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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 11

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

SECTION 6. David And His House Are Established And He Is Promised That His Kingship Through His Seed Will Be For Ever (2.5.6-10.19).

In this section we will see how David’s rule is established far and wide as the nations come in submission to him, some voluntarily, others as a result of being overcome. It covers the whole of his reign in a series of vignettes which demonstrate his widespread glory, and builds up to YHWH’s promise that the kingship of his house will last for ever. But their order is not chronological, but topical. They are a depiction of David’s growing greatness and power, leading up to the guarantee that the kingship of his house will last for ever, and a description of the defeat of his most powerful enemies. Thus:

  • 1). David initially purified Israel. He removed the one remaining specifically Canaanite bastion which was situated right in the middle of his kingdom, thus making clear the triumph of Yahwism, and the fact of the purifying of the land. At the same time he replaced the idolatrous king-priest of Jerusalem by establishing himself as YHWH’s priest-king over Jerusalem. He would see this as what Mechi-zedek had been before him when he had been ‘the priest of the Most High God’ who had ministered to Abraham. The idea was therefore based on a hallowed tradition (see Genesis 14.18-20). Like Judah previously (Judges 1.7) David had already shown his reverence for Jerusalem when he had brought the head of Goliath there (1 Samuel 17.54). This would either have been because he was patterning his behaviour on that of Abraham who had paid tithes to Jerusalem after his victory (Genesis 14.18-20) or because the tradition had grown up that saw Jerusalem as having been built on the mountains of Moriah, where Abraham had offered up Isaac (see 2 Chronicles 3.1). This reception of an ancient, traditionally respectable, priesthood would add a new religious dimension to his reign. Now David could be seen as lord over the whole land and as the nation’s intercessory priest, with the priests and Levites fulfilling their duties in accordance with the Law subject to his priestly control as priest of the Most High God (see 1 Chronicles 9.10-34; 15.16-24), something which he took advantage of in setting up the worship at the Tabernacle and Tent of Meeting (e.g. 1 Chronicles 9.23; 15.16).
  • 2). David’s Kingship was seen as established because he dwelt in a house of cedar. David’s palace was built for him by the ‘princes’ of palace building, the Tyrians, in a clear act of treaty friendship from the greatest maritime nation in the world, which was thereby demonstrating its respect for David. Like the greatest of kings David now dwelt in a house of cedar. YHWH had upraised him so that he might join them in their glory. But we should recognise that this is symbolically preparatory for the even better ‘house’ that YHWH has destined for David (chapter 7).
  • 3). David produced a prolific number of sons and daughters. This was something seen in those days as very necessary to a great king, and as demonstrating the blessing of YHWH. David thus had a quiver full of children demonstrating that he was blessed by God (Psalm 127.5).
  • 4). David triumphed over the Philistines twice, driving them back and routing them, while at the same time seizing their gods which he himself takes possession of (and burns), thus demonstrating to all the superiority of YHWH. It fully avenges the time when the Philistines had previously seized the Ark of God, and had publicly displayed it (1 Samuel 5-7). Now David was again the Smiter of the Philistines.
  • 5). Having taken Jerusalem David brought the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH, the Ark of The Name of Him Who sits between the Cherubim, into Jerusalem and established it in its own special Tent as an indication that from now on this was to be where YHWH symbolically dwelt and ruled, making Jerusalem YHWH’s royal city with David as His intercessory priest-king. David was thus revealed as YHWH’s triumphant War-leader and Prince who by YHWH’s power had established YHWH as King in Jerusalem.
  • 6). The house of Saul loses its final opportunity of participating in the blessing as a result of Michal’s barrenness resulting from her attitude towards David’s worship of YHWH.
  • 7). David’s ‘House’ (his dynasty) was to be established for ever in its place in the purposes of God, something which will culminate in the everlasting king over the everlasting kingdom (e.g. Genesis 49.10-12; 1 Samuel 2.10; Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; Ezekiel 37.25; Daniel 7.13-14; Psalm 2.7-12). The reign of David’s house was thus to be everlasting.
  • 8). David exercises his priestly ministry in a prayer of thanksgiving to YHWH.
  • 9). Through the help and power of YHWH David triumphs over all who oppose him bringing wealth into the Tabernacle and greatness to his name.
  • 10). David’s sons themselves become priests.
  • 11). David fulfils his promise to Jonathan and establishes his son both in his ancestral lands and at the royal court, thus showing favour to the house of Saul for Jonathan’s sake as he had promised. In contrast with Michal Mephibosheth has a son, demonstrating YHWH’s compassion on what remains of the house of Saul.
  • 12). David defeats the greatest current threat to Israel by defeating the Aramaean Empires and rendering their kings harmless.

It must be noted that underlying what is described here, and indeed underlying the whole Davidic narrative, are the words, ‘And the Spirit of YHWH came on David from that day forward’ (1 Samuel 16.13). That was the reason why David was so continually successful and what enabled him to glorify YHWH in all aspects of life. (And it was that same Spirit Who would later empower the everlasting King).

We can thus analyse this Section as follows:

Analysis.

  • a David Reacts To Taunts And Captures Jerusalem Thus Purifying And Uniting The Land (5.6-10).
  • b Hiram Builds David A House Of Cedar Which Demonstrates the Establishment Of His House And Kingship On Behalf Of God’s People (5.11-12).
  • c David Bears Many Sons (5.13-16).
  • d David Utterly Defeats The Philistines Releasing Their Grip For Ever On Israel (5.17-25).
  • e David Brings The Ark Of God Containing the Covenant Into Jerusalem With Rejoicing Expressing His Love For And Dedication To YHWH (6.1-19).
  • f Michal Expresses Her Disgust At David’s Behaviour Resulting In The Barrenness Of The House Of Saul (6.20-23).
  • g David Wishes To Build A House Of Cedar For YHWH And Learns That YHWH Is Above Houses Of Cedar (7.1-7).
  • f The House Of David Is To Be Fruitful Result In An Everlasting Kingship (7.8-17).
  • e David’s Prayer Expresses His Gratitude To YHWH For All His Goodness (7.18-19).
  • d David Utterly Defeats All His Enemies Round About Freeing Israel From The Threat Of Invasion (8.1-15).
  • c David’s Sons Become ‘Priests’ (8.16-18).
  • b David Establishes The House Of Saul By Receiving Jonathan’s Son At Court and Giving Him Back His Ancestral Lands (9.1-13).
  • a David Reacts To Taunts And Defeats The Greater Powers Who Threaten His Borders Thus Establishing The Land (10.1-19).

David Captures The Jebusite Fortress At Jerusalem In Order To Deliver It From The Inhabitants Of The Land And So That He Can Make It His Capital City And Stronghold (5.6-10).

Note how it is stressed that the main reason for David’s venture against Jerusalem was because it was inhabited by ‘the inhabitants of the land’, in other words the Canaanites. His initial purpose was thus in order to purify the land in accordance with YHWH’s commands which had forbidden making a covenant with them (Exodus 23.31; 34.12, 15; Numbers 33.15, 52, 53, 55). Not for David the compromise of allowing them to stay there as an eyesore to YHWH.

A secondary purpose, however, was almost certainly because, now that David was king of both Israel and Judah it was important that he establish a capital city that would be acceptable to both. Hebron, his present capital, was central for Judah, but was very much a city of Judah, and that fact alone could have caused dissension among the other tribes once David’s ‘honeymoon’ period was over. But equally no prominent city among the northern tribes would have been remotely acceptable to Judah. It was indicative of his tact and wisdom that he therefore eyed up Jerusalem, which was on the borders of Judah and Benjamin with a view to making it his capital city. It had a number of things in its favour:

  • 1). It was a cosmopolitan city, including both a Judean section and a Benjaminite section, while its main fortress had always been inhabited by a people who were not identified with any tribe. It had thus never been specifically identified with one particular tribe.
  • 2). It was on the borders of both Judah and Benjamin.
  • 3). It was fairly central and yet was in a good defensible position.
  • 4). It had ancient validation in that in the ancient and sacred past Abraham, the father of Israel, had paid tithes to its king, who had been a priest of the Most High God (El Elyon).

Furthermore, knowing David’s hatred of anything or anyone responsible for bringing YHWH’s Name into disrepute by defying the living God (1 Samuel 17.26, 36, 45) it must be seen as quite probable that the presence of such an independent Jebusite city had been gnawing at his heart for some time, even though it was something that he had been unable to do anything about while lower Jerusalem was split between Benjamin and Judah, and his kingship had not been recognised by Israel. Now, however, that he was king over both, and Jerusalem was right in the centre of his kingdom, its anomalous situation must have become wholly unacceptable to him. Here was a city which defied YHWH, and did so boastfully and openly, and yet sat proudly in the middle of his kingdom. He would feel that he could not allow it to remains so. So as we have seen this was certainly very much in mind as well.

Jerusalem, which as we have pointed out was on the border of Judah and Benjamin, and was called Urusalim in the Amarna tablets, was fairly widely spread out, being built on a number of closely related hills. The king of Jerusalem and his forces had at one time been defeated by Joshua (Joshua 10), but it does not say there that he had besieged Jerusalem and taken it. That was firstly no doubt because it was not situated in the line of the conquests that followed Joshua’s victory, as he swept through the Shephelah clearing the way for Israel’s occupation, and perhaps secondly because standing proudly on its high hill it would have required many months of siege to subdue it, when there were more important objects in view. It appears to have initially been taken by Judah (Judges 1.8), but that may only have been the lower city and not have included the impregnable Jebusite fortress. If Judah did take the fortress it is clear that once Judah’s forces had moved on to other conquests the Jebusites, the previous inhabitants, had returned and had retaken the original fortress city on its high hill surrounded by valleys, had strengthened its fortifications, and had been there ever since, gloating down on Israel from their proud eminence. Meanwhile Benjamin and Judah had both added to the city and had established their own sections of Jerusalem on other surrounding local hills (Judges 1.8, 21), eventually making peace with the Jebusites. It is significant that Saul seemingly did not see it as requiring to be taken. He did not see it as a threat to the nation and he did not have David’s passion for YHWH.

That Judah saw Jerusalem as very important from the beginning comes out in that that was where Adoni-Bezek was taken to be executed in the early days of the conquest (Judges 1.7). It was also where David had taken the head of Goliath in order to celebrate his triumph (1 Samuel 17.54). It is clear therefore that it was seen as having religious importance to Judah, which we might, in fact, have expected given its traditional connections with Abraham, who himself had also taken his trophies of victory back to Jerusalem in acknowledgement of its king as ‘priest of the Most High God’. Possibly the tradition had also already grown that it was the same mountain as that on which Abraham had been ready to offer his son, Isaac (compare 2 Chronicles 3.1). Thus for it to be in the hands of the Jebusites would have torn at David’s soul, especially in view of Genesis 15.18-21; Exodus 3.8 (and often) where it is stressed that the Jebusites were intended to be brought into submission.

But David was to find, as others had before him, that it was one thing to talk of capturing the fortress city, and quite another actually to do it. This was so much so that the Jebusites were able to mock his attempts, declaring that he would never achieve his aim because even the lame and the blind could defend it. But they had reckoned without David’s astuteness, for David realised what its weak spot was (it was the weak spot of most fortified cities). Like all cities it required an abundant water supply, and in order to obtain it a shaft had been dug which went down, either to an underground river which flowed under the city, or more probably to a tunnel which led to an underground water supply outside the walls. Thus he ordered his forces to discover the tunnel, find the shaft, and enter the city in that way, promising a reward for whoever did so. The soldiers on accomplishing the feat would probably emerge from the shaft into an underground cavern from which well worn steps would lead up into the city. If it was done at the right time they could congregate there in the darkness and no one would know of their presence until it was too late. An alternative and less picturesque suggestion is that he was calling on them to block off the water supply, thus making the city surrender through lack of water.

Analysis.

  • a And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, “Except you take away the blind and the lame, you will not come in here,” thinking, ‘David cannot come in here’ (5.6).
  • b Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, the same is the city of David (5.7).
  • c And David said on that day, “Whoever smites the Jebusites, let him get up to the watercourse, and smite the lame and the blind, who are hated of David’s soul.” Which is why they say, “There are the blind and the lame, he cannot come into the house” (5.8).
  • b And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David (5.9a).
  • a And David built round about from Millo and inward (5.9b).

Note that in ‘a’ the Jebusites stated that David would never enter Jerusalem, and in the parallel David had not only entered it but commenced building fortifications there from the Millo inwards. In ‘b’ David took the stronghold of Zion, and in the parallel he dwelt in the stronghold and called it the City of David. Centrally in ‘c’ we are told of the David’s response to the Jebusite jibe and its consequence.

2.5.6 ‘And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, “Except you take away the blind and the lame, you will not come in here,” thinking, ‘David cannot come in here.’

Note that it is stressed that the main reason for David’s venture against the Jebusites was because they were ‘the inhabitants of the land’, in other words ‘Canaanites’. His initial purpose was thus in order to purify the land in accordance with YHWH’s commands which had forbidden making a covenant with them (Exodus 23.31; 34.12, 15; Numbers 33.15, 52, 53, 55). Not for David the compromise of allowing them to stay there as an eyesore to YHWH.

This may in fact have been his first action on becoming king, and it may even have been the action that drew the attention of the Philistines to his new position of authority, for if the Jebusites had been included as a tributary in the Philistine Empire, which they almost certainly would have been, they may well then have appealed to the Philistines for help. That in itself would be an indication to the Philistines that David was stepping outside his mandate and ‘rocking the boat’.

Whatever the case the Jebusites, who were Canaanites/Amorites, sneered at David’s initial attempts, (and his earlier call on them to surrender), declaring that even the blind and the lame could hold out against him. Thus if he were to take the city he would have to remove even them. Basically the thought was of how totally impossible it was that he should take the city, as the past had proved. On the other hand never previously had they come up against someone who was ‘filled with the Sprit of YHWH’ (1 Samuel 16.13).

2.5.7 ‘Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, the same is the city of David.’

And how wrong they proved to be. For ‘nevertheless’ David ‘took the stronghold of Zion’ and renamed it ‘the City of David’. The name Zion was geographical and only occurs five times in the historical books (1 Kings 8.1; 2 Chronicles 5.2, in both of which it is explanatory of the City of David; 2 Kings 19.21, 31, in both of which it is a prophetic word; and 1 Chronicles 11.5 which is a parallel passage to this one. It is, however, common in the poetical books and the prophets where it had become symbolic of the place where God dwelt, and was also sometimes used of the people seen as YHWH’s unique people).

The naming of it as ‘the City of David’ was important. It stressed that it belonged neither to Judah or Israel, but to David, belonging to him from then on by right of conquest because he had taken it in conjunction with ‘his men’, his own private army. It will be noted that elsewhere we often have the description of God’s people as composed of ‘Israel and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ (2 Chronicles 35.18; Isaiah 8.14; Ezekiel 12.19), or of ‘Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem’ (2 Kings 23.2; 2 Chronicles 20.15-20 (three times); 21.13; 33.9; Isaiah 5.3; 22.21; Jeremiah 4.4; 11.2-12 (three times); 17.25; etc.; Daniel 9.7; Zephaniah 1.4; compare Matthew 3.5) stressing its separateness.

It is quite possible that David had in mind the position that Jerusalem had had in the days of Abraham, when Abraham had acknowledged his responsibility to pay it a portion of the spoils while acknowledging its king Melchi-zedek as the ‘priest of the Most High God’ (Genesis 14). He may well therefore have seen it as a city that especially belonged to God and was closely associated with His worship, which would explain why he was so keen to bring the Ark there, in spite of the Tabernacle being elsewhere. Indeed he may well have seen himself as the spiritual successor to Melchi-zedek, and therefore as bound to take the city. Certainly he appears to have perpetuated its priesthood with the result that he and his sons became ‘priests after the order of Melchi-zedek’ (Psalm 110.4; compare 2 Samuel 8.18), not as sacrificing priests, but as intercessory priests. We note that kings of the Davidic house regularly appear to have entered into a special ministry of intercession (compare 5.17-19; 21.1; 24.10, 17; 1 Kings 8.22 ff; 2 Kings 19.1; Ezekiel 44.3. See also 2 Kings 23.2-3).

