shortly to be taken away by an ambulance.

When I read chapter 13 of 1 Samuel, I have very similar feelings of impending tragedy, knowing I am not able to stop what is about to happen. We read of Amnon, son of King David, who desires Tamar, daughter of David by a different mother. We watch incredulously as David orders Tamar to the house of Amnon, marveling at his gullibility. We shudder as we hear Amnon ordering everyone but Tamar to leave. We look on helplessly as Tamar tries to resist, only to be raped by her brother. And then, adding insult to injury, we see Amnon's “love” turn to hate, so that he has Tamar thrown out of the house, destined to live desolate the rest of her life.

How could this happen? How could David have been a part of it? Why does God allow the innocent to suffer at the hand of the wicked? How is this incident relevant to present day life? What lessons does God have here for the Old Testament saints who read it? What lessons are here for us? Let us listen and learn well, for there is much for us to ponder, much to learn, and much to apply.

This message is entitled, “Tragedy in the Royal Family.” I am not trying to be cute, nor do I wish to capitalize on the recent tragedy of Princess Diana's death. The title very accurately describes the content of our text and of this message. There are a great many benefits to being a part of a royal family, and as recent events make clear, there are also many liabilities. From the media's point of view (at least at this time), the privacy of the royal family has been undermined and attacked by a few aggressive photographers, who would seemingly get a priceless picture no matter what the cost to members of the royal family. In our text, there are no intruding, harassing photographers. The sins committed within the royal family become public knowledge, exposed by their own actions and recorded by the inspired author for our edification. We dare not attempt to read the account of this tragedy as some would a sleazy tabloid. This is a Word from God to us, teaching us the high price of sin.

Brief Review

Saul, who once sought to kill David to insure the longevity of his own throne, is now dead, and David has become the king of both Judah (David's tribe) and Israel (the other tribes of Israel). David had subdued most of the surrounding nations and captured Jebus, making it his capital city and renaming it Jerusalem. He brought the ark of God to Jerusalem, intending to build a temple for God there, only to be gently rebuked, but assured by the fact that God would build for David an eternal “house,” a kingdom that would not end.

David's power and success seems to have gone to his head. Instead of leading his army in war, David stays at home, sending Joab and the army of Israel against Rabbah, the capital city of the Ammonites, to take this city and make his triumph over his enemies complete. While at home in Jerusalem, David takes advantage of the “good life” as king. He sleeps late, getting up at the time others are going to bed. As he strolls about the roof of his palace one evening, he happens to see a sight he was not intended or even supposed to see -- a lovely young woman cleansing herself, probably in keeping with the law. David looks too long and too hard and decides he wants this woman, not as his wife, nor as his mistress, but only for the night. When he sends his servants to inquire about her, they inform him that she is a married woman, the wife of one of Israel's military heroes, Uriah the Hittite.

This should have ended it for David, but it did not. He sends messengers to bring Bathsheba to his palace, and there he sleeps with Bathsheba. It is not until some time later that David is informed that Bathsheba is pregnant. David makes every effort to get Uriah to sleep with his wife, so that he will appear to be the child's father, but Uriah has too much character and integrity to be used by David. And so it is that David orders Joab, commander of his military forces, to have Uriah killed in a way that looks as though he is just another casualty of war. I doubt this fooled too many Israelites, but it most certainly did not fool God, nor Nathan the prophet. Nathan comes to David with an emotional story of a rich man who steals the pet lamb of a poor man, and when David condemns this man, Nathan informs him that he is the man. David repents, confessing his sin not only to God, but to the nation in Psalms 32 and 51.

The first of many painful consequences of David's sin come with the death of the first child of David and Bathsheba, the child conceived through David's sin. Though David mourns and petitions God fervently for the life of this son, God denies his request, and the child dies. David rightly responds to God's answer, much to the amazement of his servants. Having learned his child has died, David gets up, washes himself, worships in the house of the Lord, and then goes home and eats. David has hope concerning this child, and he has confidence and trust in the God who declines his request. In chapter 13, we come to the next traumatic consequence of David's sin, the rape of his daughter, Tamar, and the murder of his son, Amnon. Once again, David will mourn the loss of a son. In reality, he will mourn the loss of two sons: the loss of his son Amnon by murder, and the loss of his son Absalom by his flight to avoid punishment.

Amnon's First Sin Against Tamar

1 Now it was after this that Absalom the son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her. 2 Amnon was so frustrated because of his sister Tamar that he made himself ill, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.

3 But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother; and Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 4 He said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so depressed morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Then Amnon said to him, “I am in love with Tamar, the sister of my brother Absalom.” 5 Jonadab then said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill; when your father comes to see you, say to him, 'Please let my sister Tamar come and give me some food to eat, and let her prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat from her hand.”'

6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill; when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” 7 Then David sent to the house for Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother Amnon's house, and prepare food for him.”

8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house, and he was lying down. And she took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. 9 She took the pan and dished them out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Have everyone go out from me.” So everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may eat from your hand.” So Tamar took the cakes which she had made and brought them into the bedroom to her brother Amnon. 11 When she brought them to him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 But she answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this disgraceful thing! 13 “As for me, where could I get rid of my reproach? And as for you, you will be like one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 However, he would not listen to her; since he was stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.

If you are like me, you almost find your head swimming when you read this account about David's relatives. Characters in this plot include David; Jonadab, David's nephew, son of David's third brother, Shimeah; Amnon, David's first-born son of Ahinoam; and Tamar and Absalom, daughter and son of Maacah, David's third wife (who was the daughter of Talmai, the king of Geshur). It is very difficult to remember who belongs to whom, isn't it?

It may be worthwhile to quickly summarize on the following page some of the genealogical information pertinent to our text, so that we can at least visualize these relationships.

David and His Siblings61
(1 Chronicles 2:13-17)

Some of David's Wives and Children62
(1 Samuel 18; 25:39-44; 2 Samuel 2:2; 3:2-5 (see also 1 Chronicles 3:1-9)

In this tragedy in David's family, a number of people who are members of the royal family -- or who are in close proximity to them (i.e. servants) -- are involved, willingly or not. It all starts with Amnon, David's first-born son. (Michal is David's first wife, given by Saul, then taken away by Saul, and finally taken back by David, but she never bears David a child -- 2 Samuel 6:23.) Ahinoam is David's second wife, the first to bear him a son. This makes Amnon the first-born of David, the most likely successor to David's throne as king of Israel, at least according to the custom of the day. Tamar and her brother Absalom are the children of David's wife, Maacah, who is also the daughter of the king of Geshur.

Amnon has a very serious problem. He has “fallen in love”63 with his beautiful half-sister, Tamar.64 According to the Law of Moses, there is no way he could have this woman as his wife.

17 'If there is a man who takes his sister, his father's daughter or his mother's daughter, so that he sees her nakedness and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace; and they shall be cut off in the sight of the sons of their people. He has uncovered his sister's nakedness; he bears his guilt (Leviticus 20:17).

As I read the text, the Law of Moses which forbade marriage and sex with a sister is not Amnon's main concern. It is, indeed, Tamar's concern, but not Amnon's. The author continues to speak of these two as brother and sister, but when Amnon's frustration is mentioned, it is for another reason:

Amnon was so frustrated because of his sister Tamar that he made himself ill, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (13:2, emphasis mine).

Amnon makes himself ill because she is a virgin, and because of this, he “was not able to do anything to her.” We are not told that Amnon loves Tamar and wants to marry her. I believe we are told that Amnon wants to have sex with Tamar, but she is a virgin, and that staying so until marriage is her commitment.65 Amnon wants to have a sexual relationship with Tamar. He is willing, but she is not. She is a virgin and seems intent on keeping it this way. No wonder he could not get anywhere with her. And no wonder he is frustrated. His frustration has gotten to the point that it is making him ill (lovesick?). The symptoms of this “illness” are not stated, but I would imagine possible symptoms would be an upset stomach, a lack of appetite, and lack of sleep.

It is not surprising that one of David's nephews, Jonadab, son of David's older brother Shimeah, is one of Amnon's friends. After all, they are cousins, part of the royal family living in Jerusalem (or nearby). Jonadab could not help noting that day after day Amnon is depressed. And so he asks Amnon what is wrong. Then Amnon tells him the problem -- he is in love with Tamar, his sister, whose brother is Absalom.66 Jonadab is a shrewd man, and Amnon's dilemma poses no great problem to him. First of all, is Amnon not the “son of the king” (verse 4)? Is the inference here that as the “son of the king” Amnon has the right and the authority to please himself, so as not to be so depressed? I am reminded of the words of wicked Jezebel to her husband Ahab:

4 So Ahab came into his house sullen and vexed because of the word which Naboth the Jezreelite had spoken to him; for he said, “I will not give you the inheritance of my fathers.” And he lay down on his bed and turned away his face and ate no food. 5 But Jezebel his wife came to him and said to him, “How is it that your spirit is so sullen that you are not eating food?” 6 So he said to her, “Because I spoke to Naboth the Jezreelite and said to him, 'Give me your vineyard for money; or else, if it pleases you, I will give you a vineyard in its place.' But he said, 'I will not give you my vineyard.”' 7 Jezebel his wife said to him, “Do you now reign over Israel? Arise, eat bread, and let your heart be joyful; I will give you the vineyard of Naboth the Jezreelite” (1 Kings 21:4-7).

I cannot tell for certain what Jonadab has in mind as the outcome of his scheme. I am not quite willing to say that his plan is one that will enable his friend to rape Tamar. Was it a plan that would enable Amnon the opportunity to be alone with her, and then to seduce her, or perhaps to persuade her to marry him? I am not sure. But it most certainly is a devious scheme he proposes. Let Jonadab pretend to be sick, so sick that he cannot get out of bed. When his father David comes to visit him, let him ask the king if his sister can come to his house and prepare a meal for him.

This is as far as the proposed plan of Jonadab goes. At least from what we are told in our text, he does not tell Amnon what to do from there. He only tells Amnon how to get close to Tamar. We are not told that he tells him to send out all the servants (though he may have), or to grab her in an effort to persuade her to have sex with him. If Jonadab is as shrewd as our text tells us that he was, surely he must have considered some of the possible scenarios of what would happen after Amnon was able to get Tamar alone. Either Jonadab knew what Amnon intended and helped him achieve it, he suspected what he intended but did not ask, or he did not consider the options. He is too shrewd for the last of these options. Jonadab must surely share in Amnon's guilt.67

Amnon carries out Jonadab's plan, and it works just as he predicted. Amnon's illicit desires are facilitated by Jonadab's plan. And that plan makes David an unwitting and unwilling participant in this evil scheme as well. David comes to see Amnon, as expected. And when Amnon asks David to have Tamar come and prepare food for him in his sight, David complies. It is David's “executive order” (at least his order as Israel's chief executive -- who then would deny him?) that “sent” messengers to Tamar's house, not unlike they had been sent to summon Bathsheba. And so it is that David is the means by which Amnon is able to get Tamar alone.

One must wonder how all this could have gotten past David undetected. He seems incredibly gullible here. He may have known that Amnon was not eating well and that he was sick, but did he really think this young woman was a better cook than those seasoned (pardon the pun) professionals available to Amnon? Did he really believe that having a beautiful young woman come in and cook for Amnon and then serve him (in bed!) was somehow good therapy? Could David be this nave? One must read this account with the greatest wonder. How could David be so gullible as to become an unwitting participant in Amnon's evil plan?

As directed by David, Tamar goes to Amnon's house and begins to prepare food for him. I wonder what was going through her mind as she makes her way to his house. Has he made “passes” at her before? It would seem likely that he has, and been rebuffed. When Tamar arrives, Amnon is lying down. Tamar goes about her task, making the dough, kneading it, and then rolling it into little cakes. All the while, Amnon looks on. When the cakes are cooked, she attempts to serve Amnon, but he refuses. The king's son then orders everyone out of the room. David has gotten Tamar this far, and now everyone present is under Amnon's authority. Who would dare challenge or refuse him? And so everyone leaves, leaving Amnon and Tamar alone. Amnon then instructs Tamar to bring the food to him, in his bedroom, “that he might eat from her hand.” And so she takes the cakes she has made and brings them to him in the bedroom.

Our minds are spinning as we read the words. Is it possible that those who left the room had no sense of what was to follow? Were they afraid to protest or resist? And how can it be that Tamar does not sense what is about to happen? Could she not flee? The danger signs are there, but she is at Amnon's house because the king commanded it. It is like watching an automobile accident happen before our eyes, seeing what is happening, but being powerless to do anything about it.

Once alone, all subtlety disappears. Amnon grabs hold of Tamar, urging her to lie with him. He does not ask her to marry him -- just to sleep with him. It is interesting to note how Amnon words his entreaty: “Come lie with me, my sister (verse 11, emphasis mine). Why does Amnon call attention to this fact, reminding Tamar of the very thing that should prevent him from following through with his desires? I fear the very thing that should cause him to forsake his pursuit of Tamar is that which attracts him to her. Was it not possibly the same with David? Learning that Bathsheba was married to Uriah did not keep him from taking her; it may even have strengthened his desire and resolve to do so. When “Madam Folly” seeks to entice “Sir Simple” in the Book of Proverbs, she uses the fact that it is forbidden fruit as a part of her seduction (Proverbs 9:17). Why should this come as a surprise to us ? Does not Paul teach that when the law prohibits something, sin uses that same law to entice us to do the forbidden thing (see Romans 7:7ff.)?

Tamar is truly the innocent victim here. She does not encourage Amnon; in fact, she frustrates him by her resolve to remain a virgin until marriage. And when she goes to Amnon's house, she does so at David's command. Amnon orders all to leave so that she has no one to come to her aid. It is hard to believe those who left did not know -- or at least suspect -- what Amnon had in mind. When Amnon coarsely propositions Tamar, she answers just as the Law of Moses instructed. When she answered, “No, my brother,” (emphasis mine), she states the reason Amnon's request is wrong. She speaks of the sexual intimacy he requests as a violation of her, and so it will be. He will do to her that which can never be undone. Her reproach can never be removed, for he has taken her virginity. She does not just plead for herself; she pleads with Amnon to act in his own interest. Raping her will make him as one of the fools in Israel. He, the king's first-born son, will become as one of the lowest men in the nation.

I suspect that because she sees that Amnon will not be kept from having her, she makes one final plea. Let Amnon go to his father, David, and request to marry her. Surely he will not deny him. There is a certain precedent for what she says. After all, Sarah is to Abraham what Tamar will be to Amnon. Sarah and Abraham have the same father but different mothers (see Genesis 20:12). I do not think she wants to marry Amnon, but marriage is better than rape and dishonor. Perhaps she hopes Amnon will ask his father and be rebuked and warned never to think about such a thing again or to come near Tamar.

It doesn’t work. Amnon is determined to lay with Tamar then and there. If she will not do so voluntarily, then she will do so anyway. Amnon is bigger and stronger, and to him at this moment, might may not be right, but it will prevail.68

It is surely not the scene Amnon must have played and replayed in his mind, as he waited for this occasion. She is not willing, and this act of violence has nothing to do with love. From intense and unbearable attraction, Amnon's feelings toward Tamar turn to revulsion. He cannot stand the sight of this woman he has violated. Amnon now orders her out. Once again, Tamar resists. She protesta that however evil Amnon has been in raping her, he is even more wicked in casting her off, for in so doing he makes it clear that he will not have her as his wife. She no longer has any options, so far as marriage and children are concerned. Once again, Amnon will not listen to reason or righteousness.

Once again, we see similarities between this sin of Amnon against Tamar and the sin of David against Bathsheba and Uriah. It is bad enough for David to sleep with Bathsheba, but killing her husband is even worse. So too with Amnon's second sin of casting Tamar off after he has violated her.

If it was Amnon who first clung to Tamar, refusing to let her go, it now seems to be Tamar who clings to Amnon, refusing to go. If he has violated her, at least he can do the honorable thing and marry her. Amnon is further repulsed by this, ordering his servant to throw her out and to lock the door behind her. The servant obeys, and Tamar leaves the house, having torn her long-sleeved garment and putting ashes on her head. As she goes her way, she has her hand over her head and is weeping. Surely there are many who looked on, if not knowing exactly what had happened, at least knowing something very terrible has happened to her.

Absalom, Amnon, David, and Jonadab

20 Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom's house. 21 Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry. 22 But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar. 23 Now it came about after two full years that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king's sons. 24 Absalom came to the king and said, “Behold now, your servant has sheepshearers; please let the king and his servants go with your servant.” 25 But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, we should not all go, for we will be burdensome to you.” Although he urged him, he would not go, but blessed him. 26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But when Absalom urged him, he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him. 28 Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “See now, when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, 'Strike Amnon,' then put him to death. Do not fear; have not I myself commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” 29 The servants of Absalom did to Amnon just as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose and each mounted his mule and fled. 30 Now it was while they were on the way that the report came to David, saying, “Absalom has struck down all the king's sons, and not one of them is left.” 31 Then the king arose, tore his clothes and lay on the ground; and all his servants were standing by with clothes torn. 32 Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother, responded, “Do not let my lord suppose they have put to death all the young men, the king's sons, for Amnon alone is dead; because by the intent of Absalom this has been determined since the day that he violated his sister Tamar. 33 “Now therefore, do not let my lord the king take the report to heart, namely, 'all the king's sons are dead,' for only Amnon is dead.” 34 Now Absalom had fled. And the young man who was the watchman raised his eyes and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the road behind him by the side of the mountain. 35 Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king's sons have come; according to your servant's word, so it happened.” 36 As soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king's sons came and lifted their voices and wept; and also the king and all his servants wept very bitterly.

One of those who learn what happened is Absalom, Tamar's (full) brother. He lets Tamar know that he knows what Amnon has done to her, and then he does something quite surprising -- nothing, or so it seems. He seems to tell her that this is something to be kept secret, within the family. She is to keep silent about it and not to take it to heart. Does Absalom really think she can do such a thing? Perhaps it is to facilitate her keeping silent and help her deal with this trauma that Absalom takes her into his own home. In our text at least, Absalom does not tell his sister what he has in mind. From what Jonadab will tell David two years later, it was Absalom's intention to kill Amnon the day he learned his brother had violated Tamar (verse 32). Never was this beautiful young woman to experience marriage or the bearing of children. One can hardly calculate all that Amnon stole from his sister that evil day.

On the surface, David's response to the news of his daughter's rape seems similar to that of Absalom. David does not seem to conceal his anger, however. The author tells us that David is fully aware of all that took place (verse 21). Nevertheless, it appears that David does absolutely nothing. One must ask why. Is David not able to get the kind of testimony the law requires? Possibly, but this does not seem likely. Is David fearful of being hypocritical? How can he punish his son for doing what he has done? Or, is David reluctant because he is partly guilty as well? After all, he is the one who ordered Tamar to go to Amnon's house.

It does seem as though David may have ranted and raved in his anger, even if he did not deal with Amnon as he should have. But Absalom seems to be the essence of self-control. He conceals his hatred and anger and acts as if nothing has happened. But in his heart he has already purposed to make Amnon pay for ruining his sister's life. He has the motive. All he needs is the means and the opportunity. That will come in two years time. Until then, Absalom does not so much as speak to Amnon. He treats him as though he doesn't exist; soon he will not exist.

Two years pass. Seemingly all has been forgotten, and Amnon has gotten away with his crime. Absalom may have made other attempts to get Amnon away from David's watchful eye and protection and failed, but this time his plan will succeed. Sheep-sheering time has come, and Absalom, like many others, has finished the task and is planning to celebrate. He knows David can appreciate such things, not only as a former shepherd boy but also from his experiences in the more recent past (see 1 Samuel 25:2ff.). Here is the pretext Absalom has been seeking.

I doubt very much that Absalom wants David to attend the celebration in Baal-Hazor, nearly 20 miles away to the north and east of Jerusalem. It is a trek David will not wish to make, and I believe Absalom knows it. Besides, David and his entourage will be a large group, too large to be easily accommodated. And so David declines, but gives Absalom his blessing. Absalom expected this response, and he does not give up. He now presses David for what he really wants -- he wants David to send69 his son Amnon. Is Absalom implying that Amnon can represent David as his first-born? We do not know because we are not told.

David wonders, though. Why would Absalom ask specifically for Amnon to come? David presses Absalom on this point, but he seems to avoid the question and continue to press his father to send him. Is it David's idea to send all his sons along with Absalom? Perhaps. This will certainly seem to put some of David's suspicions to rest. One way or the other, David stays home (oh boy, is this deja vu?) sending his sons in his place.

Absalom has already formulated a plan and given his servants their instructions. As David instructed Joab to kill Uriah, now Absalom instructs his servants to kill Amnon.70 Absalom will see to it that Amnon does his share of drinking, and thus will be “merry with wine.” (This too seems to have a strange sense of deja vu, as we recall that David sought to make Uriah's heart merry so that he could get him to do what he wanted.) When Amnon is sufficiently drunk, Absalom will give the order, and it is then that his servants are to kill him. Let these men not fear; Absalom is taking full responsibility for what they are about to do to Amnon. The time comes, and Absalom gives the order, and Amnon's life is taken.

The remainder of David's sons are terrified when they see Amnon killed by Absalom's servants. Does Absalom intend to kill them, too? They are not waiting around to find out. They all mount their mules and flee back toward Jerusalem. News reaches David before his sons are sighted. As is often the case, the initial news report is exaggerated. Someone reports to David that all of his sons have been slain, and that not one is left alive. Now before we let our minds set this false report aside, let me call attention to the intense suffering David experiences in that period of time when he still believes the report to be true. David would feel very much like Job when he learned that all of his children had been killed (see Job 1). What intense suffering David underwent for that short period of time. It is like the death of his son by Bathsheba, multiplied many times over (see 12:14ff.). David tears his clothes and lays prostrate on the ground, and all of his servants follow his lead.

During this interim, between the first initial (inaccurate) report and the arrival of his sons, Jonadab approaches David, assuring him this report is not true. He tells David that only one son is dead -- Amnon -- and that this was the intent of Absalom from the day his sister Tamar was raped by Amnon. Therefore, Jonadab urges, the king should not mourn excessively, as though all of his sons are dead (verses 32-33).

Note something interesting about Jonadab's words: there is only one way he could have known what he just told David. Jonadab had not accompanied David's sons to the feast at Absalom's ranch. He had not been there to see what happened. The early reports had to come (directly or indirectly) from those who had been there, at Baal-hazor. How can Jonadab assure David that these reports are not true when he was not there to see what happened? There is only one answer so far as I can tell. Jonadab had known for some time what Absalom's intentions concerning Amnon were. Jonadab knew that Absalom was planning to kill Amnon, and he neither said nor did anything to prevent it.

I don't like what I see of Jonadab in this chapter. He may have been a very shrewd fellow, but he seems to be an opportunist with no scruples. He must have had an idea what Amnon had in mind with regard to Tamar, but he did nothing to stop him. Instead, he told him how he could achieve his evil purpose. And now, having been an accessory before the fact in the rape of Tamar, he adds to his sin by knowing about Absalom's plan to kill Amnon and yet doing nothing about it. (Frankly, I'm surprised he didn't tell Absalom how to get Amnon out to the ranch.) And beyond this, he now uses this knowledge to try to further his own standing with David. It seems that he has a very shrewd reason for telling David that only Amnon has died, before David's sons return to Jerusalem. Their arrival proves that Jonadab knows what he is talking about. When they arrive, Jonadab says to David, “See, didn't I tell you this ahead of time? Things took place just as I told you they would” (verse 35). I think Jonadab is trying to make points with David.

Shortly after Jonadab assures David that only one son is dead, the watchman look out and see that many men are coming. Soon, all of David's sons but two arrive in Jerusalem: Amnon who is dead, and Absalom who kills him and flees. The weeping is commenced by David's sons this time, and David joins with them in mourning the death of Amnon. They all weep bitterly.


As I conclude this lesson, let me suggest some of the ways this passage may instruct us.

First, this text is placed immediately following the passage that depicts David's sin and its personal consequences in the death of his first son by Bathsheba. This is not only because the events of chapter 13 follow closely in time to those of chapter 12, but because chapter 13 describes further consequences of David's sin. The sin of David that was once personal and private comes to impact the entire nation. David's sin affects him, his wife and son, and now other members of his family. Soon, David's sin will divide the nation and deprive David of his throne for a time.

I believe it is true that the death of David's son (chapter 12), and now the rape of his daughter and the murder of his son (chapter 13), are not God's punishment for his sin, but God's discipline. If David were to be punished for his sin, he would have to die. Nathan assured David that he would not die, because his sins had been taken away. The tragedies which take place from this point on are meant to be instructive and corrective, even though they are also painful. This is completely consistent with the teaching of God's Word (see Hebrews 12:1-13).

Hugh Blevins, a friend and fellow-elder, made this observation on our text. God has orchestrated these events to enable David to experience his own sin from the perspective of others. In effect, some of David's family were doing to David what he had done to God. As David had abused his authority as the “king of Israel” to sin against God by taking Bathsheba, Amnon now abuses his authority and position as a “son of the king” to take Tamar. As David sinned by killing Uriah, Absalom sinned by killing Amnon. David can now experience what God did, what Bathsheba did, what others impacted by his sin did.

Second, this text has much to teach David and us regarding sin. Notice that sin often starts with some kind of “forbidden fruit.” For Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit was eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For Joseph, it was Potiphar's wife. For Daniel and his three friends, it was the king's foods. For David, it was Bathsheba. For Amnon, it was Tamar. We see that while sin starts small and often private, it grows quickly to greater and more public sin. We see from our text that sin never pays. Its price tag is always much higher than its worth. Neither David, nor his family, nor the nation Israel will smile about David's sin and its consequences. As Mark Twain once said, “Its better to stay out than to get out.” This certainly applies to sin.

This passage certainly encourages us to stay out of sin. But it also instructs us that once sin has begun, the sooner it is stopped, the better for all. How much better for all if the shrewd Jonadab had rebuked Amnon for his sinful lust, rather than to tell him how he could get what he wanted. How much better if David had recognized the evil of Amnon's request and refused to allow his daughter to see Amnon, and his son Amnon to go to the ranch of Absalom. There is a passivity here toward the sin of others which is painfully evident. Those who will not correct those who sin are only co-conspirators in their expanding sin. How many families have experienced great heartache because a mother or a father refused to discipline a willful or wayward child? How many marriages have broken up because a husband or a wife refused to deal with sin in their lives, or in the life of their mate? How often families have taken the course of action Absalom recommended -- keeping sin a family secret.

We certainly see that sin separates. We know (or should know) that sin separates us from God. But it also separates us from others. The sin of Adam and Eve brought separation from God, and shortly after, it separated Cain and Abel. Sin separated Joseph and his brothers. Sin divided David's family. Sin separated Amnon and Tamar, Amnon and Absalom, David and Absalom, and eventually the whole nation. Sin is the root of disunity and division.

Thirdly, we can learn from each of the characters in our text. Amnon warns us about the pursuit of fleshly lusts (compare 1 Corinthians 10). Jonadab warns us about the danger of using the sins of others to further our own interests, making them a part of our own agenda, rather than paying the price for rebuke and correction. David instructs us concerning passivity toward sin. David knew all the facts about the crime committed against his daughter, yet it seems that he did nothing about it. Why not? Was it his own guilt due to his sin with Bathsheba? Was he afraid that if he corrected Amnon someone might ask him who he was to be casting stones at sinners? Whatever the reasons for David's inaction, it only facilitated the sins of others. And from Absalom, we learn the danger of resentment and bitterness. Absalom was not willing to deal with Amnon biblically. He wanted to get his revenge in his own way. This he did, and in doing so became a murderer and a fugitive.

Fourth, this text has much to teach us about love. Everything that is called love is not necessarily love. It is obvious that Amnon thinks he is in love, but it is also obvious that he is not. In Amnon's mind, love is synonymous with sex. His brand of “love” is frustrated by purity, and not at all concerned about righteousness (such as that conduct prescribed by God's law). Amnon's “love” would not stand the test of 1 Corinthians 13. Tamar was never fooled by Amnon on this matter. How sad it is that so many young women have forsaken their virginity because of a few syrupy words, uttered by a hormone-driven young man. Today, there are many young women who fail to hold the same values or the same standard as Tamar. They do not see their sexual purity as something to be prized and protected; they see it as a curse, to be shed as soon as possible. Let this passage instruct us on the real meaning of love and of the great value of sexual purity, whether a man's or a woman's.

Finally, this text sheds light on the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Think of how Absalom felt about Amnon's abuse of his sister, Tamar. Think of how David felt about the abuse of his daughter. One can only wonder how David found it possible not to do something to Amnon. Now with this in mind, think about how God the Father must have felt, and continues to feel, toward those who reject, rebel against, and blaspheme His sinless Son, Jesus Christ. When He sent His son to this world nearly 2,000 years ago, men rejected Him as a sinner, and they crucified Him on the cross of Calvary. If you were God, how would you feel toward those who did this, and toward those who continue to reject Christ today?

I have some good news and some bad news for you. Let me start with the bad news. The bad news is that God is going to punish those who have rejected His Son. When He returns to the earth, He will come in glory and with power to subdue His enemies:

Jesus said to him [the high priest], “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN” (Matthew 26:64).

“This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses. 33 “Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear. 34 “For it was not David who ascended into heaven, but he himself says: 'THE LORD SAID TO MY LORD, “SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, 35 UNTIL I MAKE YOUR ENEMIES A FOOTSTOOL FOR YOUR FEET.”' 36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ -- this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:32-36).

“Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:30).

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

1 Why are the nations in an uproar And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us tear their fetters apart And cast away their cords from us!” 4 He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury, saying, 6 “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” 7 “I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to Me, 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. 8 'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance, And the very ends of the earth as Your possession. 9 'You shall break them with a rod of iron, You shall shatter them like earthenware.”' 10 Now therefore, O kings, show discernment; Take warning, O judges of the earth. 11 Worship the LORD with reverence And rejoice with trembling. 12 Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way, For His wrath may soon be kindled. How blessed are all who take refuge in Him! (Psalm 2)

No man who has ever lived has been worthy of eternal life. Every single human being is born in sin and fails to live up to God's standard of righteousness (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We all deserve the penalty of death. God, in His mercy and grace, has provided a solution in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. He came to this earth, adding perfect humanity to His undiminished deity. He lived a sinless life, revealing Himself as God's only way to heaven and eternal life (John 14:6). God placed the guilt of our sins upon Him, and when He died on the cross and was raised from the dead, He provided a way of salvation for all who will receive it.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name (John 1:12).

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26).

20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:20-21).

9 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater; for the testimony of God is this, that He has testified concerning His Son. 10 The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has given concerning His Son. 11 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. 12 He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. 13 These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:9-13).

The great news of the gospel is that we do not need to suffer the wrath of God for our sin. Jesus Christ has already borne that penalty, for all who receive it. The bad news is that those who reject His Son, and the penalty He paid, will some day stand before Him as a defeated enemy, acknowledging Him to be the sovereign King of all the earth. I pray that you will receive this gift of forgiveness and eternal life, so that you may become a part of God's royal family, rather than to remain one of His foes.

61 I have separated the first three brothers of David from the second three because the first three were named in 1 Samuel 16 as the three oldest brothers of David and again in chapter 17, as the only three of David’s family to go to war. The names of the last three are given in 1 Chronicles 2. Jonadab, son of Shimeah, is the fellow mentioned several times in our text. Abishai, Joab, and Asahel are the three sons of Zeruiah, David’s sister, who play a significant part in David’s life. Amasa, son of Abigail, will be appointed as commander of the armies of Israel by Absalom when he temporarily takes over David’s kingdom in 2 Samuel 17. When David returns to the throne, he will replace Joab by Amasa (chapter 19), and shortly after, Joab will kill him (chapter 20).

62 The three children of David we are interested in at this point are Amnon, son of Ahinoam, and Absalom and Tamar, children of Maacah. Adonijah, son of Haggith, is the one who will try to assert himself as David’s successor, as described in 1 Kings 1.

63 This is probably a good place to make an observation. Four times in our text the word “love” is used. It is clear that the “love” of Amnon is little more than lust, and yet these four times the translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, used the Greek word agapao. Let those who would suggest or state that “agape love” is a divine love, the highest form of love, take note that this is not consistent with the use of the word, either in the Septuagint or in the New Testament. Let us beware of over-simplification.

64 There are other “Tamar’s” in the Old Testament. One was the daughter-in-law of Judah, found in Genesis 38, and another is “Tamar,” the daughter of Absalom (2 Samuel 14:27). Did Absalom honor his sister (who remained barren the rest of her life) by naming his daughter after her?

65 Notice that when it seems clear to her that Amnon is going to have her, one way or the other, then she proposes marriage to him (see verse 13).

66 One definitely gets the impression that Amnon had a healthy respect for (and perhaps even fear of) Absalom. Not only did Tamar plan to keep herself a virgin, but she had her brother Absalom to help protect her virtue. Big brothers (and dads) have a way of putting the fear of God into the suitors of their sisters (and daughters).

67 We are not finished with Jonadab. This is only the first of his wicked deeds, with the second soon to be exposed.

68 I would have to say, as I alluded to earlier in this series, that if the incident between Amnon and Tamar is purposely portrayed as similar to that between David and Bathsheba, then we have one more piece of evidence in support of Bathsheba’s innocence in the night’s events with David. Surely we can say that Tamar is an innocent victim. And if so, then we may be inclined to suppose that something similar happened with David.

69 This word “send” or “sent” (or its implied equivalent) keeps cropping up. Numerous times it is found in chapter 11, where David uses his authority (sends) to accomplish and then to add to his sin regarding Bathsheba and Uriah. Here in chapter 13 David “sends” Tamar to Amnon (verse 7) and virtually sends Amnon (with the rest of his sons) to Absalom (v. 27).

70 The difference is that Uriah was killed for being a righteous man, while Amnon was killed for being a sinful man.

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15. Absalom (2 Samuel 13:13-37--15:12)


Those of us who have lost a child know the grief this brings. The death of a child is a painful experience, but there are other -- more painful -- ways to lose a child. David suffered much loss when it came to his family, especially his children. David lost the first son Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah, bore to him (chapter 12). Some time later, David's daughter Tamar lost her virginity due to rape, rape committed by her half-brother, Amnon. David then lost his son Amnon, because Absalom wanted vengeance for the rape of his sister, Tamar. It seems the most painful loss of all was the loss of Amnon. Eventually, David “lost” Absalom by his death at the hand of Joab and his servants, but David had really “lost” Absalom long before this. He lost him when he killed his brother, Amnon, and then fled to Geshur and the sanctuary offered him by his grandfather, Talmai, King of Geshur and father of his mother, Maacah (2 Samuel 3:3). This loss was never terminated, even though Absalom was allowed to return to Jerusalem, even into the presence of his father. This kind of loss is the most painful for a parent; I say this knowing many of you have experienced such loss.

I am certain those of you who have experienced this loss have also experienced the guilt which often accompanies it. At first glance, our text may appear to add to this guilt. Does it not seem that David brought about much of the pain he experienced? Was David's loss of Absalom not the result of his bad parenting? Was it not David who knew of the rape of Tamar, and though greatly angered, did nothing about it? Was it not David who allowed Absalom to live in Geshur, then only reluctantly allowed him to return, and then not to see his face until virtually pressured into doing so? Is Absalom not the product of a home that failed?

