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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker

2 Samuel 23

 

 

Verses 1-39

Poetry At Life"s End

2 Samuel 22 , 2 Samuel 23

THE twenty-second chapter, although marked by quite a number of slight changes, is identical with Psalm xviii. The fifty-first verse shows that this song must have been composed after the visit of Nathan, at which David received the promise of the perpetuity of his kingdom. As this psalm will be treated in its proper place in the psalter we propose to pass over it here, and proceed at once to the twenty-third chapter. In doing so it must be carefully noted that no attention is to be paid to the chronology of David"s life as indicated by the sequence of the chapters in the second Book of Samuel. The best collation of sequences which we have been able to find runs somewhat as follows:—

Absalom"s vengeance and flight

2 Samuel 13:22-38.

The three years of famine

2 Samuel 21:1-14.

The census and the pestilence

2 Samuel 24

Absalom"s preparations

2 Samuel 15:1-6.

The Insurrection

2 Samuel 15:7-12.

Then would follow David leaving Jerusalem; the sending back of Hushai; the falsehood of Ziba; the insulting action of Shimei; Absalom in Jerusalem; Ahithophel"s suicide; the crossing of the Jordan by David; Absalom"s defeat and death; David"s grief for Absalom; David brought back to Jerusalem; Sheba"s rebellion; the death of Amasa, and the quelling of the revolt.

The twenty-third chapter opens with "the last words of David," wherein his poetic inspiration flashes out, and he proves that his last words are for profound thought and ripened wisdom equal to the fire and passion of his first sublime utterances. The words may be set out in a striking appeal to the eye thus:—

Absalom"s vengeance and flight

2 Samuel 13:22-38

The three years of famine

2 Samuel 21:1-14

The census and the pestilence

2 Samuel 24

Absalom"s preparations

2 Samuel 15:1-6

The Insurrection

2 Samuel 15:7-12

Then would follow David leaving Jerusalem; the sending back of Hushai; the falsehood of Ziba; the insulting action of Shimei; Absalom in Jerusalem; Ahithophel"s suicide; the crossing of the Jordan by David; Absalom"s defeat and death; David"s grief for Absalom; David brought back to Jerusalem; Sheba"s rebellion; the death of Amasa, and the quelling of the revolt.

The twenty-third chapter opens with "the last words of David," wherein his poetic inspiration flashes out, and he proves that his last words are for profound thought and ripened wisdom equal to the fire and passion of his first sublime utterances. The words may be set out in a striking appeal to the eye thus:—

It has well been observed that the blessedness of just government and the inevitable and unchangeable misery of weakness have probably never been more vividly represented in language. Underneath all the poetry lies complete faith in the assurance of Nathan that David"s house was established with God for ever. This assurance constituted to him a kind of Messiah in promise; it was indeed the form in which he saw the great deliverer and King of Israel, and so he lived by faith in the Coming One, who was the restorer of the breach. In the authorised version David is called "the sweet psalmist of Israel,"—literally, he that is pleasant in Israel"s psalms. David does not hesitate to claim personal inspiration in the composition of his loftiest songs. In the second verse he says, "The spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue." In the fourth verse we meet with the expression. "A morning without clouds,"—a description of the blessings of an ideally perfect government. David well knew that the ruler of God"s people must be just, and that the highest blessings would flow from a government originated and sustained by God and breathing the spirit of his holiness and justice. The following has been submitted as a clear translation of the whole imagery: "And as the light of the morning, when the sun ariseth, a morning without clouds; as by means of sunlight and by means of rain the tender grass grows from the earth:—is not my house so with God?" The fifth verse is admittedly difficult of translation. Not a few modern commentators take the clauses interrogatively: "Is not my house thus with God? For he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all, and sure: for all my salvation, and all my desire, shall he not cause it to spring forth?" The covenant is represented as being "ordered in all," the idea being that it is formed on the pattern of a carefully-detailed legal document providing for any contingencies, and so explicitly worded as to prevent any misconstruction. "The sons of Belial" referred to in the sixth verse, is not in the common form, but may be represented in an abstract form as equivalent to worthlessness. David"s meaning is that when divine righteousness is established, not only will it take to itself all that is of kindred nature, but it will reject and utterly cast out all that is evil. David teaches that although wicked people injure and debase all with which and with whom they come in contact, yet God will provide means for their utter extinction. A beautiful picture of the equipment of a destroyer of evil is given in the seventh verse:—"But the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear." The meaning is that the thorns are to be handled with an iron hook at the end of a spear-staff. Men are not to venture to take hold of some things with their own hands: they are to use the implements which have been provided by a gracious providence.