2.5.8 ‘And David said on that day, “Whoever smites the Jebusites, let him get up to the watercourse, and smite the lame and the blind, who are hated of David’s soul.” Which is why they say, “There are the blind and the lame, he cannot come into the house.” ’

The derision of the Jebusites angered David, who no doubt saw it as a defiance of the armies of the living God (1 Samuel 17.26, 36, 45), with the result that he devised a plan for bringing the city into submission. Let those who would overcome the city enter it by the ‘water-tunnels’ (sinnor - the meaning of the word sinnor is uncertain, but its root meaning is ‘hollow’ and in Psalm 42.7a it undoubtedly relates to something which parallels the waves and billows of a stormy sea, possibly water-spouts), making their way along the underground river or tunnel and up the water shaft. Then they could smite from within the defenders, whom David derisively calls ‘the lame and the blind’ in imitation of the original jibe. If the Jebusites thought that the lame and the blind could hold out against David’s forces, let their own defenders prove it.

And as a result of this exchange of jibes a proverb arose in Israel which stated, ‘there are the lame and the blind, they cannot come into the house (palace, tabernacle)’. This may mean that any who are insulting or unpleasant will always be left outside and never be invited into someone’s house and given hospitality. Or it may have been indicating that it was always dangerous to assume that someone was too weak to hit back, for it might be discovered that they can do so only too well, the negative thereby being proved wrong. Or it may have been a proverb which became a jibe against Canaanites because, as ‘the lame and the blind’, like the literal lame and the blind (Leviticus 21.18), they were not welcome into the house of YHWH (Deuteronomy 23.1-2; Zechariah 14.21).

2.5.9 ‘And David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from the Millo and inward.’

Having taken the city David took up residence in it, along with many of his men, together with many priests and Levites, making it his stronghold, and proceeding to fortify it further. The Millo was probably the system of terraces, consisting of retaining walls with levelled filling, discovered in excavations, which David further strengthened and fortified. He then built further fortifications within. No doubt he also in some way made it impossible for any in the future to do what his men had done.

It is clear from its initial mention that the taking of Jerusalem was seen as a high point in his reign. This was possibly precisely because of its associations with Abraham and Melchi-zedek with the idea that a new era had now begun. But for centuries it had resisted Israelite pressure, and had constantly been a bastion against Yahwism, perhaps the last prominent one in central Israel, with the people still worshipping their own gods there. Here were to be found the native Canaanites who should have been driven from the land. And yet even Samuel had seemingly been unable to do it. But now it had been accomplished by David, and the Canaanites had been made to submit to Yahwism. It no longer made Israel a divided land, and David had begun his reign by finally removing the Canaanite religion from at least that part of the land. It augured well for the future.

David Is Established As King Over Israel, Growing Greater And Greater Because YHWH Is With Him. The King Of Tyre Seeks Treaty-Friendship With David And Builds Him A House Of Cedar Demonstrating The Establishment Of His Kingship (5.10-12).

David continues to grow greater and greater because YHWH is with him, and when Hiram of Tyre builds him a house of cedar he recognises that it demonstrates that YHWH has established him as king over Israel and exalted his kingship for Israel’s sake.

While Tyre was not incorporated into David’s empire, it appears in what follows to have acknowledged his superior status, for Hiram, the king of Tyre, provided the wherewithal that was needed for the building of David’s palace in recognition of his greatness, (something which he did not do for everyone). The Tyrians were famed palace builders, and this was seemingly an act of treaty friendship to one who, in the light of the context, was probably seen as of superior power. Such a palace of cedar would be seen in the Ancient Near East as establishing his great status. That great Tyre should act in such a way was seen as a clear indication of David’s growing pre-eminence, and that he should live in a palace of cedars was seen as an indication of his position and splendour. Hiram reigned from c.979-945 BC, and thus towards the end of David’s reign. Thus these incidents are not in chronological order.

There is something very beautiful in the fact that in the section chiasmus this incident is paralleled by David’s restoration of the house of Saul and Jonathan when he brings the lame Mephibosheth to his court and gives him a seat at the king’s table.

Analysis.

  • a And David waxed greater and greater, for YHWH, the God of hosts, was with him (5.10).
  • b And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters, and masons, and they built David a house (5.11).
  • a And David perceived that YHWH had established him as king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingship for his people Israel’s sake (5.12).

The continual expansion of David’s political strength is highlighted by the attitude of the king of Tyre towards him. Not many kings found the king of Tyre being so cooperative. And it was all because YHWH, the God of Hosts, was with David. From more recent archaeological discoveries we know that it is probable that Hiram reigned in the latter part of David’s reign so that this description is not in chronological order. It was not intended to be. What the writer is intent on doing at this point is summarising the high points of David’s reign, not writing a chronological history. The order is thematic.

2.5.10 ‘And David waxed greater and greater, for YHWH, the God of hosts, was with him.’

From the moment of his anointing David’s greatness began to grow and expand. He ‘grew greater and greater’. And the explanation was simple. It was because YHWH of hosts was with him.

2.5.11 ‘And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, and carpenters, and masons, and they built David a house.’

Indeed David grew so great that even Hiram, the king of Tyre, made every effort to please him and show his friendship towards him. He sent his representatives to David’s court and supplied cedar trees and carpenters and masons, quite possibly at his own cost, so that they could build David a magnificent palace. There was to be no austerity living for David. He had taken his place among the great. It was an acknowledgement that Tyre recognised his greatness, and sought friendship and cooperation with him. And as a great city which traded with the world by sea, and had extensive trade links, its influence was important.

2.5.12 ‘And David perceived that YHWH had established him as king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake.’

And the result was that from this very fact David himself recognised even more that YHWH had established him as king over Israel, and had exalted his kingdom for the sake of His people Israel. David’s growing greatness manifested the superiority and power of YHWH. Note the emphasis on the fact that his kingship had been exalted (by, for example, his now living in a house of cedar) for Israel’s sake. YHWH was not seen as simply conveying a personal benefit. It was one that would bless all His people.

David’s Own Continuing Fruitfulness (5.13-16).

A further indication of YHWH’s hand on David was the fact that he was so fruitful and had so many sons and daughters. This was on top of the sons who had previously been born to him in Hebron (3.2-5).

Analysis.

  • a And David took for himself more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron (5.13).
  • b And there were yet sons and daughters born to David (5.14).
  • b And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem (5.15a).
  • a Shammua, and Shobab, and Nathan, and Solomon, and Ibhar, and Elishua, and Nepheg, and Japhia, and Elishama, and Eliada, and Eliphelet (5.15a).

Note that in ‘a’ David had many concubines and wives, and in the parallel many children. In ‘b’ sons and daughters were born to David, and in the parallel the names of those sons and daughters are to be given.

2.5.13 ‘And David took for himself more concubines and wives out of Jerusalem, after he was come from Hebron, and there were yet sons and daughters born to David.’

David not only received assistance with the building of his grand palace, but also obtained even more concubines and wives than he had already (3.2-5). That was seen in those days as an indication of a great king. He would, of course, necessarily have taken over Saul’s and Ish-bosheth’s concubines. (For them to have been made free to marry outside could have been politically dangerous). It is unusual for the concubines to be mentioned before the wives, and that may well have been because they were the royal concubines. Less likely is the idea that it may have been because they were for pleasure and childbearing only, while wives were often treaty wives, married in order to seal a treaty with someone important. But what was seen as important was that he continued to have many children. YHWH was giving him his quiver full (Psalm 127.5).

Multiplying wives was in fact going against YHWH’s Law (Deuteronomy 17.17), and living in a palace of cedar would one day be an indication of a feckless king if it was not accompanied by reigning in righteousness (Jeremiah 22.14-15). In both cases the danger was that the king would therefore take his eyes off YHWH and obedience to His will. Perhaps the thought here is that YHWH knew that David would not succumb to such temptation. Or perhaps we are being reminded that God accepts that his people will not always be perfect in every way, and does continue to bless them if their sin is ‘unawares’. David may well not have given these questions consideration, or may never have had them drawn to his attention. And the necessity for taking over Saul’s concubines clearly added to the pressure, (he really had no alternative), while by taking treaty wives he was simply following a regular practise recognised as a regular one for kings. In the circumstances of the time it was generally expected, and even necessary, to seal treaties in this way. The wives were seen as guarantees of the genuineness of the treaties, and as uniting the two houses. But the reason why he is not rebuked is presumably because David did not allow them to divert him from God’s will (unlike Solomon. This latter fact reminds us that he had unconsciously by his failure bequeathed a problem to his son. How carefully in our actions we should consider what ‘legacy’ we might pass on to our children).

2.5.14-16 ‘And these are the names of those who were born to him in Jerusalem: Shammua, and Shobab, and Nathan, and Solomon, and Ibhar, and Elishua, and Nepheg, and Japhia, and Elishama, and Eliada, and Eliphelet.’

The names of the children born to him in Jerusalem are now given. These are additional to the six sons born in Hebron. Their quantity indicated that YHWH was pleased with him.

David Once Again Overwhelms The Philistines With The Help Of YHWH (5.17-25).

It was inevitable that once the news reached the Philistines that David had been anointed as king over all Israel, they would seek to intervene. It had been one thing when he had been king over Judah as their vassal, thus dividing up and weakening their main enemy. It was quite another when he had risen to become king over all Israel without their agreement. The danger was that he might begin to get ideas above his station. So thinking that they would soon show this young upstart a thing or two, the five lords of the Philistines gathered their standing armies together, and combining their forces, advanced to the Valley of Rephaim which was not far from Jerusalem. Their expectancy was probably that he would hurriedly negotiate and acknowledge their supremacy, falling into line with their requirements.

The news reached David’s ears and he in turn went down to ‘the stronghold’, which may signify going down to the new defences in Jerusalem, but more probably, especially if this occurred before his capture of Jerusalem, to some recognised strong point with which he and his men were familiar near the valley of Rephaim. Then he enquired of YHWH (through the Urim and Thummim) as to what to do next. Should he negotiate or should he go forward? YHWH’s reply was that he should go forward, as He Himself would deliver the Philistines into his hands, and the result was that the Philistines were routed and fled, leaving behind their idols, which they had brought with them in order to ensure victory.

However, the Philistines were not done with yet. Gathering a much larger force they later again advanced on Rephaim. Possibly they chose Rephaim again because they felt it necessary to vindicate their gods by gaining the victory in the very place where they had previously deserted them. But once again with the help of YHWH they were routed, and this time David, who this time had been more prepared, continued the chase and decimated the Philistine armies. Note the continual emphasis on the fact that it was YHWH Who directed operations. It was YHWH Who was to be seen as the secret of David’s success. All this would, of course, take place over quite a period of time. Invasions took time top organise.

Analysis.

  • a And when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David, and David heard of it, and went down to the stronghold, and the Philistines had come and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim (5.17-18).
  • b And David enquired of YHWH, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hand?” And YHWH said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly deliver the Philistines into your hand” (5.19).
  • c And David came to Baal–perazim, and David smote them there, and he said, “YHWH has broken my enemies before me, like the breach of waters.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal–perazim (5.20).
  • d And they left their images there, and David and his men took them away (5.21).
  • c And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim (5.22).
  • b And when David enquired of YHWH, he said, “You shall not go up. Make a circuit behind them, and come on them over against the mulberry-trees, and it shall be, when you heart the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry-trees, that then you shall bestir yourself, for then is YHWH gone out before you to smite the host of the Philistines” (5.23-24).
  • a And David did so, as YHWH commanded him, and smote the Philistines from Geba until you come to Gezer (5.25).

Note that in ‘a’ the Philistines sought out David and encamped in the valley of Rephaim, while David prepared himself in the stronghold, and in the parallel David smote the Philistines and they fled as far as Gezer. In ‘b’ David enquired of YHWH about what to do, and in the parallel did the same. In ‘c’ David smote them at Baal-perazim, near or in the valley of Rephaim. and in the parallel the Philistines returned to the valley of Rephaim. Centrally in ‘d’ the Philistines abandoned their idols indicating YHWH’s total victory.

2.5.17-18 ‘And when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David, and David heard of it, and went down to the stronghold, and the Philistines had come and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.’

We do not know whether this was before or after his capture of Jerusalem, for what concerned the Philistines was not necessarily the taking of Jerusalem, which could, unless it was a vassal city, simply be seen as a local squabble, but the anointing of David as king over all Israel without their agreement. They recognised that such a situation might eventually result in Israel becoming powerful enough once again to challenge them. Their intention ‘to seek David’ may indicate that they wanted meet with him in order to ensure precisely what he was doing from a position of strength, or it may indicate that they had in fact decided that they must deal with him once and for all. They probably still remembered the song about him ‘slaying ten thousands’ (of Philistines).

Hearing that they were looking for him David ‘went down to the stronghold’. This may indicate that he went down to a lower defensive part of Jerusalem, ready for any attack, or that he went down to a strong point near the valley of Rephaim where his men would have some protection and from which they could survey the enemy. The valley of Rephaim was not far from Jerusalem.

2.5.19 ‘And David enquired of YHWH, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will you deliver them into my hand?” And YHWH said to David, “Go up, for I will certainly deliver the Philistines into your hand.” ’

Then David, no doubt through the Urim and Thummim, ‘enquired of YHWH’. Able general as he was he recognised that he needed guidance in how to the deal with this sudden invasion. The question now was whether they should remain in their defensible position, or square up to the Philistines in the open. Was it YHWH’s intention to deliver them into his hand? YHWH’s reply was quite categorical. David was to go up because He would certainly deliver the Philistines into his hand.

2.5.20 ‘And David came to Baal-perazim, and David smote them there, and he said, “YHWH has broken my enemies before me, like the breach of waters.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal-perazim.’

So David brought his men to Baal-perazim (named after the event), and there they smote the Philistines, and as the Philistines fled before him he triumphantly declared, either that they were like a dam which had been breached by floods so that its waters flowed away, or that they were fleeing like water gushing out of a breach in a dam. And that was why the place was called ‘Baal-perazim’ (‘the Lord (YHWH) of breakings forth’).

2.5.21 ‘And they left their images there, and David and his men took them away.’

The flight of the Philistines, who were utterly routed, was so precipitous that they left behind the images of their gods which they had brought with them so as to ensure victory (no doubt on new carts - 1 Samuel 6.7). Possibly it had also been their intention to force them on David and require that the Israelites worship them. Finding them deserted on the field of battle was a sign of YHWH’s overall Lordship, and David took them away in order to burn them (which 1 Chronicles 14.12 tells us that they did do). Unlike the Ark of YHWH (1 Samuel chapters 5-6) the images of the gods of the Philistines could not protect themselves.

2.5.22 ‘And the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim.’

Gathering a larger force the Philistines again came up and spread their camp in the valley of Rephaim. Their aim would be to make themselves look as large a host as possible. This time David and his men would not catch them unawares and overwhelm them. But nor would they catch him unprepared.

2.5. 23-24 ‘And when David enquired of YHWH, he said, “You shall not go up. Make a circuit behind them, and come on them over against the mulberry-trees, and it shall be, when you heart the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry-trees, that then you shall bestir yourself, for then is YHWH gone out before you to smite the host of the Philistines.”