I must confess that at first this was my opinion. I was well on my way to pointing out David's parental failures and suggesting that these failures brought about the downfall and ultimate death of his son, Absalom. I no longer see it quite that way. It is not that David is without sin or failure, but it is clear that Absalom's downfall is the result of his own sin, of his own choices. In the midst of the heartache and pain caused by the “loss” of Absalom, I believe God is graciously ministering to David, drawing him ever more closely to Himself, and making him even more of a man after God's own heart. The story is filled with intrigue and much sorrow, but there is also much comfort and assurance to be found as we heed this inspired account in God's Word.


The story begins long before our text. In 1 Samuel 8, the leaders of the nation Israel confronted Samuel and demanded that he appoint a king to rule over them. This greatly displeased both Samuel and God, for the hearts of the people were not right before God. At God's instruction, Samuel warned the people of the high price of having a king (chapter 8). A little later, Samuel rebuked the people for their sin, reminding them of God's faithfulness in fulfilling His promises, in bringing them into the land, and in giving them possession of it (chapter 12). God made it clear through Samuel that a king would not, and could not, save them; it was He who had saved His people, and He who would continue to do so. If the people and their king trusted God and obeyed Him, God would continue to deliver His people and to bless them. If not, “both you and your king will be swept away” (1 Samuel 12:25b).

Saul was chosen and designated by God to be Israel's first king. By and large, he did his job well (1 Samuel 14:47-48). In some areas, Saul did better than David. So far as we are told, he did not multiply wives, horses, or wealth (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He is not said to have committed adultery as David did. He did subdue many of the enemies of Israel. His great sins were those of rebellion against God, first in failing to wait for Samuel and in offering sacrifices (1 Samuel 13), then in failing to totally annihilate the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15), and then by seeking guidance from a medium rather than from God (1 Samuel 28).

David was a great king and a man after God's heart. His great sin regarding Uriah and his wife Bathsheba was an exception to the rule, but it was nevertheless a monumental sin (1 Kings 15:5). The key to understanding what is happening in our text is found in the indictment of David by Nathan:

7 Nathan then said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD God of Israel, 'It is I who anointed you king over Israel and it is I who delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 'I also gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your care, and I gave you the house of Israel and Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added to you many more things like these! 9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun”' (2 Samuel 12:7-12).

All the power, riches, and glory of David were given to him by God. The explanation for David's prosperity was not to be found in David's greatness, but in God's grace. God indicated to David that, had he asked, He would have given him “. . . many more things like these.” David wanted more, but rather than obey God and ask Him for more, he took Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and then he took Uriah's life. God graciously “took away” David's sin so that he did not have to die as the law required. Nevertheless, there were certain consequences. The first was the death of David's first son by Bathsheba (2 Samuel 12:14-23). The second is the rape of his daughter, Tamar, by his own son (and Tamar's half-brother, Amnon; 2 Samuel 13:1-19). Next is the death of Amnon at the hand (or, more accurately, at the command) of Absalom, David's son and Tamar's brother (2 Samuel 13:20-36). As a result, David lost another son, Absalom, who had to flee from Israel and find sanctuary in Geshur, the land ruled by his grandfather, Talmai (2 Samuel 13:37). Absalom is not literally dead yet, but he is certainly lost to David, and for all intents and purposes will continue to be until, and including, the time of his death at the hand of Joab (2 Samuel 18).

The purpose of this message is to focus on Absalom, upon his character and rebellion against his father, and upon the way God used Absalom to discipline David and to draw him closer to Himself. To do this, we must look back to chapter 13, where Absalom's character is first disclosed.

Absalom, Amnon, David, and the Rape of Tamar

We studied this text in our previous message, so I will not to go through all the details again here. What I wish to do here is show the early signs of Absalom's rebellion against authority (God's and David's), and the beginnings of a fractured relationship between this son and his father.

We know that Amnon, aided by Jonadab, did a terrible thing to his family, especially to his sister. He deceived his father so that David ordered Tamar to take Amnon “breakfast in bed.” He raped his sister and then refused to do the honorable thing of marrying her. Amnon was not alone in deceiving his father. Absalom was guilty of the same kind of deceit.

It troubled me a great deal to read these words about David:

Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry (2 Samuel 13:21).

I wondered how David could be so angry with Amnon, and yet not do anything. I think I now understand. These words in verse 21 follow not only the account of Amnon's sin, but also of Absalom's interference:

Then Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart.” So Tamar remained and was desolate in her brother Absalom's house (2 Samuel 13:20).

Let's drop back to ponder what biblical justice would have looked like in the case of the rape of Tamar. We might think that Amnon, like his father David, would be deserving of the death penalty. This is not the case, because David committed adultery with a married woman; Amnon raped a virgin. The law was clear about the penalty in such cases:

16 “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged, and lies with her, he must pay a dowry for her to be his wife. 17 “If her father absolutely refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money equal to the dowry for virgins (Exodus 22:16-17).

28 “If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days (Deuteronomy 22:28-29).

Tamar begged Amnon to ask David for her as his wife, and Amnon refused. At the very least, Amnon should have married Tamar after he raped her. This was, in fact, what the law prescribed. Only David's refusal of such a marriage would have prevented it.71 Why then did this not happen? Why didn't Amnon marry Tamar? It is clear in the story that he wanted nothing more to do with Tamar. This alone would not have prevented the marriage, for Amnon would have had no choice in the matter. What kept Amnon from marrying Tamar was the interference of Absalom, Tamar's brother.

It is clear to me from our text that Absalom had a different punishment in mind:

Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David's brother, responded, “Do not let my lord suppose they have put to death all the young men, the king's sons, for Amnon alone is dead; because by the intent of Absalom this has been determined since the day that he violated his sister Tamar (13:32).

Absalom hated his half-brother Amnon for what he had done to his sister, Tamar. He had no intention of letting this fellow off as easily as the law would have done. From the day Tamar was raped, Absalom purposed to kill Amnon. It was only a matter of time and opportunity. That is why Absalom acted as reported in verse 20. He told his sister to keep quiet and leave this matter within the family. In other words, she was not to accuse Amnon of this sin. In the legal language of our time, she was not to press charges. She was to leave this matter to Absalom. Furthermore, Absalom took Tamar into his own home, where she remained desolate the rest of her life.72

Absalom's actions paved the way for him to murder Amnon. They prevented Tamar from marriage and children. They prevented David from taking action under the Law of Moses. No wonder David was angry when he heard of all these matters. He was angry because his hands were tied in terms of dealing with Amnon's sin. The rape of Tamar was an unsubstantiated rumor. His hands were tied by Absalom. David, I believe, was angry not only at what Amnon had done, but at what Absalom had done as well.

Absalom's transgressions do not end here. When two years had passed and the opportunity came for Absalom to take Amnon's life, he accomplished this by making David an unwitting accomplice (though somewhat reluctant -- as he smelled a rat in what Absalom proposed, but just couldn't figure out what it was). As Amnon deceived David in getting him to send Tamar to his bedside, so Absalom deceives David by getting him to send Amnon to his ranch.

Absalom, Joab, the Woman
from Tekoa, and the Return of Absalom

David's initial response, as you would expect, was grief over the death of Amnon. Since he was dead, David was able and willing to move on in his life. As the author of our text puts it, David “was comforted concerning Amnon, since he was dead” (13:39). David's son Amnon was gone; his son Absalom was alive, but hiding as a fugitive from justice in the kingdom of Geshur, ruled by his grandfather, Talmai (see 2 Samuel 3:3). David loved Absalom and wished he could go to him. (He knew that Absalom could not come to him, since he was a murderer and under sentence of death if he returned to Israel.)

Joab knew this about David and set on a course of action to bring Absalom back to Israel. I am not willing to say Joab's motives were pure. I am willing to say that he, like Absalom, seems intent upon obstructing justice. My reading of this chapter is somewhat related to an assumption that Joab's actions are less than noble, so let me begin by giving my reasons for this conclusion.

Though it might appear so at first glance, this “story,” told by the woman from Tekoa is not the same kind of story that Nathan told David which lead to his repentance. Nathan was a prophet; the woman from Tekoa was not. Nathan was sent to David by God; the woman was sent to David by Joab. The woman seems afraid of Joab and not that eager to do what she is told; Nathan came to David confidently. The woman's story was not true; Nathan's story, though fictional, accurately depicted David's sin. Nathan's story ends and leads to the indictment, “You are the man!” The widow's story does not indict David with sin, but with inconsistency. When Nathan indicted David for his sin, David willingly acknowledged his sin; when the widow reaches the bottom line of Joab's plot, David reluctantly grants Joab's request. Joab seems too grateful for David's consent, as though this was a personal favor to him rather than the decision to do the right thing.

David rightly seems to “smell a rat” as his encounter with the woman from Tekoa comes to a conclusion. That “rat” is Joab. When pressed to tell the “whole truth and nothing but the truth” (that it was Joab), the woman tells David it was all Joab's idea, and that she was reluctant to carry out his plan. She seems almost relieved that the deception is over. She tells David that Joab orchestrated this whole incident in order to “change the appearance of things” (verse 20). That does not sound like she is saying, “I did all this at Joab's instruction, so that you would do what was right.”

Joab's later actions (not to mention some of his earlier ones, like murdering Abner) seem to betray an ulterior motive on his part. David's love for Absalom almost seems to be a weak spot, which Joab seeks to exploit for his own benefit. In Absalom's rebellion against David, we hardly hear of Joab. Absalom made Amasa the commander of Israel's army (that is, the army of those who chose to follow Absalom). When David fought Absalom and his forces, Joab was apparently not acting as the commander of all the army, but as the commander of a third of David's forces (2 Samuel 18:2). Joab was, of course, the one who would kill Absalom, even when David gave orders to “deal gently with him” (18:5, 11-15). When David regained the throne, he replaced Joab with Amasa (19:13), but Joab eventually killed him with the help of his brother Abishai (20:8-10). And finally, when David was old and Adonijah sought to assert himself as David's successor rather than Solomon, Joab joined him, which cost him his life (1 Kings 2:28-33).

Absalom was a murderer and chose political asylum in Geshur with his grandfather. David was not wrong to still love this son and yearn to see him. But it would not have been right for David to pardon him so he could return. It would not even have been right to visit him in Geshur. Using trickery and deception, Joab pursued his own self-serving agenda in seeking to manipulate David into bringing Absalom back to Israel.

The woman from Tekoa came to David, pleading for his help. When David asked her what the trouble was, she told him. Observing the interchange between David and this woman is something like watching a tennis match. Each time the woman “serves” David with a request, David responds, only to have the woman return with another request, until she finally has a commitment from David. After she gets this commitment, she then applies her situation and David's response to David's situation with his son, Absalom.

Woman's first petition: “I am a widow who had two sons. These two sons got into a fight in the field, and there was no one to stop them”73 And so it was that one brother killed the other. If there was no one there to stop them, neither was there anyone present to witness just what happened. The killing could have been self-defense. One could hardly assume it was first degree (pre-meditated) murder. If this case were to be settled in the city gate of a city of refuge, it is hard to believe the surviving son would be handed over to be executed by the avengers of the dead man.

David's response: “Why don't you go home and let me think about this? I'll send you my answer, later.”

Woman's second attempt. “I can see, O king, that this is a difficult situation, and that you would really rather not involve yourself in it. I can understand this, and so I'll just go my way and keep doing what I have been doing (hiding the surviving son), and taking the heat. I'll be the guilty one, and you will be guiltless.”

David's response: “Now wait just a minute! I didn't mean that I would do nothing. I just wanted to think this matter over more carefully. I'll tell you what I will do. If anyone else gives you any grief over this matter, you just bring them to me, and I'll take care of them for you.”

Woman's third response: “Well, that's very kind of the king. But wouldn't it be easier and better if you just made a ruling on this matter, so that you don't have to deal with those who trouble me one at a time? If you declare that no one is to harm the lad, then he will be safe, and I won't have to keep him in hiding. And while you're at it, if you make this ruling with a divine oath, people will know you are really serious about it. (Also, it will probably make this ruling irreversible.)”

David's response: “O.K., you've got the ruling you asked for. 'As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.'“

Woman's fourth response: “I thank you very much, O king, but doesn't your ruling on my behalf pose a problem for you? How can you rule to protect the life of my son and yet not do the same with your son, Absalom? We know that we are all going to die someday, but God does not delight in death. He seeks ways to keep men alive and to bring back those alienated from Him. Why are you not doing the same thing, seeking to find ways to spare the life of Absalom, and to bring him back to Israel?”

David's response: “Whoa! All of a sudden, it is beginning to look as though this entire conversation has more to do with me and my son than with you and yours. This feels very much to me like the kind of thing Joab would do. Tell me the truth, is Joab the one behind all this?”

Woman's fifth response: “O king, who can pull the wool over your eyes? Certainly not me. You are so wise as to see the truth of the matter. Yes, it was Joab who was behind all this. I didn't really want to do this, but I was afraid, especially of Joab. Joab did this to change the appearance of things, in order to look good.”

David's response: “All right, Joab,74 I will grant your request, so deviously made through this woman. Go and bring back my son Absalom.”

I readily admit this is a very loose paraphrase of the dialogue which takes place between David and the woman from Tekoa, but it does seem to convey the sense of what appears to happen here. Carefully, using Joab's words, this woman is able to get David to commit himself to the safety of her son. Finally, David rules with a divine oath that this son is not to be harmed. Now the woman can appeal to the precedent David has just set (which it seems cannot be changed) and press David to deal similarly with his own son (whose guilt is much more clear).

David gives in, reluctantly, to Joab's prodding. He tells Joab that he can bring Absalom back to Israel. The assumption is that he will not allow anyone (any avenger) to take Absalom's life. But somewhere along the line, David considers what he has done and makes a change in plans. Absalom is not to be brought back to Israel as though an innocent man, free to come and go as he pleases. Absalom is to be under “house arrest,” confined to Jerusalem and his own house.75

I may be reading too much into the text, but is there not a kind of poetic justice here, with David confining Absalom to his own house? On the one hand, Absalom is still a murderer who has not been brought to justice. To have him “confined to quarters” is a very practical way of protecting him. It is also a way of keeping him out of circulation. After all, David agreed to his return against his better judgment, it seems. But I am also reminded of the fact that it was Absalom who confined his sister Tamar to quarters. By confining Tamar to his house, Absalom kept her quiet. He also kept her desolate. All of this enabled him to carry out his evil plan to murder Amnon. Now, it somehow seems appropriate that Absalom himself should be confined to the same quarters in which he confined his sister for the rest of her life.

Absalom has a great deal going for him. He is a good looking man, without a single flaw. His hair is his crowning glory, and everybody knows it. He has three sons and a beautiful daughter, who also adds to his standing. He is, so to speak, the Princess Diana of that day. David is becoming the Prince Charles, and all due to Absalom's very careful and deliberate scheme. But more of this in a moment. First we must see how Absalom gains full freedom.

After two years of house arrest, Absalom has had it. He is angry and frustrated. Since he cannot leave his house, Absalom summons Joab and is ignored. After a second attempt to gain an audience with Joab in his home, Absalom takes more extreme measures. He sends his servants out to set Joab's field (which adjoined his own field) ablaze. This certainly gets Joab's attention! He is soon there to confront Absalom, but instead it is Absalom who confronts him. Why is he confined to quarters? If this is all there is for Absalom, he will be better off in Geshur, for there he is a free man. Absalom demands to see the king's face.

It is what Absalom says next which is most troubling to me. “And if there is iniquity in me, let him put me to death” (verse 32). It sounds a little bit like some more familiar words to us: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” But how can Absalom speak this way? Does he really believe he is without guilt? Does he not think himself worthy of the death penalty? It would seem so. And if this is true, then he once again reveals that he has no regard for God's law. He wanted the death penalty for Amnon, though the law did not require it. He thinks the death penalty harsh and inappropriate for him, though he is a murderer under the law. This is a man who manifests absolutely no repentance.

Putting David Down Before the People

Nevertheless, Joab takes this mandate to king David, who relents and allows Absalom to come into his presence. He kisses Absalom, and no doubt thinks that this should be the end of it all. Now Absalom has access to the king and freedom to go about wherever he may choose. And when he goes about, it is certainly in style. He acquires a chariot and horses and 50 men who serve as runners. (No avenger is going to try to do Absalom in with so many bodyguards around!)

Absalom would have been a great politician. Come to think of it, that is exactly what he was! Every day Absalom would station himself on the road to Jerusalem (just out of sight of the city and his father, no doubt). What an impressive sight he must have been. A strikingly handsome man with a head of hair that women would die for. I would imagine his chariot was parked in sight of all who passed by, along with his 50 runners. Every visual impression smacked of royalty and class.

Absalom would call out to those passing by, asking from where they came and why they had come. He greeted all in a way they would remember. Can you imagine, for example, if you were driving down LBJ freeway and someone waved your car over to a parked limousine? The door opens, and the Vice President of the United States steps out, engaging you in conversation. When you seek to show your respect, he grasps you firmly by the hand and gives you a great big “Okie” (Oklahoma) “hug your neck,” refusing to allow you to honor him. Wow! That would be quite a meeting -- one you would never forget.

But there's more. Not only does Absalom come out looking good, he causes David to come out looking very bad. When Absalom learns that the traveler is coming to Jerusalem to seek justice, he tells the traveler that he is terribly sorry to inform him that the king has made no provisions for judging cases. (This, of course, is a lie, for we just read about David hearing a “widow's” case and ruling in her favor.) Absalom tells the person that it is especially sad because from what he has been told of the case, the judge would have ruled in their favor. They would have won their case, except for the fact that David had no one appointed to hear it. You just couldn't get justice with David on the throne. And then, with great skill, Absalom makes it known that if he were judging in Israel, he would see to it that such people were heard, and that he would rule in their favor. One just couldn't get justice with David; but with Absalom it would be an entirely different matter.

Not only is Absalom a liar (in saying there is no one to hear their case), he is a hypocrite. Just what kind of “justice” would he mete out? The kind of “justice” he was sure that Amnon received? The kind of justice his own sister received? The kind of “justice” he himself got? Absalom is no friend of justice or of the oppressed. He just gets people to think he is their friend. And it works! Absalom wins the hearts of the people. He is now ready to make his move.

After four years76 of running David down and building himself up in the eyes of the people, Absalom was ready to make his move. His plan was to make his debut as king where David did, and where he was born, Hebron (2 Samuel 3:2-3). First, he had to find a way to get there without arousing David's curiosity or suspicion. He went to his father and told him that he had made a vow while he was living in Geshur.77 He vowed that if God ever granted him the privilege of returning to Israel he would pay his vow to the Lord in Hebron. Now, he indicated, was the time to do so. David granted him permission to leave. He sent him away “in peace.” It was most certainly not going to result in “peace.”

Absalom took 200 men from Jerusalem with him to Hebron. These men had no idea what he had in mind. But Absalom had sent word throughout the tribes of Israel that when the trumpet was blown, this was a signal for them to proclaim their allegiance to him, rather than to David. In addition to this, Absalom had managed to recruit Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's counselor. Ahithophel was a most gifted man; his counsel was exceedingly wise:

The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23).

The loss of Ahithophel to Absalom was a major blow. One must wonder how a fellow so wise could choose to align himself with Absalom. Nevertheless, God would make use of Ahithophel. He would use his counsel to bring about the fulfillment of prophecy (compare 2 Samuel 12:11-12 and 2 Samuel 16:20-22), and He would thwart his counsel in order to save David from the hand of Absalom (2 Samuel 17:1-14).


How sad to read all this. The author does not pull any punches here. The “trail of tears” began with David's sin concerning Uriah and his wife, Bathsheba. It began with the agony of David's soul, even before he repented and confessed his sin (see Psalm 32:3-4). It continued with the death of the first son born to David and the wife of Uriah. Soon, David's own daughter (Tamar) was raped by one of his sons, and then this son (Amnon) was murdered by yet another son (Absalom). Absalom flees to Gerar, and David yearns to see him, but knows he cannot. Then, manipulated by the deception of Joab, David is compelled to bring Absalom back to Israel. This is not a pleasant experience either. When Absalom gains his freedom, he uses it to undermine David's reputation and standing with the people. Next comes his rebellion, and the division of Israel, and finally the death of Absalom at the hand of Joab. It is, indeed, a trail of tears.

In the midst of all this suffering and adversity, I must once again emphasize that God is not punishing David for his sins here. Nathan made it very clear David would not undergo the (death) penalty for his sin, because the “Lord had taken his sin away” (2 Samuel 12:13) Here is one of the very common errors Christians make; namely, that whenever a person suffers, it is because they are being punished for their sin. Job's friends believed this and continually sought to compel him to repent (see Job 4 and 5). Our Lord's disciples assumed the man born blind was this way because of someone's sin (John 9:1-2). There are those whose suffering is the direct result of their sin (see Deuteronomy 28:15ff.), but this is not always the explanation for suffering. Sometimes the righteous suffer for being righteous (1 Peter 4).

And then there are other times when the saints suffer because they are the “sons of God,” who are being prepared for glory (see Hebrews 12). Even our Lord suffered in order to prepare Him for his glory (see Hebrews 2:10-18; 5:7-10; Philippians 2:5-11). I am not saying here that David's suffering was unrelated to his sin. I am saying that his suffering was not punishment for his sin, but divine discipline, which was designed to draw him closer to God and to cling more loosely to the things of this world (compare 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

One of the things God is doing in the disciplining of David is to allow David to see his sin from a different point of view. Callously, David took Bathsheba, lay with her, and killed her husband. In this he used (or abused) his power as God's king to accomplish his sin. Now God is graciously allowing David to view his sin from a different perspective. Did David abuse his relationship with God, using his power to pursue his own interests? Joab seems to be doing the same thing in our text. Amnon abused his power in taking Tamar, much as I believe David took Bathsheba. Absalom too abused his power, undermining David while seeking to gain his throne. Did David seek to deceive Saul about his absence? Now Absalom deceived David about his absence. Did David seek to deceive Uriah to cover his sin? David is deceived by Amnon, then Absalom, then Joab and the woman from Tekoa. Did David, God's “son” (see 2 Samuel 7:8-17), rebel against God in his sin? Now David's son(s) will rebel against him. Does David abuse his power, oppressing those who were powerless to oppose him? Now David will experience powerlessness as Absalom cuts off all opportunity for David to execute justice, for his daughter Tamar, for Absalom, and even for the people of Israel (2 Samuel 15:2-6). David now is able to see his sin in a different light, as it is replayed by others.

This text has much to say about parenting. Even a cursory reading of the Bible should make it amply clear that there were no perfect parents. Even the most godly men and women failed in their parenting (think of Eli, Samuel, Saul, and now David). We should all purpose before God to be better parents. This is not because “good parenting” guarantees godly children, but because “good parenting” pleases God. We should seek to be good parents because this is what God requires of us.

When our children fail, as they will, we should not heap all kinds of blame and guilt upon ourselves, as though we were entirely the cause of it all. Look at the sons of David we have seen thus far. Amnon was a worthless fellow, a fool. Solomon will be the wisest man who ever lived. Adonijah will seek to usurp the throne from his brother. Absalom will thwart justice, murder his brother, and turn against his father. I am sure that in the case of Absalom, David's failures adversely affected this son. Having said this, I do not believe that our text was written to show us how bad a father David was, but rather to show us how disobedient a son Absalom was. This disobedience was due to the choices Absalom himself made. And this disobedience was used of God to discipline David, to make him a man more after His own heart.

Please do not leave this message or this text feeling like a failure, overcome with guilt, because one of your children has been “lost” to you in some way. Your sins do play a part in your child's life, but that child, like Absalom, has to decide whether or not to trust and obey. If they do not, the guilt is not all yours; it may not be yours at all. But if you are a Christian, then I can assure you that God will use even your child's rebellion to perfect you and to draw you into a more intimate relationship with Him. Sometimes our children are our “god,” and this is one way God has of getting our priorities straight. In the Old Testament in particular I find that family failures are often a part of God's great plan and program for His people. They do not prevent God from doing as He has promised; often they are the means by which God does fulfill His promises.

I think there is a lesson to be learned here about discipline, in this case discipline within the family. David wanted to be restored to fellowship with his son, Absalom. He knew better than to ignore or distort the law in order to facilitate such a reunion. David was tricked into allowing his son to return, even though he knew better. We may think that David was cold and uncaring when he refused to allow Absalom to see his face. I do not agree. I think David understood that reconciliation can only follow repentance, and that it cannot precede it. David was angered, not only by Amnon's rape of Tamar, but by Absalom's obstruction of justice and murder of Amnon. David could not be reconciled to Absalom until Absalom had repented, and until David's anger had been “propitiated” (a fancy theological term for having his anger appeased or satisfied). When Joab tricked David into letting Absalom return, he did so in a way that did not facilitate repentance or reconciliation. If we are going to blame anyone for Absalom’s sin (other than Absalom, who bears the primary responsibility), it would have to be Joab rather than David, because Joab sought to bring about reconciliation without repentance.

I am reminded of the story of Joseph and his brothers. Joseph's brothers had sinned against him greatly by kidnapping him and selling him into slavery. We know from the story of Joseph that he loved his brothers, and he yearned to be reconciled with them. But he could not do so until they had repented. And so we see the prolonged saga of these men's two trips to Egypt, culminating in their genuine repentance. It was then that Joseph revealed his identity. They had repented, and Joseph had forgiven them. Now reconciliation was possible. So it was required in David's relationship with Absalom, but Joab's efforts only tended to hinder reconciliation rather than facilitate it.

I know many parents who so desperately yearn for a relationship with their children that they refuse to discipline them. And when they have rebelled, they are so eager to get them back they welcome their children with open arms, when there has been no repentance, and thus there can be no real reconciliation. The same is true in the church. If there is to be true unity in the church, genuine fellowship among the saints, then there must be rebuke, discipline, and repentance before there can be reconciliation and reunion.

David's son Absalom has something to teach us. It is a lesson in what true submission is and is not. I think we can agree that Absalom is a man who “bites the hand that feeds him.” Absalom lacks any sense of debt to his father, and there is no evidence of gratitude on his part. But more than this, there is absolutely no true submission to his father-king. Like Satan of old, Absalom sees himself as “next in line” for the throne. He does not submit himself to his father. Instead he uses his position and power to undermine his father's authority and to disrupt his kingdom. Behind his father's back, he speaks ill of his father, making him look bad in the eyes of others. And all of this is done to “get ahead.”

How many of us do the same thing in the workplace? How many of us talk about the boss to our fellow employees, behind his back? How many of us try to make our superiors look bad and to make ourselves look good? How many wives undermine the authority and dignity of their husbands with their children? How many husbands do the same with their wives (talking to their children or their peers about their wife's failures, real or contrived)? How often the same thing happens in the church. Those who have exposure and visibility cast doubt on the church leaders' ability, on their decisions, on their leadership, while at the same time making it known that they would do much better if they were at the helm? Absalom is a warning to us all about submission and its counterpart, rebellion.

Finally, as I conclude this lesson I would like to leave you with this thought: The very thing that David was willing to do -- but could not do -- to save his son Absalom, is that which God has done through His Son, and in so doing, has made many “sons.” In chapter 18 and verse 33, David expresses his wish that he could have died in Absalom's place. It could not be so, and even if it were so, it would not have benefited Absalom. David could not save his son Absalom any more than we can save our children. But God has accomplished what man cannot accomplish. God gave up His sinless Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die on the cross of Calvary, as the payment for the guilt of our sins. He gave up His beloved Son so that our sins might be forgiven, and so that we might become His sons. What no man can do (save their loved ones), God can do. God has provided the forgiveness of sins and sonship which we desperately need. He has provided this through only one means, the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. If you would be reconciled to God, you must acknowledge your sin, your rebellion against God, and accept the free gift of the forgiveness of your sins and eternal life which He offers to you. I pray that you have received this gift, and that if you have not, you will.

71 There is, of course, the matter of Tamar being Amnon’s half-sister. This presents a problem, but if they had married, she would have been to Amnon exactly what Sarah was to Abraham, a wife who was also a half-sister. For our purposes, however, I will set this question aside and assume that a marriage was possible, as Tamar assumed.

72 Initially I thought Absalom did what he did for his sister’s benefit. The more I read the story, the more I am convinced that Absalom sacrificed the interests of his sister for his own interest of getting revenge.

73 My friend informed me that in the Middle East, it is assumed that the fight must continue until someone intervenes to stop it. Sometimes a fight begins and one or both parties hopes for an intervention so they can cease fighting with honor. If there is no one to stop them, they must fight to the death. Such could be the case in our text.

74 One has the distinct impression that Joab has been there, beside the woman from Tekoa, prompting her as she recited her script. The text does not say that David sent for Joab, but that he spoke to Joab. From this text, I would gather that Joab was there the whole time the woman was speaking to David.

75 This may seem to be a bit of a reach on my part at first, but consider the following. David instructed Absalom to turn to his own house (verse 24). Absalom was not to see David’s face, which certainly could have happened if both freely visited about Jerusalem and elsewhere. Absalom got very tired of this situation, but he had to summon Joab to his house; he did not go to Joab or David. I think this is because he could not leave his house. But when full freedom is given to Absalom, he makes his comings and goings very conspicuous, with a chariot and 50 runners before him.

76 You will note the footnote in the NASB, which indicates that while the Hebrew text seems to indicate “forty,” there are other manuscripts which indicate “four,” which certainly appears to be required in the context.

77 I may very well be reading too much into this, but it does seem quite a coincidence that Absalom would explain his absence from the king (David) with nearly the same excuse David gave for his absence from his king (Saul; see 1 Samuel 20:1-34). Is it possible that God did not deal with David about his deception until now, when he could see, once again, how it felt to be on the receiving end of the same sin?

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16. A Friend in Need or The Trail of Tears (2 Samuel 15:13 --16:23)


When I was growing up, my parents bought an old fishing resort which the original owners had homesteaded, and my father named the resort, “Pioneer Park.” My folks had a great number of friends over the years, but once they owned a place on the lake, the number of “friends” seemed to increase. Normally, a nominal fee was charged for a family to come to our resort to swim, picnic, use our restroom facilities (outhouses), and build a fire in our outdoor stoves (using firewood I helped cut, haul, and stack). Every once in a while a car would drive in, and rather than pay the 50 cents admission we charged, they would say: “We really just wanted to get to know you better. . . .” The kids all had their swim suits on, picnic supplies were in the car, and sometimes they had already launched their boat at the state access next door (to avoid the small fee for launching it at our place).

We all have “friends,” as well as true friends. The one thing which always seems to separate the first from the last is adversity. When things get tough, “friends” get going. In our text, we see some of David's “friends,” and some of his true friends. The adversity he faces makes the distinction between these two kinds of friends very clear.

You may remember that David's sin of adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, led to the added sin of the murder of Uriah. After God prepared David's heart for rebuke (see Psalm 32:3-4), Nathan approached David with a heart-rending story, one which stirred David's emotions and prompted him to condemn the guilty party. Nathan then indicted David for his sin involving Bathsheba and Uriah, assuring him he would not die for his sin had been taken away, but telling him some of the painful consequences his sin would bring about:

10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.”' 13 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan said to David, “The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die. 14 “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

David son has already died, his daughter Tamar has been raped by her brother, Amnon, and Amnon has been murdered by Absalom. Absalom fled for asylum with his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Absalom remained in Geshur for about two years, until Joab deceptively compelled David to bring his son back to Jerusalem. David seems to have kept his son under house arrest until Absalom would have no more of it, and he finally was given freedom to go about Jerusalem. During this period of relative freedom, Absalom turned the hearts of the Israelites away from David and toward himself. Having done so, he obtained permission from David to go to Hebron, ostensibly to fulfill a vow, but in truth to initiate his rebellion against David and claim the kingdom as his own.

When we come to our text, word comes to David that the people's allegiance has turned to Absalom, and that a full-scale rebellion is about to occur. It is at this point that David decides to flee from Jerusalem, along with many of his followers. Just who will be numbered among his followers who accompany him (and who will remain behind in Jerusalem) will be determined by whether or not they are true friends of David.

Our Approach in this Lesson

I believe the author has indicated his organizational structure in this portion of Scripture, and that it is both chronological and geographical. When David flees from Jerusalem, he will head to the north and west. He will go as far as the wilderness, on the western side of the Jordan River, and there he will await word concerning Absalom's plans. When he learns that Absalom will pursue and attack, David crosses the Jordan and heads farther north. The structure of our text is arranged according to stops David makes on his way from Jerusalem to the wilderness. The first scene is in Jerusalem, where David gets the report from Hebron and makes the decision to flee. Likewise, the last scene is in Jerusalem, where Absalom has arrived, and where he possesses David's ten concubines who have been left behind. The second scene is at “the last house,” as David is leaving Jerusalem. The third is at the brook Kidron, and the fourth is on the ascent of the Mount of Olives. The fifth scene takes place just over the summit of the Mount of Olives, and the sixth at Bahurim. At each place, there will be an encounter with a “friend” or a true friend of David.

Scene 1: At the Palace in Jerusalem

13 Then a messenger came to David, saying, “The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom.” 14 David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, “Arise and let us flee, for otherwise none of us will escape from Absalom. Go in haste, or he will overtake us quickly and bring down calamity on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.” 15 Then the king's servants said to the king, “Behold, your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king chooses.” 16 So the king went out and all his household with him. But the king left ten concubines to keep the house.

A messenger comes to David with a report he is not eager to hear: “The hearts of the people are with Absalom.” I suspect it is a message David dreaded would come sooner or later. He cannot be ignorant of the way Absalom is undermining his reign as king and setting himself up as David's replacement. David does not doubt or dispute the report. In fact, David even admits that if they do not flee immediately, Absalom will not only attack the city of Jerusalem, but will kill the king and any of his followers.

Notice that the messenger's report, as conveyed to the reader, does not indicate that Absalom has already “blown the trumpet,” declaring himself king (see 15:10). Neither is it said that Absalom is actually marching on the city. But it is apparent that this is assumed. If it has not already happened, it will happen very soon. This is the time to act.

David reluctantly accepts the report and acts on it. His servants tell him they are ready to do whatever he commands. I take it this would include defending David and Jerusalem from Absalom's attack. But instead of giving the order to prepare for battle, David gives the order to prepare to flee from Jerusalem. Here is the man who did not hesitate to stand up to Goliath when no one else was willing to do so, including Saul himself. Here is the man who, when insulted by Nabal (1 Samuel 25), was provoked to anger, and set out to kill this man and every male member of his household. Why is David so eager to flee rather than to fight?

The first thing we should understand is that in fleeing from Jerusalem, David has not indicated his intention to abdicate the throne. This is why he leaves ten concubines behind, to “keep the house” (15:16). He is leaving town, but he is not leaving his throne. Absalom may seize it, but this will not be because David has handed in his resignation. The concubines are a symbol of David's continuing reign over Israel.

There are a number of reasons David makes the decision to flee, even though he will not abdicate. First, David knows that God will bring about troubles in his kingdom, from within his own family. If the rebellion of Absalom is a part of the divine discipline he has brought upon himself, David is not sure whether he should resist it. If this is of God, will David be fighting against God to fight against this rebellion? David clearly indicates his intention to wait until he has a sense of certainty about what he should do:

25 The king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 “But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 “See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me” (2 Samuel 15:25-28).

Furthermore, David may be concerned about the welfare of those who dwell in Jerusalem. Will he be placing them in danger by staying behind and fighting to defend the city? From Psalm 51:18, one might conclude that the walls of Jerusalem were not completed, thus making it more difficult to defend at this point in time. Finally, we know that David loves Absalom. He does not want to precipitate a fight with him because he does not wish to kill him (see 2 Samuel 18). Why start a fight you are not willing to win? Absalom is ready and willing to kill David, and others if necessary; David is not willing to kill Absalom. And so it is that David chooses flight over a fight.

