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.
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?