No doubt watching from the stronghold David again enquired of YHWH. He recognised that this time the problem would be even greater, for the Philistines had come in even greater force. And this time YHWH told him to circle behind them and attack them from near the mulberry trees, which would provide cover until the last moment and enable them to take the Philistines by surprise from an unexpected angle. Then when they heard the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees (no doubt caused by an unusual wind) they were to attack instantly, for then they would know that YHWH had gone out before them in order to smite the Philistine host. Note the emphasis on the fact that it was YHWH Who decided the battle tactics. All the credit for the victory was to go to YHWH.

2.5.25 ‘And David did so, as YHWH commanded him, and smote the Philistines from Geba until you come to Gezer.’

David did precisely as he was told, and the result was that he smote the Philistines ‘from Geba to Gezer’. The name of Geba might simply have been chosen as a word play on Gezer. It need not signify that they were actually at Geba, but simply somewhere around that area. Geba was also in Benjamin, as was a part of Jerusalem, but it was further to the north. However, the unusual angle from which David and his men came at the Philistines may have driven them north towards Geba, before they fled towards Gezer. They would, after all, not know the territory all that well. Some suggest that a letter (nun) has accidentally dropped out of the text and that it should read Gibeon (as in 1 Chronicles 14.16). But the Chronicler may in fact have deliberately altered it knowing that they would certainly also have passed by Gibeon on the way to Gezer).

David Seeks To Bring The Ark Of God Into Jerusalem And Is Eventually Successful But Is At First Thwarted By The Premature Death Of Uzzah, Which Emphasises The True Holiness Of The Living God (6.1-19).

The bringing of the Ark into Jerusalem would almost certainly have occurred once he and his men were settled in Jerusalem. 1 Chronicles 15.1 tells us that it was once he had ‘made for himself houses in the City of David’. But these houses would have had to be built in readiness for David’s initial settlement in the city and therefore could not be speaking of his palace of cedar which, as it was built by Hiram of Tyre, must have been built towards the end of his reign.

His action required careful thought. Israel had already learned from what had occurred in 1 Samuel chapters 5-7 that the Ark of God was not to be treated lightly. Thus when David planned to transfer it to Jerusalem he should possibly have been more aware of the dangers, and have recognised the unique holiness of the Ark. Not that the move was not carefully planned. We may assume that the Ark was properly covered up so that the people could not gaze on it, and that those who bore it to the new cart that had been made especially for it were suitably qualified. Abinadab was almost certainly of a priestly family, as, of course, must have been his sons, otherwise the Ark would never have functioned at his house or been watched over by his sons. And it was his sons (or grandsons) who were given responsibility for watching over the Ark on its journey. So all should have been satisfactory.

But the problem was that such a long time had passed since the Ark had been used in worship that many had forgotten just how holy it was, or what its significance was. And that comes out in the action of Uzzah. Uzzah himself should, in fact, have known better. He had had the care of the Ark for a long time. And he should have known (and did know) that he did not have to protect YHWH, and that the Ark was not to be touched under any circumstances. When moved it was always to be by means of the special carrying poles which slotted in without the need to touch the Ark, precisely so that no one would touch the Ark. And the Levites had been warned from the beginning that to touch it meant death. Thus his action in reaching out to touch it was both foolish and blasphemous. It suggested to all who saw it that YHWH was unable to care for it, while giving the impression that he, Uzzah, could. It suggested that as priest he was to be seen as having proprietary rights over the Ark as something that required his protection. But above all it took away from its sacredness. It cancelled out the ides of what it was, the very representative throne of the invisible God. It made it just another image, a tool of man. It misrepresented all that the Ark stood for.

The reinstatement of the Ark was a hugely important, almost incalculable, moment in Israel’s history. It represented the reinstatement of the very invisible presence of YHWH among His people. At last His kingdom was being set up in accordance with His promises. Anything that detracted from that had to be severely dealt with because it affected how Israel would see things far into their future. Had Uzzah been able to touch the Ark and escape unharmed it would no longer have been seen as what it was. It would have lost its most important element, the fact that it was seen as genuinely representing the untouchable ‘other’ world, the fact that God was really involved with His people. But when Uzzah was struck down it provided the lesson to all that the Ark was indeed wholly untouchable and did indeed represent the living presence of YHWH, the eternal God. It revealed that that was not just a symbolic presence, but that there was there among them, through the Ark, the very real if invisible presence of the living God.

(To those of us who see life on this earth as the one thing that matters what happened here may appear to have been unnecessary, even vindictive, but to the One Who sees the end from the beginning, and to Whom the spirit returns after death, and Who decides the fate of the spirits of all men, death is merely an interval, a nothing. It is what happens after death that matters. That especially comes out in Hebrews 11, where it is not the wicked, but God’s favourites who die prematurely. We have to remember that to God it is not death that is important but what follows it. And there is no suggestion that Uzzah was to be punished in any way in the afterlife for what he had done. His eternal future would not depend on this incident, but on whether his faith was truly in God. Indeed in the same way God may take anyone of us whenever He will, and it is therefore incumbent on us to be ready).

Analysis.

  • a And David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand (6.1).
  • b And David arose, and went with all the people who were with him, from Baale–judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, even the name of YHWH of hosts who sits between the cherubim (6.2).
  • c And they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was in the hill, and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart (6.3).
  • d And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was in the hill, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark (6.4).
  • e And David and all the house of Israel played before YHWH with all manner of instruments made of fir-wood, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with tambourines, and with castanets, and with cymbals (6.5).
  • f And when they came to the threshing–floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error, and there he died by the ark of God (6.6-7).
  • g And David was deeply disturbed, because YHWH had broken forth on Uzzah, and he called that place Perez–uzzah, to this day (6.8).
  • h And David was afraid of YHWH that day; and he said, “How shall the ark of YHWH come to me?” (6.9).
  • g So David would not remove the ark of YHWH to him into the city of David, but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite (6.10).
  • f And the ark of YHWH remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and YHWH blessed Obed-edom, and all his house. And it was told king David, saying, “YHWH has blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all which pertains to him, because of the ark of God.” And David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with joy (6.11-12).
  • e And it was so, that, when those who bore the ark of YHWH had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling (6.13).
  • d And David danced before YHWH with all his might, and David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of YHWH with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet (6.14-15).
  • c And it was so, as the ark of YHWH came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before YHWH, and she despised him in her heart. And they brought in the ark of YHWH, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it, and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before YHWH (6.16-17).
  • b And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of YHWH of hosts (6.18).
  • a And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a portion of flesh, and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed every one to his house (6.19).

Note than in ‘a’ David brought together the representatives of all Israel, and in the parallel all Israel take part in the celebrations. In ‘b’ the Ark which represented ‘the Name of YHWH of Hosts’ was to be brought up, and in the parallel David blesses the people in ‘the Name of YHWH of Hosts’. In ‘c’ special preparations were made for the bringing up of the Ark., and in the parallel special offerings were made once it had reached its place. In ‘d’ the Ark was brought forth out of the house of Abinadab on a new cart, and Ahio went before it, and in the parallel the Ark was brought up to its place and David danced before it. In ‘e’ all kinds of instruments celebrated the movement of the Ark, and in the parallel special sacrifices celebrated the movement of the Ark In ‘f’ the one who touches the Ark is smitten down and in the parallel the one who gives it shelter is blessed. In ‘g’ David was deeply distressed at what had happened, and in the parallel he was so distressed that he would not allow it to continue on its journey. Centrally in ‘h’ David was filled with awe at YHWH and asked, ‘How shall the Ark of YHWH come to me?’ He was learning something of the awesomeness of YHWH and that He was not to be treated lightly, even by him (a lesson most of us need to learn).

2.6.1 ‘And David again gathered together all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand.’

The bringing of the Ark up to Jerusalem was such a special event that David ‘again’ gathered together the ‘thirty thousand’ chosen men of Israel. The ‘again’ probably has in mind 5.3 when the ‘elders of Israel’ gathered to anoint David as king. If that be so then these were the chosen men of Israel responsible before YHWH for the oversight of the tribes, sub-tribes and wider families in Israel and Judah. In their persons they represented the whole of Israel. ‘Thirty thousand’ indicates a complete (multiple of three) and large number.

1 Chronicles 13.1 speaks of his consulting ‘the captains/head persons/rulers of thousands and the captains/head persons/ rulers of hundreds and every leader’, which indicates very much the same thing. Compare Deuteronomy 1.15, ‘so I took the chief of your tribes, wise man and known, and made them heads over you, captains over thousands (the largest units), captains over hundreds (smaller units which together made up the larger units), captains over fifties (even smaller units) and captains over tens (the smallest size of unit)’.

In the end all Israel would be involved (1 Chronicles 13.2), but clearly all Israel could not accompany the Ark on its initial journey, although they would be there to welcome it into Jerusalem

2.6.2 ‘And David arose, and went with all the people who were with him, from Baale–judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the Name, even the name of YHWH of hosts who sits between the cherubim.’

Then David went with the chief men of Israel from Baale-judah (to which they had made their way) in order to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem. In doing so the absolute holiness of the Ark is described, because of the One Who was invisibly present on it, and in order to prepare for what follows. It was ‘the Ark of God which is called by ‘the Name’, that is, ‘by the Name of YHWH of hosts’. (For the use of ‘the Name’ by itself in this way compare Leviticus 24.16c where there is mention of ‘blaspheming the Name’). To be called by ‘the Name’ was to have imputed to it the whole character and nature of the One Whose Name it bore. In other words it was to be seen as the place where the invisible God could be met with, because His Name was there, His invisible presence. And that Name was the Name of YHWH of hosts who sits between the cherubim, and thus on the Mercy Seat. YHWH ‘of Hosts’ is called that because He is Lord of all the host of Heaven and earth, and also Lord of the host of His people. In other words He is the Creator and Lord of Heaven, and the God Who causes His people to triumph in battle. He is regularly seen as accompanied by, and often borne up by (compare Samuel 22.11; Ezekiel 1), cherubim (‘living creatures’) who are seen as His servants and as the protectors of His holiness (compare Genesis 3.24; Exodus 25.18-22; Psalm 80.1; 99.1; Ezekiel 1; 10; Revelation 4-5).

Baale-judah is another name for Kiriath-jearim (‘city of the woods’) which was where the Ark had been kept (1 Samuel 7.1-2). In Joshua 15.9-10 it is called Baalah, and being in Judah could thus be distinguished from other Baalah’s by being called Baale-judah. In Joshua 15.60 it is called Kiriath-baal (‘city of the Lord’). The gradual tendency to get rid of or change names containing the name of Baal may help to explain the gradual change of name.

2.6.3 ‘And they set the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab which was in the hill, and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drove the new cart.’

The Ark of God was then set on a new cart. The bearing of the Ark on a cart was an idea first conceived by the Philistines. They may well have borne their own gods on such carts. It was on such a ‘new cart’ that it had been returned to Israel (1 Samuel 6.7). So this was treating God in accordance with Philistine ideas. Note that any such cart had to be new so that it had not been soiled by any earthly activity. No cart that had been used for earthly purposes was acceptable. To use a second hand cart would have been an insult, even blasphemy, for such a cart would have been seen as defiled. But the way that YHWH had prescribed for the bearing of the Ark was not by such a cart but by Levites using long travelling poles which slotted through rings on the Ark. We should therefore remember that had the correct method been used in obedience to God, all that followed would have been avoided. It stresses the need to obey God in all things.

The cart was driven by Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab. Whether Uzzah was the Eliezer mentioned in 1 Samuel 7.1 we do not know (it could easily be an abbreviation of Eli-ezer by dropping the Eli-. Compare how Jehoshuah could also be called Hoshea). For Eliezer was the one who had primarily been the keeper of the Ark. Alternatively it may be that he had died and that Uzzah as the next in line, or as his son, had taken his place.

2.6.4 ‘And they brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was in the hill, with the ark of God, and Ahio went before the ark.’

Once the journey had commenced Ahio went before the Ark as a kind of herald and forerunner, in order to prepare people for the coming of that sacred object. It was necessary to give advanced warning for all had to beware lest in some way they come in contact with or desecrate the Ark, and he may well at the same time have spoken out aloud concerning the glory of God (note Numbers 10.35-36). Compare how David would later dance before the Ark.

Thus it was left to Uzzah to drive the cart. This is important in the context of the story because it demonstrates that his attention was on the cart and the oxen. While all the others were looking at the covered Ark, he was watching the oxen. Thus when the oxen stumbled his first concern would be the control of the oxen. What had happened to the Ark would only come to his perceptions once he was sure that he had control of the cart.

2.6.5 ‘And David and all the house of Israel played before YHWH with all manner of instruments made of fir-wood, and with harps, and with psalteries, and with tambourines, and with castanets, and with cymbals.’

While the cart was making its journey it was accompanied by the ecstatic crowds, who played on all kinds of musical instruments before YHWH. It was the celebration of a great occasion, and there would be much singing and dancing. All would be filled with joy at the thought that YHWH’s throne would once more be among them. David never forgot Who the real King was.

2.6.6 ‘And when they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled.’

But as they were coming to the threshing-floor of Nacon (or ‘a certain threshing-floor’) a misfortune occurred. The oxen stumbled on the no doubt rough road. There is in fact no suggestion that the Ark was in danger of falling off the cart, although it may well have moved slightly from its place. But what we can be sure of was that initially all Uzzah’s attention would be on the oxen, for he was driving the cart.

Thus his reaching out to the Ark was not the involuntary action of someone who was walking beside it and did not want it to fall off. That would have been far better accomplished by the people surrounding the cart, even though they were probably avoiding touching even the cart, because they recognised the holiness of the Ark. Rather Uzzah’s act was almost proprietary, as though God needed him to look after Him. It seems clear that through familiarity he had lost his awe of the Ark, and probably had the same attitude towards God, for he reached out, possibly to set it back in its place, as though it had just been a common object. He was treating it as if it was his own possession. Indeed he was probably the only one in the large excited crowd who was not totally in awe of it. And that was his undoing. What he should have done, of course, if the Ark needed adjusting, was to call for the travelling poles which were normally used for bearing the Ark (which must have been used in order to put the Ark on the cart and would be required at the end of the journey). But everyone without exception knew that it was forbidden to touch the holy furnishings of the Tabernacle, including the Ark. Thus he was without excuse.

Note that the attention of the writer (and the future listener) was concentrated on those fatal words, ‘Uzzah reached forth to the ark of God, and took hold of it’. He was not interested in any other detail. His whole attention was on the awfulness of what Uzzah had done. To him it would have been almost unbelievable, and whenever those words were read out later the listening crowds would have shuddered.

It is difficult in modern times to even begin to appreciate what his action must have meant to all who saw it. Touching the Ark was something that was, and had always been, strictly forbidden. No priest or Levite would ever have dared to touch it (Numbers 4.15). Even the act of curiously and sacrilegiously gazing on it while uncovered had brought great suffering on those who did so (1 Samuel 16.19; compare Exodus 19.21). Yet this was an even greater act of sacrilege. Indeed it was so great an act of sacrilege, that all who saw it must have been stunned to silence at what they saw. They would have considered that it was treating the Holy One of Israel with undue familiarity. And apart from everything else it suggested that the living God could not look after Himself. It was to treat Him like a helpless image. But even worse it was to desecrate the most holy object of Israelite worship with the defiled fingers of man, and behave towards it as though it was a common thing. It was to trivialise God. And it was unquestionably done deliberately, as Uzzah’s position as driver makes clear.

God had clearly seen it as of great importance that man should recognise the barrier between man and Himself. He had demonstrated this at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19.12, 24). To trespass on the holy meant death. It was a vital lesson. Man has always been too prone to think that God can be treated lightly, and at such an important moment the lesson had to be taught that God had to be feared as well as loved. This was why such a thing as this happened. It made clear to all the absolute holiness and ‘otherness’ of God. It is a reminder that there are times in history when what could at other times be treated more leniently must be treated with the utmost severity. For this was not just some private mistake. It had occurred openly before all the people, and to an object seen as so holy that none apart from the High Priest would ever look on it again, and even he only in a darkened room. As YHWH’s ‘mercy seat’ (His propitiatory) it represented the presence of God Himself. It was as close as man could ever physically get to physically approaching the living God. It bore the holy Name of YHWH.