Scene Two: At the “Last House”

17 The king went out and all the people with him, and they stopped at the last house.78 18 Now all his servants passed on beside him, all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had come with him from Gath, passed on before the king. 19 Then the king said to Ittai the Gittite, “Why will you also go with us? Return and remain with the king, for you are a foreigner and also an exile; return to your own place. 20 “You came only yesterday, and shall I today make you wander with us, while I go where I will? Return and take back your brothers; mercy and truth be with you.” 21 But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be.” 2 Therefore David said to Ittai, “Go and pass over.” So Ittai the Gittite passed over with all his men and all the little ones who were with him.

It appears that David and those who intend to flee with him have formed a procession leading out of town. At the “last house” David pauses, as he allows those going with him to pass on ahead of him. This might be the last of the houses that his wives and children inhabited in Jerusalem, but it appears to be the last house on “the edge of town,” so to speak. David stops at the outskirts of Jerusalem, pausing as those fleeing with him pass by. This will give David the opportunity to allow some to accompany him and to encourage others to turn back.

It is here that some of David's “old faithfuls” will appear. Among these are the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites. The Cherethites and Pelethites are mentioned earlier (8:18) and later (23:22-23) in 2 Samuel. They were foreigners, not native Israelites, who were led by Benaiah. These men may have been a kind of honor guard for David, his secret service agents, whose task it was to defend the king.79 A “Gittite” was a person from the Philistine city of Gath. Goliath was probably the most famous Gittite (see 2 Samuel 21:19). And so the first major group of those loyal to David, who would accompany him as he fled from Jerusalem, were foreigners -- Gentiles. These were not recent followers. These all seem to be men whose association with David goes back to his days spent hiding out from Saul, in the land of the Philistines. These were men who “had come with him from Gath” (15:18).

In addition to this larger group of faithful Gentiles from a long time back was one man who was a Gentile as well, but a relative newcomer.80 He was Ittai the Gittite. Our author chooses to focus our attention on Ittai for several verses (19-22). This man must have been both loyal and capable for David to make him a commander of a portion of his troops in chapter 18.81 There were a number of reasons why Ittai could have felt little obligation to follow David. He was a foreigner -- it wasn't his fight. He was a relative newcomer. He was accompanied by a number of “little ones,” who would certainly be a burden, and who would be in danger if Absalom pursued David.

David called Ittai aside and urged him to stay in Jerusalem or to return to his own land. This was not his fight. He did not need to endanger himself or those with him. David urged him not to follow, but Ittai would not hear of abandoning David. Note how similar his response to David is to Ruth's response to Naomi:

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).

21 But Ittai answered the king and said, “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, surely wherever my lord the king may be, whether for death or for life, there also your servant will be” (2 Samuel 15:21).

Ittai's commitment appears to be more than a personal attachment to David; it seems to be part and parcel of Ittai's faith. He begins his statement with the words, “As the LORD lives. . . .” I believe Ittai, like Ruth, became true believers in the God of Israel, and they had no intention of going back to their own land and their own gods.

Scene Three: Just Over the Brook Kidron

23 While all the country was weeping with a loud voice, all the people passed over. The king also passed over the brook Kidron, and all the people passed over toward the way of the wilderness. 24 Now behold, Zadok also came, and all the Levites with him carrying the ark of the covenant of God. And they set down the ark of God, and Abiathar came up until all the people had finished passing from the city. 25 The king said to Zadok, “Return the ark of God to the city. If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again and show me both it and His habitation. 26 “But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him.” 27 The king said also to Zadok the priest, “Are you not a seer? Return to the city in peace and your two sons with you, your son Ahimaaz and Jonathan the son of Abiathar. 28 “See, I am going to wait at the fords of the wilderness until word comes from you to inform me.” 29 Therefore Zadok and Abiathar returned the ark of God to Jerusalem and remained there.

Leaving Jerusalem, David and those with him would have to descend into the Kidron Valley, and then ascend the Mount of Olives on the other side. The third scene takes place in the Kidron Valley, just after the crossing of the brook Kidron. Zadok the priest arrived, along with all the Levites, who were carrying the ark of the covenant. They set the ark down and waited for all those leaving the city to pass by. Then David spoke to Zadok, instructing him to take the ark of God back to Jerusalem. If God was really with David, then He would bring David back to Jerusalem, back to the place where God had chosen to dwell? If God was not with him, David knew the ark would do him no good.

This is a far cry from the mindset we saw in 1 Samuel 4. There, when the Israelites suffered a defeat at the hands of the Philistines, the people fetched the ark, assuming it would somehow magically give them the victory. Instead, the Israelites were defeated, Eli's two sons were killed, and the ark was taken by the Philistines. On top of this, Eli fell dead with the news that his sons were dead and the ark was in enemy hands. David does not see the ark as some kind of magic charm that assures him of God's presence or of divine deliverance. Jerusalem is where the ark belongs, and David is not about to attempt to take it with him.

In addition to this, David knew that Zadok was not only a priest, but a prophet (in those days prophets were known as seers -- see 1 Samuel 9:6-9) as well. This meant that Zadok could give David reports that could be trusted. After all, who would not want a status report from a prophet, rather than from a less reliable source? Zadok needed to be in Jerusalem to be with the ark, but he also needed to be there in order to keep David up to date on what was going on, from the inside. Zadok could use his two sons, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, to convey a report of Absalom's plans to David, who would be waiting by the fords of the wilderness. This way David could discern whether to retreat further into the wilderness, to remain where he was, or even to return to Jerusalem.

Scene Four: The Ascent of the Mount of Olives

30 And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot. Then all the people who were with him each covered his head and went up weeping as they went. 31 Now someone told David, saying, “Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.” And David said, “O LORD, I pray, make the counsel of Ahithophel foolishness.” 32 It happened as David was coming to the summit, where God was worshipped, that behold, Hushai the Archite met him with his coat torn and dust on his head. 33 David said to him, “If you pass over with me, then you will be a burden to me. 34 “But if you return to the city, and say to Absalom, 'I will be your servant, O king; as I have been your father's servant in time past, so I will now be your servant,' then you can thwart the counsel of Ahithophel for me. 35 “Are not Zadok and Abiathar the priests with you there? So it shall be that whatever you hear from the king's house, you shall report to Zadok and Abiathar the priests. 36 “Behold their two sons are with them there, Ahimaaz, Zadok's son and Jonathan, Abiathar's son; and by them you shall send me everything that you hear.” 37 So Hushai, David's friend, came into the city, and Absalom came into Jerusalem.

It is a very sad scene indeed. David ascends the Mount of Olives, weeping as he makes his way toward the top of the ascent. His head is covered and his feet are bare, as is the case with all those accompanying him. The report reaches David that Ahithophel has joined Absalom in his revolt. This is a most devastating blow, because Ahithophel's counsel was so reliable:

The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom (2 Samuel 16:23).

While the loss of Ahithophel was a devastating loss for David's administration, it should not come as a great surprise, based upon the relationship of these two texts:

So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2 Samuel 11:3).

Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maacathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite (2 Samuel 23:34).

We learn from these two verses that Eliam was the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, and that Bathsheba was the daughter of Eliam. In short, Bathsheba was Ahithophel's granddaughter. Does one have to ponder this very long to see why Ahithophel would desert David and side with his son, who intends to take over his father's throne, even if it requires the taking of his father's life? Ahithophel may have felt toward David as Absalom felt toward Amnon.82

David's response is to utter a prayer that God will somehow thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. The answer to his prayer is not that far off, for David has hardly gotten the prayer uttered when David's trusted friend, Hushai the Archite, arrives. His coat is torn, and he had cast dust on his head, all as a sign of mourning. This is indeed a most terrible thing that has happened. Hushai is ready to accompany David wherever he is going. David changes Hushai's plans. The king informs Hushai that if he does accompany him into hiding, he will only be an added burden. Hushai can perform a much more valuable service to David by returning to Jerusalem and pretending to become one of Ahithophel's loyal supporters. This way, Hushai will be in a position to counter the counsel of Ahithophel. David informs Hushai that Zadok and Abiathar the priests are also loyal supporters. When Zadok or Abiathar hear something from the palace, they can send a message to David by the sons of these two priests: Ahimaaz, Zadok's son; or, Jonathan, Abiathar's son. And so it is that Hushai goes to Jerusalem, where he is when Absalom arrives.

Scene Five: Just Over the Summit of the Mount of Olives

    Ziba, Mephibosheth, and David

1 Now when David had passed a little beyond the summit, behold, Ziba the servant of Mephibosheth met him with a couple of saddled donkeys, and on them were two hundred loaves of bread, a hundred clusters of raisins, a hundred summer fruits, and a jug of wine. 2 The king said to Ziba, “Why do you have these?” And Ziba said, “The donkeys are for the king's household to ride, and the bread and summer fruit for the young men to eat, and the wine, for whoever is faint in the wilderness to drink.” 3 Then the king said, “And where is your master's son?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is staying in Jerusalem, for he said, 'Today the house of Israel will restore the kingdom of my father to me.”' 4 So the king said to Ziba, “Behold, all that belongs to Mephibosheth is yours.” And Ziba said, “I prostrate myself; let me find favor in your sight, O my lord, the king!”

David and his followers have just passed the summit of the Mount of Olives. There he is met by Ziba, the servant of Mephibosheth. We first met Ziba in 2 Samuel 9. Ziba was a servant of King Saul. In order for David to fulfill his covenant with Jonathan, he needed to find an heir of Saul to whom he could show favor for Jonathan's sake. He was told of Ziba, who was formerly Saul's servant. Ziba was summoned, and there he informed David about Mephibosheth. When David brought Mephibosheth into his home, to eat at his table, he also restored to Mephibosheth all that was his as the heir of Saul and Jonathan. David also appointed Ziba and his family to serve Mephibosheth as his servant, as they had done before Saul's death.

Now we meet Ziba again. This time, Ziba meets David with provisions for the journey ahead. David inquires of Ziba why he is bringing these supplies, and Ziba informs him that it is for the king and those with him, since the journey ahead will prove difficult.83 David then asked Ziba where his master, Mephibosheth, was. Ziba told David that Mephibosheth had gone to Jerusalem, hoping that his father Saul's kingdom would be restored to him. On the basis of Ziba's account, David gave to Ziba and his sons all that had been given to Mephibosheth.

Scene Six: At Bahurim--Stoned by Shimei

5 When King David came to Bahurim, behold, there came out from there a man of the family of the house of Saul whose name was Shimei, the son of Gera; he came out cursing continually as he came. 6 He threw stones at David and at all the servants of King David; and all the people and all the mighty men were at his right hand and at his left. 7 Thus Shimei said when he cursed, “Get out, get out, you man of bloodshed, and worthless fellow! 8 “The LORD has returned upon you all the bloodshed of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the LORD has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. And behold, you are taken in your own evil, for you are a man of bloodshed!” 9 Then Abishai the son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over now and cut off his head.” 10 But the king said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah? If he curses, and if the LORD has told him, 'Curse David,' then who shall say, 'Why have you done so?”' 11 Then David said to Abishai and to all his servants, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the LORD has told him. 12 “Perhaps the LORD will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day.” 13 So David and his men went on the way; and Shimei went along on the hillside parallel with him and as he went he cursed and cast stones and threw dust at him. 14 The king and all the people who were with him arrived weary and he refreshed himself there.

Bahurim was a small town, below, but not far from Jerusalem. Phaltiel, the (second) husband of Michal, was allowed to follow her this far, and was then turned back (2 Samuel 3:14-16). This is the place where the two spies, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, were hidden in a well until Absalom's men gave up searching for them (2 Samuel 17:17-20). Here, a man named Shimei appears, not to mourn with David nor to provide supplies for his journey, but to mock and curse him, throwing dirt and stones at David and those with him.

As I read this account, I am amazed at how stupid this man appears. Here is but one man, verbally attacking David and physically abusing him (although I would suspect that David's bodyguards did not let Shimei get close enough to David to do him any physical harm). Does this man not know that any one of David's bodyguards could cut off his head in a moment, should David give permission to do so? I think I have seen similar actions in the news when protesters, armed only with sticks and rocks, have challenged those they consider their enemies, in riot gear, and armed with tanks and automatic weapons. In spite of the power of their adversary, they will not be silenced or stopped, if not by death.

Shimei's accusations are interesting. Look at his words carefully. He accuses David of being a “man of bloodshed.” We immediately think in terms of Uriah and his death, ordered by David himself. But that is not what Shimei mentions specifically. He speaks of David's shedding of blood in terms of Saul and his house (verse 8). I am inclined to view Shimei as being entirely out of line, calling David (God's anointed king) a “worthless fellow,” and accusing him of the blood of Saul and his family, for which he was not responsible. Abishai wanted to shut this man's mouth permanently, by cutting off his head. David refused permission, convinced of the sovereignty of God in all these matters. He knew that Shimei's actions were wrong, even that his accusations were inaccurate. In spite of this David believed that it was possible that God was speaking to him through this man, and thus he would not seek to silence one through whom God might be speaking. Instead, he proceeded on his way, looking to God for his vindication. Weary no doubt from the physical aspects of this trek, but also from the emotionally draining elements of this whole journey, David and his supporters arrive at the destination, where they will await further word from Jerusalem.

Scene Seven: Back in Jerusalem
(“Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch”)

15 Then Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel, entered Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him. 16 Now it came about when Hushai the Archite, David's friend, came to Absalom, that Hushai said to Absalom, “Long live the king! Long live the king!” 17 Absalom said to Hushai, “Is this your loyalty to your friend? Why did you not go with your friend?” 18 Then Hushai said to Absalom, “No! For whom the LORD, this people, and all the men of Israel have chosen, his I will be, and with him I will remain. 19 “Besides, whom should I serve? Should I not serve in the presence of his son? As I have served in your father's presence, so I will be in your presence.” 20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?” 21 Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. 23 The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom.

I am going to touch on this final paragraph quite briefly, because it is a key transition into chapter 17. The translations usually begin verse 1 of chapter 17 with a “furthermore” or a “moreover.” Actually the simplest Hebrew connective (a vav) is used, which would most often be rendered “and.” The point I am making is that the chapter break here is awkward, and it tends to separate that which should be considered together. Chapters 16:25-33 and 17:1-4 constitute Ahithophel's counsel to Absalom, which has two parts: (1) Possess David's concubines, thereby proclaiming yourself “king,” and (2) “Let me take 12,000 men tonight and kill David alone.”

For this lesson, I will focus only on 16:20-23, with the understanding that I will deal with one aspect of Ahithophel's counsel and Absalom's actions. In the next lesson, we will return to these verses, focusing on them in relationship to what follows.

Our author never actually tells us that Absalom “blew the trumpet,” which was to be the sign for all Israel to declare their allegiance to him as Israel's new king (15:10). David's flight from Jerusalem certainly prompted Absalom's bold advance to the city and his possession of it. Once in the city, Absalom turned to Ahithophel for counsel as to what he should next do. Ahithophel counseled Absalom to symbolically declare himself king in a way that would make a statement to David and to all Israel. Ahithophel recommended that Absalom take the ten wives (or concubines -- the terms seem to be used almost interchangeably here) and publicly sleep with them, as a symbol of his possession of the throne (along with the harem). The taking of a king's harem certainly symbolized the taking of this man's place, of replacing him. Ruben did this by taking one of Jacob's concubines (Genesis 35:22; cf. 49:4). Adonijah will attempt to do this with Abishag, one of David's concubines (1 Kings 2:13-25).

The thing I wish to emphasize here is that Absalom's actions regarding David's wives are not only a gesture which symbolically proclaims his taking of the throne, it is also the fulfillment of Nathan's prophetic words in chapter 12:

9 'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 10 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' 11 “Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun”' (2 Samuel 12:9-12, emphasis mine).

There was never any doubt that God would bring about that which He had spoken through Nathan. The author of our text does not want us to miss the fact that this event is, in part, the fulfillment of Nathan's words. David sinned with one woman, taking her as his wife when she was the wife of another. Now, Absalom takes ten wives of David and makes them his own wife by sleeping with them. David sinned in private; Absalom purposely made a spectacle of his sin, so that all Israel would know what he was about. David's humiliation in this is great. Let us never deceive ourselves into thinking that our sin is worth the price. If David could have seen where his sin was leading, he would never have chosen the path he did. Let us learn from David's mistake (sin), rather than learn the hard way as he did, that sin never pays.


As we conclude this lesson, let us pause to consider some implications and applications of our text.

Our text has much to teach us about true friendship. The Book of Proverbs has a great deal to say about true friends, and other “friends:”

Many will seek the favor of a generous man, And every man is a friend to him who gives gifts (Proverbs 19:6).

All the brothers of a poor man hate him; How much more do his friends abandon him! He pursues them with words, but they are gone (Proverbs 19:7).

Do not forsake your own friend or your father's friend, And do not go to your brother's house in the day of your calamity; Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother far away (Proverbs 27:10).

In our text, we find out who David's real friends are. The amazing thing is that many of them are not even Jews, but Gentiles. A number of his true friends became his friend while he was facing adversity, fleeing for his life.

I would hope that in this church and many others, one's true friends would be found among the brothers and sisters with whom we worship and serve God together. This is not always the case. Even the apostle Paul experienced abandonment by his friends (see 2 Timothy 4:9-11, 16). There were but a few churches, like the Macedonian church at Philippi, which continued to support Paul (Philippians 4:10-16). There were but a few men, like Timothy and Epaphroditus, whom Paul could count on when things got tough (Philippians 2:19-30). The one thing Paul knew for certain was that there was one “Friend” who would never forsake him:

A man of too many friends comes to ruin, But there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24).

16 At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them. 17 But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that through me the proclamation might be fully accomplished, and that all the Gentiles might hear; and I was rescued out of the lion's mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen (2 Timothy 4:16-18).

Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU” (Hebrews 13:5).84

The one “Friend” who would not desert Moses or Joshua or Paul or David is our Lord Jesus Christ. He is not intimidated by anyone, nor is He deterred by suffering and sorrow. He is the One who endured rejection and suffering so that we might be saved. He is the model, the benchmark for a true friend.

We are reminded by our text that God always keeps His Word, and that sin does not pay. Through Nathan, God informed David that his sin with Bathsheba would result in his suffering consequences which would be similar to his sin, but much greater in magnitude. He sinned by taking one man's wife, privately; he suffered when one man took his ten wives, publicly. Sin does not pay. It is never worth the price. This message depicts David and those with him as walking the “trail of tears.” There is much sorrow, much weeping in our text, and it is all the result of sin, David's sin.

Our text calls our attention to the comforting truth of God's sovereignty. To be sovereign is to have all authority and to be in complete control. God is sovereign over all creation. God is sovereign over men. Nothing can thwart God's plans, purposes, and promises. God told David what would happen as a result of his sin, and in our text we see it happening. It should come as no surprise. God also promised David that he would not die, and that his kingdom would be everlasting. Therefore, we see God protecting the life of David, even in the midst of his suffering. God provided for David through some very unexpected means, but especially through friends, many of whom were not even Israelites.

In His sovereignty, God employed even David's enemies, even those who were ungodly, to bring about His purposes and promises. God raised up Hushai to thwart the counsel of Ahithophel. He used Gentile mercenaries to fight with and for David. He even used a loud-mouthed enemy of David -- Shimei -- to humble David, even though his motives and message were wrong. God used all this to chasten David and to bring about his recovery.

In His sovereignty, God was using these very difficult times to bring David to greater maturity in his faith and practice. God was using “evil” to bring about David's “good.” Romans 8:28 is certainly being acted out in the life of David, and especially in our text. Included in the “all things” which God employs to accomplish our “good” and His glory are the trials and tribulations of this life. God did not allow these painful things to happen in order to destroy David, but to draw him near, to make him humble and dependent.

It is easy to get caught up in the sorrow of this flight from Jerusalem and to be overcome with the tears that are shed. But there is a good side to all the sorrow as well. When we look at David's response to these events in the darkest hours of his life, we see some qualities which were lacking elsewhere. We see here in David a brokenness and a humility which is not always evident in his successes. The “David” who was so eager to kill Nabal and all his male servants for being rude to him is now willing to endure the insults of Shimei, because he knows there is an element of truth in what his enemy is saying. David is willing to learn from an enemy and to patiently endure persecution and affliction.

In many ways, David's suffering provides us with a prototype of the suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is difficult to read these verses without thinking of our Lord's rejection by His own people, the Jews, and of His acceptance by a number of Gentiles. It is easy to see Absalom's betrayal of his father and king as a prototype of the betrayal of our Lord by Judas. As David and a procession make their way out of the city of Jerusalem and up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, it is easy to recall the procession that left Jerusalem, making their way to the cross of Calvary. In the midst of the sadness and sorrow of our text, there is the foreshadowing of hope that comes from the work of our Lord on the cross of Calvary. Just as David was rejected as Israel's king, only to defeat his enemies and to return once again as the King of Israel, so our Lord will return to subdue His enemies and establish His eternal throne on this earth. May our hope and trust be in the Son of David, who came to save sinners and to establish His righteous kingdom upon this earth.

78 The NIV renders this, “a place some distance away.”

79 A friend pointed out to me that Achish, King of Gath, appointed David as his bodyguard for life (1 Samuel 28:1-2). Was there some feeling that a loyal foreign bodyguard would not be as easily involved in the kind of intrigue which sought to overthrow kings? Anyway, it must not have been that unusual for David to have used the Cherethites and Pelethites for such purposes.

80 In the text David says that Ittai “came only yesterday” (15:20). It is obvious that Ittai had been with David longer than this because he will be made a commander of one of the three forces employed against Absalom in chapter 18, verse 2. “Came only yesterday” must therefore be a figure of speech, meaning “relative newcomer.”

81 One does have to wonder if Ittai was not made commander over the other Gittites who accompanied David as he fled from Jerusalem.

82 “It is not impossible that ever since the violent death of Uriah, Ahithophel had been looking for an opportunity for revenge. With the rebellion of David’s son, Absalom, his opportunity had arrived.” John J. Davis and John C. Whitcomb, Israel: From Conquest to Exile (Winona Lake, Indiana, BMH Books, 1969, 1970, 1971), p. 313.

83 I am somehow perplexed at those who seem eager to accuse Ziba of having ulterior motives here. This is based, in part, upon the appearance of Mephibosheth in chapter 19, where he meets David returning to Jerusalem and his throne. He lays the blame for his absence on Ziba. The outcome is that while David gave Ziba all that once belonged to Mephibosheth in our text, he will divide the inheritance in chapter 19. It would seem that it is impossible to completely sort out this story. David appears to have found it so, and thus he divided the estate of Saul, giving half to Ziba. I find it difficult to fault Ziba completely and to believe Mephibosheth’s story altogether when David did not do so.

84 Whether or not the Book of Hebrews was written by Paul, the apostle knew this truth, which comes from the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5).

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17. The Darkest Days of David’s Life (2 Samuel 16:20 -- 19:8)


The first paragraphs of our text sound like the introductory scene of the old television series, “Mission Impossible.” In “Mission Impossible,” Mr. Phelps was always given a vitally important task -- one which seemed virtually impossible to accomplish. Our text starts out almost the same way. Absalom is finally about to declare himself King of Israel, in place of his father. When David gets word of this impending revolution, he chooses to flee from Jerusalem, along with a number of his faithful followers. The preceding paragraphs are filled with tears as David must leave Jerusalem behind and flee toward the wilderness. He leaves Hushai, his faithful friend, and Zadok and Abiathar the priests (along with the ark), to remain in Jerusalem where they will be of more service to him. Zadok is a prophet, so he can give David an accurate (inspired) assessment of what Absalom is doing. The sons of Zadok and Abiathar, Ahimaaz and Jonathan, can serve as messengers to relay word from Zadok to David. David will wait for word from Zakok “at the fords of the wilderness,” just west of the Jordan, until he learns what Absalom has in mind.

Absalom has arrived at Jerusalem and taken possession of this royal city. He then calls Ahithophel and asks for his counsel about how he may best establish himself as king. Ahithophel's counsel comes in two parts, unfortunately separated (artificially) by the chapter division (chapter 17). The first part of Ahithophel's advice is that he should possess the throne symbolically by publicly sleeping with the ten wives David left behind to keep house in Jerusalem. This will send a very clear message to all Israel about his relationship to his father and to his throne.

The second part of Ahithophel's counsel is recorded in verses 1-3 of chapter 17. Ahithophel counsels Absalom to quickly pursue David, isolate him, and kill him, thus demoralizing David's followers and insuring his reign as king in David's place. The idea sounds good to Absalom and to all the elders of Israel, but Absalom decides to ask Hushai's advice as well. Hushai is summoned, and upon his arrival is told what counsel Ahithophel has already given.

How would you like to be in Hushai's sandals? He knows Absalom doubts his loyalty, because he has been David's friend (16:16-19). He must know that Absalom and all the elders have already given their approval to Ahithophel's plan. In addition, he knows Absalom's confidence in Ahithophel is great, for his counsel is as though one had “inquired of the word of God” (16:23). Hushai also is David's friend, and he knows David's life may depend on the response he gives to Absalom. Would you not agree that this is certainly a predicament fittingly called “mission impossible”?

There is a bit of a danger here because you and I know something else. David has already prayed that God would somehow nullify the counsel of Ahithophel (15:31). We will also be told in our text, “the LORD ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, in order that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom” (17:14). We might be inclined to minimize the difficulty of Hushai's task, as though Absalom and the elders of Israel must embrace Hushai's counsel no matter how foolish it might be. We are therefore inclined to think of Hushai's counsel as groundless and foolish, but accepted by Absalom and his servants because their eyes are blinded to the truth of the matter.

I would like to suggest that Hushai is given great wisdom by God, and that his plan makes perfect sense, when viewed from Absalom's point of view. We should also be careful about thinking of Ahithophel's counsel as “good” in a moral sense. It is a good plan in that, if followed, it seems it would result in David's death and in the consolidation of Absalom's rule over Israel. It is not “good” in any moral sense, for it sanctions -- no, it recommends -- the killing of God's anointed king. It is not “good” in that it urges Absalom to commit adultery by sleeping with his father's wives. Neither, I think, is it good in that Ahithophel has his own sinful ambitions and agenda which prompt him to give his counsel to Absalom.

This passage is filled with intrigue and all the elements needed for excellent drama. It is also a passage that describes David in the darkest hours of his life. I do not think David has ever been so overwhelmed by sorrow and suffering and grief as he is here. Let us look to God's dealings with David in such times, for we have all known in some measure the sorrow and sadness David experiences here. If there is deliverance and hope for David in these dark hours, then there is hope for us as well when we pass through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

Ahithophel's Counsel

16:20 Then Absalom said to Ahithophel, “Give your advice. What shall we do?” 21 Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; then all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father. The hands of all who are with you will also be strengthened.” 22 So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel. 23 The advice of Ahithophel, which he gave in those days, was as if one inquired of the word of God; so was all the advice of Ahithophel regarded by both David and Absalom. 17:1 Furthermore, Ahithophel said to Absalom, “Please let me choose 12,000 men that I may arise and pursue David tonight. 2 “I will come upon him while he is weary and exhausted and terrify him, so that all the people who are with him will flee. Then I will strike down the king alone, 3 and I will bring back all the people to you. The return of everyone depends on the man you seek; then all the people will be at peace.” 4 So the plan pleased Absalom and all the elders of Israel.

It has taken me a good while to get a feel for this text. At first I was too inclined to separate in time the first part of Ahithophel's counsel from the second. I assumed Absalom sought Ahithophel's counsel and got it, as it relates to the “possession” of David's wives left in Jerusalem. I somehow managed to believe for a day or two that Absalom “possessed” David's wives, in the sight of all. Then, I thought, Absalom came back to Ahithophel for a second word of counsel, followed by a second opinion by Hushai. This can hardly be so.

First, let us think of the events of our chapter only in terms of timing. David learns Absalom is about to possess the throne and flees Jerusalem. He has with him his wives and children, some who are older which means he can hardly march double-time. The whole account is written in a way that underscores the urgency of haste. Absalom and his men are virtually hours behind David. If word is not sent to David immediately, and if he does not vanish into the wilderness quickly, Absalom will overtake David and those with him.

David flees from Jerusalem while Absalom is not far behind, ready to occupy Jerusalem and the throne. Absalom asks for Ahithophel's counsel after he arrives in Jerusalem, and Ahithophel gives it -- in two parts. The first part is his recommendation to Absalom as to what he should do -- possess David's wives. The second part pertains to what Ahithophel personally proposes to do for Absalom -- take command of 12,000 men immediately, set out in pursuit of David this very night, and then overtake him in a way that terrifies David and his followers. Ahithophel volunteers to personally kill David alone, thus minimizing bloodshed, and then consolidate the kingdom in short order.

If we take note of the pronouns in the text above, we will see that Ahithophel has a recommended course of action for Absalom and a recommended course of action for himself. I believe Ahithophel intends for these to be undertaken simultaneously, and not sequentially. The plan Ahithophel recommends is thus: (1) Absalom will devote himself to the task of possessing David's wives, in the sight of all Israel. (2) While Absalom is thus occupied, Ahithophel will take command of 12,000 men and set out in hot pursuit of David, whom they will overtake, and he will personally kill David, thus making the possession of the kingdom complete, in very short order.

Ahithophel's counsel is exceedingly “shrewd” in several ways. First, it would have worked, barring the direct intervention of God. Second, it offered an appealing course of action to Absalom. He, not unlike his father David, can stay home from the battle and “make love” while Ahithophel and his army are making war with David. Absalom can quickly enter into his possession of the throne, yet without the dangers or discomforts of going into battle. As an added incentive, he can indulge himself with David's wives in a way that gets back at David and hurts and humiliates his father. Only David will be killed, who is Absalom's real enemy.

When we are told that Absalom takes Ahithophel's counsel regarding David's wives, I believe he carries this out while all Israel is being assembled to do battle, rather than while Ahithophel leads the 12,000 in pursuit of David. If this is the case -- and it seems necessary to see it so -- then we are given a slightly different perspective of the possession of David's wives by Absalom. It does fulfill the words of Nathan the prophet. It is a symbolic statement by Absalom which is most painful for David. But at the same time it is a part of God's bigger plan to delay the pursuit of David so that he can escape, retrench, and defeat Absalom, and then return as Israel's king. Some of the most painful events in our life may also be some of the most fruitful in producing the good God wants for us. Ahithophel and Absalom mean this for evil (and for their own satisfaction), but God means it for good (see Genesis 50:20).

Ahithophel proposes a quick, easy victory for Absalom, won by Ahithophel while the “king” remains behind in Jerusalem. It is almost too good to be true. The fact is it would have worked, but God had other plans for David and for Absalom. Those plans are brought to pass through David's friends: Hushai, Zadok and Abiathar the priests, their sons Ahimaaz and Jonathan, a farmer's wife in Bahurim, and a number of other faithful friends and supporters of David. It is the story of David's deliverance we are now about to consider.

Hushai's Counsel

5 Then Absalom said, “Now call Hushai the Archite also, and let us hear what he has to say.” 6 When Hushai had come to Absalom, Absalom said to him, “Ahithophel has spoken thus. Shall we carry out his plan? If not, you speak.” 7 So Hushai said to Absalom, “This time the advice that Ahithophel has given is not good.” 8 Moreover, Hushai said, “You know your father and his men, that they are mighty men and they are fierce, like a bear robbed of her cubs in the field. And your father is an expert in warfare, and will not spend the night with the people. 9 “Behold, he has now hidden himself in one of the caves or in another place; and it will be when he falls on them at the first attack, that whoever hears it will say, 'There has been a slaughter among the people who follow Absalom.' 10 “And even the one who is valiant, whose heart is like the heart of a lion, will completely lose heart; for all Israel knows that your father is a mighty man and those who are with him are valiant men. 11 “But I counsel that all Israel be surely gathered to you, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea in abundance, and that you personally go into battle. 12 “So we shall come to him in one of the places where he can be found, and we will fall on him as the dew falls on the ground; and of him and of all the men who are with him, not even one will be left. 13 “If he withdraws into a city, then all Israel shall bring ropes to that city, and we will drag it into the valley until not even a small stone is found there.” 14 Then Absalom and all the men of Israel said, “The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel.” For the LORD had ordained to thwart the good counsel of Ahithophel, so that the LORD might bring calamity on Absalom.

We are not told why Absalom seeks a second opinion from Hushai. Is it a kind of test of Hushai's loyalty? You may remember that he does not have time to reflect on what he should say. He was brought into Absalom's presence, told what Ahithophel had advised, and then asked to respond. Hushai's response is brilliant. He begins by acknowledging Ahithophel's great wisdom and skill as an advisor, but then goes on to state that his counsel is not good this time. No one is perfect. No one is right all the time. Ahithophel is nearly always right, but not this time.

Hushai has one great handicap: Absalom and everyone else in Israel knows he is David's friend. How can Absalom trust a man who has been David's friend for so long? His counsel must be suspect. Rather than try to avoid this issue, Hushai uses his friendship. It is as though he says to Absalom,

“Am I David's friend? I have been for years, it is true. And it is this very friendship which gives me great insight into this man, David. I know him better than any of you. And therefore I know how he will respond to Absalom's revolt. Let me give you a plan which is based upon the David I knew, and the David which you know is true to history.”

The attractiveness of Ahithophel's plan is that David can be defeated quickly and relatively easily, with a minimal loss of life and a nominal expenditure of energy. Absalom doesn’t need to go to battle at all. He can stay in Jerusalem with David's wives. Ahithophel will immediately set out with 12,000 soldiers and hunt David down, kill him alone, and bring David's followers to Absalom. The plan is also predicated upon certain assumptions. The assumption is that David is weary and defeated in spirit, that David has no will to fight and can be easily overcome. If this assumption is in error, the whole scheme Ahithophel proposes will collapse like a house of cards.

Hushai challenges the assumptions on which Ahithophel's plans are based, and thus the plans as well. He proposes a very different David, and thus a very different plan. Hushai insists that Ahithophel has dangerously underestimated David and his ability to defend himself and his kingdom. Hushai reminds Absalom and the elders of Israel about the kind of man David is. David is no mental weakling; he is a tough and seasoned warrior. Absalom's rebellion will not break David's spirit; it will antagonize him. He will be like a she-bear, deprived of her cubs. David will be fighting mad and fighting ready. If Ahithophel comes into the wilderness to attack David, they will fight him on his turf. After all, David has spent years hiding from Saul in the wilderness. Does Ahithophel really think David can easily be found sitting among the rest of the people? He will be hiding out, and when Ahithophel and his small army arrive, David will pounce on them, giving them a humiliating defeat. It will be Absalom's soldiers who will lose heart and run, not David or his men.

If this assumption is right (and all of David's past fighting experience would seem to bear it out), then a completely different battle plan is required. This will not be a quick and easy matter. It will require much more than the death of David, and thus a much larger army will be necessary to attack and defeat David and his followers. This army will take a little more time to assemble, but it will be necessary to wait. (And while Absalom waits in Jerusalem, he can possess David's wives. This is the only time he can do so.) It will also take a great military leader, rather than someone like Ahithophel. It will take Absalom himself to lead this army. It will be a great battle, with a great leader, and a great victory will be the outcome. Now this is the kind of plan that appeals to a man who rides about in a chariot, preceded by 50 runners. Absalom loves ostentation, and Hushai's plan reeks of it. And thus Hushai's plan prevails. It is not a carelessly proposed plan, but extremely insightful, and extremely appealing. It was a plan God assured would be adopted. It is also a plan that Absalom finds attractive.