Some of the remaining points of interest in the twenty-third chapter are such as these,—namely, that some of David"s men were famous in the highest degree for devotion to his person and his cause. The names of the mighty men whom David had were:—Adino the Eznite; Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite; and after him Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. It has been noted that no mention is made of Joab amongst the mighties who surrounded David, some accounting for the absence of the name by the supreme wickedness of that great captain, and others more graciously suggesting that as Joab was commander-in-chief he stood in a rank by himself. Can a finer picture of devotion be found than is supplied by these three men? One of them is said to have smitten the Philistines "until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword" ( 2 Samuel 23:10). There are well-authenticated instances of cramp following excessive exertion, so much so that the soldier"s hand could only be released from the sword by external force. When the people are described, in the tenth verse, as returning after David, it should be noted that the grammar does not imply that they had at any time deserted him but only that they turned wherever David himself went to gather up the spoil of the men whom he slew, as gleaners always return after the reapers. In his distress David, being confined in a hold, "longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!" ( 2 Samuel 23:15). There are times when memory goes back to the earliest scenes of life, when only old faiths, old habits, old pastors, old friends, can really minister to the hunger and thirst of the life. The old man is said to live more in his early years than in the times which are passing around him. What is true in general life is significantly and profoundly true in religious experiences: we become dissatisfied with the new, the modern, the last invention, and go back to old times, that we may rest in the house of our youth, and pray at the altar which we built at the first. Any good water would have quenched the thirst of David, but in the moment of his agony he longed for water from the well of Bethlehem. Even a little touch of superstition, when found in connection with a really grave and solid character, does not diminish the pathos and moral sublimity of a scene like this. Any Bible may do for us in which to read our lesson, but there may be times in life when the Bible used by a mother, a teacher, a pastor,—a Bible with whose very appearance we are familiar, may seem to bring with it helps which do not attach to the ordinary publications of the word. It may be a sign of strength, and even robustness of mind, to assume independence of all such associations and accessories, but I could not advise the cultivation of such apparent independence, for in its essence it is but flippancy and vainglory. It is comforting, too, to think that a time will come when advantages which are now but little thought of will be seen in all the fulness of their worth, and be inquired for with anxious love. Herein let all good men take heart; at present they may be despised and rejected, but the time will come when they will be remembered, when their names will be repeated with affection, and when their instruction will be sought after with the eagerness of hunger.

Keeping strictly to the local incident, we cannot but see how worthily the three mighty men deserved their fame. They were not merely ornamental personages in the army or in the court Looking at them in what in our own day we should call their honours, their badges, their medals, or their other decorations, one might wonder how they came to be so signalised. Our wonder is more than satisfied by the deeds which they are reported to have accomplished. If we could for a moment doubt as to the justice of their fame, it would be removed when we read such words as these,—

"And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David" ( 2 Samuel 23:16).

Now we know that they were worthy of their fame. They were men of daring, men of the highest valour, men whose spirit was subdued and ennobled by supreme loyalty and consecration. May we not apply the same test to our own standing and quality as professors of the Christian name? David"s Lord is continually expressing desires: what are we doing to prove that we are willing to bring them to a happy consummation? He desires that his word may be spread abroad to the ends of the earth: who rushes through the hosts of darkness and bears the sacred message to those who are afar off? He desires that his Church should be fairest among all the objects seen of men: who is valiant enough to defy the enemy, to drive away the devastator, and to protect the garden of the Lord from incursion and profanation? Christ desires that the poor should be fed, the ignorant taught, the oppressed delivered, the heart-broken comforted: who has strength enough of mind, and pureness enough of consecration, to abandon all the charms of earthly vanity and glory, and give himself wholly to the cause of humanity as represented in the Son of man? There is a fame not worth having—a fame of mere words, a noise of popularity, a fickle wind that follows men only so long as they are content to be driven by it. Let our fame be established upon our capacity, service, and beneficence, and it will be an imperishable renown.