We do not know what went through Uzzah’s mind when he did it (the realisation of what he had done may well have been what gave him the stroke from which he died), but one thing is clear and that is that it revealed that he had lost his supreme awe of the Ark. His act of reaching out and touching the Ark unquestionably demonstrated that. It was the act of one to whom the Ark had become just another object, of one who had lost the realisation that God was fully represented there. It may well be that he wanted the people to see that he himself was on especially good terms with the Almighty. Or he may have wanted them all to be in awe of him as ‘the man who could touch the Ark’. But it was certainly not just the involuntary action of an innocent man. The holiness of the Ark (and of all the Temple furniture) had been too deeply imbued into God’s people for that to be a probability. No other would even remotely have considered the possibility of touching the Ark. Had it fallen off the cart they would have drawn back to avoid it, not tried to save it. So to do what Uzzah did required someone who had grown grossly careless about spiritual things.

2.6.7 ‘And the anger of YHWH was kindled against Uzzah, and God smote him there for his error, and there he died by the ark of God.’

God knew what was in Uzzah’s heart, even if we do not. And what happened next would have surprised no one who saw what he had done. Indeed they would have expected it. Had it not happened it could have caused great harm and confusion to them in their inner thinking. It would have decreased the significance of the Ark. (We must remember that this was in a day when to approach a king incorrectly could lead to the death penalty, and when to touch the king’s person could be seen as treason). There are some things the effects of which are considered to be so enormous that they must be prevented at all costs, and this was one of them. In fact we can truly say that for God not to have acted would probably have debased the whole religion of Israel in the eyes of Israel and have reduced it to idolatry. For the Ark bore the Name, and thus bore the One Who invisibly sat on it between the cherubim (the writer reminded us of that quite deliberately in verse 2). So for there to be no reaction to its being touched would have debased the idea of the true fear of God and the reality of His invisible presence. It would have been a barrier in the future to man’s true appreciation of the ‘otherness’ and holiness of God, and yet of His closeness to His people. (Spiritual conceptions in those days were very tied up with physical things). It would have contradicted the idea that in some unique way God was present where His Ark was. Idolatrous images could be touched precisely because of the nature of their gods. So by his action Uzzah was simply demoting God to having the same nature as an idol.

God knew all that and acted. His wholehearted antipathy to what Uzzah had done was revealed by His smiting him in such a way that he died. It was an indication that God was ‘angry’ (reacting against Uzzah) because He knew Uzzah’s thoughts and the effect that Uzzah’s action could have had on men’s thinking and approach to Him, and no doubt also because He knew what it revealed about Uzzah’s own innermost attitude of heart. He had committed a ‘sin unto death’.

YHWH’s action here may appear extreme to us but it settled in men’s hearts from this moment on the recognition that He was not in any way of this world, that no priest or other personage, not even the ‘keeper of the Ark’, could fully act in His Name, or usurp His rights, or claim special privilege in dealings with Him. All must for ever be obedient, and subservient to His will, and act as He revealed, and not the other way round, and it emphasised that He stood alone because He was ‘wholly other’. The dead body lying sprawled on the cart thus became a permanent warning for the future that God was such that He was not to be trifled with, and of what happened to any who ignored His strict requirements. As a result the holiness of the Ark was enhanced, and its continuing significance emphasised. Indeed had Israel learned the lesson that was taught here the new kingdom would have progressed and grown and all that followed would never have happened. That was how important the lesson was. They were to recognise that the Holy One of Israel was truly among them. (The failure to learn that lesson did not just result in one man being struck down, it finally resulted in many being struck down and Jerusalem and the Temple being totally destroyed).

What happened to Uzzah here can be compared with what happened to Nadab and Abihu when the initial covenant had been established under Moses, something which had also commenced a new beginning for God’s people (Leviticus 10.1-2); with what had happened to Achan at the new entry into the land when God’s kingly rule was initially being established in Canaan (Joshua 7), and with what would one day happen to Ananias and Saphira at the commencement of an even greater Kingly Rule (Acts 5.1-11). In all these cases they were people who failed to obey God implicitly at the commencement of a new phase in His kingly rule, and treated lightly their response towards Him, and discovered the consequences.

2.6.8 ‘And David was deeply upset, because YHWH had broken forth on Uzzah, and he called that place Perets–uzzah, to this day.’

Understandably David was ‘deeply upset’ (or ‘smouldered’) at what had happened (the root of the verb is ‘to glow, be on fire’). It is doubtful if in context we should translate it as ‘angry’ here although it can undoubtedly mean that on other occasions. If we do we must see the anger as directed against Uzzah for daring to touch the Ark, or against those who had failed to inform him of the special arrangements necessary for bearing the Ark. For in his religious soul he would have been as appalled as anyone else at what Uzzah had done. He certainly would not have blamed YHWH, (Whose instructions, when looked into, were perfectly clear). The thought here is rather of the deep, overwhelming effect that what had happened had had on him. Indeed he was so deeply troubled and perplexed that he was unsure of what to do next. His question was, ‘What should I do now?’

And that deep disturbance at the fact that YHWH had ‘broken forth’ (perets) on Uzzah was reflected in the fact that he gave a new name to the spot where it had happened, naming it perets-uzzah, ‘the breaking forth on Uzzah’.

2.6.9 ‘And David was afraid of YHWH that day; and he said, “How shall the ark of YHWH come to me?” ’

But it also pulled David up short. It gave him a deeper recognition of what he himself was doing. It made him recognise that even he had been treating the coming of YHWH in a new way to Jerusalem too lightly, failing to consider the fact of what the arrival of the Ark in Jerusalem would undoubtedly have as it transformed people’s views about Jerusalem from then on. And he had not asked, Was that what YHWH really wanted? Now he could no longer be sure. Perhaps YHWH did not want the Ark carried into Jerusalem? The result was that he was filled with ‘the fear of YHWH’. He began to realise exactly what he had been doing. He began to recognise that he had been manipulating YHWH and bringing YHWH ‘to him’ for his own convenience. He had not been thinking of what would be honouring to YHWH. It was a salutary reminder to him that God was not at his disposal. We should note that even the Chronicler gives no hint that he had ‘enquired of YHWH’ before deciding to bring the Ark up to Jerusalem, rather than to the place which most would have expected, to the Tabernacle in Hebron (or Gibeon). Rather it is emphasised that he had ‘consulted with’ all the important people (1 Chronicles 13.1), and had discovered that ‘the thing was right in the eyes of all the people’ (1 Chronicles 13.4). But there is no hint anywhere of his having any consideration for what YHWH had thought or of His being consulted.

Thus with smitten conscience David brought proceedings to a halt. He would no longer take the Ark up to Jerusalem. Rather he would wait on God’s instructions and on God’s will. He himself had thus been given a new appreciation of the significance of the Ark, and of what its presence meant. It was clear from what had occurred that YHWH was displeased. So he cried, ‘How shall the Ark of YHWH come to me?’ This may have been signifying that he now recognised that he was unworthy that the Ark of YHWH should come to his capital city, or that the capital city was unworthy to receive the Ark (after all the place to which he was taking it had until recently been a pagan citadel) or it may have been questioning what method should be used in order to make it possible in a way that was pleasing to God, if it were even possible.

2.6.10 ‘So David would not remove the ark of YHWH to him into the city of David, but David carried it aside into the house of Obed-edom the Gittite.’

On this basis David was unwilling to move the Ark into the City of David. He did not want YHWH’s anger to fall on the City of David as well. So instead he arranged for it to be carried to the house of Obed-edom the Gittite. Obed-edom was a Levite of the family of the Korahites, which sprang from Kohath (compare 1Chronicles 26.4), and belonged to the class of Levitical doorkeepers whose duty it was, in cooperation with other Levites, to watch over the Ark in the sacred tent (1Chronicles 15.18, 24). Thus he was a very suitable person for the task. He was probably called the Gittite or Gathite from the fact that his birthplace was the Levitical city of Gath-rimmon in the tribe of Dan (Joshua 21.24; compare Joshua 19.45), although some have argued that he was from the Philistine Gath.

2.6.11 ‘And the ark of YHWH remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months, and YHWH blessed Obed-edom, and all his house.’

The Ark of YHWH remained where it had been placed in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite for three months, and the consequence was that Obed-edom and the whole of his house enjoyed special blessing. We are not told the form that the blessing took. They may have experienced a greater than usual sense of great joy and worship because of a sense of the presence of YHWH, or their harvests may have been unusually fruitful. Whatever it was, however, it was something that was apparent, even to outsiders.

2.6.12 ‘And it was told king David, saying, “YHWH has blessed the house of Obed-edom, and all which pertains to him, because of the ark of God.” And David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the city of David with joy.’

The result was that David was eventually informed that YHWH had blessed the house of Obed-edom the Gittite and all that pertained to him, and that convinced David of the fact that YHWH was not against what he had been planning, and that His ‘anger’ was now appeased. And as a consequence David brought up the Ark of God from Obed-edom’s house into the City of David with great joy (and celebration). But this time, the Chronicler especially emphasises, he went about it more carefully.

2.6.13-14 ‘And it was so, that, when those who bore the ark of YHWH had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. And David danced before YHWH with all his might, and David was girded with a linen ephod.’

The writer summarises the longer account used by both him and the Chronicler. He does not mention the elaborate preparations made to ensure that the Ark was being conveyed correctly (see 1 Chronicles 15), although it is certainly made clear that the Ark was now borne on the shoulders of bearers, for their paces are measured. He does, however, emphasise the recognition that continual atonement and worship were required, in the form of offerings and sacrifices, as the Ark was brought into the city and the fact that David personally took a full part in it in a kind of priestly capacity, for he ‘danced before YHWH with all his might’, girded with a linen ephod.

The sacrificing of an ox and fatling every six paces would be carried out by priests on David’s orders, while the bearers of the Ark would be Levites. The idea is probably of continuing sacrifices as they went along, the facilities for which would previously have been set up in six step stages (after all huge amounts of flesh would be required for the final distribution to the assembled multitudes - verse 19). It is doubtful if the bearers stopped while the sacrifices were being offered. On the other hand it may be that the offerings only took place as an inauguration of the march at the end of the first six paces. ‘Six’ being the number of intensified completion (2 x 3) could have symbolised the whole march. This would tie in with the fact that there were also special offerings at the end of the journey because YHWH had helped the Levites to carry the Ark safely (1 Chronicles 15.26).

Meanwhile David performed what was probably a ritual dance before the Ark, wearing a linen ephod. Ritual dances of this kind were common among the Canaanites, and as David now considered that he was a priest after the order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110.4) he may well have wanted the Jebusites to associate the Ark with themselves That would explain why he wore the linen ephod, the garment exclusively for priests and Levites (1 Samuel 2.28; 22.18), as the boy Samuel had worn one when serving in the Tabernacle (1 Samuel 2.18). He would quite possibly have been shown the steps of the dance by Jebusite religious leaders. If that was so he was Yahwifying the worship of Jerusalem and bringing the remaining Jebusites within the orbit of Yahwism. Alternatively his dancing may have been in sheer exuberance. The fact that he did it with all his might emphasises his desire that all should be made right for YHWH, and the joy that he had on the occasion. Normally, however, in Israel it was the women who danced before YHWH (Exodus 15.20; Judges 11.34; 21.19; 1 Samuel 18.6). This might help to explain why Michal was later so upset by it.

2.6.15 ‘So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of YHWH with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.’

So this was the way in which David and all the house of Israel brought up the Ark of YHWH. And they did it with shouting and the blaring of ram’s horns. It was to be seen as the procession of a King even greater than David. From now on YHWH would reign in Zion.

2.6.16 ‘And it was so, as the ark of YHWH came into the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out at the window, and saw king David leaping and dancing before YHWH, and she despised him in her heart.’

But amidst all the rejoicing there was one dissentient heart, the heart of Saul’s daughter, Michal. She had been brought up as the daughter of a king who laid great stress on his royal status, and when she saw her husband David, to whom she may well have felt somewhat bitter because he had taken her away from Paltiel, leaping and dancing like any common Canaanite worshipper before the Ark of YHWH she despised him in her heart. This was not what she was used to, nor how she saw kingship. In her eyes kings kept themselves aloof, and certainly did not participate in Canaanite dances.

Note the emphasis on ‘as the Ark of YHWH came into the city of David’. For David this was the climax of all that he had done related to Jerusalem. It was the moment when YHWH was entering it and taking possession. We can almost hear the cries, ‘Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up you everlasting doors, and the King of Glory will come in’ (Psalm 24.7). And it was at such a moment that Michal could think of nothing else than David’s dancing. It is a deliberate anticlimax.

2.6.17 ‘And they brought in the ark of YHWH, and set it in its place, in the midst of the tent that David had pitched for it, and David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings before YHWH.’

At last their destination was reached without any further incident. It was the Tent which David had had set up, probably modelled on the Tabernacle. And into that Tent they bore the Ark, still covered, and put it in the equivalent of the Holy of Holies (the Most Holy Place). It was only then that the priests would remove its covering, probably being in almost total darkness, but being careful not to touch the Ark itself. Then travelling poles would remain in the Ark and would protrude slightly through a curtain into the outer sanctuary, while they themselves departed from the Most Holy Place never to enter it again. After that was accomplished many burnt offerings and peace offerings were offered before YHWH. This would be done by the priests who were allocated to the task. (David neither pitched the tent, nor offered up the burnt offerings and peace offerings. It would all have been done for him on his orders. Compare 1 Kings 3.4 where ‘Solomon’ offered a thousand burnt offerings on the altar. If we took that literally it would have kept him busy for quite a few weeks, or even months!).

Note On The Davidic Tent.

This Davidic Tent in Jerusalem was not the Tabernacle, nor was it considered to be the Tabernacle. In fact the ancient Tabernacle had probably been destroyed early in the lifetime of Samuel, otherwise he would have been bound by his mother’s oath to remain there and serve within it. The fact that he lived in Ramah and ministered at different places brings this out. But at some stage another Tabernacle was set up (much later) because Ahimelech ministered there (1 Samuel 21). Once, however, Abiathar fled to David for his life and David was settled in Hebron, David would probably set up another Tabernacle (without the Ark) initially at Hebron. It was later then presumably transferred to Gibeon and united with the Tabernacle set up under Saul, where it was in the time of Solomon (1 Kings 3.4-5). For the situation with regard to the Tabernacle had in fact become pretty complicated. When Saul had slain the priests of Nob the official High Priest who followed Ahimelech was Abiathar his son, descended from Ithamar the fourth son of Aaron, and he had fled to David with the ephod. Thus many would see him as the only one who could establish the Tabernacle. Saul, however, would eventually have had to appoint and have consecrated another High Priest, which was presumably Zadok, descended from Eliezer the third son of Aaron (although he is not actually mentioned until after Saul’s death. But it would explain why later there were two High Priests). Both High Priests would probably arrange for worship in tabernacles, but neither would be the true Tabernacle, for that had probably been destroyed by the Philistines (Jeremiah 7.12). That that was so comes out in that Samuel appears to have been relieved from his duty of lifelong service to it which could only have signified that it had been destroyed.

When David was anointed as king over all Israel the two Tabernacles would, undoubtedly eventually be brought together (that was possibly when it moved to Gibeon), and there would therefore be two High Priests, an anomaly partly solved by David as a result of setting up the Tent in Jerusalem. So until the Tabernacle and the Tent in Jerusalem were united in the form of the Temple of Solomon the two tents would operate in parallel, the Tabernacle in Gibeon containing all the ‘original’ holy furniture, while the Tent in Jerusalem possessed the Ark which had been lost to the Tabernacle since the time when it was stolen by the Philistines, and then returned, ending up at the house of Abinadab in Kiriath-jearim (1 Samuel chapters 5-7). It is probable that Zadok officiated at Gibeon, while Abiathar officiated at Jerusalem in order to be near David.