Hushai's plan brings about a bigger battle, so that not only will many of Absalom's supporters die, but Absalom himself will be killed, thus ending the revolution.85 Hushai's plan gives David the time he needs to get to his kind of battle -- guerrilla warfare. It lets him fight on his turf, so that the forest will kill more than his soldiers (18:8). Hushai's plan makes Ahithophel's counsel seem foolish, which is exactly what David has prayed for (15:31). It brings about the deliverance of David and the defeat of his enemies.

David's Escape to Mahanaim

15 Then Hushai said to Zadok and to Abiathar the priests, “This is what Ahithophel counseled Absalom and the elders of Israel, and this is what I have counseled. 16 “Now therefore, send quickly and tell David, saying, 'Do not spend the night at the fords of the wilderness, but by all means cross over, or else the king and all the people who are with him will be destroyed.”' 17 Now Jonathan and Ahimaaz were staying at En-rogel, and a maidservant would go and tell them, and they would go and tell King David, for they could not be seen entering the city. 18 But a lad did see them and told Absalom; so the two of them departed quickly and came to the house of a man in Bahurim, who had a well in his courtyard, and they went down into it. 19 And the woman took a covering and spread it over the well's mouth and scattered grain on it, so that nothing was known. 20 Then Absalom's servants came to the woman at the house and said, “Where are Ahimaaz and Jonathan?” And the woman said to them, “They have crossed the brook of water.” And when they searched and could not find them, they returned to Jerusalem. 21 It came about after they had departed that they came up out of the well and went and told King David; and they said to David, “Arise and cross over the water quickly for thus Ahithophel has counseled against you.” 22 Then David and all the people who were with him arose and crossed the Jordan; and by dawn not even one remained who had not crossed the Jordan. 23 Now when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was not followed, he saddled his donkey and arose and went to his home, to his city, and set his house in order, and strangled himself; thus he died and was buried in the grave of his father. 24 Then David came to Mahanaim. And Absalom crossed the Jordan, he and all the men of Israel with him. 25 Absalom set Amasa over the army in place of Joab. Now Amasa was the son of a man whose name was Ithra the Israelite, who went in to Abigail the daughter of Nahash, sister of Zeruiah, Joab's mother. 26 And Israel and Absalom camped in the land of Gilead. 27 Now when David had come to Mahanaim, Shobi the son of Nahash from Rabbah of the sons of Ammon, Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar, and Barzillai the Gileadite from Rogelim, 28 brought beds, basins, pottery, wheat, barley, flour, parched grain, beans, lentils, parched seeds, 29 honey, curds, sheep, and cheese of the herd, for David and for the people who were with him, to eat; for they said, “The people are hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness.”

For the moment at least, Absalom has chosen the counsel of Hushai over that of Ahithophel. While Hushai's plan buys David a little time, it also results in an attack by a much larger army, led by Absalom. It is now a matter of great urgency to inform David about what has transpired. David needs to escape beyond the Jordan to establish a camp that will offer him protection and which will also give him the military position from which to defend himself against the coming attack of Absalom and his followers.

Hushai sends word to Zadok and Abiathar, the priests, informing them concerning his counsel and that of Ahithophel, and instructing them to send word to David by way of Jonathan and Ahimaaz. Jonathan and Ahimaaz are staying at En-rogel, a small village (it seems) located in the valley below the city of Jerusalem. It was apparently a water source just outside Jerusalem, and so women would frequent this place to obtain water. It was probably on this pretext that the maidservant went to inform the two messengers.

Unfortunately, one of Absalom's supporters spotted Jonathan and Ahimaaz, who seem to be known to be loyal to David. This precipitates a search for the two, since it must be apparent they are on their way to report to David. The two men hastily depart and come to the house of another supporter of David, who lives in Bahurim.86 There, the wife of David's supporter hides the two men in the well, covering it and then placing grain over the covering, so no hint of the well is seen. Absalom's servants arrive and demand to know where the two men are, and the woman tells them the two have crossed the brook and fled. They are “long gone.” When the servants of Absalom search and find no one, they leave and return to Jerusalem. The two priests' sons quickly run to David's camp to tell them what happened. They urge him to cross the Jordan quickly to find a safe refuge. By dawn, David and all those with him have crossed the river. (Had Ahithophel set out for David the evening before, it would have been a very different story.)

Ahithophel remains in Jerusalem only long enough to be convinced that his counsel is not going to be heeded by Absalom. Once it is clear that Hushai's counsel has prevailed, he knows he is finished. He has gambled everything on the assumption that Absalom will prevail over David. Now he knows that Absalom is destined to be defeated. He makes his way to his own home, sets his business in order, and kills himself. What a tragic end for a man with such great potential.

As Absalom crosses the Jordan in hot pursuit of David, David enters the gates of Mahanaim. This is indeed a city with a history. It was Jacob who gave this city its name. As he was returning to the land of promise, fearful of what would happen when he met his brother Esau, Jacob was met by angels, prompting Jacob to say, “This is God's camp.” And so it was that Jacob named that place Mahanaim (meaning “two camps” -- see the marginal note in the NASB). Was David fearful about meeting up with his son Absalom? He should have remembered that God always protects His people, His promises, His purposes, even by the use of angels, if needed. Mahanaim served briefly as the capital of Ish-bosheth, when Abner set him up in place of his father Saul for a short period of time (2 Samuel 2:8, 12, 29).

God provided for David at Mahanaim in more tangible and visible ways as well. When he and his faithful followers arrived, there were those ready and willing to help. The first named is Shobi, the son of Nahash, and now King of the Ammonites. This is a most amazing thing. David and Nahash had been on relatively friendly terms, but when he died and his son Nahash took the throne, he foolishly humiliated the official delegation David sent to mourn Nahash's death (2 Samuel 10:1ff.). This led to war between Israel and the Ammonites. In fact it was this war with the Ammonites (and specifically the besieging of Rabbah) which David decided to avoid, leaving the battle to the Israelites under Joab's command (2 Samuel 11:1ff.). The Ammonites were finally defeated by David (2 Samuel 12:26-31). And now Shobi is on the throne and eager to come to David's aid when he is opposed by Absalom. What a surprise!

The second supporter to come to David's aid at Mahanaim is Machir the son of Ammiel from Lo-debar (17:27). This is the man who took in Mephibosheth after the death of King Saul and of Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:4-5). Finally Barzillai the Gileadite, an elderly man of great wealth, brought supplies for David and those with him. We learn even more about this fellow in chapter 19, verses 31-40. What an encouragement these men and their assistance must be to David.

The Defeat and the Death of Absalom

1 Then David numbered the people who were with him and set over them commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds. 2 David sent the people out, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab's brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite. And the king said to the people, “I myself will surely go out with you also.” 3 But the people said, “You should not go out; for if we indeed flee, they will not care about us; even if half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us; therefore now it is better that you be ready to help us from the city.” 4 Then the king said to them, “Whatever seems best to you I will do.” So the king stood beside the gate, and all the people went out by hundreds and thousands. 5 The king charged Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king charged all the commanders concerning Absalom. 6 Then the people went out into the field against Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 The people of Israel were defeated there before the servants of David, and the slaughter there that day was great, 20,000 men. 8 For the battle there was spread over the whole countryside, and the forest devoured more people that day than the sword devoured. 9 Now Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. For Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. And his head caught fast in the oak, so he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him kept going. 10 When a certain man saw it, he told Joab and said, “Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” 11 Then Joab said to the man who had told him, “Now behold, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? And I would have given you ten pieces of silver and a belt.” 12 The man said to Joab, “Even if I should receive a thousand pieces of silver in my hand, I would not put out my hand against the king's son; for in our hearing the king charged you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, 'Protect for me the young man Absalom!' 13 “Otherwise, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof.” 14 Then Joab said, “I will not waste time here with you.” So he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. 15 And ten young men who carried Joab's armor gathered around and struck Absalom and killed him. 16 Then Joab blew the trumpet, and the people returned from pursuing Israel, for Joab restrained the people. 17 They took Absalom and cast him into a deep pit in the forest and erected over him a very great heap of stones. And all Israel fled, each to his tent. 18 Now Absalom in his lifetime had taken and set up for himself a pillar which is in the King's Valley, for he said, “I have no son to preserve my name.” So he named the pillar after his own name, and it is called Absalom's Monument to this day.

It is inevitable. David has probably denied its necessity for a long time, but now it is obvious that he cannot run any more; he will have to fight the army of his own son. David divides his army into three divisions. We are not sure how many men fight for David, but we do know the number is in the thousands because the text tells us his men are in groups that have commanders of thousands and hundreds. Joab and Abishai are over two of the divisions, while Ittai the Gittite is over the third division. David assures his men that he is going with them, but the people insist that he stay behind in Mahanaim. If they are to flee, it will be of no importance to Absalom, but if David is among them, they will not stop until they have captured and killed him. It is better for him to be somewhere else.

But as the troops are about to go to war on behalf of their king, David, has some final words for them. It is not the usual pep talk, with all the hype and focus on victory. Neither is it at all like Joab's words, uttered just before the attack waged on the Syrians and the Ammonites:

11 He said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the sons of Ammon are too strong for you, then I will come to help you. 12 “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous for the sake of our people and for the cities of our God; and may the LORD do what is good in His sight” (2 Samuel 10:11-12).

David's “charge” is very different: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (18:5). Everyone hears these words. How different from the advice of Ahithophel, who intends to kill David alone, and let the rest of the people live. David allows his men to kill any other Israelite, but not his son, the leader of the revolution. He commands those who are risking their lives for him to fight, but not to fight to win. It must have been a pathetic sight.

In spite of this, the army fights courageously for David, and Absalom's forces suffer a great defeat, not only at the hand of David's men, but even from the forest itself. Absalom's men are not cut out for this kind of warfare. A total of 20,000 men die in this slaughter, which spreads out over the whole countryside, as Absalom's men begin to turn and run for their lives. It is a great victory for David and a devastating defeat for Absalom.

We do not know whether Absalom is running for his life or not, but he does seem to be alone at the time his mule runs under the branches of a great oak tree, and somehow Absalom's head is wedged in the branches.87 None of Absalom's men seem to be around to attempt a rescue. (They may have been fleeing for their lives.) One of Joab's men comes upon Absalom and mentions it to his commander. Joab is incensed that this young man has not killed Absalom on the spot. Would he not have been rewarded for doing so? The young man is not taken back by Joab's rebuke. He reminds Joab that David, their commander-in-chief, has specifically forbidden anyone to harm his son Absalom. No matter what Joab may promise to do for him, this soldier knows that when David learns he has killed his son, there will be no protection for him. He also knows that while Joab seems to talk tough, when David's wrath is directed toward him for killing Absalom, Joab will quietly stand by and let him take all the blame. There is no way this fellow is going to be directed to disobey the king's orders by killing the king's son.

Joab has had just about enough of this fellow's submission to the king's orders. He will take care of the matter personally. And so Joab goes and finds Absalom, just as the young man has described. He takes three spears in his hand and thrusts them through Absalom's chest. His armor bearers follow suit, finishing Absalom off. David's enemy is dead.

It is ironic, is it not, that it would be Joab who would kill Absalom? It was Joab who had orchestrated amnesty for Absalom and brought him back to Jerusalem. It was Joab who obtained greater freedom for Absalom and brought him into the king's presence. And yet, for all Joab had done for Absalom, this man set out to take the throne away from his father, and to set another as commander over Israel's forces. It was likewise Joab who, under orders from David, had Uriah killed in battle, without raising a word of protest. And now, this military commander who would kill a righteous man at David's request would kill David's own son in direct violation to his orders. There is a saying: “What goes around, comes around.” Somehow that seems fitting here. David, who abused his almost absolute authority to take Uriah's wife and then his life is powerless to save his own son from death at the hand of Joab (or anyone else).

The text adds a kind of epitaph to the account of Absalom's death. The author informs us that at one time Absalom had no sons, and fearing that he would be forgotten, built a pillar for himself in the valley of the kings. By this, he thought, he would preserve his name. As it turned out, Absalom did have sons, but in his desire to possess his father's throne, he was able to be king but for a few days, and now he will be remembered as the traitor who died, hanging from a tree, the most ignoble death of all. His pillar in the valley of the kings would never erase the memory of his folly and death.

Proclaiming the Good News

19 Then Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said, “Please let me run and bring the king news that the LORD has freed him from the hand of his enemies.” 20 But Joab said to him, “You are not the man to carry news this day, but you shall carry news another day; however, you shall carry no news today because the king's son is dead.” 21 Then Joab said to the Cushite, “Go, tell the king what you have seen.” So the Cushite bowed to Joab and ran. 22 Now Ahimaaz the son of Zadok said once more to Joab, “But whatever happens, please let me also run after the Cushite.” And Joab said, “Why would you run, my son, since you will have no reward for going?” 23 “But whatever happens,” he said, “I will run.” So he said to him, “Run.” Then Ahimaaz ran by way of the plain and passed up the Cushite. 24 Now David was sitting between the two gates; and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and raised his eyes and looked, and behold, a man running by himself. 25 The watchman called and told the king. And the king said, “If he is by himself there is good news in his mouth.” And he came nearer and nearer. 26 Then the watchman saw another man running; and the watchman called to the gatekeeper and said, “Behold, another man running by himself.” And the king said, “This one also is bringing good news.” 27 The watchman said, “I think the running of the first one is like the running of Ahimaaz the son of Zadok.” And the king said, “This is a good man and comes with good news.” 28 Ahimaaz called and said to the king, “All is well.” And he prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground. And he said, “Blessed is the LORD your God, who has delivered up the men who lifted their hands against my lord the king.” 29 The king said, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And Ahimaaz answered, “When Joab sent the king's servant, and your servant, I saw a great tumult, but I did not know what it was.” 30 Then the king said, “Turn aside and stand here.” So he turned aside and stood still. 31 Behold, the Cushite arrived, and the Cushite said, “Let my lord the king receive good news, for the LORD has freed you this day from the hand of all those who rose up against you.” 32 Then the king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” And the Cushite answered, “Let the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up against you for evil, be as that young man!” 33 The king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept. And thus he said as he walked, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

It is all over. Ahithophel knows that if David is killed, all opposition to Absalom will be crushed. It works the same way in reverse. Many of Absalom's men are killed, and his army suffers a massive defeat, but when Absalom himself dies, the revolution itself is dead. And so it is that Absalom's forces flee the scene of battle to their own tents. It is all over! David has won! It is a great day of victory.

The scene of this victorious army returning to Mahanaim must have been jubilant. It would have been something like the Dallas Cowboys returning home after a Super Bowl Victory. There would be shouting and celebration. What a great day this is, a day of victory. But King David is not with his army. He is back in the city, waiting for news of the outcome of the battle. The returning soldiers are triumphant, until they realize that their king is not there at the gate to greet them. This is because he has heard of his son's death.

It all started with the defeat of Absalom's army, followed by the death of Absalom. Ahimaaz begs Joab to be the one who will carry the “good news” to David. Joab knows that it will not be “good news” to the king, though it will be for everyone else. For this reason, Joab forbids Ahimaaz to run to Mahanaim. He sends a Cushite instead. Ahimaaz persists and finally Joab reluctantly lets him run to carry the news to David as well. Highly motivated (being a good runner and choosing the faster route helped, too), Ahimaaz actually manages to arrive at Mahanaim before the Cushite. Between the two messengers, David learns that his son Absalom has been killed. His grief is great indeed.

Before we go on with this story, I should point out that there is more space devoted to the messengers who report to David than there is about the war between the two opposing armies, including the account of the death of Absalom. Why would this be? Why would the author make so much of Ahimaaz's desire to carry the message of the victory of David's army to the king? The answer is a significant key to our understanding of the message the author wishes to convey to his readers.

I have already observed the emphasis (in terms of space) to this matter of the messengers. Let me also point out the repetition of an important expression: good news. In the NASB, it occurs four times in verses 25-31, but there are a number of other references to news which, in the context, is expected to be good. The term good news is a rendering of the Hebrew term which means (as you would expect) “good news.” When the translators of the Septuagint rendered this term in Greek, they used the term which we often find in the New Testament in reference to the proclamation of the gospel. The good news which Ahimaaz wanted to proclaim to David was that God had given him the victory by defeating the army of Absalom and by Absalom's death.

The problem is that David is not inclined to accept this report as good news. Notice that when each of the two messengers approach David, they indicate to him that they have good news for him. David does not ask about the outcome of the battle, but only about the well-being of his son, Absalom. Good news for David would be that Absalom is still alive. Good news for every other man involved in the war with Absalom and his men that day would be that his army has been defeated, and the trouble-maker has been removed.

Joab knows his king well. He knows that David will not take the news of Absalom's death well. That is why he is reluctant to send Ahimaaz to David with the news of his death. That is also why Ahimaaz hedges his answer to David's specific question about Absalom's well-being. And so it is that when the triumphant soldiers return to Mahanaim, they do not find their king at the gate to greet them and to express his appreciation. Instead, they learn that David is grieving over the death of his son. Now, instead of feeling proud of what they have done, David's men feel ashamed.

Joab Rebukes His King

1 Then it was told Joab, “Behold, the king is weeping and mourns for Absalom.” 2 The victory that day was turned to mourning for all the people, for the people heard it said that day, “The king is grieved for his son.” 3 So the people went by stealth into the city that day, as people who are humiliated steal away when they flee in battle. 4 The king covered his face and cried out with a loud voice, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 5 Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, 6 by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. 7 “Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the LORD, if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” 8 So the king arose and sat in the gate. When they told all the people, saying, “Behold, the king is sitting in the gate,” then all the people came before the king. Now Israel had fled, each to his tent.

David's warriors, who risked their necks to save their king, now hang their heads in shame. A day of victory suddenly is transformed into a day of mourning. The soldiers begin to sneak into the city, as though they have done something wrong. They are like a field goal kicker who has a chance to kick a 20-yard field goal and win the game, but misses. They are ashamed to go back to their side of the field, to approach the bench, and to look at the coach. This is the way David's soldiers feel.

The king is weeping and mourning over the death of Absalom. Over and over he repeats, “O my son Absalom, O Absalom, my son, my son!” Joab is not inclined to join with David in his mourning. In fact, Joab is not inclined to put up with David's mourning. Joab goes into the house. He does not deal gently with David. In Joab's mind, David is making the greatest mistake of his life, and he is about to suffer consequences far greater than any he has yet experienced.

Joab rebukes David for putting everyone who has come with him from Jerusalem to shame, not just his soldiers, but his wives and children, and his concubines as well. By his response to the day's events, David reveals that he loved his enemy more than his friends and family. He loved those who hated him more than those who loved him. He had shown a total disregard for those who were willing to give their all for their king. Joab puts it as bluntly as it could be said: David would rather have heard that his entire army was slaughtered and that his son Absalom was alive than to learn that his army had prevailed, but that Absalom was dead.

Joab virtually commands David what he should do next. He should get up, stop his mourning, and go out to the gate to greet the victorious warriors who are still returning from the battle. If he does not do so immediately, Joab assures him that by daybreak there will not be a soldier left with him. The king does what Joab tells him to do. He goes down to the gate, and it is not long before everyone knows he is there and comes before the king. Meanwhile, the Israelites who had joined with Absalom flee to their tents. The war is over. David is once again King of Israel.


This passage has a great deal for us to learn. I believe there is something to learn from each of the key characters of this drama. Let me call your attention to some of these lessons.

First, we can learn from the two villains of our text, Absalom and Ahithophel. Both of these men had been close to David earlier in their lives. Both chose to rebel against David and to seek his overthrow. Neither man seems to be godly or to view their circumstances from God's point of view. Neither seems disturbed that they sought to kill God's anointed king. Both men have their lives end tragically, in death. Both must have seen God's hand at work in David's life and in his rule as king. Both are willing to cast David aside in an attempt to build some kind of “kingdom” of their own. Both men are like Satan, and like Adam and Eve, in that they are unwilling to play a subordinate role. They seem to think that under David's rule they are being prohibited from something better, which they can obtain by pursuing their own interests.

These two men, Absalom and Ahithophel, fail to correctly answer the most important question any person will ever answer in their lifetime: “Who will I serve as king?” Absalom and Ahithophel do not want David for their king. Both, in effect, want to be king of their own lives. But in rejecting David as their king, they are rejecting God's king, and thus they are rebelling against God Himself. Both of these men have great ability, but in the end, their talents are of no eternal profit.

This question has never really changed. It was the question before there ever was a human king over Israel, and it has been the question ever since. Adam and Eve rejected God as their ultimate authority and sought to set themselves above Him. The Israelites rejected God as their King when they demanded to have a king like all the other nations (see 1 Samuel 8:7). Absalom and Ahithophel and the others who followed in the rebellion against David rejected God's king as their king. When our Lord Jesus Christ came to the earth, He came as the One who would sit on the throne of his father, David. He came as God's anointed King, and yet the crowds replied that they had no king but Caesar. The Lord Jesus Christ came the first time to be rejected as Israel's King, so that he might bear the guilt of our sin and provide the means for us to enter into His kingdom. All who receive His gift of the forgiveness of sins and eternal life will reign with Him for all eternity. He is coming again, to defeat all His enemies and to establish His throne upon the earth. All those who have received Him as God's provision for their salvation have also received Him as their King. All those who have rejected His gift of salvation have rejected Him as King. When He comes again, all men will bow before Him as God's King, but only those who have received Him as Savior will enter into His kingdom. Who is your king? That is the most important question you will ever answer.

Second, we can learn from Joab. One may argue whether Joab should have killed Absalom, against David's orders. It may be that Absalom would have died on his own. I think we can see that Joab was right to rebuke the king for his response to his victory and the death of Absalom. Joab was David's subordinate, but he was right to rebuke him. Biblical admonition is sometimes required in response to the sin of those in authority over us. We will need to do this prayerfully and carefully, but rebuke may nonetheless be in order.

Further, we should learn from this text that we may be corrected by those who are not only our subordinates, but who are also less than mentors to us. There are many things to criticize about Joab, but the fact is that here he is right in what he says to David. There is a lot of talk these days of “mentoring” and “accountability.” The assumption seems to be that every one of us needs someone to whom we are accountable, some “mentor” who will mentor us. There is an element of truth in this, and much that needs clarification and correction. But my point here is that we should not restrict who we will learn from to our list of who we would have mentor us. Our enemy may be our best critic. He does not care about losing our respect or our friendship. He does not worry about offending us. He (or she) may tell us things that our “friends” never will. Joab rebukes David. David listens, and David learns. Let us learn to learn from those we do not like, from those who may not like us either.

Third, we can learn from David's loss of perspective. Joab rightly rebukes David because his values have gotten entirely messed up. In Joab's words, David has come to love his enemies and hate his friends. He cares more about the well-being of his arch enemy than he does the nation whom he is supposed to shepherd under God. David came to care more about one member of his family than everyone else. In this, David is wrong, and Joab is right.

David is wrong to instruct his commanders not to harm Absalom. Absalom should have died several times over. He should have died for the premeditated murder of Amnon, against the law. He should have died for his rebellion against his father (prior to this text). And he should have died for high treason, in seeking to kill God's anointed king and appoint himself as king. How can David expect his army to fight against Absalom's army and not fight against Absalom? As David once used his authority to condemn a righteous man (Uriah) to death, he now seeks to use his authority as king to keep a revolutionary from the death penalty he deserves. David's perspective is completely messed up. It takes Joab's sharp rebuke to bring him out of his mental stupor.

I would like to suggest that just as David lost his perspective in our text, we often lose our perspective, without even being aware of it. For example, we know that this world and all that is in it will perish in the twinkling of an eye. And yet we persist in our efforts to accumulate things. We lay up treasure on earth, rather than laying up treasure in heaven. We know (intellectually) that the lost are going to spend eternity in hell, separated from God. And yet we fail to get to know our neighbors, or to share the gospel (the “good news”) with them. Is our perspective not as badly warped as David's was?

We see David placing the well-being of his son Absalom over the well-being of the rest of his family and over the rest of David's kingdom. In this case, has David not put “family” above more important things? As David refused to deal with his son as his sin deserved, seeking to “spare” him, do we not refuse to deal with the disobedience and rebellion of our children, fearing we might lose them? Do we not refuse to discipline a willfully sinning saint because we can't bear the thought of losing them or what they do for us? Let us learn from David that we can all lose our perspective quickly, without ever knowing it. The only way we can maintain a proper perspective is to continually saturate our minds with the Word of God. It is in the Bible that we gain a biblical perspective. Let us be men and women of the Word so that we see life from God's perspective.

Finally, we can learn much from David's depression. These were the darkest days of David's life. It is hard for me to describe David's state of mind with any other word than depression. It has taken me a long time to be able to say this, but I believe that a Christian can be depressed. To press this matter further, I believe a Christian can be depressed and not be “in sin” for experiencing depression. Some depression is the result of sin (that is certainly a part of David's depression). Some depression may, itself, be sin. That is, we may willfully choose to be depressed, even though we know our depression is rooted in sin. But I am not willing any longer to categorize all depression as sinful, in and of itself.

Years ago a very godly older man stood up in a worship service and read a text about our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. He commented (actually he read a modern translation that said) that our Lord was depressed. To my shame I must say that I stood and corrected that man, insisting that depression is sin and thus our Lord could not have been depressed. We can be depressed and not be in sin. David, I believe, was depressed. His depression may well have played a part in his warped perspective and priorities.

The thing I wish you to notice in our text is that God spared David from death and gave him the victory over Absalom in spite of the fact that he was depressed, in spite of the fact that David commanded his men not to harm Absalom. God's purposes and promises are not frustrated by our sin, and most certainly not by our depression. These were days when David's faith and hope had to be at an all time low. Did this keep God from achieving His purposes? Not for one moment!

I point this out for a very important reason. There is a great deal of evangelical teaching and thinking which would suggest that God cannot work in the midst of our depression. The teaching of PMA (positive mental attitude) abounds today. If we have a positive outlook, good things are bound to come. If we are prone to “stinkin' thinking” we are headed for trouble. That is what some folks teach. It has its own Christian form. If we but have enough faith, God will accomplish great things for us. If we lack faith, we deserve the suffering and sorrow that results.

There are many things wrong with this viewpoint. We give ourselves far too much credit for God's blessings. We attribute God's blessings to our faith, our obedience, our positive mental attitude. But when depression comes (as it undoubtedly will), we have no hope from the PMA school of thought. We believe that God is limited to working when we are optimistic, full of faith and joy. Very often Christians hypocritically go around faking the presence of peace, joy, and faith, because they are expected to have it. At this point in his life, David did not have peace, joy, or great faith. David was at the lowest point in his life. And yet God fulfilled his purposes and promises in spite of David's mental state. God provided many friends who stood with David in this difficult time. God used Hushai to frustrate the counsel of Ahithophel. He used Joab to eliminate Absalom and to rebuke David. God worked in David's life, not because he was full of faith, joy, and hope at the moment, but because He was faithful to fulfill His promises.

I want to take this matter of depression one step further. Many times when one is depressed, their perspective is warped -- they do not see life accurately. But there is also a sense in which depression may help us to see life more clearly. Are we overly confident in our own efforts, our own righteousness, our own faith? Depression will wipe out all such self-confidence. Many of those who are most confident, most joyful and happy, most successful are deceived about the source of their abilities and of their successes. David saw life less clearly at the pinnacle of his success than he did at the depths of his humiliation. David did not trust in himself in his despair. All he could do was to cast himself upon God, resting and hoping in Him.

I have said that God was very much at work in David's life in the midst of his depression. Now let me go on to say that God was very much at work through David in the midst of his depression. I cannot prove this conclusively, but I would imagine that a number of David's psalms were written from the “slough of despond.” Many of David's psalms are written in a time of despair. As David expresses his fears, his despair, his depression to God, he finds hope and help in remembering the God to whom he speaks. And in the process of writing these psalms, David has also ministered to many others from his despair. It is often from our times of mourning and sorrow that we begin to see life more clearly, to trust in God more completely. If this is the case, then suffering and sorrows and even depression may be our friend, and not our enemy. Anything which draws us more closely to God is our friend.

I am certain that as I speak and write these words I am speaking and writing to those who may be depressed. Some of you may not even know it, and you may be very reluctant to admit it. This may be because some, like myself, have called depression a sin, and you don't wish to be guilty of sinning in this way. But many of you are depressed and know that you are. Many of you are depressed and are ashamed to tell anyone else about it. Let me simply say to you that God worked in David's life, in spite of his depression. God also worked through David's life because of his depression.

Let me close with these words from our Lord Himself:

1 When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:1-4).

28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. 30 “For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

85 I cannot help but think that the increased size of Absalom’s army greatly hindered his cause. Many of those with David were mighty men of valor who had fought with him in many difficult situations, many like the one they would face here. They were at home with their commander and with the field of battle. The large “volunteer army” that followed Absalom was not so skilled, not so accustomed to war, not so disciplined. They had a new commander in chief, and little experience. It was something like a brand new franchise facing the Dallas Cowboys, with all rookie players, a new coach, and no time to practice.

86 Bahurim was also not far from Jerusalem. This is as far as Phaltiel, the second husband of Michal, was allowed to accompany his wife as she was being brought back to David (2 Samuel 3:14-16). It is also the home of Shimei, the man who cursed David as he fled from Jerusalem.

87 In spite of the popular view that Absalom was caught by his hair, the text tells us that it was his head that caught fast. His hair, of course, might have been involved in this dilemma. It would seem to be obvious that Absalom was not able to release himself from his attachment to that giant oak tree, which would suggest that if he were but left to himself he would be yet another one of those whose life was claimed by the forest, rather than by the sword of one of David’s men.

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18. David’s Return to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 19:9--20:26)


Our story reminds me of a ride to a missionary training camp in central India with more breath-taking turns than you think you can handle. David has sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba and by having her husband killed (by none other than Joab, a central figure in our text). God has indicted David for his sin through Nathan the prophet, and David has repented. Nevertheless, there are certain consequences he will have to face. There was the rape of his daughter Tamar by her half-brother, Amnon. Then there was the murder of Amnon by his half-brother, Absalom. Absalom fled to Geshur, where he was given sanctuary by his grandfather, Talmai. Through the intervention and intrigue of Joab, David was pressured into allowing Absalom to return to Jerusalem. In time, Absalom succeeded in undermining the reign of his father, David, and precipitated a revolution which forced David, his family, and his supporters to flee to the wilderness. God spared David, gave his army victory over the rebel forces, and providentially removed Absalom through Joab, who killed Absalom in spite of David's specific orders not to harm him.

Now, David is about to return to Jerusalem to resume his reign over the nation Israel. To win the favor of the people (and perhaps to remove a thorn in his own flesh), David removes Joab as commander of his armed forces, replacing him with Amasa. It looks as though Joab is finished, and yet by the end of our text, it is Amasa who is finished, killed by Joab. Once again Joab is named as the commander of Israel's armed forces. Who could have imagined such a thing?

It doesn't stop here, however. David has been forced to flee Jerusalem due to the revolution instigated by Absalom. While he never abdicated his throne, Absalom acted as king for a few days, until he was defeated in battle and his life was ended by Joab. David is invited to return to Jerusalem to resume his rule over the nation Israel. But on the way there is strife between the men of Judah (David's tribe) and the men from the other tribes in Israel. Somewhere between the Jordan river and Jerusalem, a rebellion is instigated by Sheba, and the Israelites forsake David as their king, returning to their homes. Through a strange twist of fate (humanly speaking), Sheba is cornered in an Israelite fortified city. Through the intervention of a wise woman of that city, Sheba is put to death, the city is delivered, and the division of Israel is reversed. To sum up these events: (1) David is king; (2) David is not king; (3) David is invited to be king again; (4) David's kingdom is divided; (5) David's kingdom is united.

On top of all this is an incredible display of gore and violence. This story would most certainly receive an “R” rating for its violence. Joab “underhandedly” (pardon the pun) runs his sword through Amasa, spilling his intestines on the path; then the army of David stops to gawk at the sight of this man wallowing in his own blood. The grand finale is the beheading of Sheba, whose head is then tossed over the wall of the city to Joab and his army outside.

This fascinating story has all the makings of a movie. But it is not for this reason alone (not even for this reason primarily) that we should read it carefully. This is inspired religious history; it is history most likely penned by a prophet, so it is a story with a message for us to hear and to heed. Let us approach our study then with expectant hearts and minds, ready to hear and to heed what God has to say to each of us through it.

Finger Pointing in Israel

9 All the people were quarreling throughout all the tribes of Israel, saying, “The king delivered us from the hand of our enemies and saved us from the hand of the Philistines, but now he has fled out of the land from Absalom. 10 “However, Absalom, whom we anointed over us, has died in battle. Now then, why are you silent about bringing the king back?”

It is difficult for those of us who live in a democracy to understand the predicament in which the Israelites find themselves. When President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, in only a few hours Lyndon Johnson was sworn in as our new President, and he began to function in this capacity. Our constitution sets down a very clear process for succession. But when a monarch ceases to function as king, what does a nation do? A whole lot of arguing and finger pointing is going on in Israel. Everyone is blaming everyone else and demanding that someone (else) do something. David had been the king. Then he fled the country. The people anointed Absalom in David's place, but now he is dead. There seems to be a foregone conclusion that David will return and resume his role as Israel's king, but how is this going to happen? What should they do? What could they do? And who will do it? The arguing is all about these things.

One more fact contributes to making this such a sticky problem -- these are the same people who backed Absalom's rebellion. The people who are arguing are the people of Israel, those who remained in the land. They are not the supporters of David who accompanied him into the wilderness. These folks rejected David as their king, and now they know it is inevitable he will reign as king once more. Who would want to step forward to bring back the man they rejected, the one against whom they committed high treason? No wonder there is a leadership problem here.

David Makes it Easy for Israel by Taking the Initiative

11 Then King David sent to Zadok and Abiathar the priests, saying, “Speak to the elders of Judah, saying, 'Why are you the last to bring the king back to his house, since the word of all Israel has come to the king, even to his house? 12 'You are my brothers; you are my bone and my flesh. Why then should you be the last to bring back the king?' 13 “Say to Amasa, 'Are you not my bone and my flesh? May God do so to me, and more also, if you will not be commander of the army before me continually in place of Joab.”' 14 Thus he turned the hearts of all the men of Judah as one man, so that they sent word to the king, saying, “Return, you and all your servants.” 15 The king then returned and came as far as the Jordan. And Judah came to Gilgal in order to go to meet the king, to bring the king across the Jordan. NAB 2 Samuel 19:16 Then Shimei the son of Gera, the Benjamite who was from Bahurim, hurried and came down with the men of Judah to meet King David. 17 There were a thousand men of Benjamin with him, with Ziba the servant of the house of Saul, and his fifteen sons and his twenty servants with him; and they rushed to the Jordan before the king. 18 Then they kept crossing the ford to bring over the king's household, and to do what was good in his sight.

Word of all this reaches David’s ears while he is still residing in Mahanaim. He acts in a way that makes it easier for the Israelites to welcome him back. David sends word to Zadok and Abiathar (the priests who were in Jerusalem and had remained loyal to him), instructing them to speak to the elders of Judah. This is David's tribe, the tribe which first anointed David as their king when he was in Hebron. These are David's closest kinsmen. It is logical that they should take the lead in bringing David back to Jerusalem. David makes it even easier for the people of Judah by announcing that he is firing Joab as commander of his army and replacing him with Amasa. This action on David's part does the trick. Word comes from the elders of Judah, inviting him to return. David and all those with him make their way from Mahanaim to the banks of the River Jordan. The people of Judah assemble at Gilgal to assist David and those with him in crossing the river, and to welcome him back as their king. In addition to the people of Judah, a good-sized delegation of Israelites is present, representing the other tribes as well. Among these are Mephibosheth, Ziba (his servant, along with his sons and servants), and Shimei, accompanied by a thousand Benjamites.