The character of David is beautifully brought out by the answer which he made to the enthusiasm of his three mighty servants:—

"Nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the Lord. And he said, Be it far from me, O Lord, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it" ( 2 Samuel 23:16-17).

Now we come to men who were famous for secondary service. For example, there was Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, who led another band and was chief among three; so strong a man was he that he lifted up his spear against three hundred and slew them. Being the most honourable of the triad to which he belonged he was appointed captain: "howbeit he attained not unto the first three." Then there was "Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant Prayer of Manasseh , of Kabzeel, who had done many Acts , he slew two lion-like men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow: and he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian"s hand, and slew him with his own spear" ( 2 Samuel 23:20-21). But even Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, who was "more honourable than the thirty" "attained not to the first three." Then there was Asahel the brother of Joab; following him, Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem; Shammah the Hararite, probably the same with Shamhuth the Izrahite, captain of the fifth division of the army ( 1 Chronicles 27:8); then Helez, and Ira; and a glittering list of other noble and mighty men. But still the "first three" stood alone in their primacy, rejoicing in honours which other men might not share. What, then, are men to be discontented because they cannot attain the rank of the "first three"? Here comes the great Christian lesson, that men are to stand in whatever circumstances God has appointed for them, to use their powers according to the opportunities which providence has created. We fritter away our strength, and disqualify ourselves for the work even which we might do, if we envy others and repine because of their exaltation. The true view is that which enables us to regard the first three as part of ourselves. The hand must not say to the foot, I have no need of thee; the eye cannot dispense with the ear, nor can the ear dispense with the eye. We are many members, but one body: some honourable, some less honourable; some comely, others unlovely; but the body is one, and is crowned by Christ as the head. Why should mathematicians begrudge poets their honours? Why should they who can only walk refuse to use their feet because they see others who can fly in the open firmament? God hath set everything in order as it hath pleased him; and we can only grow in faculty as we restrain all envy and uncharitableness, and devote ourselves to such tasks as we are able to accomplish. Even in the economy established by our Lord himself, we find the first three, Peter, James , and John; and after them we find men more or less secondary and obscure. But Jesus Christ has contempt for none of his followers. He ever puts in a word for the "least of these my brethren." He will not even have a "little one" destroyed. He teaches us that every child has its angel in heaven, steadfastly looking on the face of the Father. He will have the fragments gathered up that nothing be lost. He is the Shepherd who cannot rest while one of his sheep is straying in the wilderness. This being the case, we may be assured that when he sets three men high above all others in his apostolate he has his reason for doing Song of Solomon , and that his reason is consistent with his benevolence towards all the members of his kingdom. What if all were famous? What if all soldiers were generals? What if all generals were commanders-in-chief? In one of his most vivid parables Jesus Christ represents the king as giving to his servants according to their several ability: to one five talents, to another two talents, and to a third one talent. To have one talent is to have fame enough for any creature. The very least of us will find that in the cultivation of his one talent he has work enough to task all his efforts and to absorb all his time. Let us not envy one another, or boast ourselves over other men: for if we have much, much will be required of us: according to our resources will be our responsibilities. There is one comfort which every man may take who is serving Christ: looking abroad, he may see great worldly prosperity, great political fame, great pecuniary wealth, great social clat, all of them dissociated from Christian principle and sacrifice; his honour consists in the reflection that he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than the greatest who are not within the circle of its glory.

Selected Note

Henry IV, Part II, act iv, sc. I.


 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/2-samuel-23.html. 1885-95.

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