Abiathar was eventually replaced by his son, who like his grandfather was named Ahimelech (2 Samuel 8.17), and he also officiated in parallel with Zadok. Abiathar’s early replacement may have taken place because Abiathar himself had contracted a long term ritual uncleanness or disability (possibly skin-disease) which may have eventually cleared up, for he was still around when David died and Solomon was crowned. He would still be a High Priest because High Priesthood was lifelong, and indeed he is described as ‘a Priest’ (a High Priest) in the days of Solomon (1 Kings 4.4), even though not officiating (1 Kings 2.26).

End of Note.

2.6.18 ‘And when David had made an end of offering the burnt-offering and the peace-offerings, he blessed the people in the name of YHWH of hosts.’

Following the offering of the burnt offerings and peace-offerings, the people were blessed in the Name of YHWH of Hosts the Name connected with the Ark of YHWH (verse 2). This blessing may have been performed by David himself in his office as priest after the order of Melchizedek, or it may have been done in his name by Abiathar (see Numbers 6.22-27). The genuineness and whole-heartedness of the blessing is brought out in that having blessed the people David will proceed towards his palace in order to bless all who are in the palace (verse 20a).

2.6.19 ‘And he dealt among all the people, even among the whole multitude of Israel, both to men and women, to every one a cake of bread, and a portion (of flesh? or wine?), and a cake of raisins. So all the people departed every one to his house.’

Finally the whole celebration was completed by the whole of assembled Israel, both men and women, each receiving a cake of bread, ‘a portion or measure’ (probably of flesh from the numerous peace-offerings, or alternatively of wine) and a cake of raisins. This was the equivalent of eating before YHWH (Exodus 24.11; Deuteronomy 12.7). Then all the people left Jerusalem and returned home to their houses. The celebration was over. The worship of YHWH had been established in Jerusalem where not long before Canaanite gods had reigned supreme. It need hardly be pointed out that David did not distribute all this personally. The numbers involved would have been enormous.

Michal Expresses Her Disgust At David’s Behaviour And Forfeits For Ever The Hopes Of The House Of Saul (6.20-23).

On returning to his household full of elation at all that had happened, and at its significance for all concerned, with the firm intention of blessing his household, David was met by his wife, ‘Michal the daughter of Saul’ who came out to meet him. Instead of being thrilled at the thought that YHWH head been enthroned in Jerusalem, she immediately declared what she thought of David’s behaviour. Sarcastically she referred to how gloriously he had behaved in uncovering himself in the eyes of the servant maids of his courtiers when he was dancing before the Ark, just as though he was a common drunkard. (What a condemnation of many, even in the church, lies behind these words. How often we are subconsciously simply looking for something to criticise, rather than seeking to find in what happens the glory of God. Like David, our hearts should always be concentrated on the thought of God Himself being glorified, rather than our own ideas of precisely how it should be done).

David’s reply was to point out the significance of the occasion. He explained that what he had done he had done before YHWH, the One Who had chosen him above her father, and above all Saul’s house, and had appointed him War-leader (nagid) over the people of YHWH. And that was why he was so willing to let himself go in celebration before YHWH. It was a reservation of the heart towards YHWH that had been the downfall of her family. He did not want that to happen to him.

Indeed he would be happy to be made even humbler, making himself base in his own eyes, if it would please YHWH and enable him to show Him how much he loved Him. For he was not concerned for his own glory, but for YHWH’s. However, let her recognise this. The maid servants of whom she spoke would certainly not despise him. Rather they would hold him in honour, because of what YHWH would do for him.

The result of Michal’s attack was that instead of being blessed, which had been David’s intention for her, she became permanently barren. Some have seen this as a polite way of saying that David chose no longer to have sexual relations with her because in his eyes she had insulted YHWH and was not worthy. He had after all many wives and concubines to satisfy him. But such mean-mindedness was not typical of David. Rather the main emphasis is on the fact that the daughter of the house of Saul was to be barren for life, in total contrast with the house of David (3.2-5; 5.13-14). As a result the opportunity for the house of Saul to participate in the establishment of the everlasting kingship by producing a son was lost for ever. The house of Saul had lost its final opportunity.

Analysis.

  • a Then David returned to bless his household (6.20a).
  • b And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the servant-maids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” (6.20b).
  • c And David said to Michal, “It was before YHWH, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of YHWH, over Israel, therefore will I play before YHWH” (6.21).
  • b “And I will be yet more vile than this, and will be base in my own sight, but of the servant-maids of whom you have spoken, of them will I be had in honour” (6.22).
  • a And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death (6.23).

Note that in ‘a’ David’s intention was to bless his household, whereas in the parallel Michal was decidedly unblessed. In ‘b’ Michal sarcastically suggests how ‘glorious’ his behaviour has been, and how the serving maids will have seen him, and in the parallel David says that he will yet be more vile if it will please YHWH, but that one thing is certain, and that is that because YHWH is so good to him all the serving maids will honour him. Centrally in ‘c’ he declares that all he had done he had done before YHWH who had done so much for him, which was why he would behave freely before him.

2.6.20 ‘Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How glorious was the king of Israel today, who uncovered himself today in the eyes of the servant-maids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovers himself!” ’

Entering his palace in order to especially bless his household (who would have been very busy preparing for the provision of the food and drink that had been passed around), David found himself confronted by a proud and contemptuous Michal. Note the emphasis on the fact that what she did she did as ‘the daughter of Saul’. Saul had always sought to be religiously correct, but had failed when it came to genuine obedience and true response to YHWH, and his daughter reveals very much the same attitude.

Speaking with withering sarcasm she chided David for his behaviour when he was in front of the crowds. Did he really think that that was how a king should behave, dancing like monkey before the servant girls? Did he not realise that he had uncovered himself before the very lowest, the serving maids of his servants, uncovering himself like the drunken riff-raff in the streets. It was certainly true that his robes would have been lifted up to some extent in the dancing, so that there was some truth in her statement. But the point of the writer is that Michal’s problem was that, in contrast with David, she was more concerned about etiquette than she was about the wonder of what was happening as the Great King YHWH entered Jerusalem before His people. Her spiritual heart was barren, which would therefore be reflected in her physical barrenness.

2.6.21 ‘And David said to Michal, “It was before YHWH, who chose me above your father, and above all his house, to appoint me prince over the people of YHWH, over Israel, therefore will I play before YHWH.”

David calmly reminded her that the reason for his exuberance had been precisely because YHWH had chosen him above her father, above Saul, and above all Saul’s house, appointing him as His war-leader and prince (nagid) over His people, even over Israel. And that was why he had behaved so exuberantly before YHWH, and had shown his appreciation. He realised what the event meant for his people even if she did not (the piel of sachaq - ‘play’ - means ‘to joke, jest, be hilarious, make sport, play an instrument’).

Note the emphasis on the fact that he was YHWH’s Nagid (prince, war-leader). In the Old Testament the term ‘nagid’ in the singular is used initially only of kings of Israel/Judah (as seen as anointed and in submission to King YHWH), and later of important Israelite officials, who were, of course, the same. The only exception is when it was once sarcastically used of the ‘prince of Tyre’ when he was prophetically seen as claiming to be a divinely anointed figure who had a unique position before the gods (Ezekiel 28.2). It was thus given a special meaning Scripturally, something that should be carefully borne in mind when interpreting Daniel chapter 9.

2.6.22 “And I will be yet more vile than this, and will be base in my own sight, but of the servant-maids of whom you have spoken, of them will I be had in honour.”

David then assured her that when it came to YHWH he did not consider his own glory and honour as of much significance. Why, he was ready to be even more vile and to be base in his own sight, if only he could please Him. But let her be sure of one thing. He knew that YHWH would so bless him that all the serving maids of whom she had spoken would hold him in great honour. For he who humbles himself before YHWH would be exalted. In contrast none would hold her in honour, for she would be barren.

2.6.23 ‘And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.’

Having previously emphasised the fruitfulness of David, the writer now brings out how the opposite would apply to Michal. She would be barren until the day of her death. By the time he was writing that was a known fact, and seen as a judgment on her. In fact, she may well have been permanently barren naturally, for it is significant that as far as we know she had had no children by either David or Paltiel, and there had certainly been time plenty of time for her to conceive. However, as the writer could have pointed out, that barrenness would not have prevented YHWH from blessing her, like he had Hannah (1 Samuel 1.1), had He chosen to do so. And David had actually arrived in order to ‘bless his house’ Thus to the writer her barrenness indicated YHWH’s displeasure, and the loss of the last opportunity for the house of Saul to have their part in the everlasting kingship. At that time for a first wife not to produce a son was seen as a thing of great shame, thus it was she who was shamed before the serving girls, not David.

To suggest that David simply abstained from having relations with her is probably to do an injustice to David. He was not mean minded, and he would be aware of the duty that he had towards a daughter of Saul. Besides a son of David and Michal would have been seen as uniting the two lines even more than her marriage to him. It is not likely that that would not have passed through David’s mind. It is no accident that this incident is then followed by the glorious establishment of the house of David. David Is Not To Build A House For YHWH, But Rather YHWH Will Build An Everlasting House For David (7.1-29).

Previously YHWH has arranged for a cedar palace to be built for David (then the height of luxury). Now in this chapter the high point of the book of Samuel is reached, and the high point of David’s life is described. YHWH will build up David’s house for ever. All that has gone before has led up to this moment. It is indeed the culmination of all that has gone before in the Old Testament, and is in fact the foundation for the New.

While not specifically stated to be a covenant, what follows bears all the marks of a promissory covenant or covenant of grant. It commences with a description of what YHWH has done for David (verses 8-9a), grants him the certainty of a great name on earth (verse 9b), appoints a place for his people to dwell in and promises their permanent security in that place (verse 10), while guaranteeing David rest from all his enemies (verse 11a). It then promises him an eternal dynasty (a feature of Hittite covenants) and a permanent throne (verses 12-13), and uses the covenant language of ‘father’ and ‘son’ in connection with that dynasty (verse 14a), followed by a warning of the temporary consequences of a breach of covenant (verse 14b). It finally closes with a firm declaration of the inviolability of the covenant (verse 15-16). Its close connection with the bringing of the children of Israel out of Egypt (verses 6-7), and the fact that it follows on after the bringing of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, firmly connects it with the Sinaitic covenant, while its promissory nature connects it with the covenants to the Patriarchs.

The chapter commences with David desiring to build a house for YHWH, an offer which YHWH graciously declines, and then YHWH goes on to promise that instead He will build a house for David, a house that will establish his kingly rule and will last for ever. The concentration is on ‘the house of David’, as the source of YHWH’s eternal rule through David’s house. Even before the Temple in Jerusalem is built it is being emphasised that God’s concentration is going to be on something greater, something that will surpass the Temple. It is going to be on David’s coming seed.

Like much prophecy the chapter, in fact, contains a twofold strand, the near and the far, for while it initially has in mind the son who will follow David, to whom YHWH will be continually faithful and to whom He will be a father by adoption, it then looks on ahead to the One who will finally establish an everlasting kingly rule, a kingly rule which will go on for ever, something which we can only see as fulfilled in our Lord Jesus Christ.

David Determines To Build A House Of Cedar For YHWH Like His Own, An Offer Which YHWH Graciously Refuses (7.1-7).

It was natural that looking around at his own palace, with which he was clearly delighted, (a palace of cedar represented the height of even a king’s ambition, it was the height of luxury and a firm seal on his grandeur), David should consider that YHWH ought also to enjoy such a house. He did not, of course, realise it, but by this he was basically bringing YHWH down to his own materialistic level. He was soon to be reminded that YHWH had no such ambitions and was not to be so bound. YHWH was not interested in a local palace (even though later He would graciously allow them to build one. How we love to tie Him down to a place).

This suggestion follows naturally on what occurred in the last chapter. There the Ark of YHWH had been brought into Jerusalem and placed in a specially made Tent. Now David was thinking beyond that to placing it in a permanent home, a House of cedar. But what David was forgetting was that the Ark of YHWH was the Ark of the God of Battle, of the God of power and movement, of the God of justice, not the Ark of a God of comfortable palaces and soft living. Indeed it would be because David spent too much time in his palace of cedar at the time when kings went forth to war that he would sin with Bathsheba (chapter 11). We need to beware of ‘houses of cedar’ (Jeremiah 22.14).

Analysis.

  • a And it came about, when the king dwelt in his house, and YHWH had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains” (7.1-2).
  • b And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for YHWH is with you” (7.3).
  • c And it came about the same night, that the word of YHWH came to Nathan (7.4).
  • b Saying, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says YHWH, Will you build me a house for me to dwell in?’ ” (7.5).
  • a “For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all places in which I have walked with all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people Israel, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” (7.6-7).

Note that in ‘a’ David bewails the fact that he dwells in a house of cedar while YHWH dwells in a tent, and in the parallel YHWH declares that He has always dwelt in a tent while He has been with His people, ever since they left Egypt (first the Tent of Meeting and then the Tabernacle), and had never asked to have a house of cedar built for Him. In ‘b’ Nathan tells David he can go ahead, and in the parallel he has to rescind his instruction. Centrally in ‘c’ YHWH responds that same night.

2.7.1-2 ‘And it came about, when the king dwelt in his house, and YHWH had given him rest from all his enemies round about, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within curtains.”

This revelation clearly comes a good way into David’ reign, for it occurs once he himself was established in his house of cedar (5.11), a house which would have taken a good while to build, and was in fact built by Hiram of Tyre who himself ruled towards the end of David’s reign. It also occurs once David had been given rest from all his enemies, in other words when he had finally established his empire.

It is a tribute to David’s genuine feeling for YHWH that at such a time his thoughts should turn towards how he could show his gratitude to YHWH for all that He had done for him. And as he looked around at his house of cedar he began to think how wrong it was that he should have such a magnificent palace while, the Ark of God only had a tent made of curtains for its resting place. We must not, of course, trivialise this by assuming that David had a limited view of YHWH as bound to a tent. Quite apart from the high view of God that he constantly reveals in his Psalms (consider 2 Samuel 22; Psalms 2; 89), he brought up his son to recognise that ‘even the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you’ (1 Kings 8.27). And he undoubtedly knew that YHWH was continually active wherever he himself went, whether at home or abroad. Nevertheless it quite understandably felt wrong to him that, among men, YHWH’s earthly dwellingplace should simply be a place made only of curtains. (His thinking is a reminder of how often we seek to fit God within our limited perceptions and ideas).

But to his credit he did not just steam ahead and build it. He called on Nathan to in order to discover what God’s view on the matter was.

2.7.3 ‘And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for YHWH is with you.” ’

It is interesting that Nathan the prophet at first went along with David. He was equally confused. He wholly approved of the idea, and assured David that YHWH was with him. This may have meant that he thought that YHWH agreed with the proposal (in which case he spoke without consulting YHWH), but more likely it was simply his reminder to David that YHWH generally fully supported David by His presence in all that he did (‘is with you’), and would therefore no doubt approve. It did however, await sanction from On High.

2.7.4 ‘And it came about the same night, that the word of YHWH came to Nathan, saying,

And sure enough that same night, probably as he was seeking the face of YHWH, the word of YHWH came to Nathan. It is a reminder that YHWH knew what David had said and was fully aware of what was going on (how often we forget this). Note the inference that YHWH wanted David to know immediately that he must not go ahead. He did not want him to go ahead with his plans and then be disappointed, or even humiliated.

2.7.5-6 “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says YHWH, Will you build me a house for me to dwell in?’ For I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle.”