Shimei Repents and is Forgiven

And Shimei the son of Gera fell down before the king as he was about to cross the Jordan. 19 So he said to the king, “Let not my lord consider me guilty, nor remember what your servant did wrong on the day when my lord the king came out from Jerusalem, so that the king would take it to heart. 20 “For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore behold, I have come today, the first of all the house of Joseph to go down to meet my lord the king.” 21 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah said, “Should not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD'S anointed?” 22 David then said, “What have I to do with you, O sons of Zeruiah, that you should this day be an adversary to me? Should any man be put to death in Israel today? For do I not know that I am king over Israel today?” 23 The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” Thus the king swore to him.

Shimei is no stranger to us or to David. He is the descendant of Saul who harassed David and those ith him when they fled from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:5ff.). He hurled rocks, dirt, accusations, and insults at David. Abishai had wanted to shut this man's mouth permanently then, but David refused, assuming God was, in some way, rebuking him through this loudmouth. Now, on his return, David must pass through Bahurim, Shimei's home town. Shimei knows he is in serious trouble. David is once again the King of Israel, and he may reasonably view Shimei as a traitor who needs to be removed.

Shimei comes, apparently convicted of his folly and sin and eager to demonstrate his repentance to David as he seeks forgiveness. He brings 1,000 Benjamites with him, who also express their submission to David as their king. Shimei does not beat around the bush. He confesses his sin and folly and pleads for David's forgiveness. Once again, Abishai expresses his wish to execute this trouble-maker and be rid of him once for all. David refuses Abishai once again, rebuking not only him but his brother, Joab (who is obviously behind him in his intended execution -- note “O sons [plural] of Zeruiah” in verse 22). This is a day of reconciliation. There will be no executions, even though Shimei deserves to die because he has cursed a ruler of his people (see Exodus 22:28). David assures him, “You shall not die” (verse 23).88

David Deals with Mephibosheth and Ziba

24 Then Mephibosheth the son of Saul came down to meet the king; and he had neither cared for his feet, nor trimmed his mustache, nor washed his clothes, from the day the king departed until the day he came home in peace. 25 It was when he came from Jerusalem to meet the king, that the king said to him, “Why did you not go with me, Mephibosheth?” 26 So he answered, “O my lord, the king, my servant deceived me; for your servant said, 'I will saddle a donkey for myself that I may ride on it and go with the king,' because your servant is lame. 27 “Moreover, he has slandered your servant to my lord the king; but my lord the king is like the angel of God, therefore do what is good in your sight. 28 “For all my father's household was nothing but dead men before my lord the king; yet you set your servant among those who ate at your own table. What right do I have yet that I should complain anymore to the king?” 29 So the king said to him, “Why do you still speak of your affairs? I have decided, 'You and Ziba shall divide the land.”' 30 Mephibosheth said to the king, “Let him even take it all, since my lord the king has come safely to his own house.”

When David first became king of Israel he wanted to fulfill his covenant with Jonathan, and so he began to search for any descendants of Saul and Jonathan. He was told about Ziba, who was a servant of Saul until his death. Ziba was summoned to David, and this man told the king about one surviving son, Mephibosheth, who had been crippled since childhood. David sent for Mephibosheth, gave him all the properties that had belonged to Saul, as well as Ziba and his household as his servants. In addition, David had Mephibosheth sit at his table as a son. When David fled from Jerusalem, Ziba met him on the way with provisions for the trip. When David asked about Mephibosheth, Ziba told the king he had chosen to stay in Jerusalem, hoping he might gain the throne of his grandfather, Saul. At that time, David gave Ziba all of Mephibosheth's inheritance, which he had formerly given to this son of Jonathan.

Now, David is returning to Jerusalem and the throne. Ziba, his sons and servants, and Mephibosheth are there to greet David and help him on his journey through the Jordan and on to Jerusalem. While Ziba is somewhere around, the conversation here is between David and Mephibosheth. He is the one who appears to have forsaken David, while Mephibosheth seems to be in good standing. David asks Mephibosheth why he did not accompany him when he fled from Jerusalem.

Some of you may not know that I began my career as a school teacher. I taught for several years, and in that course of time, I heard a lot of poor excuses. (My wife and I are the parents of five daughters, and we have heard some bad excuses there too.) As hard as I try to understand what Mephibosheth is saying, it doesn't make sense to me. He does not admit wrongdoing and seeks to defend himself by telling David that he is deceived, because he said he would saddle a donkey for himself. Why doesn’t he then? If Ziba does not prevent him from saddling a donkey, why doesn’t Mephibosheth do what he says he intended to do? I don't understand. And then Mephibosheth adds that Ziba slandered him to David, no doubt by telling the king that he was staying in Jerusalem in hopes of gaining the throne.

I personally doubt there is any way to reconcile these two differing accounts of why Mephibosheth is absent when David fled Jerusalem. It does not seem that David figured it out either, because he does not find one man right and the other wrong. Instead, David declares that Mephibosheth's land (which David had given him earlier, and then given to Ziba) will be divided evenly between he and his servant Ziba. Once again, it is a day of rejoicing and reunion. David will give both men the benefit of the doubt and make a judgment which benefits both and might facilitate their reconciliation.

Mephibosheth certainly does not ask for anything. He acknowledges David's graciousness to him in the past, and also that he is unworthy and undeserving of any special consideration from David. He then seems to waive his rights to what David has given him, signing them over (as it were) to Ziba. Whether he actually did this or not is another matter. But the impression he seeks to give David is that he is more than happy to live in the king's presence, and that further benefits are unnecessary and unwanted.

Blessing Barzillai

31 Now Barzillai the Gileadite had come down from Rogelim; and he went on to the Jordan with the king to escort him over the Jordan. 32 Now Barzillai was very old, being eighty years old; and he had sustained the king while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very great man. 33 The king said to Barzillai, “You cross over with me and I will sustain you in Jerusalem with me.” 34 But Barzillai said to the king, “How long have I yet to live, that I should go up with the king to Jerusalem? 35 “I am now eighty years old. Can I distinguish between good and bad? Or can your servant taste what I eat or what I drink? Or can I hear anymore the voice of singing men and women? Why then should your servant be an added burden to my lord the king? 36 “Your servant would merely cross over the Jordan with the king. Why should the king compensate me with this reward? 37 “Please let your servant return, that I may die in my own city near the grave of my father and my mother. However, here is your servant Chimham, let him cross over with my lord the king, and do for him what is good in your sight.” 38 The king answered, “Chimham shall cross over with me, and I will do for him what is good in your sight; and whatever you require of me, I will do for you.” 39 All the people crossed over the Jordan and the king crossed too. The king then kissed Barzillai and blessed him, and he returned to his place.

Barzillai is one of my favorite characters in this story. He is an elderly man, 80 years old to be precise. He is also a very wealthy man. He must have lived close to Mahanaim, for it was there that this generous old man provided for the needs of David and those with him while in exile. Now that David is going back to Jerusalem, Barzillai goes to great efforts to extend his friendship and hospitality to him on his return. It is some 20 to 25 miles (approximately -- we don't know exactly where Mahanaim was located) back to the Jordan where David will cross, and another 20 to 25 miles to Jerusalem. This old man accompanies David to the Jordan and beyond to Gilgal (not far from where ancient Jericho would have been), and now says good bye.

David wishes to show his gratitude to this old fellow and invites Barzillai to accompany him to Jerusalem, where the king promises to abundantly provide for him. Barzillai graciously declines David's offer. He is too old, he admits, to appreciate the difference between filet mignon and mush, or between the concert soprano voice of one of David's musicians and his own singing in the shower. David's delicacies would be wasted on him, and besides, he does not have all that much time left. He prefers to stay in his own home, near the place where his parents are buried, and where he, before long, will be buried as well.89

Barzillai does not wish to personally benefit from the generous offer David makes him, but he does propose an alternative. Barzillai commends a young man, Chimham, to the king, asking David if he will confer his blessings on this lad, as if upon him. From what we are told in 1 Kings 2:7, we know David intends not only to keep his promise to Barzillai in his lifetime but to continue it after his own death. David instructs Solomon to continue to be kind to Barzillai's sons (note the plural). I take it then that Chimham is a son of Barzillai, and that either at this time or later he is joined by another son or more. David generously provides for these men as Barzillai has cared for him.

Quarreling Over the King

40 Now the king went on to Gilgal, and Chimham went on with him; and all the people of Judah and also half the people of Israel accompanied the king. 41 And behold, all the men of Israel came to the king and said to the king, “Why had our brothers the men of Judah stolen you away, and brought the king and his household and all David's men with him over the Jordan?” 42 Then all the men of Judah answered the men of Israel, “Because the king is a close relative to us. Why then are you angry about this matter? Have we eaten at all at the king's expense, or has anything been taken for us?” 43 But the men of Israel answered the men of Judah and said, “We have ten parts in the king, therefore we also have more claim on David than you. Why then did you treat us with contempt? Was it not our advice first to bring back our king?” Yet the words of the men of Judah were harsher than the words of the men of Israel.

Their sandals are hardly dry from crossing the Jordan when the Israelites begin to grumble against each other. All of the men of Judah are accompanying David, and half of the people of Israel. This scene reminds me of driving in the car, and after a while a couple of the children begin to bicker and quibble with each other. Some of the Israelites begin to dwell on the fact that the men of Judah not only initiated David's return but are taking the lead in bringing him back. (No one seems to recall that just a few days earlier, these same folks were arguing with each other as to who should take the initiative in doing so -- and no one did, until the elders of Judah took the initiative.) Envy and jealousy begin to be aroused, and finally the Israelites begin to verbalize their anger and frustration: “How come the men of Judah are telling us what to do? Who appointed them to bring David back or to lead this parade?”

The men of Judah have a ready answer with which they rudely retaliate: “We are bringing the king back to Jerusalem because we are David's closest kin.” I can imagine it came across more like: “We're related to David, so just shut up!” The men of Judah continue to defend themselves by pointing out that even though they are closer kin to David, they have never personally benefited from this kinship in a way that was discriminatory. The men of Israel are not taken aback by the rebuttal of the men of Judah. Do the kinsmen of David think that merely being closer kin gives them priority? They have a very different way of viewing this matter. They represent ten tribes, while Judah is but one tribe. They should have ten times as much claim to David as the men of Judah.

The argument does not end here, but goes from bad to worse. Our author thought it best to leave his description of the debate at this point, with the added comment that the subsequent words of the men of Judah were harsher (“fiercer,” KJV, NKJV; “sharper,” Young's Literal Translation) than the words of the men of Israel (verse 43). I suspect the author does not want to record for posterity the foolish, angry words spoken beyond this point. Besides, we have gotten the point. Petty jealousy and strife prevail, so that the ten tribes become angry and embittered toward the men of Judah. Tensions are at an all-time high. Any precipitous action here could cause the situation to ignite.

The Great Divide

1 Now a worthless fellow happened to be there whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite; and he blew the trumpet and said, “We have no portion in David, Nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; Every man to his tents, O Israel!” 2 So all the men of Israel withdrew from following David and followed Sheba the son of Bichri; but the men of Judah remained steadfast to their king, from the Jordan even to Jerusalem.

Something precipitous does happen. There just happens to be a man among the people of Israel whose name is Sheba. Our author informs us that he is a “worthless fellow” (the text literally reads, “son of belial”). Sheba is a no-good, who would not be taken seriously under normal circumstances. But in the heat of this argument, Sheba loses his temper (or sees the opportunity to assume leadership here), and blurts out, “We have no portion in David, Nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; Every man to his tents, O Israel!” That is all it takes for his fellow-Israelites to turn on their heels and leave with him. And so this once joyful procession turns sour with a bitter debate and now a major schism. One moment these Israelites claim David as their leader; the next they are following Sheba, a worthless man. David has not even reached Jerusalem, and his kingdom is already a divided one. It looks as though he is starting all over again, as the king of the tribe of Judah.

Back to Business in Jerusalem

3 Then David came to his house at Jerusalem, and the king took the ten women, the concubines whom he had left to keep the house, and placed them under guard and provided them with sustenance, but did not go in to them. So they were shut up until the day of their death, living as widows.

4 Then the king said to Amasa, “Call out the men of Judah for me within three days, and be present here yourself.” 5 So Amasa went to call out the men of Judah, but he delayed longer than the set time which he had appointed him. 6 And David said to Abishai, “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom; take your lord's servants and pursue him, so that he does not find for himself fortified cities and escape from our sight.” 7 So Joab's men went out after him, along with the Cherethites and the Pelethites and all the mighty men; and they went out from Jerusalem to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri. 8 When they were at the large stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa came to meet them. Now Joab was dressed in his military attire, and over it was a belt with a sword in its sheath fastened at his waist; and as he went forward, it fell out. 9 Joab said to Amasa, “Is it well with you, my brother?” And Joab took Amasa by the beard with his right hand to kiss him. 10 But Amasa was not on guard against the sword which was in Joab's hand so he struck him in the belly with it and poured out his inward parts on the ground, and did not strike him again,90 and he died.

The first thing David does after arriving in Jerusalem is deal with the ten wives (or concubines) he left behind to keep the house. Absalom has slept with these women in public; there is no way David can go back to the way things were. He will never sleep with any of these women again. He appoints a place for them to stay and provides generously (I am sure) for them, but he does not sleep with them again. They have been defiled by Absalom.

The next item of business for David is the rebellion that is under way, led by Sheba. David knows speed is of the essence. He does not dare allow Sheba time to gather a following, organize his army, and find fortified cities in which to hide or from which to fight. The sooner David's army can overtake Sheba and deal with him, the better. And so David summons his new commander, Amasa91 and instructs him to go muster the military forces of Judah, and then pursue and subdue Sheba as quickly as possible.

For some unexplained reason Amasa does not assemble the armed forces of Judah in the three-day time frame David sets down. You can imagine how uneasy David must be, knowing that every hour Sheba is free, the threat to his kingdom increases. It must pain David greatly to finally admit Amasa is not coming, at least not for a while, and to call for Abishai, the brother of Joab and long-time pain-in-the-neck for David (see 1 Samuel 26:6-11; 2 Samuel 16:9-12; 19:21-22). David would not ask Joab to do the job, for it would appear to be an admission that he has erred in firing Joab and replacing him with Amasa. But when Abishai goes out from Jerusalem, leading David's select warriors (the Green Berets or Navy Seals of his day) in pursuit of Sheba, he is accompanied by Joab.

Joab and his men go out, along with David's royal guard, the Cherethites and the Pelethites and all the “mighty men of valor.” When they arrive at the large and well-known stone in Gibeon, Amasa comes out to meet them. I would expect Abishai to take the lead here. It is possible that the forces that left Jerusalem in search of Sheba divided into smaller groups, which fanned out to locate this traitor as quickly as possible. From this point on in the chapter, Abishai is only incidentally mentioned, while Joab is prominent. It may just be that Joab went out on his own with his own men, and providentially encountered Amasa. It is also possible that Joab believed he knew where Amasa could be found and decided to deal first with him. Is Amasa a bungler, who just couldn't do the job? Or is he a coward, afraid to try? We are given no clues, but his conduct is certainly an enigma. One way or the other, his actions providentially prepare the way for what is about to take place.

Joab and Amasa are approaching each other. Joab's greeting to Amasa seems warm and friendly (“my brother,” verse 9), so Amasa is hardly on guard. Joab is in military uniform, which includes a belt and a sheath, holding a sword. Somehow (it doesn't appear to be deliberate) as Joab moves forward, his spear falls out of its sheath. Joab bends down and picks up his sword in his left hand. Amasa does not seem to even notice the sword in Joab's hand as they draw near. It would seem at that very moment, Joab sizes up the situation and realizes how easy it would be for him to kill Amasa, and so he does, on what seems to be a spur-of-the-moment impulse. Joab seizes Amasa by the beard, which is apparently the usual way one would hold on to the man being kissed. As he grasps Amasa with his right hand, he runs him through with his left, probably twisting it about in his abdomen, causing his innards to spill out.

Almost immediately, it seems, Joab turns and walks away, along with his brother Abishai, to resume his pursuit of Sheba. From what the text tells us, I am not sure Joab intended anything more than to kill Amasa. We are not told that he sought to take control of the army of David; we are only told that he set out to continue his pursuit of Sheba.

Joab Takes Charge

Then Joab and Abishai his brother pursued Sheba the son of Bichri. 11 Now there stood by him one of Joab's young men, and said, “Whoever favors Joab and whoever is for David, let him follow Joab.” 12 But Amasa lay wallowing in his blood in the middle of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa from the highway into the field and threw a garment over him when he saw that everyone who came by him stood still. 13 As soon as he was removed from the highway, all the men passed on after Joab to pursue Sheba the son of Bichri.

It does not seem to be at Joab's initiative that a certain soldier takes it upon himself to address the rest. He is “one of Joab's young men,” so we would expect him to be loyal to Joab and one of his supporters. Seeing Amasa lying there dead, it is obvious to him that there needs to be a new commander of the army. After all, someone needs to give the orders. It seems clear that next in the chain of command is Abishai. He is the oldest son (1 Chronicles 2:16), but most important of all, he is the one David sent to pursue Sheba when Amasa did not return. In spite of this, the young man urges the rest of his colleagues to acknowledge Joab as their new commander, and it seems this is precisely what happens. There is no mention of any protest, and Joab is spoken of as the leader from here on.

The soldiers are hesitant, but it has nothing to do with Joab being in charge. Their hesitation is due to the sight of Amasa, lying there in the road and wallowing in his own blood. Everybody stops to gawk at the body, rubbernecking as people do on the freeway as they pass by a gruesome auto accident. This same young man recognizes what is causing the men to hasten after Joab in pursuit of Sheba and deals with the problem. He removes the body from the middle of the road and takes it out into the field, where it is covered with a garment. Now all the men pass on with hardly a glance. The chase is on.

The Search For Sheba

14 Now he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel, even Beth-maacah, and all the Berites; and they were gathered together and also went after him. 15 They came and besieged him in Abel Beth-maacah, and they cast up a siege ramp against the city, and it stood by the rampart; and all the people who were with Joab were wreaking destruction in order to topple the wall. 16 Then a wise woman called from the city, “Hear, hear! Please tell Joab, 'Come here that I may speak with you.”' 17 So he approached her, and the woman said, “Are you Joab?” And he answered, “I am.” Then she said to him, “Listen to the words of your maidservant.” And he answered, “I am listening.” 18 Then she spoke, saying, “Formerly they used to say, 'They will surely ask advice at Abel,' and thus they ended the dispute. 19 “I am of those who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. You are seeking to destroy a city, even a mother in Israel. Why would you swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?” 20 Joab replied, “Far be it, far be it from me that I should swallow up or destroy! 21 “Such is not the case. But a man from the hill country of Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, has lifted up his hand against King David. Only hand him over, and I will depart from the city.” And the woman said to Joab, “Behold, his head will be thrown to you over the wall.” 22 Then the woman wisely came to all the people. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri and threw it to Joab. So he blew the trumpet, and they were dispersed from the city, each to his tent. Joab also returned to the king at Jerusalem.

Joab, accompanied by his army, begins to make a sweep through the land of Israel in search of Sheba. Our author tells us that “he went through all the tribes of Israel to Abel . . .” (verse 14). This means that all Israel is aware that David is seeking Sheba. No doubt this is a very distressing thing to those who chose to heed Sheba's advice and go home. Are the Israelites upset that Judah takes the initiative in bringing David back to Jerusalem? They must be more than uneasy that Judah is now taking the initiative to eliminate Sheba and has no qualms about traveling throughout Israel with an armed force to do so.

Joab and his forces finally track down Sheba at Abel Beth-maacah. When they hear that Sheba has sought refuge in this fortified city, they put the city under siege. The people inside the city do not even know why their city is under attack,92 but they look on with fear as Joab and his men begin to dismantle the city piece by piece. It is only a matter of time before Joab breaks through into the city. At that point, not only will the city be destroyed, but many people will likely die in the confrontation.

A wise woman sizes up the situation and takes the initiative. She goes to the wall, calls down, and asks to speak to Joab. He comes near, and she recounts to him how this city has been highly esteemed as a source of wisdom and counsel. It is a place known for ending disputes. Why then would Joab want to destroy such a place? She goes on to tell Joab that she is among those in the city who are peaceable and faithful in Israel. They have done nothing to deserve what Joab is dishing out. This is a part of the “inheritance of the Lord.” Does Joab really wish to be responsible for destroying it?

Joab assures the woman that he does not wish to destroy the city. He then informs her why the city is being besieged. They are seeking but one person, Sheba the son of Bichri, who is guilty of rebellion against King David. If the woman will arrange to have this man handed over to them, they will go their way in peace. The woman assures Joab that Sheba's head will be thrown over the wall to him. The woman then convinces the people of the city to execute Sheba, and his head is thrown down to Joab and his army. With this, Joab blows the trumpet, indicating the cessation of hostilities. Joab then returns to Jerusalem and King David.

Administrative Report

23 Now Joab was over the whole army of Israel, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; 24 and Adoram was over the forced labor, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder; 25 and Sheva was scribe, and Zadok and Abiathar were priests; 26 and Ira the Jairite was also a priest to David.

I am sure there are things which could be said for all these men, but I will not attempt to do so. I wish to focus on only one man here, and that man is Joab. What irony! This fellow is like bad breath; you just can't seem to get rid of him. Think of it. Joab joined David while he was fleeing from Saul (see 1 Samuel 22:1-2; 26:6). It was Joab and Abner who faced off in some kind of he-man contest, which resulted in a number of deaths, including the death of his youngest brother, Asahel (2 Samuel 2). In retaliation against Abner, who killed his brother in battle, Joab deceitfully killed him. For this he was strongly rebuked by David (2 Samuel 3). It is doubtful that David would have ever chosen Joab as the commander of his army, but David offered this position to whoever would first attack the city of Jebus, and Joab took him up on this offer (1 Chronicles 11:4-6). It was Joab who manipulated David into bringing Absalom back to Israel and then giving him his freedom (2 Samuel 14). It was also Joab who put Absalom to death, in spite of David's command to the contrary (2 Samuel 18). One could hardly wonder why David replaced Joab with Amasa. The real wonder is that after Joab put Amasa to death, Joab remained commander of the army. We would never have expected chapter 20 to end as it does in the light of the way chapter 19 began (19:13).


In terms of the story of David's life, we should now have a strong sense of relief because David is once again in Jerusalem, reigning as King of Israel. It was a long, hard struggle for David as he waited for God to fulfill his promise that he would rule over Israel, in Saul's place. For years David had to hide from Saul, who sought to kill David as though he were an enemy. And once on the throne, there were a number of years of success, but this very success led to carelessness, and ultimately to David's fall. The outcome of that fall was a great deal of suffering and adversity, capped off by the rebellion of his son Absalom, and David's flight from Jerusalem. Now, Absalom is dead, the revolution has been crushed, and David has been brought back to Jerusalem. What a relief!

David's life is not a fairy tale. He does not live “happily ever after.” David's difficulties after his moral collapse were many, and they were extremely painful. Let all of us who look on learn from them. There are those who would say, “Well, David sinned, too.” By this, they often mean: “David sinned, but then he repented, and then he went on just as before.” That is not really true. He did sin, and he did repent, but things did not just go on as before. David's life was never the same after the fall. Let no one minimize the consequences of sin in David's life. Sin is never worth the price, and David's life illustrates that fact dramatically.

We should also recognize that all of these difficulties were ultimately for David's good, and for the good of God's people. His difficulties should teach us that sin does not pay. On the other hand, David's difficulties also served to humble David, and to make him more dependent upon God. Notice how these painful points in David's life produced a humility and graciousness in him that may not have been as evident earlier in his life. He graciously forgave Shimei for his sins against him. Was this not prompted, in part at least, by the forgiveness David had experienced from God for his sin? We see it also in David's response to Mephibosheth. David has learned to receive, as well as to give, from lovely friends like Barzillai.

The events of these two chapters in 2 Samuel underscore the reality of divine providence. There are times when God intervenes in the lives of men in a direct way. God very visibly and dramatically revealed Himself to the Egyptians and to the Israelites at the time of the exodus. There were times when God acted in conjunction with the faith and obedience of one (or more) of His saints. For example, David made it clear that the victory over Goliath would be the Lord's doing, and so it was. There are many other times when the hand of God is not apparent at all, at least to those who look on without the “eyes of faith.” God had promised David that he would reign as king, and that his kingdom would be an everlasting one. Through Nathan the prophet, God assured David that he would not die for his sin. At times it may have seemed that David's chances of survival were between “slim and none.” But God kept His promise, often by employing the most unlikely folks. He used Gentiles (a king of a nation with which David had waged war -- see 17:27) as well as Jews. He employed the actions that stemmed from faith and generosity, as well as those prompted by fleshly self-interest (as in the actions of Joab when he killed Absalom, against David's orders, and Amasa for now justifiable reason). No matter how “out of control” things may have looked, God was in complete control, using the most unlikely means to achieve what He had purposed and promised.

Think of the turning points in our text. David appoints Amasa commander in place of Joab, and by this wins the favor of the men of Judah. And yet, Amasa is late in returning to Jerusalem with the armed forces of Judah, which prompts David to send Abishai, Joab's brother, to search for Amasa. A dropped sword and an unsuspecting Amasa become the opportunity which Joab seizes to eliminate Amasa and to take his place. Two men, Sheba and an unknown soldier, urge the soldiers to act, and they do. A wise woman speaks out, convincing Joab that he need not make a war of Sheba's rebellion, and Joab agrees. This text enlightens our eyes so that we may “see” the unseen hand of God at work in the lives of His people.

There is a one very clear example of divine providence in our text, and that is God's providential preparation of the nation Israel for its future division. Observe the words spoken by Sheba in our text:

“We have no portion in David, Nor do we have inheritance in the son of Jesse; Every man to his tents, O Israel!” (2 Samuel 20:1b)

Compare the words spoken by Sheba in our text with these words, spoken by Israel after the death of Solomon:

When all Israel saw that the king did not listen to them, the people answered the king, saying, “What portion do we have in David? We have no inheritance in the son of Jesse; To your tents, O Israel! Now look after your own house, David!” So Israel departed to their tents (1 Kings 12:16).

It is almost as though Sheba's words become the motto of those who rebel in Israel. The roots of division between Judah and the other tribes of Israel run deep in Israel's history, but it is evident that Israel was a divided kingdom for a very short time in David's day. This division is never completely healed. It may lay dormant for the years of Solomon's reign, but it comes to life after his death. In all of this, God is preparing the nation for the division He purposes. The second time the nation divides, it will not reunite. The northern kingdom will fall to Assyria, as a lesson to Judah, a lesson which will not be heeded. And so the southern kingdom will also fall, this time to the Babylonians. God is providentially preparing the nation for their coming division in the events of our text.

Our text gives us insight into the spiritual condition of the nation at this time in their history. It is quite easy to see Israel's sinfulness in relationship to the divinely-appointed leadership of David. The nation has demanded a king, and God has given them one. When God replaces Saul with David, it is through him that the Davidic dynasty is initiated. David has refused to raise his hand against God's anointed, and yet the tribes of Israel find it easy to heed the advice of Sheba and forsake David as their king. They renounce David as their king, in spite of the fact that God has anointed him. They think of their king as someone they own, someone who is obliged to give them what they want, when they want it. And if he does not, then they feel free to reject him. Israel's rebellion against David is also rebellion against God.

But let us not make the mistake of assuming that because Israel sinned in rebelling against David, Judah is faithful to God in remaining loyal to him. When the people of Israel are arguing with the people of Judah, the Israelites argue that since they consist of ten tribes they have ten times the ownership of David, ten times the claim on him. In other words, David is ten times more obligated to them. But when the people of Judah speak of their relationship to David, their claim to him is that he is near kin. Neither the ten tribes of Israel nor the tribe of Judah speak of David as God's anointed king. Both tribes follow David for self-serving reasons. Thus, Judah is hardly better for following David than the men of Israel are for leaving him.

Is this not true of all mankind, throughout all the ages? When God created Adam and Eve, He placed them in the Garden of Eden. He gave them freedom to eat of every tree of that garden, except one, which He prohibited. Satan came along and convinced them that if their perception of their needs and how to meet them did not square with God's leadership, then they were free to act autonomously, independently of God. And so they did. And from that moment on, man has rebelled against God's leadership.

When the Lord Jesus Christ came to the earth, He was God's Messiah, God's Anointed One. He was God's King. At first, many followed our Lord, excited about the possibility of His kingdom. But when they learned that His kingdom did not square with what they hoped for, they renounced Him as their king, professing that their king was Caesar.

It is the same today. There is a great deal of discussion and debate about this issue of lordship, but it is difficult to deny that Jesus Christ does not just want us to trust in Him as our Savior, but to obey Him as our Lord. How slow and reticent we are to accept this. How quick we are to renounce His lordship in our lives. The Bible speaks clearly, commanding us to do certain things and to abstain from others. And yet when these commands conflict with what we want, we quickly and unashamedly turn from the lordship of Christ, setting aside His commands as culturally irrelevant (or some other equally weak excuse for rebellion and disobedience). When God's appointed leaders (husbands, parents, governing authorities, church leaders) ask us to do that which we disdain, we reject their leadership and seek some other leaders, who will “lead” us in the way we really wanted to go all along. How disinclined we are to submit to God's leadership.

Ultimately there is but one “Leader” that we must follow, and that is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ:

13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. 18 He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:13-20).

Those who reject Him do so to their own peril, and someday they will acknowledge Him as God's King:

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

God gives men the opportunity to trust in Jesus Christ as God's Savior, God's sin-bearer, as well as to submit to Him as God's King. Those who submit to Him as Savior and king are granted the forgiveness of sins and a place in His kingdom. Those who reject Him will someday acknowledge Him as King, but they will forever be banished from His kingdom, suffering the penalty of eternal doom for their rebellion. He whom God has appointed as our Sovereign King is also He whom God sent as God's Suffering Servant, who bore the penalty for our sins, and who offers to us eternal life. Let us submit to Him as Savior and Lord, and let us live as His loyal subjects, for His glory and our eternal good.

88 In the Hebrew text, these (two) words of David are exactly the same as those spoken to David by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:13. The grace God had shown to David, David now shows to Shimei.

89 I must make a confession here. When we were studying chapter 12, I made the point that David would not have had any comfort in the fact that he would be buried next to the son he had just lost, and that he had to be speaking of his hope of seeing that son in heaven. I have not forsaken that position, but I must point out that Barzillai does seem to find some comfort in being buried near his loved ones. Whether this is a great enough comfort to explain David’s change in attitude and behavior in chapter 12 is still open for discussion.

90 You will recall that Abishai, Joab’s brother, begged David to let him kill Saul, and that if he struck him once, he would not need to strike him again (1 Samuel 26:8). These two boys seemed to pride themselves in doing the job right the first time.

91 Amasais was the son of David’s sister, Abigail (2 Samuel 17:25; 1 Chronicles 2:17). Joab was the son of David’s other sister, Zeruiah. Joab and Amasa were therefore cousins.

92 This is clear from the words of the woman, recorded in verse 19.

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19. Promise Breakers and Promise Keepers (2 Samuel 21)


My wife Jeannette and I recently went on vacation, which included a week in the Northeast. We drove through Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island. We loved the coast, with all of its bays and harbors. We were awe struck with the autumn leaves turning golden yellow and flaming red. Having lived in the Northwest and Texas, we were especially struck with how old things are in the Northeast. We saw churches built before the Declaration of Independence, and headstones on graves of those who died centuries ago.

The word “old” took on a new meaning; “old” was “older” than we were used to thinking. Yet in America, even this kind of “old” is not really “old.” Do we think a 200-year-old building or grave is “old”? Think what “old” meant to an Old Testament saint. For example, the Israelites made a covenant with the Gibeonites four centuries before the days of David. It is doubtful King Saul had forgotten about this covenant. More likely he convinced himself it was so “old” it really didn’t have a binding force any longer. How wrong he was! His actions with regard to the Gibeonites brought a famine upon the land of Israel some time after he died. It fell to David to deal with Saul's covenant breaking and make things right.

This story sounds strange to our Western ears. We wonder how and why it is necessary to kill seven descendants of Saul for something done years earlier, having to do with a covenant that was 400 years old. We are puzzled that the mother of two of those executed would take such efforts to protect the corpses of her sons, and that David would be prompted to give these bones a proper burial, accompanied by the bones of Saul and his son(s). Stranger still is finding that Goliath, with whom David fought at the outset of his military career, had a number of offspring who were all giants as well.

These strange stories were placed together in the 21st chapter of 2 Samuel, and they were recorded and preserved under divine inspiration and supervision. Let us bear in mind that these stories come at the conclusion or climax of 1 and 2 Samuel. The author has been building up to this point in the text, so the message must be important for all of us. Let us listen carefully to these stories to learn the message God has for us in them.

Making Matters Right with the Gibeonites

1 Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, “It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” 2 So the king called the Gibeonites and spoke to them (now the Gibeonites were not of the sons of Israel but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the sons of Israel made a covenant with them, but Saul had sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah). 3 Thus David said to the Gibeonites, “What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the LORD?” 4 Then the Gibeonites said to him, “We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house, nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “I will do for you whatever you say.” 5 So they said to the king, “The man who consumed us and who planned to exterminate us from remaining within any border of Israel, 6 let seven men from his sons be given to us, and we will hang them before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD.” And the king said, “I will give them.” 7 But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of the oath of the LORD which was between them, between David and Saul's son Jonathan. 8 So the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, Armoni and Mephibosheth whom she had born to Saul, and the five sons of Merab the daughter of Saul, whom she had born to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite. 9 Then he gave them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before the LORD, so that the seven of them fell together; and they were put to death in the first days of harvest at the beginning of barley harvest.

The Gibeonites are a most interesting people. Our author refers to them as Amorites (21:2), but they are more technically known as the Hivites (Joshua 9:1, 7; 11:19).93 These Gibeonites were among those living in Canaan, whom God had commanded Israel to annihilate (Exodus 33:2; 34:11; Deuteronomy 7:1-2). This would have been the case except for a strange turn of events, which is described in the ninth chapter of the Book of Joshua. Under the leadership of Joshua, the Israelites had just crossed the Jordan River (Joshua 3) and captured the city of Jericho (chapter 6), and then Ai (chapters 7 and 8). The next city to come under attack by Israel almost certainly would be Gibeon, and the Gibeonites knew it.

Gibeon was a great city, and its warriors were among the best (10:2). We would have expected them to put up a fight, but these people chose to take a different approach. Like Rahab in Jericho, these Gibeonites believed that God had given the land of Canaan to Israel. They knew they did not have a chance if they waged war against Israel. They sent a delegation to the Israelites' camp, pretending to have made a long journey from a distant place. These envoys had placed old sacks and wineskins on their donkeys, and they wore old, tattered clothing, and brought along moldy bread and provisions. All of this gave a kind of credence to their claim that they had come from afar. The Israelites made a covenant of peace with this “distant” people. When the Israelites learned that they had been deceived, they wanted to kill the Gibeonites, but their recent covenant prevented them from doing so. And so the Israelites made the Gibeonites their slaves, using them to chop wood and to draw water, especially for the house of God (Joshua 9:16-17).