His words commenced with a reminder that David was His servant. It was a clear reminder that great king David might be, but he served a Greater. He was as much under YHWH’s command as the least of the servants in the household were under his. But it was also a title of honour (it would be one of the titles of the greatest Servant of all - Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Mark 10.45). It was no light thing to serve YHWH. This is a balance that we, as His servants, must always maintain. On the one hand those who serve YHWH are greatly privileged. On the other they must be humble. They must remember that they are appointed solely to humbly do His bidding, not their own.

He then questioned what David had determined to do, and asked on what grounds he thought that he had the right to alter the situation that had always stood (i.e. the ‘status quo’)? Did he not realise that YHWH had always been pleased to dwell in a tent, ever since He had delivered His people out of Israel? And more, He had wanted to live in a tent, because He had wanted to be alongside His people, and to live as they lived. He had wanted to share with all of them in their lifestyles and in their sufferings. It was a reminder that although He dwelt in the High and Holy Place, He also dwelt with those who were of a humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57.15), and shared their afflictions. He did not want His people to feel that He was ‘above them’. He wanted them to know that He was One with them in their pains.

Nor did He need the self-aggrandisement of a house of cedar. If a Temple was to be built which would adequately portray His glory it would require to cover the whole earth, for the whole earth is full of His glory. As Solomon would say, ‘even the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain You. How much less this house that I have built’. Thus a Tent better represented His glory, for it was a reminder that He was too great for anything more splendid, which could therefore only be seen as temporary accommodation.

2.7.7 “In all places in which I have walked with all the children of Israel, did I speak a word with anyone of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to be shepherd of my people Israel, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”

Let David think about it. Did he not realise that YHWH had called many to be shepherds of His people Israel, just as He had David? But let him consider this. In all the places where He had walked with them, had He ever commanded that they build Him a house of cedar? The answer expected was ‘No!’ It was undoubtedly a gentle rebuke, while recognising David’s goodwill, for He was reminding David that David’s thoughts were not His thoughts, and that David did not see things as He saw them. What could a house of cedar mean to the invisible One Who dwelt on High (22.10-14) and was constantly surrounded by the host of Heaven (Deuteronomy 33.2; 1 Kings 22.19), of which the cherubim on the Ark were but a symbol? A tent indeed best represented Him, for it was a reminder that His permanent dwelling was not among men, and that no Temple could be splendid enough to reveal His glory.

All this was in total contrast with the gods of other nations who, according to their nation’s literature, were obsessed with the idea of a Temple being built for them, and conditioned their future rewards and blessings to kings on that fact. Their view was ‘you look after me and I will look after you’ (a theology of works). YHWH’s very different approach was ‘Forget the Temple. I will look after you, and I will continue to look after you’ (a theology of grace)..

Rather Than David Building Him A House, YHWH Would Build David A House Of A Very Different Kind (7.8-17).

YHWH then assured ‘His servant David’ that He had greater purposes than the building of houses of cedar. Rather He was intending to build David’s house (his descendants and dynasty) into an everlasting house that would rule over His everlasting kingdom for ever. This was the House that YHWH had in mind. There are three basic elements to His promise:

  • The first is that David himself will have a great name like the great ones of the earth (verse 9).
  • The second is that David’s son who directly follows him will be adopted by YHWH as His son, and that YHWH will be faithful to him even if he strays (verses 14-15).
  • The third is that He will establish through David’s seed an everlasting kingly rule that will never cease (verses 13, 16).

There is also in verse 13 possibly a hint that his son will also build a physical temple (of cedar) but the main emphasis is undoubtedly on the building of a perpetual dynasty which will finally result in an everlasting kingdom.

What David would think about this ‘everlasting kingdom’ in depth is, of course, open to question. Indeed it may well be that he did not think about it in depth. He would probably simply think of it as an everlasting kingdom on earth and not consider it any further. The impossibility of such an idea would probably not strike him. He would think in terms of the earth as permanent without speculating on the matter. But there is no doubt that the promise contained within it is of the idea of an everlasting ‘heavenly’ kingdom (as God would certainly be fully aware of), for even we know that that is the only possible way in which there could be an everlasting kingdom. Here we have the beginning of the way in which earthly descriptions are used by the prophets with the purpose of conveying the idea of eternal realities. They convey heavenly truth through an earthly medium because at that time speculation about heavenly existence in itself would have become confused with ideas about the lives of the gods found in other nations. These earthly descriptions are thus not always to be taken absolutely literally. Attention must be paid to what the deeper ideas are that are within them (compare Hebrews 11.10-14).

Analysis.

  • a “Now therefore thus shall you say to my servant David (7.8a).
  • b “Thus says YHWH of hosts, I took you from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people, over Israel” - the CALL and FINAL PURPOSE of YHWH for DAVID (7.8b).
  • c “And I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and I will make you a great name, like to the name of the great ones which are in the earth” - the ACCOMPANYING PRESENCE, POWER and PURPOSE of YHWH with regard to DAVID (7.9).
  • d “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel” - the PURPOSE of YHWH for HIS PEOPLE

    “and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more,” - the ACTIVITY of YHWH on behalf of HIS PEOPLE

    “nor shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel,” - the PROTECTION of YHWH as regards HIS PEOPLE

    “and I will cause you to rest from all your enemies” - the PROMISED FUTURE REST for DAVID on behalf of HIS PEOPLE (7.10-11a).

  • e “Moreover YHWH tells you that YHWH will make you a house” - the PROMISED FUTURE HOUSE for DAVID (7.11b).
  • d “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will proceed out of your bowels,” - the INITIAL PURPOSE of YHWH for DAVID’S HOUSE

    “and I will establish his kingly rule.” - the ACTIVITY of YHWH on behalf of DAVID’S HOUSE

    “He will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingly rule for ever” - the FINAL PURPOSE of YHWH for DAVID’S HOUSE (7.12-13).

  • c “I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men, but my lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you” - the ACCOMPANYING PRESENCE, POWER and PURPOSE of YHWH with regard to DAVID’S HOUSE (7.14-15).
  • b “And your house and your kingly rule will be made sure for ever before you, your throne will be established for ever” - the FINAL PURPOSE of YHWH for DAVID’S HOUSE (7.16).
  • a According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak to David (7.17).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH tells Nathan what he is to say to David, and in the parallel Nathan does so. In ‘b’ David is told that he was taken from the sheepcote to be ‘prince over YHWH’s people’, and in the parallel he is told that ‘his kingly rule and throne will be established for ever’. In ‘c’ David is told that YHWH has been with him wherever he went and in the parallel he is assured that YHWH’s lovingkindness will in the same way not depart from his children. In ‘d’ YHWH declares that He will appoint a place for His people Israel, and they will no more be afflicted, and in the parallel He declares that David’s son will build Him a house, and He will establish the kingly rule of David’s house over His people for ever. Central in ‘e’ is the fact that YHWH will make David a house in a much better sense than any physical house of cedar.

2.7.8 “Now therefore thus shall you say to my servant David, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts, I took you from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people, over Israel,”

YHWH commences with an historical preamble. He reminds David that it was He Who had brought David from his sheepcote of rough wood to his palace of cedar. He had called him from his humble occupation as shepherd, an occupation which had been the consequence of his being the youngest son, in order that He might raise him to the exalted position of Prince and War-leader (nagid) over His people, over Israel. Without YHWH David would still have been watching sheep.

2.7.9 “And I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you, and I will make you a great name, like to the name of the great ones who are in the earth.”

And He had been ‘with him wherever he went’, whether following the sheep (verse 8), serving Saul at court, commanding a military unit, hiding out in the wilderness, establishing his kingship, building up his empire or ruling over Israel. All had been under the hand of YHWH, and He had been present with him in them all. Sometimes it might not have seemed like it. But even in his darkest hours it had been so.

And He ‘had cut off all his enemies from before him’, whether the lion and the bear, Goliath, the Philistines generally, Saul or any other enemies. Furthermore He would continue to be with him, for it was His intention to make him a great name, similar to the great ones who are in the earth. In other words because of his faithfulness to YHWH, and because YHWH had purposed it in the carrying forward of His will, He would ensure that he became a ‘world’ figure, inferior to none.

2.7.10-11a “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be moved no more, nor shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and I will cause you to rest from all your enemies.”

It is now emphasised that all this was not, of course, for David’s benefit alone. It was all tied up with YHWH’s overall purposes for His people. Indeed from start to finish David’s calling was to be in order to benefit the people of God. Thus the covenant grant is to YHWH’s people. That is always God’s purpose in blessing anyone, for to become His servant is to become committed to being a source of His blessing to His people. So through David he would appoint a secure and permanent place for His people and would plant them so that they could dwell securely in a place that was their own, and not have to live in fear of being moved on, or of being afflicted by their enemies.

In general terms all this did, of course, happen under David and Solomon. During their reigns God’s people were firmly established and made secure in a way that they had never been before. But careful thought will indicate that what God actually had in mind was a better kingdom, a place of perfect bliss, permanence, harmony and security. In the end therefore it could only be fulfilled under a perfect King and in an eternal kingdom from which all sinners had been removed. Thus the promise had a near and a far view.

‘As at the first, and as from the day that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel.’ The idea here is that the people had known continual affliction from the children of wickedness in Egypt, and they had then known further similar affliction in the time of the judges, but that it would be so no more, for YHWH would cause David to rest from all his enemies. Alternately we might see it as referring to the periods of rest they had enjoyed, first under Joshua after their deliverance (Joshua 11.23; 21.44; 22.4; 23.1), and then under the judges once their enemies had been overthrown by them (Judges 3.11, 30), with the rest promised under David being similar but more permanent. Either way the promise is of future rest.

2.7.11b “Moreover YHWH tells you that YHWH will make you a house.”

It is now emphasised that rather than David building a house for YHWH, YHWH will build a house for David. There is a clear play on words here, for the house to be built for David is not one of cedar but of successive heirs. The promise is that from David will come a particular seed, Solomon, and then a continual seed who will make up ‘the house of David’ in coming generations, a seed whom YHWH will watch over and to whose hands He will commit His people, leading on to One who will rule over His people everlastingly, a final fulfilment of 1 Samuel 2.10; Genesis 49.10-12.

Sadly, as we know from the books of Kings and Chronicles, the intermediate members in the chain (even beginning with Solomon) regularly failed, but it would not hinder the going forward of God’s purposes, for God’s purposes were God-determined (compare e.g. Romans 8.29-30; Ephesians 1.3-14) and would in the end prevail.

All this emphasises the important principle that there could be no permanent Temple until David’s house was firmly established, for it was the strength or otherwise of the house of David that would keep things on the right track, not the existence of a permanent Temple. Thus the establishing of David’s house must be seen as having priority over the building of a house for YHWH, because it was David’s house that was to be YHWH’s true house. And indeed it was finally because the house of David would fail, that the Temple would also fail. The Temple is always secondary. The warning is thus given that we cannot look to our particular religious ritual for help unless our spiritual foundations are first sure and secure. It is the spiritual life within that saves, not the outward form. As Stephen would later make clear, it was the coming of the Righteous One, not Solomon’s Temple, that would determine the future of God’s people (Acts 7.47-53).

2.7.12 “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will proceed out of your bowels, and I will establish his kingly rule.”

These next three verses specifically refer to Solomon (note the singular ‘his kingly rule’), the seed who will proceed from David’s bowels, in other words will result from his impregnation. YHWH promises that He will establish his kingly rule using covenant terminology (‘father’ and ‘son’ and covenant warning). Thus the dynasty is guaranteed to continue, at least in the short term. At a time when succession was uncertain, and often resulted in war and the survival of whoever won, this was an important promise. David could now be sure that the son of his flesh would succeed him and would be established in the kingship.

2.7.13 “He will build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingly rule for ever.”

The opening phrase here is two-edged. In context the emphasis is on ‘house’ as referring to descendants, and this interpretation can be seen as supported by verse 16, and by the whole context. Thus it was clearly being promised that his son also (Solomon as it will turn out) would establish a permanent house for YHWH’s Name, that is, would ‘build a dynasty’ for the sake of His Name.

However, in the wider context (1 Kings 5.5) we cannot avoid the thought that there is here also a double entendre, and at least a hint of the fact that Solomon would actually build a physical house for YHWH (a house of cedar), or at least that the writer (and Solomon) saw it in that way (all would by then know that that had happened). For ‘building a house for His Name’ would tie in with the idea with which the chapter commenced, of building for Him of a house of cedar, and with the fact that the Ark, which would go into such a Temple, is called by ‘the Name’ (6.2). Thus there is undoubtedly a play on the two ideas. The important emphasis, however, is not on Solomon building a physical temple (even though Solomon saw it in that way - 1 Kings 5.5), but on his establishing a seed who will rule over God’s people, for the prevailing thought is that YHWH is through him to ‘establish the throne of his kingly rule for ever’. The idea then is that that physical Temple, when built, will be a symbol of the greater House which is to be built, culminating in the everlasting King. Had no Temple ever been built we could still have seen the prophecy as fulfilled in his descendants (which we might have expected in view of the introductory comments in verses 5-7). For that is the main emphasis of the whole passage. Jesus similarly saw it this way, for He saw Himself as the true Temple of YHWH (John 2.19-22) and as of the house of David.

“And I will establish the throne of his kingly rule for ever.” This was not the guarantee that there would be no breaks in the physical rule of those who sat on his throne, but a promise that, whatever happened, in the final analysis the throne of his kingly rule would prevail so that in the end it would be established for ever. It would prevail against all odds, and would finally result in an everlasting kingdom.

That the line of Solomon continued, and continued to be identified, comes out in Matthew 1.7-17, until at last there came One Who could supremely be called ‘you Son of David’, a title which probably had Solomon in mind as much as David. It was the supreme Son of David Who would establish His throne in Heaven (Matthew 19.28; 28.18-20; Ephesians 1.19-2.7; Hebrews 1.3), and exercise His earthly rule through those who would sit on subsidiary ‘thrones’ presiding over His church, now seen as the true ‘twelve tribes of Israel (Matthew 19.28; 21.43; John 15.1-6; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Romans 11.16-28; Ephesians 2.18-22; 1 Peter 2.9; James 1.1; Revelation 7.4-8).

2.7.14-15 “I will be his father, and he will be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men, but my lovingkindness (covenant love) shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before you,”

And YHWH’s further promise was that He would be a ‘father’ to David’s seed, and would see him as His ‘son’ (solid covenant language, compare Psalm 2.7). Thus He would be permanently faithful to Him and though He may, like a father, have to chasten him severely by means of other human beings, He promises that he will continue to show towards him His covenant faithfulness to the end. He will not, as in the case of Saul, find himself rejected by YHWH. (This promise did not, however, apply to later seed. Thus Ahaz would later so sin that his descendants were removed from the promise, to be replaced by a child who was born of a virgin - Isaiah 7.14).

2.7.16 “And your house and your kingly rule will be made sure for ever before you, your throne will be established for ever.”

But more importantly the continuation of David’s dynasty and of his kingly rule would be ‘sure for ever before you’. His throne would be established for ever, and would thus finally be over an everlasting kingdom, so coming back to verse 13. Note that God here switches from ‘his’ back to ‘your’. This is coming back to the original promise.

In other words in some way the future of David’s house is guaranteed, with the result that it will culminate one day in an everlasting rule over an everlasting kingdom. For David this would have been an astonishing and hugely gratifying thought, probably one that was beyond his wildest dreams. It is true that later, for a time, this promise would be seen to be in abeyance, for the house of David would seemingly be cast off. And it would then be Isaiah who would introduce the idea that it would be accomplished through a son miraculously born so as to be from his house, and yet not from his house (Isaiah 7.11-14; 9.6-7). The most remarkable fact of all is that this came into final complete fulfilment through Jesus Christ, great David’s greater son.