The Gibeonites' treaty with the Israelites saved them from death by the Israelites, but it also put them in danger with their fellow-Amorites. When five Amorite kings learned of the defection of the Gibeonites and their alliance with Israel, they viewed the Gibeonites as their enemies. These five kings banned together and set out to attack and destroy the Gibeonites (10:1-5). When the Gibeonites saw that they were under attack, they sent word to Joshua at Gilgal, asking for his help, which they got. (The treaty the Israelites made with the Gibeonites also assured these people of Israel's protection.) Joshua was assured by God that He would give them the victory: “Not a man of them shall stand before you” (10:8). Marching all night from Gilgal, Joshua routed the five Amorite kings with a great slaughter at Gibeon. As they fled from before Joshua, God brought down great hailstones on them, killing more with the hail than with the sword (10:11). Even so, the victory was not complete, and so Joshua prayed that God would cause the sun to stand still, giving the Israelites more time to destroy the Amorites. The sun stood still over Gibeon, so that there has never been a day of battle like it before or since. One can only wonder what these Gibeonites thought as they beheld the hand of God, and as they partook of God's blessings on His people, the Israelites.

When the Israelites took possession of the land of Canaan, the city of Gibeon was allotted to the territory of Benjamin, and it was also set aside for the Levites (Joshua 21:17). This city was the “high place” where the tabernacle was set up and maintained until the time of the completion of the temple under Solomon (David brought the ark of God to Jerusalem, but the tabernacle and the altar remained at Gibeon (see 2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 16:39-40; 21:29). Early in his reign, Solomon went up to Gibeon to worship God and to offer sacrifices. It was here that God offered to grant whatever Solomon requested (1 Chronicles 16:39; 21:29; 2 Chronicles 1:1-13; 1 Kings 3:4-5).

Gibeon was the hometown of Saul's forefathers (1 Chronicles 8:29-30; 9:35-39). It was also the place where 12 of Ish-bosheth's men (Saul's son) engaged in some kind of contest with 12 of David's men, which turned into a bloody battle (2 Samuel 2:12-17). It was also the place where the “great stone” was located, where Joab met Amasa and killed him (2 Samuel 20:8). Later, when David grew old and Joab foolishly supported Adonijah (against Solomon) as David's successor, he would flee to Gibeon and cling to the horns of the altar, but to no avail (1 Kings 2:28-34).

As we come to our text, some 400 years or so has now passed since the leaders of Israel made their covenant with the Gibeonites. We are tempted to write this covenant off as ancient history, but all of a sudden we find the Gibeonites appearing in our text in 2 Samuel. Israel had been suffering from a three-year long famine, and so David inquired of the Lord to learn why He had sent this famine. God answered that it was because of the sin of Saul and his bloody house, a sin against the Gibeonites. Out of a misguided sense of loyalty to the children of Israel and Judah, Saul and his house commenced a program of genocide against the Gibeonites. He had begun to systematically eliminate them, perhaps in a way that involved only a few (which included his own household). If Saul had planned to exterminate the Gibeonites, he could have easily carried out this mission from his home at Gibeah. We do not know how far Saul got with this evil scheme nor what stopped him from completing his task.

Saul's actions were a violation of Israel's covenant the Gibeonites, made nearly 400 years earlier.94 It was a covenant foolishly entered into by the leaders of Israel. The Israelites should never have made such a covenant with this people. But they did so, and thus the Israelites were obliged to keep their covenant. That is why Joshua came to the aid of the Gibeonites only a few days after that covenant was made. And now, a few hundred years later, Saul acts in a way that is completely out of keeping with the past. He sets out to annihilate the Gibeonites, not unlike the way Haman sought to destroy the Jews (see the Book of Esther). Somehow God kept Saul's sinister scheme from succeeding. Until reading about it in our text, we would never have known anything about Saul's bloody scheme. But now, years later, God brings a famine upon the land of Israel, prompting David to inquire into this matter and then make it right.

The author makes no effort to give us a precise time frame for these events. We do not know when in David's life this famine occurred. We do know that it happens after the death of Saul and his sons. When the famine came, it continued year after year for three years. This was not a random famine, but one which David sensed came from the hand of God. The Mosaic Covenant indicated that famine would come from God's hand as a judgment for sin (see Deuteronomy 28:23-24; 2 Chronicles 6:26-31). And so David inquired of the Lord concerning the reason for this famine. God's answer was clear:

It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites” (2 Samuel 21:1b, KJV).

I chose to cite the Lord's answer from the King James Version because I believe it most precisely reflects the Hebrew text: “For Saul, and for [his] bloody house.” This statement solves what may look like a problem from other translations. Why does David execute Saul's sons and grandsons for the evil Saul committed? The law of Moses forbade Israel to punish children for the sins of their fathers:

“Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16, NASV).

God's words to David seem to emphasize the fact that Saul did not act alone in seeking to annihilate the Gibeonites. He would have needed help, and who would be more likely to help than his own family? Whether any Gibeonite blood was shed by their hands or not, they must have known, and thus they became accomplices in this heinous plan.95

I would have thought Saul's motivation for eliminating the Gibeonites was self-serving. After all, he lived in Benjamite territory, and Gibeah of Saul was not very far from Gibeon. It could have been his own family who would have possessed this land. But the text tells us that Saul did this out of misguided patriotism. He “sought to kill them in his zeal for the sons of Israel and Judah” (verse 2). As a friend of mine commented after hearing this message, “Saul just didn't seem to be able to get it right.” He refused to completely annihilate the Amalekites, whom God commanded him to kill (1 Samuel 15), and he tried to annihilate the Gibeonites, whom he could not put to death. Thinking to do Israel and Judah a favor, Saul brought a famine on the land.

David knew he must somehow make atonement for Saul's sin and obtain the blessing of the Gibeonites to regain God's blessings by the removal of the famine. This is truly an amazing thing we are told. The Gibeonites must “bless” Israel, the people of God, in order for God to once again bless Israel. It seems to be almost an exact reversal of the Abrahamic Covenant:

“And I will bless those who bless you, And the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3).

Due to the sin of Saul and his bloody house, the Gibeonites had been wronged. It would seem that they cried out to God for justice, and a curse (the famine) came upon the land. It did not happen in Saul's day, but in a later day. (This may be because Saul would not have sought the reason for the famine or taken the necessary steps to rectify this situation.) Now, to resolve the matter, an atonement must be made (the execution of seven of Saul's descendants). Then the Gibeonites must bless the Israelites so that God could once again bless His people.

David called the Gibeonites and asked what he should do to make this matter right. They responded in a very different way than we would expect. Perhaps they did not have lawyers in those days (pardon the sarcasm), who could tell them how much money could be made. The Gibeonites made it clear that it was not money they wanted. This would not “atone” for the bloodshed Saul had brought about. The next thing they said prepared the way for what they really felt would serve the cause of justice: “Nor is it for us to put any man to death in Israel” (verse 4). It was not in their power as a subject people to put Jews to death. David must have sensed that this was what they would request, and so he asked them what they wanted, assuring them he would grant their petition.

The Gibeonites told David that since Saul destroyed some of them and purposed to kill them all, they would find justice served if but seven of Saul's “sons96 were handed over to them for execution. They would hang these sons “before the LORD in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of the LORD” (verse 6). Hanging was the punishment used for very serious crimes (see Genesis 40:19; Deuteronomy 21:22-23; Joshua 8:29; 10:26). The Gideonites promised they would hang Saul's sons “before the LORD.” It seems to me that they were viewing this matter as they should, seeing that they were carrying out God's will in a way that satisfied (propitiated) Him, and thus satisfied them as well. They would carry out the execution before the city of Saul, before the Lord in Gibeah of Saul.

I find it most interesting that the Gibeonites made a point of referring to Saul as “the chosen of the LORD.” No doubt this a common way of referring to Saul, one with which the Gibeonites would be familiar. I believe it is said here with a point in mind. Did Saul presume that because he was “the chosen of the LORD” this meant he could do as he pleased? Did he think this put him in a special category so that God would overlook his sins? Not so! The “chosen of the LORD” was about to have his sons executed in front of his own city. God does not excuse or overlook the sins of those He has chosen. He did not condemn the Canaanites for their sins and then condone the same sins among His chosen people, Israel. God did not condone the sins of David, nor was He about to condone the sins of Saul, his “chosen one.”

There are times when Christians get a little fuzzy on this point. When some Arab group bombs a building, killing innocent people, we quickly condemn this “act of terrorism” and cry out for justice. But when an Israeli group does the same thing, we look at it as self-defense or justified retaliation. Being God's chosen people gives us no license to sin. God hears the cries of the oppressed and judges sin, even when that sin is committed by His “chosen people.”

26 “If you ever take your neighbor's cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, 27 for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious” (Exodus 22:26-27).

For he will deliver the needy when he cries for help, The afflicted also, and him who has no helper (Psalm 72:12).

Behold, the pay of the laborers who mowed your fields, and which has been withheld by you, cries out against you; and the outcry of those who did the harvesting has reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth (James 5:4).

His judgment may not come immediately, but it will come.

And so seven of Saul's “sons” are selected. Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, is spared because of David's covenant with Jonathan. The two sons of Rizpah,97 Saul's concubine, are executed, along with the five sons of Saul's daughter, Merab.98 The Gibeonites took these seven men and “hanged them in the mountain before the LORD” (verse 9). The execution took place at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Before we move on to the conclusion of this matter between Israel and the Gibeonites as described in verses 10-14, let me pause to make some observations and applications based upon what we have already seen.

In this passage, we are reminded of the importance of covenants. Throughout Old and New testament history, God dealt with men covenantally. When God spared Noah and his family, He made a covenant with them and gave the rainbow as a sign of that covenant (Genesis 9:1-17). God later made a covenant with Abraham, with its accompanying sign, circumcision (Genesis 12:1-3; 17:1-22). Then God made a covenant with Israel through Moses, and its sign was the Sabbath (Exodus 19-20; 31:12-17; Deuteronomy 5). God made a covenant with David to build him an eternal house (2 Samuel 7:12-17). Then, of course, there is the New Covenant inaugurated by our Lord Jesus Christ through the shedding of His blood (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25; 2 Corinthians 3:6; Hebrews 9:11-22). God has not dealt with men capriciously; He has always dealt with us in accordance with a covenant.

David's dealings with the Gibeonites, at its roots, is a matter of keeping covenants. Israel had made a covenant with the Gibeonites. Even though this covenant was 400 years old, it was still to be honored. Saul broke that covenant by trying to rid the land of them. No matter how good his intentions might have been, the covenant must be kept. The breaking of that covenant had serious consequences. It cost Saul and his sons their lives. It brought a famine on the land of Israel. There were other covenants involved as well. Much of what is described in our text looks like the fulfillment of God's warnings for breaking the Mosaic Covenant in Deuteronomy 28-30. In addition, David's covenant with Jonathan had to be honored, so Mephibosheth was not handed over to the Gibeonites.

God deals with men in terms of covenants. Time does not weaken these covenants. Covenants are to be kept. Even when men do not take their covenants seriously, God does. He expects us to keep our covenants:

In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change (Psalm 15:4).

Even when a covenant is entered into foolishly, as the Israelites were taken in by the Gibeonites, God expects us to keep our covenants. How many times we have witnessed the marriage ceremony where a man and a woman enter into the covenant of marriage. Then a few years later, one partner (or both) decide the marriage hasn’t been all they hoped it would be. They feel the person they married isn’t really the person they thought he or she was. So they feel free to leave the marriage and to go on to another. If God expected the Israelites to keep their covenant with the Gibeonites, even though they were deceived by them, and even though 400 years had gone by, how do you think God feels about the breaking of the covenant of marriage? We are not left in doubt:

13 “This is another thing you do: you cover the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping and with groaning, because He no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 “Yet you say, 'For what reason?' Because the LORD has been a witness between you and the wife of your youth, against whom you have dealt treacherously, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 “But not one has done so who has a remnant of the Spirit. And what did that one do while he was seeking a godly offspring? Take heed then to your spirit, and let no one deal treacherously against the wife of your youth. 16 “For I hate divorce,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong,” says the LORD of hosts. “So take heed to your spirit, that you do not deal treacherously” (Malachi 2:13-16).

Thank God that He is a covenant keeper. Throughout Israel's history, His chosen people stiffened their necks and disobeyed the One who saved them from slavery in Egypt. How easy it would have been for God to wash His hands of this rebellious people. But God kept His covenant. He kept it by bringing adversity on His people when they sinned (such as the famine which came on Israel in David's time), but He also provided a Savior, who perfectly kept the Mosaic Covenant and fulfilled the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants. He inaugurated the New Covenant, by which sinful men are saved through faith in Jesus Christ and His blood, which was shed to make an atonement for the sins of men.

I am impressed that our text foreshadows the gospel in so many ways. Not only does it remind us that God relates to men by means of His covenants, but it speaks to us particularly of the New Covenant. Saul's sins had to be atoned for or God's blessings could not be enjoyed. Saul's sin brought adversity in the form of a famine. Money could not atone for this sin, but only the shedding of blood. It was the shedding of this blood which brought about atonement and appeased both God and the Gibeonites.

There are those who think the gospel of the New Testament is too bloody (remember “testament” is an old fashioned word for covenant). What else can wash away our sins? Can our efforts at good works? Can our money save us? Only the shedding of blood atones for sin:

And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

There is only one Person's blood that was shed which can save us from our sins -- the blood our Lord Jesus Christ shed on the cross of Calvary:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:7).

But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (Ephesians 2:13).

19 For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven (Colossians 1:19-20).

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:11-14).

17 If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, 19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ (1 Peter 1:17-18).

There is a passage in the Book of Revelation which has always puzzled me:

And the wine press was trodden outside the city, and blood came out from the wine press, up to the horses' bridles, for a distance of two hundred miles (Revelation 14:20).

This text describes the outpouring of the wrath of God on those who have rejected Jesus Christ and rebelled against Him. How could the wrath of God be described in such bloody terms? Blood was shed that came up to the horses' bridles -- for a distance of 200 miles. This is incredible! Is this a poetic exaggeration, or is it to be understood literally? I am not sure, but I would say that it indicates how desperately sinful men are and how great the penalty for sin is. How much guilty blood would have to be shed to atone for the sins of the world? There isn't enough. The shedding of our Lord's blood, His precious blood, is enough. Have you claimed this shed blood as the basis for your forgiveness?

The story of Saul, David, and the Gibeonites teaches us more. It reminds us not only that sin must be atoned for by the shedding of blood, but that there is a payday, someday, for sin. I am not sure why God waited to bring the famine upon Israel until after the death of Saul and his three sons, but I am impressed that this sin did not get overlooked. In God's good time, He dealt with this sin, as He will deal with all sin. Some seem to think that if God does not immediately deal with sin He will never deal with it, but they fail to grasp God's delay as a manifestation of His grace, not an assurance that men can sin without fear of judgment (see 2 Peter 3:1-13).

The Gibeonites seem to foreshadow God's saving grace as extended to the Gentiles, as a part of God's eternal plan of salvation. The Gibeonites were sinners, worthy of God's wrath. It was due to Israel's foolishness (if not sin) that a covenant was made with the Gibeonites. These condemned Gentiles were saved by Israel's failure. And, wonder of wonders, it will be through the Gentile Gibeonites that Israel will once again enter into God's blessings. Is this not a foreshadowing of the way God will bring salvation to the Gentiles, and then through the Gentiles bring blessing to the Jews? I urge you to read Romans 9-11 to see how Paul describes this.

When the Israelites learned that the Gibeonites had deceived them, they were very angry. They could not kill them, because of the covenant they had just made, but they could “curse” them by making them their slaves, by making them wood cutters and water carriers. Was this “curse” really a curse? Not really. It was a great blessing. These Gibeonites were privileged to have a part in the worship of God's people, by cutting wood for use on the altar and water for use in the tabernacle. No wonder these Gibeonites, 400 years later, seem to have a strong spiritual sense of God's will, of right and wrong, of atonement and justice. I am reminded of the psalm that says,

For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand.I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness (Psalm 84:10).

How gracious God was to bless these Gentiles, and through them to bring blessing back to Israel.

Rizpah -- David Makes Something Else Right

10 And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it for herself on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until it rained on them from the sky; and she allowed neither the birds of the sky to rest on them by day nor the beasts of the field by night. 11 When it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, 12 then David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the open square of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them on the day the Philistines struck down Saul in Gilboa. 13 He brought up the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from there, and they gathered the bones of those who had been hanged. 14 They buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the grave of Kish his father; thus they did all that the king commanded, and after that God was moved by prayer for the land.

I think you would agree that this is a very strange story, even stranger than the one we have just read concerning the hanging of Saul's “sons.” Why does the author of Samuel record this incident? What is the point? Note with me first of all that this story is a continuation and completion of verses 1-9. It is the execution of Saul's sons which precipitates the actions of Rizpah, and then of David. Not until after the burial of Saul and his sons does the famine end (verse 14). We must therefore attempt to understand this story in the context of what we have just read and of the chapter as a whole.

Here is Rizpah, a concubine of Saul, whose two sons have been put to death by the Gibeonites. Apparently these sons' bodies were not removed, as it would seem they should have been (see Deuteronomy 21:22-23). While I was reading in the Old Testament, I came upon this most interesting verse:

“Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away (Deuteronomy 28:26).

This text suggests that Rizpah was not acting in an unusual fashion at all. What mother would want the birds to devour the carcass of her son(s)? Since the bodies of Saul's sons were left unburied, this mother determined to watch over them, stationing herself nearby so that she could drive off both birds and devouring beasts. David got word of this, and by Rizpah's actions was prompted to take action. These were seven of Saul's sons, who were not yet given a proper burial. David was reminded that Saul and his three sons99 had not been properly buried either.

You may remember that David did not have anything to do with the earlier hasty burial of Saul and his three sons, as described in 1 Samuel 31. David was in Ziklag when he learned of Saul's death. The bodies of Saul and his sons were taken by the Philistines and hanged from the wall of Bethshan. Brave men from Jabesh-gilead marched all night to steal the bodies, burning them and burying their bones under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh (31:11-13). All of this had been done by the men of Jabesh-gilead in David's absence. Saul and his three sons had not yet been given a proper burial, though their bodies had been rescued from shameful display by the Philistines.

On the surface at least one can see how David may have reasoned. The bones of the seven sons of Saul had not been buried, and this prompted Rizpah to act as she had. This matter would not be “laid to rest” until these sons had a proper burial. In thinking about this, David could have reasoned that Saul and his three sons had not had a proper burial yet either. To finally “lay this matter to rest,” David arranged for the bones of Saul and his three sons to be taken to the tomb of Saul's father, along with the bones of these seven sons who were just executed. Once they were buried, the matter would be closed, once and for all.

There is a little more than this going on, I think. There is a clear link between the execution of Saul's seven sons by the Gibeonites, the actions of Rizpah, and the action taken by David. I think the link is more than just the common element of being related to Saul and not yet having a proper burial. What did these seven men have in common with Saul and his three sons? They were all Saul's sons. But they were also all “hung.” I am inclined to infer from this that David saw this connection between Saul and his three sons, killed and then hung earlier, and now Saul's other seven sons, who have been publicly hung for the attempted annihilation of the Gibeonites. Had these earlier deaths and hangings not also been an atoning for this same sin? When David buries all of these “sons” in Saul's father's tomb, he not only gives them a decent burial, he seems to link them in the same sin and the same judgment. This is the only way I can see the author making so much of Rizpah's actions and David's response. At least we can say that this matter now seems to have closure.

One further fact should be noticed. The final words of verse 14 are significant: “And after that God was moved by entreaty for the land.” We would have expected to read something like: “And so God removed the famine that had plagued the land for three years.” Instead, we are informed that God, this sin having been atoned for, once again heard the prayers of His people beseeching Him to cease His judgment on the land. In other words, the people must have been praying for God to remove the famine for the entire three years, but God would not heed their petitions because of the sin of Saul and his bloody house. Now that this sin was atoned for, God would hear the prayers of the people. God is sovereign, but He often acts in response to the means He has appointed. The means here is the prayer of His people. Note what Solomon will say in only a few years:

26 “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name, and turn from their sin when You afflict them; 27 then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of Your servants and Your people Israel, indeed, teach them the good way in which they should walk. And send rain on Your land which You have given to Your people for an inheritance. 28 “If there is famine in the land, if there is pestilence, if there is blight or mildew, if there is locust or grasshopper, if their enemies besiege them in the land of their cities, whatever plague or whatever sickness there is, 29 whatever prayer or supplication is made by any man or by all Your people Israel, each knowing his own affliction and his own pain, and spreading his hands toward this house, 30 then hear from heaven Your dwelling place, and forgive, and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart You know for You alone know the hearts of the sons of men, 31 that they may fear You, to walk in Your ways as long as they live in the land which You have given to our fathers” (2 Chronicles 6:26-31).

God answers prayer. In this case, the author of our text in 2 Samuel underscores the fact that God removed the famine because He took heed of the prayers of His people. And He took heed of their prayers because the sin which hindered their prayers had been atoned for. Let us not miss the point that our author seeks to stress: Sin hinders our prayers, but when that sin has been dealt with, God then heeds our prayers. Let us not underestimate the importance of prayer.

More Wars With the Philistines and More Goliaths

15 Now when the Philistines were at war again with Israel, David went down and his servants with him; and as they fought against the Philistines, David became weary. 16 Then Ishbi-benob, who was among the descendants of the giant, the weight of whose spear was three hundred shekels of bronze in weight, was girded with a new sword, and he intended to kill David. 17 But Abishai the son of Zeruiah helped him, and struck the Philistine and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall not go out again with us to battle, so that you do not extinguish the lamp of Israel.” 18 Now it came about after this that there was war again with the Philistines at Gob; then Sibbecai the Hushathite struck down Saph, who was among the descendants of the giant. 19 There was war with the Philistines again at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite, the shaft of whose spear was like a weaver's beam. 20 There was war at Gath again, where there was a man of great stature who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot, twenty-four in number; and he also had been born to the giant. 21 When he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David's brother, struck him down. 22 These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants.100

Things just seem to become even stranger as we come to the close of chapter 21. First, the sin of a dead man and his bloody house results in the execution of seven of his sons. When these seven sons are put to death, their bodies are left exposed so that the mother of two of them stations herself where she can scare off the birds and wild beasts to keep them from consuming the carcasses. David then digs up the bones of Saul and his sons and buries all of them together with the seven in Saul's father's burial place. Now, to top matters off, we read of battles with the Philistines which culminate in the appearance of a number of Goliath's offspring, who are equally awesome and deadly.

Once again, we are not given a precise time frame into which we can place these events. What we are told is that the Philistines attacked Israel, and David led his men against them. In the course of this battle, David became weary. Ishbi-benob, one of the Philistine soldiers, took note of David's condition and determined to make the most of it. He was one of the giant's descendants, with weapons very much like those of his predecessor, Goliath. Among his weapons was a new sword, which he hoped to initiate by drawing first blood from Israel's king.

Who was there to come to David's rescue but Abishai, brother of Joab and the deceased Asahel, all of whom were the sons of Zeruiah, David's sister (2 Samuel 2:18). This is the fellow who accompanied David into Saul's camp and offered to put Saul to death with one blow (1 Samuel 26:6-8). He had a hand in the murder of Abner by Joab (2 Samuel 3:30). Abishai sometimes commanded one of the divisions of David's army (2 Samuel 10:10; 18:2). Twice he wanted to put Shimei to death for speaking evil of King David as he fled from Absalom (2 Samuel 16:9-12; 19:21-22). He was chief of the thirty mighty men who took on three hundred men in battle with his sword and killed them. He was a renowned hero in Israel (2 Samuel 23:18). While David may well have had his frustrations with Abishai -- and he may not have even liked him -- he certainly was indebted to him.

This incident troubled David's army as much as it may have bothered him. They nearly lost their king in battle. When David fought, he led his men into battle. He thus became the primary target, especially by the champions of the opposing army (see 1 Kings 22:29-33). It was one thing to lose a soldier in battle, but it was quite another thing to lose a king in battle. David had been rescued by Abishai this time, but what about the next? David was past his peak; he was not the man of war he once was. His men did not wish to lose David as their king, and so they insisted that David no longer go out to battle with them.

The next paragraph, verses 18-22, follows closely on the heels of verses 15-17. In the former battle with the Philistines, David had been attacked by one of Goliath's offspring and had nearly been killed. The decision was reached that David would no longer accompany his men in battle. But could they win without this Goliath-killer? Was David essential to Israel's victory against the Philistines? Verses 18-22 give us the answer. In subsequent101 battles, other descendants of Goliath emerged, and they were killed also. There was Saph, who was struck down by Sibbecai the Hushathite (verse 18). Then in a battle at Gob, Elhanan the son of Jaare-oregim the Bethlehemite killed Goliath the Gittite102 (verse 19).

The final “Goliath” descendant is saved until last, and no wonder. This fellow not only intimidated his opponents by his size but by his extremities. Can you imagine this fellow being an offensive lineman for the Denver Broncos, and you being his counterpart on the defensive line? You are both down in your stance, ready for the ball to be hiked. You look down at the ground and notice his hands. You start counting his fingers . . . one . . . two . . . three . . . four . . . five . . . . . . . . . . six? Then you look at his other hand, and then his feet. What a sight he must have been! Nevertheless, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David's brother, struck this giant down like the rest. He did not fall on all 4's; he fell on all 24's. Whether by the hand of David or by one of his men, they all fell to the army of Israel.


Why are these stories given to us here, especially when they seem to be out of chronological order near the end of this book?103 Let me make a couple of observations and then draw out some applications.

First, our text reminds me of the words of our Lord, recorded in Matthew:

21 “You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 22 “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. 23 “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. 25 “Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. 26 “Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent” (Matthew 5:21-26).

I must confess that the relationship of this passage to our text passed me by until a comment from a brother called it to my attention, and rightly so I believe. We would certainly do well to dwell on our Lord's instructions regarding hatred and murder, but I shall not deal with this here. I would point out the relationship our Lord makes between an offended brother and our worship. Our Lord teaches us to first reconcile our wronged relationships and then commence our worship. Our text in 2 Samuel is teaching us something very similar. Until the wrong that Saul and his house had done to the Gibeonites had been made right, God would not pour out his blessings on the land (and thus there was a famine). When this wrong was rectified, God’s blessings resumed, and God again heard the prayers of His people to remove the famine.

Second, I must remember that the author of this book is highly skilled, an expert in what he has set out to do. If I am puzzled by what I am reading, it is not the author's failure, but because I have not yet grasped what he has set out to do -- and has done. The author has not followed a chronological timeline here but has carefully developed a theme, and it is my task to study this chapter to see what that theme is.

Third, I see some emphasis here on the next generation. Saul has passed off the scene, as have his sons. These are the sons who could have challenged David's son Solomon for the throne. But God providentially removed them. David here retires from his military career, and it will not be long until he steps down as Israel's king, giving way to his son Solomon. Rizpah shows special concerns for the bodies of her sons, protecting them from the birds and the beasts. And Goliath, though dead, is succeeded by his offspring, who continue to walk in their father's (oversized) footsteps. We seem to be moving from one generation to the next.

Fourth, there is a very clear sense of closure in this chapter. If you think about it, this chapter describes the end of David's military career. It is not yet the end of his reign as King of Israel, but it is the end of his military career. David will no longer go out to fight with his men (verse 17). David's military career began, as you may recall, with a contest with Goliath and a victory over the Philistines (1 Samuel 17). The beginning of David's career was the defeat of Goliath and the army of the Philistines. The ending of David's military career is a final battle with one of Goliath's offspring and the defeat of the Philistines.

Have you ever watched how professional athletes “retire”? The one thing they never want to do is retire after a bad year. They want to quit while they are ahead. I can understand that. It is better to go out with a shout of triumph than with a whimper of defeat. I think you and I can agree that David went out about as well as anyone could. Granted, David needed some help to finish Ishbi-benob, but this fellow was killed and the Philistines were defeated.

The success I am thinking about is to be seen on a greater scale. When the Israelites demanded a king, it was so they could have a man who would fight their battles for them and lead them into battle, especially against the Philistines (1 Samuel 8:19-20; 9:16). What would they do now when David was no longer able to lead them in battle?

The answer is beautiful, but let me take you back even further in time. When the first generation of Israelites had an opportunity to possess the land of Canaan, they failed because they were afraid of the giants who were reported to be in the land (see Numbers 13:25-33). When the Israelites were intimidated by the Philistines, Goliath was their champion who frightened the Israelites badly. David stepped forward and killed Goliath, and the Philistines were defeated. But now, David is no long able to handle the “Goliaths” which the Philistines put up against him. Does this mean that Israel is in trouble? Not at all! Saul's “leadership” could not produce one man who would take on Goliath, including Saul himself. But David's leadership produced many mighty men of war. Was David no longer able to fight? No problem! Men were lining up to take on all the Goliath's the Philistines could put up against them. And these offspring of Goliath were all killed and the Philistines defeated. What a way to end David's military career. The people no longer needed a king to do their fighting for them; they were willing to fight themselves, even against the offspring of Goliath. Now this is what I call a great way to retire.

There is also a sense of closure in that things left undone, things not dealt with under Saul's administration, are now made right by David. The sin of Saul and his bloody house against the Gibeonites has been atoned for, and the land can once again enjoy God's blessings. Not only are the seven “sons” of Saul given a proper burial, but so are Saul and his sons, who had only been given a hasty burial at Jabesh-gilead. And the army of Israel has reached the point where David need no longer fight their battles for them, or even with them. There are many mighty men who are able to carry on where David left off.

This to me is a very important lesson in leadership. Often people want leaders who will do their job for them. The greatness and contribution of a leader are judged by how big a hole is left when he steps aside. In biblical terms, this should be an insult to a godly leader. The task of leaders is not to do everything, but to facilitate ministry, to train, equip, and encourage others who will take our place and do even better than we have. If this is what Christian leadership is to be, then David was a great leader. Under Saul, not one man was willing to stand up to Goliath. In David's ministry, there were many willing and able to do so. David is now free to step aside (first as commander of the military and later as king) because he has done his job well-- he has helped to create a lower level of leadership that is ready to take his place. Most dictators dread the fact that there are others like this, and seek to eliminate them because they are seen as competition. This is not so with David. It should not be so with us either.

93 The term “Canaanite” is used both in a narrow sense and in a broader way when referring more generally to the inhabitants of Canaan. The same seems to be true of the term “Amorite” here. The author of Samuel seems to be using the term “Amorites” in its general sense here.

94 In 1 Samuel 15:7, we are told that Saul remembered that the Kenites gave aid to Israel at the time of the Exodus, and thus he spared them when he was attacking the Amalekites. Could Saul have simply forgotten the covenant Israel made with the Gibeonites? It is hard to believe that he did.

95 There is, of course, the painful question concerning Jonathan’s relationship to all this. He hardly seems to have been one to participate in such sin, nor to keep quiet about it if he became aware of it. We simply do not know.

96 “Sons” is used more broadly here, as elsewhere, to include the five sons of Merab, who were actually Saul’s grandsons.

97 Rizpah is the concubine with whom Abner slept after Saul’s death. When Ish-bosheth challenged him about this, Abner switched his allegiance to David (see 2 Samuel 3:7ff.).

98 There are some very strange ironies here. Merab is Saul’s oldest daughter, and Michal was the younger daughter (1 Samuel 14:49). Saul offered her first to David and then reneged on the offer (1 Samuel 18:17-19). Michal was given to David for his wife (1 Samuel 18:27), then was taken away and given to another (1 Samuel 25:44), and then returned to David at his insistence (2 Samuel 3:13-16). She never bore children to David (2 Samuel 6:23), so she was not involved in the agony of losing any of her sons.

99 Our author mentions only Saul and Jonathan here, but in 1 Samuel 31 we are told that Saul and his three sons were involved. I would therefore assume that not only Saul and Jonathan were given a proper burial, but that all of his three sons were buried here as well.

100 Note the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:4-8.

101 Note the “after this” in verse 18.

102 This naming of a “Goliath” need not present us with any great problem. We have just read about two Mephibosheth’s earlier in the chapter (see vss. 7-8). This Goliath could have been the namesake of his father, but the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:5 calls this man “Lahmi, the brother of Goliath.”

103 By “this book” I am referring to the one book of Samuel in the Hebrew Old Testament, which is divided into the two books of 1 and 2 Samuel in our Bible.

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20. David’s Song of Salvation (2 Samuel 22)


As I approach the two psalms of David in 2 Samuel 22 (all) and 23 (verses 1-7), I am reminded of our dear family friends, Karl and Martha Lind. Karl is now in his 80's, suffering from heart and kidney failure and under hospice care. He is courageously dealing with his illness and awaiting his heavenly homecoming. My memories of Karl go back a long way, and some are vivid. When my wife Jeannette and I were married, we had very little money, and so by the fourth day of our honeymoon, we were spending the night in the guest room of the Lind's home. The next morning, Karl and Martha had prepared a lovely breakfast, and one of their sons, John, was given the task of announcing breakfast over the intercom. “Breakfast will be served in the dining room in five minutes,” John said, with all the formality he could muster as a teenager. Seconds later, before the intercom switch was released, there was a terrible crash as though every dish in the cupboard had broken to bits, followed by Karl's voice, “John!”

Karl is an excellent cook. In describing the way a less-than-expert cook went about his task, Karl summed it up this way: “When it's smokin', it's cookin'; when it's burnt, it's done.” A number of years ago Karl's pastor spoke on stewardship, and afterwards stood at the back door shaking hands with the people. As Karl approached him, the pastor (I'll call him “Chuck” to save embarrassment to anyone) looked expectantly, hoping Karl could give him a favorable report regarding his sermon. Never one to pull punches, Karl looked “Chuck” in the eye and commented, “Chuck, the way I look at it, your sermons cost me 25 bucks a crack. Frankly, Chuck, you and I both know they're not worth it.” That's Karl, our dear friend of many years.

Karl played a significant role in another of my childhood memories, the founding of a church in Auburn, Washington. My parents, along with Karl and Martha Lind and a number of others, were privileged to have a part in the founding of what was then called “Bible Baptist Church.” As a young boy in his pre-teens, I can vividly remember meeting in a funeral parlor (during church I looked around, wondering where they put the bodies),104 then a grange hall, and finally a converted theater, which became our first church building. With the strength God is giving Karl in what appears to be the closing chapter of his life, Karl has set out to record his recollection of the early days of the Bible Baptist Church of Auburn. At the end of his life, he is looking back, tracing the hand of God in earlier days.

That is what King David does in the two psalms at the close of 2 Samuel. Second Samuel 22 records David's reflections, penned at the outset of his reign as Israel's king.105 The first seven verses of chapter 23 are a second psalm; this one is perhaps David's last psalm. We are told that this inspired reflection at the end of his reign as Israel's king contains some of his last words as Israel's king. Together, these two psalms of David give us his inspired appraisal of the hand of God in his life as the King of Israel, from the outset of that reign to its closing days.

As I have already said -- and as you can see from most translations -- the words of reflection in our text are Hebrew poetry, two psalms if you would. In fact, 2 Samuel 22 is virtually identical with Psalm 18, with very minor variations. These psalms of David are songs. Second Samuel 22 is actually the longest of David’s psalms.106 In form and content, they are not new or unique, but follow in the tradition of earlier psalms.107 Some of these are:

  • Song of Israel by the sea (Exodus 15:1-18)
  • Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-43)
  • Song of Deborah (Judges 5)
  • Song of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10)
  • Song of David (2 Samuel 22; Psalm 18)
  • Song of Habakkuk (Habakkuk 3:1-19)

Even a cursory reading of the songs above will demonstrate a resemblance with David's psalm, which is the subject of our study. In our text, the psalm is included as a part of a historical narrative.108 In the Book of Psalms (as Psalm 18), this same song is employed as a pattern for Israel's worship, a pattern which is as profitable to us as it was to the Israelites of old. It is here for us to sing (it may need to be set to music, since the melody is lost to us), to learn from, and to proclaim in worship.109 In 2 Samuel 23:1-2, we are reminded that these psalms are written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They are to be taken very seriously, not only by the ancient reader, but by us as well.