2.7.17 ‘According to all these words, and according to all this vision, so did Nathan speak to David.’

It is now emphasised that these words, and this vision, which Nathan had received from YHWH, were subsequently spoken to David, for their message was for him..

David Expresses His Gratitude To YHWH For His Everlasting Goodness (7.18-29).

The humility of David, and His recognition of his subjection to YHWH comes out in this prayer which follows up on God’s promise, for he opens his prayer up by describing himself as ‘your servant’ three times (verses 19-21), and then closes it with a sevenfold use of ‘your servant’ (verses 25-29), the latter being somewhat similar to the sevenfold bow used when approaching Pharaoh as mentioned in the Amarna tablets, and the one clearly used among Semites in general in order to express complete submission (compare Genesis 33.3).

He similarly reveals his appreciation of YHWH, for he addresses Him six times as ‘O Lord YHWH’ (four times in verses 18-20, and twice in verses 28-29), twice as ‘O YHWH God’ (verses 22, 25) and once as ‘O YHWH of Hosts’ (verse 27). He thus makes clear that YHWH is his Overlord.

And yet it is also the prayer of one who is confident of his approach. This probably indicates the fact that he does see himself as having a priestly right to approach YHWH as ‘a priest after the order of Melchizedek’, a priesthood which he saw as becoming his when he captured Jerusalem, for in it he expresses not only his own personal gratitude, but the gratitude of his whole people.

The prayer can be split into three subsections:

  • 1). Gratitude to YHWH for what He has promised for him and his house (7.18-21).
  • 2). Wonder at what this great YHWH has done for His own people (7.22-24).
  • 3). Wonder at, and prayer for, what YHWH’s purposes are for his house (7.25-29).

The prayer can also be seen as in a more detailed chiastic form as follows:

Analysis.

  • a Then David the king went in, and remained before YHWH, and he said, “Who am I, O Lord YHWH, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?” (7.18).
  • b “And this was yet a small thing in your eyes, O Lord YHWH, but you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this too after the manner of men, O Lord YHWH!” (7.19).
  • c “And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord YHWH. For your word’s sake, and according to your own heart, have you wrought all this greatness, to make your servant know it” (7.20-21).
  • d “For this reason you are great, O YHWH God, for there is none like you, nor is there any God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears” (7.22).
  • e “And what one nation in the earth is like your people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem to himself for a people” (7.23a).
  • f “And to make him a name, and to do great things for you, and terrible things for your land, before your people, whom you redeem to yourself out of Egypt, from the nations and their gods?” (7.23b).
  • e “And you established to yourself your people Israel to be a people to yourself for ever, and you, YHWH, became their God” (7.24).
  • d “And now, O YHWH God, the word that you have spoken concerning your servant, and concerning his house, confirm you it for ever, and do as you have spoken. And let your name be magnified for ever, saying, ‘YHWH of hosts is God over Israel,’ and the house of your servant David will be established before you” (7.25-26).
  • c “For you, O YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, have revealed to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.” Therefore has your servant found in his heart to pray this prayer to you” (7.27).
  • b “And now, O Lord YHWH, you are God, and your words are truth, and you have promised this good thing to your servant” (7.28).
  • a “Now therefore let it please you to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue for ever before you, for you, O Lord YHWH, have spoken it: and with your blessing let the house of your servant be blessed for ever” (7.29).

Note that in ‘a’ he declares that YHWH has brought him and his house thus far, and in the parallel he prays that it may continue before Him for ever. In ‘b’ YHWH is seen as having spoken of his house for a great while to come and in the parallel He is seen as having promised this good thing to His servant. In ‘c’ He has made His servant know of what is to be, and in the parallel He has revealed it clearly to His servant (note the twofold reference to ‘your servant’ in each case). In ‘d’ YHWH is great and there is none like Him, and in the parallel His Name is to be magnified for ever. In ‘e’ Israel is unique among nations in that God has redeemed them to Himself, and in the parallel it is because He has established them to be His people for ever, and He will be their God. Centrally in ‘f’ God has thereby made a name for himself and has done wondrous things for His people whom He has redeemed for Himself.

1). Gratitude to YHWH for what He has promised for him and his house (7.18-21).

2.7.18a ‘Then David the king went in, and remained before YHWH.’

David clearly sees himself here as having a role to play in the Tent of Meeting, just as the prince will have one in the heavenly Temple of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 44.3). Thus here he now goes in and sits before YHWH to pray with regard to both himself and the people.

‘Remained (tarried) before YHWH.’ For the use of the verb compare Genesis 24.55; 29.19; etc. We do not know what posture David took up. He in fact probably stood, although he may have fallen on his face (compare 12.16).

2.7.18b ‘And he said, “Who am I, O Lord YHWH, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?”

He opens his prayer by admitting that he and his house are totally undeserving. Who is he, and what are they, that YHWH has even brought them thus far, to sit on the throne of Israel? Even though he is now a great king he is aware of his own undeserving and recognises that he owes it all to YHWH, and he is amazed at YHWH’s condescension. He is amazed at God’s goodness to him. Note how ‘who am I O Lord YHWH’ here becomes ‘Who is like to You’ in verse 22. His wonder at God’s goodness to him leads him on to be aware of just how wonderful God is. It is a reminder to us that self-examination fails if it does not lead on to a recognition of the wonder and grace of God. It should never lead us to despair, but, through the cross, to an appreciation of all God’s undeserved goodness towards us.

‘You have brought me thus far’ - as described in 1 Samuel 16.1-2 Samuel 6.23. David could look back on a life of many ups and downs, and he is filled with wonder at the fact that YHWH has been with him through them all. We too should be filled with amazement as we look back in the same way and consider how God has similarly brought us safely through all the vicissitudes of life to our present position. In the words of Paul, ‘by the grace of God I am what I am’, that is, the chief of sinners saved by grace.

2.7.19 “And this was yet a small thing in your eyes, O Lord YHWH, but you have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is the law of man, O Lord YHWH!”

And yet YHWH has not only done this comparatively small thing, but now the wonder is that He has extended it to apply to His servant’s house for a great while to come. He has, indeed, condescended to act in accordance with the law laid down for the behaviour of one man to another (‘the law (torah) of man’) where the laws of inheritance are strictly laid down and permanent, guaranteeing their fulfilment. Such is His mercy and compassion that YHWH has bound Himself to similar consistency of dealing with the house of David as is found in such laws of inheritance, so that the rights of inheritance will pass on, just as they do under the law of man.

Alternately we might see ‘this is the law (instruction, directive) of man’ as meaning ‘the instruction (of YHWH) as it applies to humankind’. The first interpretation saw the certainty of fulfilment as based on the fact that YHWH would show great condescension and follow the permanent custom of men in this regard, this second now makes the certainty of fulfilment dependent on nothing less than God’s own directive as regards men. In both cases the emphasis is on the certainty of fulfilment.

2.7.20 “And what more can David say to you? For you know your servant, O Lord YHWH.”

In view of YHWH’s grace and condescension David finds that he can have nothing further to say. He has been rendered speechless in wonder. He can only rest on the fact that YHWH knows His servant (him) through and through (1 Samuel 16.7), and has therefore in His own sovereign purpose decided to act in this way. Thus he rests all on YHWH. It is all within His good pleasure (see Deuteronomy 7.7-8).

Alternately ‘you know (have known) your servant’ may have in mind the divine activity whereby He ‘knows’ a person by choosing them out for himself. Compare Genesis 18.19; Amos 3.2; 1 Corinthians 8.3; Galatians 4.9. This interpretation fits in well with verse 21. Of course, both are true for all who are His. He both ‘knows’ His servants by choosing them out for Himself from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1.4), and also knows them through and through.

2.7.21 “For your word’s sake, and according to your own heart, have you wrought all this greatness, to make your servant know it.”

Indeed he recognises that the basis of YHWH’s action towards him and his seed can only be His own promises, what He has Himself guaranteed by His word and will therefore fulfil (e.g. Genesis 49.10-12; Numbers 24.17; 1 Samuel 16.1; compare 1 Samuel 2.10), and His own love and covenant kindness which springs from His own heart (compare Deuteronomy 7.7-8). David acknowledges that it is because of these past promises made according to God’s sovereign will that He has wrought all that He has made known to His servant, the fulfilment of all these great and wonderful promises through which He is showing His greatness. In the end all is of God.

That David did recognise the connection between the promise of God now being communicated to him by Nathan and Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49.10-12 is evident from 1 Chronicles 28.4 where he clearly refers to his election as king as being as a consequence of the election of Judah as ruler.

2). Wonder at what this great YHWH has done for those whom He has chosen as His own people (7.22-24).

2.7.22 “For this reason you are great, O YHWH God, for there is none like you, nor is there any God besides you, according to all that we have heard with our ears.”

And he recognises that it is this especially that makes YHWH great and like no other gods, that He faithfully carries forwards His own sovereign will in accordance with His own power and promises. He is always consistent and totally reliable. Thus there is none like Him, nor any gods who can compare with Him, at least as far as they have heard, One Who acts consistently and graciously on behalf of those Whom He chooses quite apart from their deserving (compare verse 23; Exodus 15.11; Deuteronomy 3.24; 4.33-35; 7.7-8).

2.7.23 “And what one nation in the earth is like your people, even like Israel, whom God went to redeem for himself for a people, and to make him a name, and to do great things for you, and terrible things for your land, before your people, whom you redeem to yourself out of Egypt, from the nations and their gods?”

As David thinks back he is filled with awe and reverence as he considers what nation there is on earth which has experienced what Israel has experienced. What one nation on earth has been privileged like the one which He has chosen and redeemed for Himself, that is, like the nation of Israel ‘Whom God went to Egypt to redeem for Himself as a people’, thereby making a Name for Himself, in contrast with the other deities who did not do such a things for their people. (This contrast lies at the back of the Hebrew text - see comment below). He did this both so as to make for Himself a Name, and in order to do great things for His people whom He had bought for Himself. Indeed He did terrible things for His land before His people (see Deuteronomy 10.21), whom He redeemed out of Egypt and out of the hands of the nations and their gods whom He drove out before them. David thus sums up in a few words the whole activity of God on behalf of His people from their deliverance in Egypt to their success in finally being established in Palestine after all the obstacles that they came up against. And all was due to YHWH’s redeeming love and power.

(The Hebrew text is a little difficult to translate into English, although we have brought out the sense above. For example ‘went’ is in the plural suggesting that there is a contrast intended between YHWH Who did go to redeem His people, and other deities who did not go to redeem their people. Thus ‘what one nation on earth -- is like Israel -- of which their deities went to redeem its people?’. The remainder of the sentence is then dealing with YHWH and His people, the ‘you’ switching from addressing God’s people back to addressing God Himself, as it had indicated in the beginning).

2.7.24 “And you established to yourself your people Israel to be a people to yourself for ever, and you, YHWH, became their God.”

And He thus established to Himself His people Israel, to be a people to Himself for ever, while He became their God. It was an eternal arrangement that would never cease, and would be fulfilled on all those who truly responded to His covenant and obeyed Him. He would never fail those whose trust was in Him.

This does not mean that there is what we call ‘a nation’ which He would treat as His people whatever they did and however they responded, and who are now languishing in unbelief in Jerusalem waiting for His special favour. It refers to those whom He had redeemed for Himself, who would genuinely ‘be a people to Himself’. As Paul put it, ‘they are not all Israel who are of Israel’ (Romans 9.6). Thus those who revealed themselves as not His true people would be (and now are) cut off, and rejected from the covenant, resulting in their ceasing even nominally to be His people, while those who responded to Him and came within the covenant in accordance with His provision (Exodus 12.48), becoming circumcised in heart (Philippians 3.3; Colossians 2.11), would become His true people. This situation was especially highlighted through the coming and death of great David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, so that the true Israel was revealed as those who believed in Him and put their trust in Him (Matthew 19.28; 21.43; John 15.1-6; Galatians 3.29; 6.16; Romans 11.16-28; Ephesians 2.18-22; 1 Peter 2.9; James 1.1; Revelation 7.4-8). There is only one post-resurrection Israel and that is composed of all who have believed in the true Vine (John 15.1-6).

So David’s glorying is not just in the fact that his house is secure for ever, but also in the fact that YHWH has chosen for Himself His true people for ever, so that they will be blessed together with David’s house. He is acknowledging by this the responsibility of his house for the blessing of God’s people, a responsibility wonderfully fulfilled by the Greatest Representative of that house, the Lord Jesus Christ.

3). Wonder at, and prayer for the fulfilment of, what YHWH’s purposes are for his house (7.25-29).

David now prays with confidence that YHWH will fulfil what He has promised, simply because that promise is founded on His word to His servant, not on anything of His servant’s own deserving. His confidence is totally in God and what He has determined.

2.7.25 “And now, O YHWH God, the word that you have spoken concerning your servant, and concerning his house, confirm you it for ever, and do as you have spoken.”

Firstly he prays that YHWH will confirm for ever what He has promised and do as He has spoken, on the grounds that it is YHWH’s will for His house as revealed by His word of promise. He is relying on Him to fulfil His unmerited promise.

2.7.26 “And let your name be magnified for ever, saying, ‘YHWH of hosts is God over Israel’ ”.

He next prays that YHWH’s Name will be magnified because all will be able to say, ‘YHWH of hosts is God over Israel’, and he can say that because he knows now that God will faithfully keep those who are His true people, so that their preservation is sure. This Israel includes, of course, the Israel of God (Galatians 6.16), the true Israel (John 15.1-6), the Israel which is made up of all who truly love Him and walk within His covenant. By entering into His covenant they become true Israelites (Exodus 12.48), as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us (Hebrews 8.6-13). Thus unbelieving Israel are excluded, and Gentiles who have become one with the true Israel by belief in Jesus Christ are included (Romans 11.17-28).

2.7.26b-27 “And the house of your servant David will be established before you, for you, O YHWH of hosts, the God of Israel, have revealed to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.” Therefore has your servant found in his heart to pray this prayer to you.”

He again expresses his confidence that because of what God has said and promised he is now assured that his house will be established for ever, because it is YHWH Himself Who of His own free choice has said that He will build him a house. It is indeed because of that that he feels able to pray this prayer.

Note the emphasis on the fact that he can pray confidently because he does so on the basis of the promises of God. ‘And this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will (because He has promised it) He hears us, and if we know that He hears us whatever we ask (which is in accordance with His will) we know that we will receive the petitions that we have asked of Him’ (1 John 5.14-15).

2.7.28 “And now, O Lord YHWH, you are God, and your words are truth, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.”

His confidence lies in the fact that the Lord YHWH is God, and that God’s words are truth, a truth that can never be broken or gainsaid. Thus having promised this good thing to His servant, it is certain and sure, because His words are true.

2.7.29 “Now therefore let it please you to bless the house of your servant, that it may continue for ever before you, for you, O Lord YHWH, have spoken it, and with your blessing let the house of your servant be blessed for ever.”

He finalises his prayer by asking that God will be pleased to bless his house (as God’s servant) as He has promised, so that it might continue for ever before Him. And he does it confident that it will be so because He has spoken it. Let His blessing therefore rest cause the house of His servant to be blessed for ever.

It was no light thing that God had promised David. Indeed it was so wonderful that as we have seen he has had to repeat himself two or three times while the wonder of it dawns on his soul. And it is because it is so wonderful that he has to keep reminding both himself and God that, while it seems too good to be true, it is certainly true, because God has promised it. His confidence is totally in the certainty that God must fulfil His word.

David Triumphs Over All His Enemies And Makes A Name For Himself (8.1-15).