A Summation of the Psalm

Usually a psalm is viewed as the distillation or condensation of a more complex set of truths or statements. I would not contest this, but I would point out that a psalm can also work the other way. Sometimes a psalm is the expansion of a simple thought, by way of parallelism and repetition. For example, David could have simply told us that God is our refuge, but instead, he employs the imagery of eight different terms to describe God in verses 2 and 3. The message of chapter 22 is really quite simple and can be reduced to a few sentences. I will attempt to do this in order to make the message of the psalm evident, and then to appreciate this message, we will give the verses more consideration.


I praise God because He is the One who keeps me safe.


When I call on Him, He rescues me. I was in a lot of trouble; I called on God, and He heard me, and saved me.


God saved me because of my righteousness.


God saved me by giving me the strength to fight and to prevail over my enemies.


Praise God!


God save(s) the king, His King, His anointed one.

Our Approach in This Lesson

As I was studying this text of Scripture, I looked at some sermons on this passage available on the Internet published by Peninsula Bible Church in California. Usually the sermons on this site are about half as long as mine. (Maybe this is because it takes me twice as long to say the same thing.) When I came to the lessons on Psalm 18, I believe this passage had been divided so that it took about six lessons to expound this psalm. And to think I am going to deal with it in one lesson! In this lesson, our main task is to expound the main thrust of the psalm, while avoiding many of the details, as profitable as they might be. I will attempt to follow the flow of David's thought to see what conclusions the inspired author/king draws for us.

The Message of the Psalm--David's Deliverer

1 And David spoke the words of this song to the LORD in the day that the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. 2 He said, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress110 and my deliverer; 3 My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge; My savior, You save me from violence.

In the first verse of the psalm, we are given the historical background for this song of David. This psalm was written by David after God delivered him from the hand of his enemies and from the hand of Saul. It would seem then that the psalm was written shortly after Saul's death and at the outset of David's reign as king. David now occupies the throne, and from this vantage point, he reflects on God's gracious dealings in his life to fulfill His promise that he would be Israel's king.

The actual psalm begins with David's praise to God for who He is -- his refuge. Employing a handful of symbols, David speaks of God as his place of safety. He is David's rock (or lofty crag, v. 2). No doubt David had spent much of his time standing upon such crags, looking down from the lofty heights, knowing that he was virtually inaccessible to his enemies. God is David's “fortress” and his “stronghold.” He is David's “shield,” and the “horn of his salvation.” These are not mere images; these are the very means God employed to save David's life from the hand of his enemies. And now, David urges us to look behind these means which God employed to God Himself. It is God who delivers; it is He who is our protector and deliverer. He is our place of safety.

David's Danger, His Cry for Help, and His Deliverance
(22: 4-20)

4 “I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies. 5 “For the waves of death encompassed me; The torrents of destruction overwhelmed me; 6 The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me. 7 “In my distress I called upon the LORD, Yes, I cried to my God; And from His temple He heard my voice, And my cry for help came into His ears. 8 “Then the earth shook and quaked, The foundations of heaven were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry. 9 “Smoke went up out of His nostrils, Fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it. 10 “He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet. 11 “And He rode on a cherub and flew; And He appeared on the wings of the wind. 12 “And He made darkness canopies around Him, A mass of waters, thick clouds of the sky. 13 “From the brightness before Him Coals of fire were kindled. 14 “The LORD thundered from heaven, And the Most High uttered His voice. 15 “And He sent out arrows, and scattered them, Lightning, and routed them. 16 “Then the channels of the sea appeared, The foundations of the world were laid bare By the rebuke of the LORD, At the blast of the breath of His nostrils. 17 “He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters. 18 “He delivered me from my strong enemy, From those who hated me, for they were too strong for me. 19 “They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my support. 20 “He also brought me forth into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

Verse 4 sets down a principle, based upon the truth that God is David's refuge (verses 2-3), and demonstrated in God's various acts of deliverance (verses 5-20). In verse 4, David does not merely say, “I called upon the Lord . . . and He saved me.” He says, in effect, “Whenever I call upon the Lord for deliverance, He saves me.” He then goes on to describe in dramatic imagery the danger he was in (verses 5-6), and the deliverance God brought about (verses 8-20) in response to his cry for help (verse 7).

David employs the imagery of dangerous waters to describe the way his life was being threatened by his enemies. First, he describes himself as a man who is drowning in rough seas, not unlike Jonah.111 Then, the imagery changes from drowning in rough seas to being swept away by floodwaters (verse 5). He describes how close he is in terms of the cords of Sheol (or the grave; KJV renders “hell”) wrapping themselves about him, and the snares of death confronting him (verse 6). With his last breath, or on his third time going under as it were, David tells us he calls out to God for deliverance, and from His dwelling place, God hears his cry (verse 7).

David then describes his rescue by God in the imagery of a theophany (a manifestation of God to man). In many ways, David's imagery recalls the language of God's appearance at Mount Sinai when He gave the law through Moses:

16 So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. 19 When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder (Exodus 19:16-19).

It is also similar to words found in Deborah's “song:”

4 “LORD, when You went out from Seir, When You marched from the field of Edom, The earth quaked, the heavens also dripped, Even the clouds dripped water. 5 “The mountains quaked at the presence of the LORD, This Sinai, at the presence of the LORD, the God of Israel (Judges 5:4-5; see also Psalm 68:8; Habakkuk 3:3-15).

David called to God for deliverance, and God responded in a way that signaled His sovereignty over all creation. When God heard David's cry, He responded, as evidenced by all of His creation. God is angered by the enemies who have endangered His anointed king, and all of creation reflects God's anger. This is not just a description of a God who is eager to save His king, but a God who is intent upon destroying the enemies who threaten His king.

The first indication of divine intervention is that of an earthquake. The entire earth shook and quaked (verse 8). Smoke proceeds from the nostrils of God, and fire from his mouth consumes anything in its path. Coals of fire are kindled by it (verse 9). As God descends, the heavens bow down, and He stands upon thick darkness, an ominous foretaste of things to come (verse 10). He rides on the wings of the wind, thick clouds and darkness are around Him, and a white-hot brightness radiates ahead of Him (verses 12-13). God's voice is heard in the thunder, and bolts of lightening shoot out like arrows (verses 14-15). Upon His approach, the seas part, and the land below is exposed at His rebuke and the blast of His nostrils (verse 16). God reaches down and plucks His servant from the waters, delivering him from his strong enemy, and setting him down in a broad place on solid ground. Though David's enemies are stronger, God delivers him from their hand. He is David’s support112 when they confront him.

The Basis for David's Deliverance

21 “The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. 22 “For I have kept the ways of the LORD, And have not acted wickedly against my God. 23 “For all His ordinances were before me, And as for His statutes, I did not depart from them. 24 “I was also blameless toward Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity. 25 “Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to my cleanness before His eyes. 26 “With the kind You show Yourself kind, With the blameless You show Yourself blameless; 27 With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the perverted You show Yourself astute. 28 “And You save an afflicted people; But Your eyes are on the haughty whom You abase.

When God gave Israel the Law of Moses, He made it clear that obedience to His law would bring blessing (Deuteronomy 28:1-14), while disobedience would bring cursing and disaster (28:15-68).113 David was a man after God's heart. With few exceptions (see 1 Kings 15:5), David loved and lived by the law. He understood that those who would draw near to God are those who keep His law:

1 {A Psalm of David.} O Lord, who may abide in Your tent? Who may dwell on Your holy hill? 2 He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness, And speaks truth in his heart. 3 He does not slander with his tongue, Nor does evil to his neighbor, Nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 In whose eyes a reprobate is despised, But who honors those who fear the LORD; He swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 He does not put out his money at interest, Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken (Psalm 15).

3 Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood And has not sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive a blessing from the LORD And righteousness from the God of his salvation (Psalm 24:3-5).

David believed, as did all faithful Israelites, that God would punish the wicked and save the righteous who take refuge in Him:

35 I have seen a wicked, violent man Spreading himself like a luxuriant tree in its native soil. 36 Then he passed away, and lo, he was no more; I sought for him, but he could not be found. 37 Mark the blameless man, and behold the upright; For the man of peace will have a posterity. 38 But transgressors will be altogether destroyed; The posterity of the wicked will be cut off. 39 But the salvation of the righteous is from the LORD; He is their strength in time of trouble. 40 The LORD helps them and delivers them; He delivers them from the wicked and saves them, Because they take refuge in Him (Psalm 37:35-40).

In the Law of Moses, God made it clear to His people that He would bless them as they trusted in Him and kept His law (see Deuteronomy 7:12-16). On the other hand, it was also clear that their righteousness attained by their works was not the basis for God's grace:

4 “Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, 'Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,' but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. 5 “It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 6 “Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people” (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).

David did not forget that he was a sinner, who needed forgiveness and grace:

3 There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; There is no health in my bones because of my sin. 4 For my iniquities are gone over my head; As a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. 5 My wounds grow foul and fester Because of my folly (Psalm 38:3-5).

David understood that God saves the righteous and condemns the wicked. It is for this reason that God hears David's cry for help and comes to his rescue from his wicked enemies. Not only does God save the righteous, He saves the afflicted, while He condemns the proud.

We will come back to the matter of David's righteousness later in the message, but I am reminded that the sin of Saul and his bloody house resulted in a three-year-long famine in the land of Israel. Not until this sin had been atoned for did God once again hear the prayers of His people and remove the famine (see 2 Samuel 21). So it is that David believes that if he trusts and obeys God, God will hear his prayers.

Divine Strengthening to Defeat Enemies

29 “For You are my lamp, O LORD; And the LORD illumines my darkness. 30 “For by You I can run upon a troop; By my God I can leap over a wall. 31 “As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tested; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. 32 “For who is God, besides the LORD? And who is a rock, besides our God? 33 “God is my strong fortress; And He sets the blameless in His way. 34 “He makes my feet like hinds' feet, And sets me on my high places. 35 “He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. 36 “You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your help makes me great. 37 “You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped. 38 “I pursued my enemies and destroyed them, And I did not turn back until they were consumed. 39 “And I have devoured them and shattered them, so that they did not rise; And they fell under my feet. 40 “For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me. 41 “You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, And I destroyed those who hated me. 42 “They looked, but there was none to save; Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them. 43 “Then I pulverized them as the dust of the earth; I crushed and stamped them as the mire of the streets. 44 “You have also delivered me from the contentions of my people; You have kept me as head of the nations; A people whom I have not known serve me. 45 “Foreigners pretend obedience to me; As soon as they hear, they obey me. 46 “Foreigners lose heart, And come trembling out of their fortresses.

David has praised God for being his deliverer, his refuge (verses 2-3). Whenever he calls upon God for help, He hears and answers (verse 4) in ways which reveal His holiness and anger toward the wicked who oppose His servant and His sovereign power (verses 5-20). God comes to David's rescue from his enemies because of his righteousness and their wickedness (verses 21-28). It is possible that we might conclude from what has been said thus far that since “salvation is from the Lord” we are not a part of the process. Are we to sit idly by, watching God do everything? Sometimes that is exactly what God has us do, just to remind us that it is He who gives the victory. That is what happened at the exodus, when God drowned the Egyptians in the Red Sea. But very often God will have us play a role in His deliverance. In such cases, it is God who gives us the strength and ability to prevail over our enemies. David stood up to Goliath and prevailed, but it was God who gave the victory. In verses 30-46, David speaks of divine enablement, which strengthened him to stand against his enemies and prevail.

God's strength is not added to our strength; God's strength is given in place of our weakness. This is why David begins with the statement,

“For Thou art my lamp, O Lord;And the Lord illumines my darkness” (verse 29).

God enlightens David's darkness. God strengthens David in his weakness. This is just what Paul taught in the New Testament:

7 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me -- to keep me from exalting myself! 8 Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. 9 And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10).

David describes the strength God supplies in terms of waging warfare. God's strength enables him to leap over a wall and to crush or overrun a troop of men (verse 30). Military strength begins in the mind. David had the moral courage to stand up to Goliath, as well as the God-given skill to strike him down with his sling. The basis for this strength of courage (let’s call it what it is -- faith) is God's Word. The Word of God is the source of David's faith, which enables him to fight. His Word is us about God, that He is our rock, our refuge (verses 31-33). He not only sets David on the high places (the place of military advantage), He gives David the sure-footedness which enables him to fight from this position (verse 34). God is the one who trains David's hands for battle, who gives him the strength to bend the difficult bronze bow (verse 35). He gives him the shield of His salvation, and then gives him firm footing with which to stand and fight (verses 36-37).

All of this is to enable David to pursue his enemies successfully so that they turn and run (verse 38). They do not escape, however, for God enables David to destroy (to pulverize, verse 43) those who oppose him (verses 39-43). Some of David's enemies -- perhaps even many of them -- appear to be fellow Israelites, but his enemies and his allies also include the Gentiles. In the closing verses of the psalm, the Gentiles become more prominent. Delivering David from the contentions of his own people (verse 44), God also strikes fear in the hearts of the nations (the Gentiles). As a result, God not only established David as king over Israel, He kept him as head over the nations. These Gentiles fear David, and if their submission to him is not genuine, they at least feign allegiance to him (verses 44-45). They lose heart and come trembling to him from their fortresses (verse 46).

Praise God! (Gentiles, Too!)

    47 “The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,114 48 The God who executes vengeance for me, And brings down peoples under me, 49 Who also brings me out from my enemies; You even lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man. 50 “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name.

God is David's refuge and defender. When he calls to Him for help, God hears and helps him. God will move heaven and earth to bring this help to David, though at times He saves him by giving him the strength to oppose and overcome his enemies. Now here is where things get very interesting. Just who are David's enemies? And who are those with whom he will praise God? Self-righteous Jews would have a quick and easy answer: “The Jews are those who are David's friends, who will join him in worshipping God; the Gentiles are the enemies of God, who deserve to be pulverized.” But this is not at all what David says.

David clearly indicates that a number of his enemies are those of his own people (see verse 44a), and that there are those from the nations who submit to him and will worship God with him (see verse 44b). The clearest statement comes in verse 50:

50 “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O LORD, among the nations, And I will sing praises to Your name (emphasis mine).

Some of the Jews oppose God by opposing David. Some of the Gentiles are those with whom David offers praise to God as the great Deliverer. Lest you think I am stretching the text, let me remind you that this is precisely the point Paul makes, using this text as one of his proofs:

7 Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. 8 For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, 9 and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written, “THEREFORE I WILL GIVE PRAISE TO YOU AMONG THE GENTILES, AND I WILL SING TO YOUR NAME.” 10 Again he says, “REJOICE, O GENTILES, WITH HIS PEOPLE.” 11 And again, “PRAISE THE LORD ALL YOU GENTILES, AND LET ALL THE PEOPLES PRAISE HIM.” 12 Again Isaiah says, “THERE SHALL COME THE ROOT OF JESSE, AND HE WHO ARISES TO RULE OVER THE GENTILES, IN HIM SHALL THE GENTILES HOPE” (Romans 15:7-12).

Is God David's deliverer, David's refuge? Yes. But He is also the refuge and deliverer of all who trust in Him, including the Gentiles. All those who set themselves against God's king (David, or the Messiah), are the enemies of God, who will be pulverized by God's king.

God Save the King!

51 “He is a tower of deliverance to His king, And shows lovingkindness to His anointed, To David and his descendants forever.”115

David's conclusion is one full of hope and anticipation. David is God's anointed king, but his reign is soon to end. God has proven to be David's “tower of deliverance,” but it is not over because of the covenant God made with David, a covenant that he would have an eternal throne:

12 “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 “He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, 15 but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 “Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever””' (2 Samuel 7:12-16, emphasis mine).

Is David safe and secure because God is his refuge? Yes. In this final verse, David reveals that his confidence and security is much more long-lasting than just during his own lifetime. He knows that as God has shown lovingkindness to him, He will show it to his descendants, and thus these blessings of which he has spoken are eternal. God has not only kept His promise to David, protecting him from those who would destroy him, and establishing his throne, God will also install the One who fulfills the Davidic Covenant, God's anointed One, the Messiah.


In concluding this message, several things impress me as I reflect on this great psalm.

First, I see that David’s “successes” are ultimately God’s doing. As David reflects on his rise to the throne, he understands that his rise to power and prominence is due to divine grace. He recalls the peril he was in and the death that seemed inevitable and unavoidable, and he praises God as his rescuer, his refuge, his source of strength and success. It is not as though David did nothing and waited for God to do everything; rather in spite of all David did, he knew it was God who preserved his life and God who promoted him to be the King of Israel. David exemplifies true humility here. Let us learn from him. If a man of his stature and spiritual intensity can give God the glory, certainly we should as well. As Paul once put it,

For who regards you as superior? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Second, I see that David’s successes seem to be occasioned by his adversities and afflictions, many of which were brought about by his enemies. David praises God for His salvation. Often, this “salvation” was in the physical realm (God saved David’s life). When you look in the Gospels, you find the same thing. The ultimate “salvation” is that salvation which rescues us from eternal condemnation and brings about the forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus Christ, assuring us of eternal life. But throughout the Gospels, our Lord is seen “saving” people in a very broad sense, which only strengthens His claim to be a greater Savior than this.

In the New Testament, the Greek word for saving is employed for a very broad range of “salvations.” The same (root) word is employed for the “saving” of the disciples from the storm at sea (Matthew 8:25), for the healing of the woman with a hemorrhage (Matthew 9:21-22), for the rescue of Peter as he sank into the sea after walking on the water (Matthew 14:30), for the request of Jairus that Jesus “heal” his daughter (Mark 5:23), for the healing of sicknesses of all kinds (Mark 6:56), for the restoring of the sight of a blind man (Mark 10:52), and for the casting out of a demon (Luke 8:36).

The lesson we are to learn is that God is our Savior in many ways, the greatest of which is the salvation He has provided through the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ. The first and most important way we can experience God’s salvation is by receiving the free gift of salvation from the guilt and penalty of our sins, by trusting in the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. And then, day by day, we must look to Him as our Deliverer, our Fortress, our Refuge, in whose care and keeping we are eternally secure.

It is in the context of suffering and adversity that we experience God’s saving grace (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). If this is the case (and it surely is), then we should view our afflictions in a very different way. While they are not pleasant, they produce the sweet fruit of divine intervention and the joy of enhanced fellowship with our Lord (Philippians 3:10). No wonder our Lord could say, “Blessed are those who mourn . . .” (Matthew 5:4).

Third, God’s rescue of the righteous is achieved by the exercise of God’s wrath. David speaks of his danger as coming from those who are his foes, those who seek his death (22:18-19, 38-46). When God is described as He comes to David’s rescue in verses 8-16, He comes with all nature at His bidding. He rides, as it were, on the wings of the wind (verse 11); He employs thunder and lightning (verses 14-15), and the earth quakes (verse 8). All this is the manifestation of God’s anger toward those sinners who oppose Him by opposing His chosen king (see verse 8). God rescues His servant by defeating and destroying the enemies of His servant.

David does not speak of God’s salvation apart from God’s condemnation. God saves David by destroying his enemies. There is nothing more frightening than finding yourself in opposition to a holy and righteous God. There is nothing more terrifying than coming to the realization – too late! – that you have set yourself against God’s anointed one, God’s “son” (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16). If that was true for the enemies of David, think about what it will be like for those who have rejected Jesus Christ, the “son of David” and the “Son of God.” There is no greater evil than to rebel against God by rejecting His Son.

Fourth, there is certainly one greater than David spoken of here in our text. When we read Psalm 22, we recognize that while this psalm was written by David, who was suffering at the hands of his enemies, there are things here which can speak only of Christ, David’s offspring. The same is true of Psalm 18 (2 Samuel 22). In the ultimate sense, it is the “Son of David,” Jesus Christ who is being described.

“But much in this psalm 'agrees better with Christ', as Calvin said, than with David; and in Romans 15:9 Paul needed no argument to support his treating verse 49 [Psalm 18; verse 50 in 2 Samuel 22] as part of a prophecy of Messiah.”116

Jesus Christ, God’s Son, was rejected by wicked men who put Him to death. It is Jesus whom God rescued from the dead, by raising Him from the dead. It is the enemies of our Lord whom the Father will destroy when He sends His Son back to the earth again. David’s song of salvation is just that -- a psalm which looks forward to the time when the “eternal throne” will be established on the earth, and when the enemies of our Lord will be pulverized and punished, while those who trust in Him will be saved. What a day that will be! The joy of His salvation is equaled by the terror of His righteous wrath.

Fifth, if God is our refuge, then there is no need to fear. I have frequently seen a bumper sticker (actually, it is most often a sticker on the rear window of a pickup truck) that reads, “No Fear.” I’m not sure what this means to those who employ it. Does it mean something like, “You don’t scare me, so don’t try to mess with me.” Or, does it mean something like, “I carry a loaded gun with me at all times”? Whatever it means, it does not begin to compare with the words of our Lord, “Fear not.” There is nothing in this world to compare with the safety and security of the saint:

“Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).

When I saw their fear, I rose and spoke to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people: “Do not be afraid of them; remember the Lord who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives and your houses” (Nehemiah 4:14).

I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people Who have set themselves against me round about (Psalm 3:6).

In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me? (Psalm 56:4)

In God I have put my trust, I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11)

The LORD is for me; I will not fear; What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6)

“Behold, God is my salvation, I will trust and not be afraid; For the LORD GOD is my strength and song, And He has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12:2).

“Do not be afraid of them, For I am with you to deliver you,” declares the LORD (Jeremiah 1:8).

“‘Do not be afraid of the king of Babylon, whom you are now fearing; do not be afraid of him,’ declares the LORD, ‘for I am with you to save you and deliver you from his hand’” (Jeremiah 42:11).

But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid” (Matthew 14:27).

And the Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (Acts 18:9).

5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

To the one who has come to know and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior, there is nothing to fear. There is no need to fear God’s judgment, for our punishment has been borne by our Savior. There is no need to fear for our needs, for He has promised to care for us. There is no need to fear any circumstance in life, for He is for us. May this confidence be yours, as you trust in God’s salvation, Jesus Christ.

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring a charge against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31-39).

104 When I spoke to Karl this week about my memories of the funeral parlor, he told me his wife Martha taught a Sunday School class in a room across the hall from the embalming room, so that the class had the constant smell of embalming fluid.

105 Our text tells us that this psalm is David’s response to God’s deliverance from the hand of his enemies and from the hand of Saul. I am therefore assuming it was written at the outset of his reign as king, shortly after Saul’s death. Further confirmation of my assumption comes from the fact that some scholars believe this psalm is one of the oldest of David’s psalms.

106 “Besides being the longest quotation attributed to David (365 words in Hebrew) and displaying the richest variety of vocabulary, the section is cast in a formal structure, a classic example of Hebrew poetry.” Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 450.

107 The song of Habakkuk is not earlier. It does resemble David’s psalm, however, as though this prophet were not only familiar with David’s psalm, but may have borrowed from it.

108 Bergen points out the prominent place this psalm is given at the end of Samuel: “This present section is clearly one of the highlighted passages in 2 Samuel, being given prominence in at least three ways. First, it -- along with 22:1-51 -- was placed at the core of the appendix’s chiastic structure: it thus functioned as part of the thematic centerpiece of this portion of 1, 2 Samuel. Second, it was designated an ‘oracle,’ a special speech-act category reserved for prophetic utterances of unusual significance. Finally, it was memorialized as the final utterance of ‘the man exalted by the Most High’ who became Israel’s greatest king.” Bergen, pp. 464-465.

109 “It is reported that Athanasius, an outstanding Christian leader of the fourth century, declared that the Psalms have a unique place in the Bible because most of Scripture speaks to us, while the Psalms speak for us.” Cited by Bernard Anderson, Out of the Depths: The Psalms Speak for Us Today (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press), p. x.

110 “Fortress (2) is the word used for the stronghold of Adullam (1 Sa. 22:1-5; cf. 23:14, 19, 29), and for the Jebusite fort that became ‘David’s city’ (5:9).” Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), p. 304.

111 Is it any wonder that Jonah appears to borrow David’s words to describe his own situation in the sea (compare 2 Samuel 22:5 with Jonah 2:3-5)?

112 “David shifted the domain of poetic imagery in v. 19 from the sea to the meadow by drawing from his own pastoral background. In this verse he poetically described the Lord as being ‘a staff’ (v. 19; NIV, ‘support’) to him. The term employed here . . . refers to the large stick with a bowed top used by shepherds to pull sheep out of danger or off a wrong path.” Bergen, p. 456.

113 “. . . this psalm can be seen as a restatement of a central thesis of the Torah -- obedience to the Lord results in life and blessing. The message of the psalm may thus be summarized as follows: Because David scrupulously obeyed the Lord, the Lord rewarded him by responding to his pleas, delivering him during times of trouble and exalting him. For this the Lord is to be praised.” Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 451.

114 “References to the Lord as the Rock, the declaration that God ‘avenges’ (lit., ‘gives vengeance to’) David’s enemies and the statement that ‘the Lord lives’ link this latter portion of David’s last song with the latter portion of the song of Moses, especially Duet. 32:31-43. The similarity in vocabulary and themes suggests that the writer consciously attempted to produce an echo and a parallel between the final song of Moses and the final song of David.” Bergen, p. 462.

115 “A notable similarity exists between the final verse of Hannah’s song (1 Sam 2:10) and the final verse of David’s song. Both speak of the Lord assisting ‘his king’ and ‘his anointed’ and mention these two nouns in the same order. At the same time, there is a notable difference -- David names himself and his descendants as being the Lord’s kings, whereas Hannah made no such mention. The resulting effect of the apparently intentional contrast between the two verses is the affirmation that the house of David was in fact the fulfillment of Hannah’s prophetic word.” Bergen, p. 463.

“Thematically the psalm echoes and enlarges upon much that is in Hannah’s song (1 Sa. 2:1-10). Each climaxes with a reference to Yahweh’s faithfulness to his anointed king, but with the difference that, since the dynastic oracle has supervened (7:8-16), it is now the whole Davidic succession which is the object of his favour. Fittingly, the next section takes up this theme of the ‘everlasting covenant’ between Yahweh and David (cf. 23:5).” Gordon, p. 309.

116 Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), vol. 1, p. 90.

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21. Profiles in Courage (2 Samuel 23)


In my last message, I told you about my friend, Karl Lind, who is waiting to be with the Lord. I called Karl this past week to tell him that my wife and I were thinking about him and remembering him in our prayers. I also told him I had used him in the introduction to my sermon, and then we reminisced about the “good old days” when Bible Baptist Church was just beginning and we met in a funeral parlor. I mentioned that as a boy, I was always looking around, wondering where all the bodies were. “That’s nothing,” Karl responded, “Martha (Karl’s wife) used to teach a Sunday school class across the hall from the embalming room. Every time the class met, they could smell the embalming fluid.”

Actually, a little whiff of embalming fluid might do us all some good from time to time, reminding us of our mortality. As my wife and I traveled up the East Coast recently, we saw a number of quaint little churches, many of which had an adjoining cemetery. It’s too bad this isn’t so in a big city like Dallas any longer, because death and the gospel ought to be closely linked. Every time we go to church, we should be reminded of the inevitability of death, and every time we attend a funeral, we should consider death in the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Joe Bayly, now deceased, wrote a book entitled The View From a Hearse, an excellent book on the Christian and dying. When it was reprinted, the book was given a new title; I believe it is now titled, The Last Thing We Ever Talk About. I like the first title better, because I think we all should view life from the vantage-point of a hearse. Men and women nearing the time of their death usually have a very different set of priorities. I saw a film in which Malcolm Muggeridge was standing in the cemetery at the family burial place. As I recall his words, Muggeridge said something like: “I am standing here where my family is buried, knowing that it will not be long before I join them. I must say that when I look back on my life from this vantage point, I realize that many of the things I most dreaded in my younger days, I now prize as having played a very significant and profitable role in my life. Conversely, the things I thought were most needful, I have found to be the least significant and beneficial to me.”

Many are those who in their golden years look back on their earlier years in retrospect and see things differently. David is among that smaller group of individuals who in his golden years sees things not only in terms of his past, but also in terms of his eternal hope.117 David’s psalm in the first seven verses of 2 Samuel 23, is a kind of “view from a hearse.”118 We are told this is the last of David’s recorded words (verse 1). As David nears the time of his death, he looks back upon his life and forward to his eternal hope.

This psalm in the early part of 2 Samuel 23 may seem detached from and unrelated to the remainder of the chapter, which names and honors those mighty heroes who significantly contributed to David’s success. In fact, I believe the two sections of the chapter are very much related, as we shall soon see. For the moment, let me simply say that the entire chapter is about greatness. In verses 1-7, we see what it is that makes a great king. In verses 8-39, two sets of great men are named, the “three” and the “thirty.” In the process of describing their heroic conduct, we are told what made these men great in the eyes of God.

We draw very near to the conclusion of 2 Samuel (which in the Hebrew Bible is really just “Samuel,” since 1 and 2 Samuel were one book); indeed chapters 21-24 are a unit, an epilogue the author uses as his conclusion. Let us learn what makes great men of God. Let us listen and learn what the author has been trying to teach us throughout the entire book.

David’s Song of Salvation

1 Now these are the last words of David. David the son of Jesse declares, The man who was raised on high declares, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel, 2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue. 3 “The God of Israel said, The Rock of Israel spoke to me, 'He who rules over men righteously, Who rules in the fear of God, 4 Is as the light of the morning when the sun rises, A morning without clouds, When the tender grass springs out of the earth, Through sunshine after rain.’ 5 “Truly is not my house so with God? For He has made an everlasting covenant with me, Ordered in all things, and secured; For all my salvation and all my desire,120 Will He not indeed make it grow? 6 “But the worthless, every one of them will be thrust away like thorns, Because they cannot be taken in hand; 7 But the man who touches them Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear, And they will be completely burned with fire in their place.”

As verse 1 indicates, the words of this psalm are David’s last words, not last in the sense that he spoke these words and died,121 never speaking another, but perhaps in the sense that these were his recorded words in the form of a psalm. I am personally inclined to follow the punctuation of the NASB, which starts the quotation marks at verse 2, rather than verse 1. If I understand the translators (and, more importantly, the text) the author of 2 Samuel supplies verse 1 as an introduction. It is not David who refers to himself in such elevated terms (“the man who was raised on high;” “the sweet psalmist of Israel”), but the writer. David was all that verse 1 claims him to be, but it is not David reminding us of this fact, at least as I read the text.

From his humble beginnings as the youngest son of Jesse, a man of no great standing in Israel, David is raised on high by God. David is the “anointed one,” the king, who is the offspring of Jacob, or Israel. On the one hand, being the descendant of Jacob was nothing to brag about either, but this notation does link David with the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 12:1-3, etc.) and with the promise to Jacob that through his son Judah, the Messiah (anointed one) would come (Genesis 49:8-10).

David’s recorded words begin then at verse 2. David begins by underscoring the fact that his words are not merely his own, but that they convey the very word of God, spoken to him and through him. David attributes his words to the Holy Spirit, who spoke through David. This is consistent with what the New Testament says about David and the other Old Testament authors:

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven -- things into which angels long to look (1 Peter 1:10-12).

20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).

16 “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus” (Acts 1:16).

And so the following words of David are the very words of God, not in a way that is different from the rest of the inspired Scriptures, but in a way that sees these words, like all the other inspired words of Scripture, as a word from God. God spoke to David about what constitutes a righteous rule for a king. God’s king is one who should rule over men righteously. This righteous rule is the outgrowth of a healthy and appropriate fear of God (verse 3). Heathen kings think primarily in terms of being over others; God’s king thinks in terms of being under God. This is something which is clearly evident in the ultimate king, our Lord Jesus Christ:

30 “I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me” (John 5:30).

6 Now Jesus started on His way with them; and when He was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to Him, “Lord, do not trouble Yourself further, for I am not worthy for You to come under my roof; 7 for this reason I did not even consider myself worthy to come to You, but just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 8 “For I also am a man placed under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, 'Go!' and he goes, and to another, 'Come!' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this!' and he does it.” 9 Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled at him, and turned and said to the crowd that was following Him, “I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such great faith” (Luke 7:6-9, emphasis mine).

Put in biblical terms, God’s king is spoken of as God’s son (see 2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7), not in the sense of being the offspring of God, but in the sense of being subject to the Father.

The outworking of a righteous reign is the blessing of the people. The reign of a wicked king is troublesome to the kingdom:

Like a roaring lion and a rushing bear Is a wicked ruler over a poor people (Proverbs 28:15).

When the righteous increase, the people rejoice, But when a wicked man rules, people groan (Proverbs 29:2).

Thus, we see the emphasis in Scripture of the necessity for kings to rule righteously:

10 A divine decision is in the lips of the king; His mouth should not err in judgment.11 A just balance and scales belong to the LORD; All the weights of the bag are His concern.12 It is an abomination for kings to commit wicked acts, For a throne is established on righteousness.13 Righteous lips are the delight of kings, And he who speaks right is loved (Proverbs 16:10-1).

8 A king who sits on the throne of justice Disperses all evil with his eyes (Proverbs 20:8).

26 A wise king winnows the wicked, And drives the threshing wheel over them.27 The spirit of man is the lamp of the LORD, Searching all the innermost parts of his being.28 Loyalty and truth preserve the king, And he upholds his throne by righteousness (Proverbs 20:26-28).

David describes this same truth poetically (also). He likens the rule of a righteous king to the illumination brought about by the rising sun on a cloudless morning (v. 4a). He further likens a righteous reign to the life-giving rains, followed by the life-giving warmth of the sun which causes the grass to spring forth (v. 4b). Righteous leadership inspires and enables productivity; wickedness stifles and suppresses it. Have we not witnessed this in those peoples oppressed by communism in recent times?

At verse 5, the subject turns to David and to his house (his dynasty). The KJV and the NKJV render the first line of the verse opposite to that of the other versions:

Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow (KJV).

“Although my house is not so with God, Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant, Ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire; Will He not make it increase? (NKJV).

Compare the rendering of the NIV, NAB, and NRS versions:

“Is not my house right with God?Has he not made with me an everlasting covenant,Arranged and secured in every part?Will he not bring to fruition my salvationAnd grant me my every desire? (NIV)

“Truly is not my house so with God? For He has made an everlasting covenant with me, Ordered in all things, and secured; For all my salvation and all my desire, Will He not indeed make it grow? (NAB).

Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, Ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? (NRS)

The translators had a choice to make. The translators of the King James Versions (old and new) chose to render the first line in the negative; the others rendered it positively. Either way, the sense of David’s words is clear. In the first instance, David would be stressing his unworthiness, along with his house, in contrast with God’s grace in making the Davidic Covenant with him and with his descendants: “Neither I nor my descendants deserve this, but God has made an everlasting covenant with me, a covenant which assures a perpetual reign of righteousness.” In the second instance, David would still be emphasizing God’s grace to him and through him: “Is it not the case that God has, in fact, made my reign and those of my descendants after me righteous, based upon His covenant with me?”

The end result is that David confidently speaks of a reign of righteousness for his house. This is not due to David’s merits or self-righteousness, but rather to the grace of God, assured through His covenant with David (2 Samuel 7:14). Based upon God’s covenant with him, David is assured of an eternal reign of righteousness, signed, sealed, and delivered122 in the covenant of God as fulfilled (ultimately and permanently) in the person of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.123 This is David’s ultimate salvation and desire, brought about by God, the author and finisher of all salvation. David’s song of salvation is centered in God, from whom, and through whom, and unto whom are all things.

Notice how this psalm impacts Solomon, as seen in his psalm:

1 {A Psalm of Solomon.} Give the king Your judgments, O God, And Your righteousness to the king's son. 2 May he judge Your people with righteousness And Your afflicted with justice. 3 Let the mountains bring peace to the people, And the hills, in righteousness. 4 May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, Save the children of the needy And crush the oppressor. 5 Let them fear You while the sun endures, And as long as the moon, throughout all generations. 6 May he come down like rain upon the mown grass, Like showers that water the earth. 7 In his days may the righteous flourish, And abundance of peace till the moon is no more (Psalm 72:1-7).

Notice how later Old Testament writers pick up on the words of this psalm as they speak of its fulfillment in Christ:

1 Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, And a branch from his roots will bear fruit. 2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him, The spirit of wisdom and understanding, The spirit of counsel and strength, The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD. 3 And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear; 4 But with righteousness He will judge the poor, And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. 5 Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, And faithfulness the belt about His waist (Isaiah 11:1-5).

1 “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the LORD of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” 2 “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall (Malachi 4:1-2).

David is no Universalist, thinking that the blessings of which he has written are for all mankind. The salvation of which he has written are his desire, his delight. Not all men find their hope and trust in God and in His salvation. Consequently, at the close of his song of salvation, David turns his attention to the fate of the wicked, of those who reject God’s salvation through the Messiah, God’s anointed. The imagery of verses 6 and 7 follows closely that of verse 4, only in contrast. When the righteous King of Israel (Jesus Christ) comes to rule the earth, His kingdom causes the righteous to flourish, as the rain and sun cause the grass to sprout and grow. But the wicked are not likened to grass; they are compared to thorns. Thorns are not valued, harvested, and stored up for future use. Thorns are dealt with at arm’s reach. The one who handles thorns does not take them in hand, lest he be injured by the thorns. He uses a metal blade to cut the thorns and to burn them in place.

This may be a good place to reflect on what David has written here. The message of the Bible is not a promise of salvation and eternal life for all men. It is the offer of salvation to all men. But apart from divine intervention, the wicked will invariably reject this offer. And because they do, they are condemned to destruction by fire. To put it bluntly and biblically, the wicked are condemned to hell:

4 Then I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark on their forehead and on their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. . . 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:4-5, 11-15).

The good news of the gospel, offering salvation to all men, cannot be proclaimed in truth without the corresponding warning of eternal judgment from which men must be saved. David’s psalm of salvation looks forward in time to the coming of the Great King, the “Son of David,” the Lord Jesus Christ, whose coming spells salvation for the righteous (in Christ) and judgment for the wicked (apart from Christ). Ultimately, David’s “salvation” is not military, or physical, but spiritual.

Before moving on, allow me to suggest several implications and applications of what we have just read. First, righteousness should be reflected in those whom God has appointed as leaders. Righteousness is rooted in Christ’s work, not our own, but it is reflected in our concern for the poor and the needy, and our response to the wicked. How often parents deal positively with their children, but ignore or refuse to deal with their sin. The Bible requires us to abhor evil and to cling to what is good (Romans 12:9). Righteousness is reflected positively and negatively. To ignore one dimension or the other is to fail to practice righteousness as God requires it of His leaders.

David’s Mighty Men: Profiles in Courage
The Three (23: 8-12) and the Thirty (23:13-39)

    The Three (vv 8-12)

8 These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite, chief of the captains, he was called Adino the Eznite, because of eight hundred slain by him at one time; 9 and after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there to battle and the men of Israel had withdrawn. 10 He arose and struck the Philistines until his hand was weary and clung to the sword, and the LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to strip the slain. 11 Now after him was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered into a troop where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the people fled from the Philistines. 12 But he took his stand in the midst of the plot, defended it and struck the Philistines; and the LORD brought about a great victory.

The first of the “three” mighty men is named Josheb-basshebeth, chief of the captains. He is said to have killed 800 at one time. The parallel account in Chronicles differs somewhat:

These constitute the list of the mighty men whom David had: Jashobeam, the son of a Hachmonite, the chief of the thirty; he lifted up his spear against three hundred whom he killed at one time (1 Chronicles 11:11).

The differences in the names in the two accounts is neither surprising nor great. The numbers differ considerably.124 In our text in 2 Samuel, we read that this man killed 800 men at one time; in Chronicles we read that only 300 men were killed. It is difficult to tell which text may have suffered from the error of a copyist, but either way, any man who stands up to several hundred of the enemy and kills all of them in a day is a mighty man of war.

The next hero among the big three is Eleazar, the son of Dodo the Ahohite. Chronicles also describes his heroism:

12 After him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, who was one of the three mighty men. 13 He was with David at Pasdammim when the Philistines were gathered together there to battle, and there was a plot of ground full of barley; and the people fled before the Philistines. 14 They took their stand in the midst of the plot and defended it, and struck down the Philistines; and the LORD saved them by a great victory (1 Chronicles 11:12-14).

Eleazar was fighting with David against the Philistines. Apparently the Philistines were prevailing over the Israelites, at least through the eyes of many of the Israelite soldiers who fled before them. Eleazar seems to have been defending a field full of barley, which the Philistines may have intended to plunder or destroy (compare Judges 6:2-6, 11). From the “they” of 1 Chronicles 11:14, I would understand that Eleazar was not fighting alone, but alongside David, even though most everyone else had fled. The Philistines fell before Eleazar, and he continued to fight to the point that his hand cramped, frozen to the sword. The battle was won, due in part to the courage and perseverance of Eleazar, but ultimately thanks to God, who gave the victory. When the people returned to the site of the battle, all that remained to do was to strip the dead of the spoils -- that is, to clean up after Eleazar.

The third of the big “three” is Shammah, the son of Agee. On this occasion, the Philistines were once again doing battle with the Israelites. They gathered for battle where a plot of land had a crop of lentils growing. Once again, it seems the Philistines want to deprive the Israelites of their crops. To win this plot of ground was to obtain necessary supplies and to deprive Israel of them. The people fled from the Philistines, but Shammah stood his ground. The Lord gave the victory, and Shammah held his ground, striking a number of the Philistines.

    The Thirty (vv 13-39)

13 Then three of the thirty chief men went down and came to David in the harvest time to the cave of Adullam, while the troop of the Philistines was camping in the valley of Rephaim. 14 David was then in the stronghold, while the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. 15 David had a craving and said, “Oh that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate!” 16 So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water from the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the LORD; 17 and he said, “Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did. 18 Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he swung his spear against three hundred and killed them, and had a name as well as the three. 19 He was most honored of the thirty, therefore he became their commander; however, he did not attain to the three. 20 Then Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, killed the two sons of Ariel of Moab. He also went down and killed a lion in the middle of a pit on a snowy day. 21 He killed an Egyptian, an impressive man. Now the Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but he went down to him with a club and snatched the spear from the Egyptian's hand and killed him with his own spear. 22 These things Benaiah the son of Jehoiada did, and had a name as well as the three mighty men. 23 He was honored among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David appointed him over his guard. 24 Asahel the brother of Joab was among the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, 25 Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite, 26 Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite, 27 Abiezer the Anathothite, Mebunnai the Hushathite, 28 Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai the Netophathite, 29 Heleb the son of Baanah the Netophathite, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the sons of Benjamin, 30 Benaiah a Pirathonite, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, 31 Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth the Barhumite, 32 Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, 33 Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Ararite, 34 Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maacathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, 35 Hezro the Carmelite, Paarai the Arbite, 36 Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, 37 Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Beerothite, armor bearers of Joab the son of Zeruiah, 38 Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, 39 Uriah the Hittite; thirty-seven in all.

    Three Men and a Little Drink (vv 13-17)

The incident described in these verses could have occurred before David became king, while he was still fleeing from Saul. The “cave of Adullam” is first mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:1. This is where David located after he fled from Gath. It is where a number of his kinsmen joined him, along with others who were also out of favor with Saul. At some point in time, David and his men were in this cave while they were at war with the Philistines. The Philistines had taken possession of David’s hometown of Bethlehem and were garrisoned there. Perhaps as they were running out of water and David was thirsty, he verbalized what was meant only as a wish. If only he could have but a drink from that well in Bethlehem. No doubt he had drunk from it many times in his younger years and grown particularly fond of the water it provided.

Some of his men could not help but overhear what David said. He had given no orders to fetch him some water from that well. He had not even intended that anyone would be prompted by his words to attempt to get some water from it. But to these three brave men, David’s wish was their command. The men left the safety of the cave, marched some 12 miles or so to Bethlehem, broke through the enemy lines, drew water for David, and then marched back another 12 miles to bring it to him.

When presented with this water, David did what at first seems very unusual 125– he refused to drink the water, and instead poured it out on the ground. This is not because he disdained the efforts of these courageous men, nor because he did not wish to drink the water. I believe his actions demonstrated that he refused to drink the water because the courage of those who obtained it was too noble to do otherwise. David never intended to put these men’s lives at risk, merely to satisfy his own desires.126 The kind of devotion his men showed to him was the kind of devotion that belonged to God. Pouring this water out before the Lord was David’s highest expression of appreciation and regard for these men. The water was a symbol of the blood these men nearly shed, serving him. The highest use to which this water could be put was the worship of God, and so David poured it out to the Lord.

    Abishai (vv 18-19)

Abishai was related to David, along with his brothers Joab and Asahel. These men were the sons of David’s sister, Zeruiah (verse 18; see 1 Chronicles 2:16). He must have been an enigma to David, as a review of his role in the life of David reveals. On the one hand, Abishai was a great warrior and military leader. He was the one who volunteered to accompany David into Saul’s camp in what appeared to be a virtual suicide mission (1 Samuel 26:6-12). He commanded some of David’s forces in a campaign against the Syrians and Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:9-14). He led a third of David’s troops against Absalom’s rebels (2 Samuel 18:2). He was given command of David’s troops in order to quell Sheba’s rebellion (2 Samuel 20:6). Under Abishai, the Israelite army was able to kill 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt (cf. 1 Chronicles 18:12).

On the other hand, Abishai was a thorn in David’s flesh. When he and David came upon Saul in his camp, Abishai was eager to kill the king, God’s anointed (1 Samuel 26:6-8). He and his brother Joab were responsible for killing Abner, in retaliation for the death of their brother Asahel in battle at the hand of Abner (see 2 Samuel 3:26-30). Abishai and Joab also wanted to put Shimei to death for harassing David as he fled from Absalom, even though David was willing to pardon him (2 Samuel 16:5-14). When David was returning to Jerusalem and Shimei met him in repentance, Abishai was not satisfied. He urged David to let him kill Shimei because he had cursed the king (2 Samuel 19:16-23).

In spite of all of Abishai’s flaws, he was a mighty man of valor, whose courage and skill in war could not be denied. Abishai was given a prominent place in Israel’s military “hall of fame” because he was a mighty man of valor. Our text informs us that Abishai one time swung his spear against 300 men of the enemy’s army and killed them. Among the 30, Abishai ranked at the top, but he did not attain to the elite group of the “big three” (above).

    Benaiah, the Lion-hearted (vv 20-23)

I must confess, my favorite among David’s mighty men is Benaiah. This man is something else. He was the son of a valiant man, who had done mighty deeds himself (verse 20). Benaiah killed two sons of Ariel127 of Moab. In and of itself, this may not seem that impressive, but there’s more, much more. He also descended into a pit on a snowy day to kill a lion and succeeded! It may be that this “pit” was actually a cistern,128 and that the Israelite warriors could not get water from the cistern since the lion had fallen into it and now was unable to get out. Who wants to debate water rights with a lion? As important as water was to an army, Benaiah may have volunteered to go down into the cistern to bring the lion out, one way or the other. In spite of all the obstacles and difficulties, Benaiah succeeded.

But there is yet another incident which our author reports to show how great a hero Benaiah really was. A Goliath-sized Egyptian man confronted Benaiah on the battlefield. The problem for Benaiah was that he encountered this impressive fellow at a time when he had no weapons. The Egyptian had a spear like that of Goliath and was more than eager to do battle with Benaiah. Benaiah “went down” to the Egyptian, with only a club in his hand. David used this club to overpower the Egyptian warrior. Taking the Egyptian’s spear from his hand, Benaiah then proceeded to finish him off with his own weapon, not unlike the way David killed Goliath with his sword (1 Samuel 17:50-51).

The amazing thing about Benaiah is that he was the son of a levitical priest:

The third commander of the army for the third month was Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada the priest, as chief; and in his division were 24,000 (1 Chronicles 27:5).

We would not expect a levitical priest to take on lion-like men and real live lions. Here was a priest willing to dirty his hands and put his faith into practice. Perhaps it was as a reward for his faithful service that David put him in charge of his bodyguard, commanding the Cherethites and the Pelethites (2 Samuel 8:18; 20:23).

    A Long List of Heroes (vv 24-39)

The author concludes his fighters hall of fame by listing at least 30 men who were mighty men of war. He tells us that there were 37 in all, and yet the actual count is less. Part of this is probably because we don’t know how many “sons of Jashen” (verse 32) there were. Also, some of these men (like Uriah) had died and were replaced by others. If there was a kind of honor guard of 30 of the bravest and most heroic soldiers, the ranks would probably be filled by a new inductee when one of the group died.

The mention of Uriah is certainly of interest to us. Uriah was not just a draftee, but one of the elite warriors who fought for David and for Israel. It hardly seems possible that David did not know Uriah fairly well, and yet he was willing to take his wife, to deceive this war hero, and to use his loyalty and skill as a warrior as the means by which he would kill him.

We are not told any details about the heroism of this list of men in verses 24-39, but Bergen129 has pointed out some interesting facts about these men as a group. Perhaps all but twelve of these men were Judahites. At least three came from Benjamin. Another two came from Ephraim. One man may be from Dan, and another from the tribe of Gad. Three of the cities of origin are not mentioned elsewhere, and two are the name of more than one place. Three (including Uriah) were Gentiles. Once again we find Gentiles playing a part in God’s salvation of His people. It looks to me as though a number of those named here are men who joined David early in his public life, before he had become king and while he was fleeing from Saul.


As we come to the close of this chapter, we realize it is a part of the epilogue which serves as the conclusion to 1 and 2 Samuel. The author has been building up to the things he writes here, and they are an important part of what he (by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) is trying to communicate to his readers. What are some of the lessons ancient Israelites and contemporary Christians should learn? Let me suggest a few.

(1) The author is reminding us of the principle of plurality. Bergen makes the point that what God has done through David, He also accomplished through others:

“Yahweh the Warrior trained, strengthened, and gave victory on the battlefield to his anointed David, but he did not limit this treatment to David. Other soldiers of the covenant, such as Eleazar, could also experience this divine blessing.”130

There is a tendency to suppose that God limits Himself to one person, through whom He accomplishes much. In the New Testament, this “one man” mentality is thoroughly refuted. The church is the body of Christ, composed of those Jews and Gentiles who are “in Christ” through faith. Each member of the body has a unique function, which they carry out by means of their spiritual gift or gifts. No one should think of themselves as independent of the rest of the body (1 Corinthians 12:21-22), nor should anyone think of themselves as non-essential (1 Corinthians 12:14-19). The church is not ruled by one “pastor,” but by a plurality of elders (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

While many are willing to accept the plurality principle from New Testament times onward, some are still predisposed to think that the Old Testament was a “one-man show.” I would beg to differ. God divided responsibility for leading Israel among prophets, priests, and kings. He did not concentrate all power in one office or one man. Indeed, this is where Saul got himself into serious trouble, usurping Samuel’s role by refusing to wait for him, going ahead with the offering of the sacrifices (1 Samuel 13). It was also Elijah’s mistaken impression that “he alone was left,” when this was far from true (see 1 Kings 19). God works through a plurality of people to achieve His purposes. He is not restricted to one person, or even to a few.

(2) Courage, like cowardice, is contagious. Why when we read about Saul do we not find any mention of such “mighty men of valor”? As I read the account of Saul’s leadership over Israel, he was dependent upon mercenaries (1 Samuel 14:52). There do not seem to be groups similar to David’s “Three” and his “Thirty.” Why not? I would suggest that Saul lacked the “courage” of David and the ability to attract and inspire “mighty men of valor.” Saul’s father is said to have been such a man (1 Samuel 9:1), but I do not see this said of Saul himself. When Goliath mocked the people of Israel and their God, we do not see Saul stepping forward to silence him, nor do we find any of his followers willing to do so either. When Saul shrunk back from challenges, so did his men (see 1 Samuel 17:11, 24). Saul’s men seem more likely to desert than to stand tall (see 1 Samuel 13:5-7).

David was a man of courage. When a lion or a bear threatened his father’s flock, he refused to allow any losses. When Goliath blasphemed the name of God, David did battle with him and killed him. David constantly proved himself to be a man of courage. Is it any wonder he attracted like-minded men? The man who stood up to Goliath was surrounded with courageous men who would gladly take on Goliath’s descendants (see 2 Samuel 21:15-22). Courage inspires courage, and David was a man of courage. No wonder we find so many heroes among those closest to him.

The same is true today. Too often the people of God are intimidated by faint-hearted leaders, who are not willing to trust God and are frightened by any hint of opposition or adversity. What the church needs today, as always, is a company of “mighty men and women of valor,” through whom God will do great things, and through whom God will inspire others as well.

(3) Our text tells us a great deal about the measure of a great man or woman of God. Allow me to summarize some of the characteristics of the “mighty men of valor” apparent in our text.

Heroes are not just known by “body count.” It is true that in our text one of the measures of greatness is in terms of how many people the person killed. There are many other measures, as I will attempt to show, but let me begin by stressing that the “body count” method of measuring success is not very applicable to saints today. The Israelites of David’s day were constantly at war with their enemies, and success was measured by the number slain. Today, we are engaged in a “spiritual warfare,” which does not require us to kill our opponents. I sometimes wonder if some Christians have realized this.

Heroes emerge in times of crisis. The men who are honored in our text were not looking for fame; they simply refused to give in when things got tough. Difficult days challenge us to step up to the plate and to be counted among the “mighty men” of history.

Heroes emerge when others fear and fail. Notice that in several instances the mighty men of David (and of God) stood firm at the very time that others fled in fear. When the hearts of some are growing faint, the hearts of mighty men and women grow strong in faith and courage. Heroes are not afraid to stand alone, as David did before Goliath, and as his followers did also.

Heroes have been prepared and predisposed to their heroism by their way of life. I have previously emphasized that heroes emerge in times of crisis. This is true, but there is a preparation which has gone before this. Those who stand fast in times of crisis are those who have learned to trust and obey in the normal times of life. Heroism is there before the crisis arises, but it becomes evident in the time of crisis.

Heroes are not frightened by the odds which appear stacked against them. Put differently, heroes are willing to live dangerously and to trust God by assuming certain risks. Jonathan was a “mighty man,” and it is no wonder that he was so fond of David. When Saul and his men were faint of heart, frightened by the large number of Philistines who opposed them, Jonathan went in pursuit of the enemy with these words, “Then Jonathan said to the young man who was carrying his armor, ‘Come and let us cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; perhaps the LORD will work for us, for the LORD is not restrained to save by many or by few’” (1 Samuel 14:6). David’s mighty men were not as impressed with statistics as they were with standing firm, trusting in God for the victory.

Heroes are willing to die, if need be. The heroes of the Bible were men who trusted in God. These men (and women) were not afraid to die because their faith was directed God-ward and toward the heavenly kingdom (see Hebrews 11). A man who is afraid of death is not one who is willing to live dangerously and to take risks.

Heroes work and train very hard, but in the end they look to God for the victory. In each of these cases of heroism, the men themselves are commended. They stood fast when others fled. They took the initiative when the need was apparent. And for their courage and skill, they are praised. On the other hand, it was not just because of their skill or courage that the battle was won. The victories these men won were humanly impossible. The author makes it very clear that in the final analysis, it is God who gave the victory.

Heroes take their duties and responsibilities seriously. As soldiers, these men were required to stand their ground and fight, and fight they did. Even when others fled, they stood fast. There is a strong sense of commitment to duty evident in these “mighty men.”

Heroes go above and beyond the call of duty, out of faith, loyalty, and love. The best illustration of this is the act of David’s three men, who fetched him a drink from the well at Bethlehem. David did not command them to get him a drink. If he had done so and they had obeyed, it would have been their duty. But David merely uttered a wish, and for them, his wish was their command. They risked their lives, fought their way to the well and back, all out of loyalty and love for David. True heroes seek to do that which pleases those in authority over them; they are not only compelled by their duty, but also by their desire to please the one they serve.

Heroes emerge where heroism is modeled, valued, and rewarded. Why does our author tell us about the “Three” and the “Thirty”? I believe it is partly because heroism was esteemed and these men were thought worthy of praise and commendation. David modeled courage in his own personal life, he valued and rewarded it in those around him. It is little wonder that heroes emerged in such an atmosphere, or that it did not in other times (like those of Saul).

Heroes are those who have the courage to identify themselves with God’s anointed. I am reminded that these “mighty men” are David’s “mighty men.” These are men who stood with David and for David, not just when the going was easy and when it was the popular thing to do, but when the going got tough, and standing with David put one in harm’s way. In the Book of Hebrews, it seems to me that one of the ways saints showed themselves to be heroes was to identify with Christ and with His church when it was dangerous to do so (see Hebrews 10:32-34; 13:1-3).

These are days when heroism may well be required. It is no longer popular (or safe) to be known as a Christian. There is, in my opinion, no “moral majority,” who will applaud Christians for their faith and obedience to the Word of God. We may well find some professing Christians fainting when times get tough. We may have to stand alone, at work, at school, even in the family.

David was a hero, a “mighty man of valor,” as were the men named in our text. But let us remember the greatest “hero” who ever lived – our Lord Jesus Christ:

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:1-3).

18 Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good and gentle, but also to those who are unreasonable. 19 For this finds favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God. 21 For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, 22 WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; 23 and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 and He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. 25 For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls (1 Peter 2:18-25).

It is He who is the source of our courage and faith:

5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I WILL NEVER DESERT YOU, NOR WILL I EVER FORSAKE YOU,” 6 so that we confidently say, “THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

I am not so sure heroism is so readily apparent today, not because there are any fewer heroes, but because true acts of heroism may not be so self-evident as a great pile of bodies would have been in David’s day. It may well be that the greater members of the body of our Lord (the church) are those who are hardly visible, while those in the spotlight may not be as important as we (or, worse yet, “they”) think (see 1 Corinthians 12:21-25). As I understand the Bible, there will come the time when every Christian will stand before the throne of God, and all our thoughts and deeds will be judged. What a joy and privilege it would be to have Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

117 “There is, however, a more prosaic but no less vital element in David’s ‘last words’. And it is the fact that these words represent in part David’s preparation for his own death. Here is where David’s experience touches ours. To be sure, he stood in the stream of redemptive history that led to the advent of the Lord Jesus Christ. His role was unique in the unfolding of God’s purposes. But his uniqueness does not obliterate the fact that he was like every other child of God, in that he lived and died. If anything, his role as the Lord’s anointed king and the sweet psalmist of Israel lifts him up as a model and exemplar as to how each child of God ought to prepare for death . . . ‘When we find death approaching,’ says Matthew Henry, ‘we should endeavour both to honour God and edify those about us with our last words. Let those that have had long experience of God’s goodness and the pleasantness of wisdom . . . leave a record of that experience and bear their testimony to the truth of the promise.’ . . . It is in the face of death that a living faith in (continued) Jesus Christ shines most . . . brightly in the depths of the Christian’s being.” Gordon J. Keddie, Triumph of the King: The Message of 2 Samuel (Durham, England: Evangelical Press, 1990), pp. 230-231.

118 “Matthew Henry aptly describes this as ‘the last will and testament of King David’. R. P. Gordon calls it ‘his enduring legacy to Israel’ and notes that it conveys ‘both the vitality of the dynastic hope and the idealizing of the Davidic king in inchoately messianic terms’. It reminds us, observes Peter Ackroyd, ‘of the last words of blessing pronounced by Jacob on his sons, as representatives of the tribes (Gen. 49), and . . . that of Moses (Deut. 33)’.” Gordon J. Keddie, p. 230.

119 Keddie concisely sums up the message of David’s psalm in verses 2-7: “The thought of David’s poem begins with the proofs of God’s blessings throughout his life, even to the threshold of eternity (23:1-4), goes on to state the promises of future blessing in terms of God’s everlasting covenant (23:5) and concludes with an implicit charge to prepare to meet the Lord who, while he keeps mercy for thousands and forgives ‘wickedness, rebellion and sin,’ will not ‘leave the guilty unpunished’ (Exodus 34:7).” Keddie, p. 231.

120 “This verse [5] is not the easiest to translate and it is possible that the last clause may refer, not to David’s ‘every desire’, but to the good pleasure of God.” (Keddie, pp. 234-235).

121 David’s last words to Solomon seem to be recorded in 1 Kings 2:2-9.

122 “In ordered in all things and secure we may have a legal phrase roughly comparable with the English ‘signed and sealed’’ the verb translated ordered . . . has a legal connotation in a few other passages (Jb. 13:18; 23:4; Ps. 50:21). Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Regency Reference Library, 1996), p. 311.

123 “The Targum of Jonathan interpreted this section as a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Jesus also seems to have understood this passage as messianic; his comparison of himself to ‘light’ (John 8:12; 9:5; cf. V. 4) and his prophetic parable comparing the wicked to weeds to be burned (Matt 13:30, 40; cf. V. 7) suggests that he was drawing upon images derived from this passage.” Robert D. Bergen, The New American Commentary: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture, NIV Text: 1, 2 Samuel (Broadman and Holman Publishers, 1996), p. 464.

124 “The three were honoured above the rest, and named in order of precedence. The name of the first is given in a variant form in 1 Chronicles 11:11, and is different again in the LXX; the remainder of verse 8 is also problematic (cf. RSV, mg., NIV, mg.).” Joyce G. Baldwin, 1 & 2 Samuel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), p. 292.

“1 Chr 11:11 states that Jashobeam the Tahkemonite, apparently the Chronicler’s name for Josheb-Basshebeth the Hacmonite, killed three hundred men. Assuming that both names refer to the same person, the existence of a copyist’s error becomes evident. However, it is impossible at this point to determine whether the reading in Samuel or Chronicles preserves the accurate figure.” Bergen, p. 469, fn. 47.

125 “Knowing what was involved in their acquisition of the liquid, David did something that initially appears to be absurd or insulting: he ‘refused to drink it.’ The gift of water acquired at such great peril represented something so precious that David considered himself unworthy to drink it.” Bergen, p. 470.

126 We recall that it was not always this way, as seen in David’s actions with Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah.

127 Gordon writes, “ariels is a despairing transliteration of the Hebrew word which may tentatively be rendered ‘champions’ (NEB; cf. NIV ‘best men’). Compare the treatment of MT ‘erellam (Is. 33:7) in the modern versions. In Ezekiel 43:15f. the word appears to mean ‘altar-hearth’ (cf. Is. 29:2, and possibly also 1. 12 of the Moabite Inscription). AV, relating the ‘ari element to the Hebrew for ‘lion’, translates by ‘two lionlike men’ (‘two lions like men’ in one earlier edition!).” Gordon, p. 313.

Personally, I am inclined to see at least a wordplay taking place here, because the Hebrew word for “lion” is very similar to the word transliterated “Ariel.” Thus, the translators of the KJV and the NKJV render ‘Ariel’ “lion-like.” A man who will take on two lion-like opponents will also take on a lion.

128 “A unique display of courage on his part – one to which David could somewhat relate (cf. 1 Sam 17:34-36 – involved going ‘down into a cistern [NIV, ‘pit’] on a snowy day’ and killing ‘a lion’; apparently this wild animal had accidentally fallen into an underground tank used for collecting and storing drinking water.” Bergen, p. 471.

129 Bergen, p. 472.

130 Bergen, p. 469.

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22. Neiman Marcus Military, Kmart Christianity? (2 Samuel 24)

David Comes to His Census131


In the early years of our church, we did not have a church office. For that matter, we didn’t yet have a church building (we met first in an elementary school and then at a North Dallas hotel). For this and other reasons, my office was in a commercial executive suite. I had a small office, and a young woman who owned a secretarial service was stationed in a small lobby outside, where she made her living typing and copying for those who rented office space nearby. One day this young woman stopped me as I passed by her desk to tell me that one of the other tenants had spoken to her about her rates. He convinced her that since his was a “Christian ministry” he should get a discount. She told me that since she was giving his ministry a discount, she believed it was only fair to give our church the same discount.

I did not feel comfortable about this offer and told her I would like to think about it and discuss it with the elders of our church. We discussed the matter and concluded that it was not her obligation or responsibility to subsidize our church by reducing her income. So I went back to her and informed her that we wanted to be charged the normal rate, explaining that we did not believe she should sacrifice her income to support our church when she was not a member.

In our text, David has a golden opportunity for what I would call a “Kmart ministry.” God has instructed David through the prophet (or “seer”), Gad, to erect an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah. To do this, he would need to purchase this property. When David approached Araunah and told him he needed his property so he could build an altar and offer sacrifices to God, Araunah offered to give him this property, the two oxen he was using, and the threshing sledges drawn by the oxen. In other words, Araunah offered David everything he needed to offer a sacrifice to God free of charge. What a bargain! One would think David would be ecstatic. He could worship God at no charge, at Araunah’s expense. David refused. We will seek to learn to why, and the implications of David’s refusal for us.

It is obvious that 2 Samuel 24 is the concluding chapter of 1 and 2 Samuel (you will remember that 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew Old Testament). Here, the author is drawing the book to a close. He is making his final points as we come to the climax of the book. There are many lessons for us to learn here, so let us listen well, and look to the Spirit of God to make these lessons clear to us, as well as to work in and through us as He wills.

David Gets His Way

1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” 4 Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to register the people of Israel. 5 They crossed the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad and toward Jazer. 6 Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim-hodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon, 7 and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, to Beersheba. 8 So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9 And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.

For some reason not indicated to us, God was very angry with Israel. Our text literally says that God’s nose burned. God was “hot” over Israel’s sin. All too often in the Old Testament, this expression of divine anger is employed.133 In each case, it is a serious sin that inflamed the righteous anger of God. Once again, God is angry with Israel, and He is determined to divinely discipline this stiff-necked people. He does so by utilizing David’s sin. Somehow David’s sin brings both guilt and punishment on the people. In focusing our attention on David and his sin, let us not forget that this incident takes place because of Israel’s sin.

Divinely incited,134 David decides to number the fighting men of Israel and Judah. Numbering is not necessarily wrong. Moses numbered the fighting men of Israel in preparation for battle (Numbers 1:1-4). Moses also numbered the Kohathites (Numbers 4:2) and the Gershonites (Numbers 4:22) for priestly service. Saul numbered the Israelites to defend the people of Jabesh-gilead by fighting the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:8). David numbered those loyal to him in preparation for defending himself against an attack by his son, Absalom (2 Samuel 18:1).135 In none of these cases was numbering wrong.

It should be pointed out that the census which David required here does not appear to be a mere numbering of the Israelite warriors, a simple matter of counting heads. This census took nearly ten months to complete, and somehow it required the participation of the military commanders themselves. My understanding is that when the soldiers were numbered, they were also ranked. In other words, numbering the soldiers involved ordering and ranking them, so that they would be ready to fight.

We do see a word of warning related to numbering in the Book of Exodus:

12 “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13 “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. 14 “Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. 15 “The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. 16 “You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves” (Exodus 30:12-16).

It is clear from this text that there is something less than pious about having to number the military. It is an evil for which atonement must be made, and if it is not, a plague will come upon the nation.

I have agonized a great deal over this text, especially over what was so wrong with numbering the Israelites. It seems as though no reason is clearly given. Then I reflected on the fact that if no reason was given for God’s displeasure over this act of David’s, neither was there any explanation of David’s reasons for doing so. In virtually every other circumstance where some group was numbered, there was a very obvious reason for doing so. When soldiers were numbered, it was in preparation for battle. But we are not told of any battle in or near our text. It would seem that David’s only reason for numbering his men was to satisfy his own curiosity and to puff up his pride. David seems to be overly interested in his might, his ability to fight. He seems to have lost a sense of dependence on God. He may have been a great deal like King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, overly impressed with himself, his power, and his position.

There is a “feel” to this text which reminds me of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Numbering Israel seems to produce a “knowledge” that David was forbidden to have, a knowledge of his greatness and military strength (compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He wanted to “see” his strength and power, and even though forbidden, it was what his heart desired.

While we may puzzle over the “sinfulness” of such an act, it did not seem to be such a difficult thing to recognize for David’s servants who led the armed forces. Joab (verse 3; cf. also 1 Chronicles 21:6) and the commanders of the army (verse 4) were opposed to numbering the fighting men of the nation. Even David was eventually conscience-stricken (verse 10), without the prophet Gad having to first confront or rebuke him (as Nathan had to do with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah – 2 Samuel 12). Numbering the fighting men of the nation was wrong, and no one in that day seemed to have a problem recognizing it.

Joab protested as strongly as he dared, without jeopardizing his safety and status. Nevertheless, David overruled him and the other commanders, insisting that a census be taken. Reluctantly and half-heartedly (see 1 Chronicles 21:6), Joab went about this abhorrent task. It was indeed a major undertaking. They crossed the Jordan, proceeded north, then west, and then southward, traveling about the nation in a counter-clockwise direction. When the mission was completed, the numbers were given to David. There were 800,000 valiant warriors in Israel and 500,000 seasoned fighters in Judah (verse 9).136

David Comes to His Census

10 Now David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” 11 When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, 12 “Go and speak to David, 'Thus the LORD says, “I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.””' 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider and see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:10-14).

Without having to be rebuked, David recognizes his sin in numbering the fighting men of the nation. Having been smitten in his heart, David repents. He confesses how great his sin has been and acknowledges the foolishness of his actions (verse 10). This sense of guilt and his confession seems to have taken place during the night because when he awoke, the prophet137 Gad came to him with a word from the LORD. There was no debate or discussion about whether or not David had sinned. That was a given. The only matter to be decided was what punishment David would choose. David was given three options, all mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, as punishment for Israel’s failure to keep their covenant with God.138

David’s choices include a difference in the length of the penalty: three years of famine,139 three months of fleeing before their enemies, or three days of pestilence at the hand of God. David chooses the third option, not because it is the shortest time of suffering, but because it is God who administers this punishment more directly. David would rather suffer at the hand of God than at the hand of men.

Why is this? Why would David rather suffer at the hand of a holy and righteous God than at the hand of men? I believe it is because David knows that he will not suffer the wrath of God as an unbeliever, but as a son. The wrath is a terrifying thought:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15).

David does not need to fear the wrath of God that falls upon an unbeliever. The discipline that he will experience should not and will not be taken lightly, but it is the discipline of a loving father, discipline meant to draw David near to Him:

7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:7-13).

Paradoxical as it seems, the God who is holy and righteous is also the God who is merciful and kind:

6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).

It is upon that kindness that David casts himself in our text. He knows that he is guilty before God and deserves to suffer at His hand. But he also knows that the hand of God is kinder than the hand of men. Think of this for a moment. David not only trusts in God for his salvation and for deliverance from his enemies, but for His chastening. There is no area of our lives that we should entrust to men instead of God.

Calamity and Compassion

15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand towar