In this passage David’s victories against all his enemies are described, commencing with his taking of ‘the bridle of the mother city (1 Chronicles 18.1 makes clear that this mother city was Gath) out of the hands of the Philistines’. In other words he became overlord over the city to which he had previously been a vassal, the mother city that was seen as in control over all the other Philistine cities. From this point on all of Philistia was in submission to him. The passage will then come to its final conclusion with a picture of his overall successful reign, for, in the final analysis, the reason why YHWH has given him success was so that he might rule justly over God’s people. Taking the enemy’s bridle in hand was a picture of the enemy’s submission, the idea being that the enemy’s horse was now being led by the bridle. The use of the phrase has been confirmed among the later Arabs.

In between these two situations he smote Moab, dealing very severely with her warriors. This may have been following a period when, after initially submitting, Moab had revealed herself to be continuously rebellious, which would be seen as the kind of situation which would necessitate the decimation of her fighting force in order to prevent it happening again (compare a similar idea in Deuteronomy 20.12-13). The smiting of Moab was then followed by the smiting of Hadadezer of Zobab, together with his Aramaean (Syrian) allies. A description is given of the prisoners-of-war taken, and of the way that Hadadezer’s war machine was weakened by the hocking of all his chariot horses, apart from those of one smaller unit (‘one hundred’) which were retained for David’s use. Both Hadadezer and Syria then paid tribute. The result was that Toi of Hamath also peaceably yielded to him, accepting him as his Overlord on a treaty basis, and paying tribute (‘presents’).

Following this there was a second major victory over some Aramaeans who were in alliance with the Edomites, on the southern borders of Judah, a victory which enhanced David’s reputation, and was followed by the subduing of the whole of Edom. The consequence was that now David could rule safely and administer justice in total security over all the land of Israel with no fear of outside interference.

Analysis.

  • And after this it came about that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them, and David took the bridle of the mother city out of the hand of the Philistines (8.1).
  • b And he smote Moab, and measured them with the line, making them to lie down on the ground, and he measured two lines to put to death, and one full line to keep alive. And the Moabites became servants to David, and brought tribute (8.2).
  • c David smote also Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his dominion at the River, and David took from him a thousand and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen, and David hocked all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for a hundred chariots, and when the Aramaeans (Syrians) of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David smote of the Aramaeans (Syrians) two and twenty thousand men (8.3-5).
  • d Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Aramaeans (Syrians) became servants to David, and brought tribute. And YHWH gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold which were on the servants of Hadadezer, and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, king David took exceeding much bronze (8.6-8).
  • e And when Toi king of Hamath heard that David had smitten all the host of Hadadezer, then Toi sent Joram his son to king David, to salute him, and to bless him, because he had fought against Hadadezer and smitten him, for Hadadezer had wars with Toi.
  • d And Joram brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of bronze. These also did king David dedicate to YHWH, with the silver and gold that he dedicated of all the nations which he subdued, of Syria, and of Moab, and of the children of Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek, and of the spoil of Hadadezer, son of Rehob, king of Zobah.
  • c And David obtained for himself a name when he returned from smiting the Aramaeans in the Valley of Salt, even eighteen thousand men (8.13).
  • b And he put garrisons in Edom, throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all the Edomites became servants to David. And YHWH gave victory to David wherever he went (8.14).
  • a And David reigned over all Israel, and David executed justice and righteousness to all his people. (8.15).

Note that in ‘a’ David took the bridle of the mother city out of the hands of the Philistines, and in the parallel he reigned over all Israel, and executed justice and righteousness to all his people, setting up his own court. In ‘b’ he subdued the Moabites, and in the parallel he subdued the Edomites, the two nations which had barred Israel’s way to the Promised Land. In ‘c’ David smote Hadadezer and the Aramaeans who came to his aid, and in the parallel he again smote the Aramaeans. In ‘d’ the tribute and spoils which were brought to Jerusalem are described and catalogued, and in the parallel a similar catalogue of what was given to YHWH is described. Centrally in ‘e’ the king of Hamath enters into a treaty or vassal relationship with David and gives him presents, acknowledging his supremacy.

2.8.1 ‘And after this it came about that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them, and David took the bridle of the mother city out of the hand of the Philistines.’

‘And after this.’ This is simply a general phrase referring back to most of what had happened in chapters 5-6. What is described in chapter 7 was simply a flash-forward, demonstrating David’s later expression of gratitude for his house of cedar (5.11-12), and confirming his words to Michal about the fact that YHWH had permanently appointed him and his house in Saul’s place (6.21). This is evident from the fact that chapter 7 took place after he had obtained rest from all his enemies (7.1). We are now to learn how he obtained that rest.

The first stage was to turn the tables on the Philistines. He had previously been their vassal. But their warlike manoeuvres had now justified him in himself attacking Philistia and bringing it under his own control (thus "he smote the Philistines and subdued them"). Instead of David being the vassal of Achish, he had now become his overlord.

The taking of the bridle of the mother city out of the hands of the Philistines is a vivid description of his taking control of them. To take someone’s bridle meant that you had taken them prisoner and brought them under your control. You led them by the bridle. The mother city is seen in 1 Chronicles 18.1 as referring to "Gath and her daughters". This may suggest that Achish was the senior lord of the Philistines and thus a kind of presiding leader over the council of five, his submission being seen as the submission of them all, or it may simply be because Gath was the city to which David had been subject, whose subjection brought about that of all the others.

Some translators translate "bridle of the mother" as a place name Metheg-ha-ammah, but "taking the bridle" was a recognised phrase indicating the gaining of supremacy over someone (it is known elsewhere as an Arabic idiom) and should be allowed to stand. The importance of this state of affairs should not be underestimated. After a long period of constant invasion by the Philistines the dread of them was removed from Israel. Note how in 1 Kings 2.39 on Achish was apparently a subject king to Israel, and part of the Empire (compare 1 Kings 4.21, 24; 8.65; 2 Chronicles 9.26).

2.8.2 ‘And he smote Moab, and measured them with the line, making them to lie down on the ground, and he measured two lines to put to death, and one full line to keep alive. And the Moabites became servants to David, and brought tribute.’

Anyone in the writer’s day would have known what this meant. It indicated that Moab had initially submitted to David (possibly after they had invaded the territory of Reuben while David was engaged in subduing the Philistines and had then been themselves subdued) but had then openly rebelled and had severely harassed Israel again. Therefore, as David did not want Israel to have to continually live under the threat of Moabite invasion, they received the harsh treatment meted out to those who acted as traitor and whose treaty promises proved unreliable. Their fighting strength was reduced by summary executions. This was a common practise in the warfare of the day towards those who failed in their submission (compare Deuteronomy 20.12-13). It was the only way of containment and of ensuring that they would not be strong enough to rebel again. (Initially he may well have originally offered them special treaty status because of Moab’s earlier kindness towards him (1 Samuel 22.3-4). For them to have acted against that would have been seen as especially heinous. But the act was clearly felt necessary for the purposes of containment, which does suggest that they were continually harrying Israel. It is a reminder that David was a ‘man of blood’ who would do what he considered necessary to keep Israel secure. It would act as a severe warning to others of what would happen if they too rebelled. The result was (unsurprisingly) that they became his vassals and paid tribute. Indeed, one of the main emphases of this chapter is on the amount of tribute that David received. That was the mark of a successful empire-builder, and it was all committed to YHWH.

2.8.3 ‘David smote also Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his dominion at the River.’

David also smote the local empire-builder Hadadezer, king of Zobah with his arrogance and pretensions to greatness. We should note that this is a summary description of the final result of David’s battles with Zobah and Aram (Syria), which were started by the by the Aramaeans of Zobah (10.6). So David was not necessarily the original aggressor. For more detail of this see chapter 10. The name of Hadad-ezer meant ‘Hadad is my help’, Hadad being an Aramaean god (their equivalent of Baal). Hadar-ezer (1 Chronicles 18.3) was probably a dialectic variant. In 2 Samuel 14.47 Zobah (Aram-Zobah in 10.6; Psalm 60.2) is mentioned alongside Ammon, Moab and Edom as a neighbouring tribe, and as this chapter indicates (verses 3, 5, 9) it was to be found in the vicinity of Damascus and Hamath, thus to the north of Israel, and probably north-east of Damascus. It was clearly in the ascendancy at this time. The fact that Hadad-ezer went to recover his dominion at the River (Euphrates) suggests that he was a belligerent, warlike king who had himself established an empire (unless it refers to his attempt to gain the assistance of mercenaries from fellow-Aramaeans beyond the River - 10.16). But his interference in the Ammonite war as described in chapter 10 had inevitably made him a target for David. It may also well be the case that one of those who were being invaded by Hadadezer was Toi, the king of Hamath, and that Toi had sent an appeal to David for help. This would explain his action towards David in verse 10.

2.8.4 ‘And David took from him a thousand and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen, and David hocked all the chariot horses, but reserved of them for a hundred chariots.’

As read by an Israelite this may have signified a large chariot unit (an eleph) of say twelve to twenty chariots, seven military units of horsemen, and twenty larger military units of footmen, with David only keeping the best of the chariot horses sufficient for a smaller chariot unit (see below). The men would be taken as bondservants, with suitably responsive ones, especially mercenaries, possibly recruited into the army, and the ‘numbers’ are mentioned in order to bring out the scale of David’s victory.

The mention of chariot horses indicates that we should expect mention of a chariot unit, which suggests that we see the eleph (‘thousand, military unit’) as referring to a chariot unit. The number of horses taken (which would include more than the chariot horses - compare Isaiah 21.7) were, however, too many, or too unsuitable, to be of any use and were thus rendered unserviceable as war horses by hocking them (cutting their tendons) in order to render them less active and useless for warfare, apart, that is, from sufficient to service a small chariot unit.

The smaller number of horsemen (‘hundreds’) compared with footmen (‘thousand’) may simply indicate that horsemen were in smaller units, or it may suggest that on the whole more horsemen had been able to flee (compare 1 Samuel 30.17). Alternately the terms may have been inter-changeable, both simply indicating military units and simply used to ring the changes (this is what the uses in Samuel and Chronicles appear to suggest). If we do not see the ‘thousand’ as referring to a large chariot unit (say, of twelve to twenty chariots) as we have suggested, the horsemen who were captured would be seen as consisting of one large unit (a ‘thousand’) and seven smaller units (seven ‘hundreds’), the hundreds as opposed to the thousand may then suggest that only one entire unit of horsemen had been captured, together with remnants from the other units (but the reference to chariots is more likely. See also below). These would compare with the twenty large military units of footmen, who, of course, had not been able to make their escape, being trapped by David’s chariots and horsemen.

However, in the parallel passage 1 Chronicles 18.4 has ‘a thousand chariots, seven thousand horsemen and twenty thousand footmen’ which supports our first conjecture. The question of large ‘numbers’ is a difficult one in the Old Testament as numbers tended to be used adjectivally in order to give an impression, rather than strictly numerically, and the words used for such numbers could also indicate a particular type and level of grouping (family, military unit, etc). We must remember that most Israelites could not in fact think accurately in large numbers, being unfamiliar with them. They did not think numerically. So it may well be that the verse here in 2 Samuel is intended to indicate ‘a large unit (of chariots, indicated by the mention of chariot horses. What was seen as a large unit of chariots may well have been numerically smaller than a smaller unit of horsemen), seven smaller units composed of horsemen (their units being smaller than those of footmen), and twenty large units of footmen’, the Chronicler then using ‘seven thousand’ (rather than ‘seven hundred’) for horsemen because by his time a ‘hundred’ was less obviously a military unit, or because the terms were inter-changeable when used of military units. The Chronicler regularly uses ‘thousand’ where Samuel/Kings uses ‘hundred’, and vice versa). If that is so it is simply a matter of what might at first sight appear to be differing numbers rather reflecting changing literary usage. Others consider that there has been a mistake on the part of the writer of Samuel in copying the numbers from the original source. The argument is that numbers were liable to be incorrectly copied because of the signs used in order to indicate them. But it may very well be that the reason is simply one of literary usage, which may seem strange to us in our numerate age but would have been fully understood then.

2.8. 5 ‘And when the Aramaeans (Syrians) of Damascus came to succour Hadadezer king of Zobah, David smote of the Aramaeans (Syrians) two and twenty thousand men.’

When the Aramaeans of Damascus (Damasheq) came hotfoot to the rescue of the Aramaeans of Zobah they too were soundly beaten, with the result that they lost twenty two military units. David’s mighty men with their accompanying troops were proving mightily effective (and it was because the Spirit of YHWH was continually with David - 1 Samuel 16.13). It must be recognised that the continuing campaign against the Aramaeans is substantially abbreviated. The details, which the writer was little interested in (he was interested in David’s triumph as a result of the power of YHWH), would have been much more complicated as consideration of chapter 10, which is also an abbreviated account, reveals.

2.8.6 ‘Then David put garrisons in Aram (Syria) of Damascus, and the Aramaeans (Syrians) became servants to David, and brought tribute. And YHWH gave victory to David wherever he went.’

The result for the Aramaeans was that David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Aramaeans became vassals of David, and began to pay tribute. And we are then informed that it was not only the Aramaeans who were defeated, for David was given the victory by YHWH wherever he went. No one could stand before his attacks.

2.8.7 ‘And David took the shields of gold which were on the servants of Hadadezer, and brought them to Jerusalem.’

Having defeated Hadadezer David then proceeded to strip his kingdom of its riches, riches which had, of course, all been gained from Hadad-ezer’s empire building. The highlight of these riches were the shields of gold borne by Hadad-ezer’s bodyguard, or by his vassal princes, courtiers and commanders. And all this booty was brought to Jerusalem to be presented before YHWH, and put in the treasury.

2.8.8 ‘And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, king David took exceeding much bronze.’

Further booty was obtained from Hadad-ezer’s other cities, such as Betah and Berothai, although in this case of the lesser metal, bronze. 1 Chronicles 18.8 gives different names, probably reflecting a modernising of names which had taken place over a period of time. (In fact many cities regularly had more than one name. Geographical descriptions tended to be loose).

2.8.9-10 ‘And when Toi king of Hamath heard that David had smitten all the host of Hadadezer, then Toi sent Joram his son to king David, to salute him, and to bless him, because he had fought against Hadadezer and smitten him, for Hadadezer had wars with Toi. And Joram brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of bronze.’

When the news of David’s victories reached the ears of Toi, king of Hamath (who may well have previously called on David for assistance) he sent his son Joram to David to salute him (probably in homage) and to show his gratitude towards him. Certainly David’s activity had relieved the pressure on his country, for Hadad-ezer had been continually harassing Hamath and threatening Toi. Toi clearly saw a treaty of friendship with David as a better option. Thus his son brought to David a thanksgiving gift which was little short (if at all) of tribute. It consisted of silver, gold and bronze. All this silver, gold and bronze would be stored up by David to be used in the building of the Temple

1 Chronicles gives the name Hadoram instead of Joram. The latter, an Israelite name, was probably a name given to him by David, replacing Hado- (for Hadad) with Yo- (for YHWH) in connection with the acceptance of his homage (or even possibly his conversion to YHWH).

2.8.11-12 ‘These also did king David dedicate to YHWH, with the silver and gold that he dedicated of all the nations which he subdued, of Aram (Syria), and of Moab, and of the children of Ammon, and of the Philistines, and of Amalek, and of the spoil of Hadadezer, son of Rehob, king of Zobah.’

All these gift David dedicated to YHWH, the architect of his victories, along with the silver and gold of all his other victories, including those over Aram, over Moab, over Ammon, over the Philistines, over Amalek (possibly that mentioned in 1 Samuel 30), and especially over Zobah. He had thus gained victories in the North (Aram), the East (Moab and Ammon), the West (Philistia), and the South (Amalek). None could stand before him, and all paid tribute to him. And in most cases David had not been the initial aggressor.

2.8.13 ‘And David obtained for himself a name when he returned from smiting the Aramaeans (Syrians) in the Valley of Salt, even eighteen thousand men.’

Some, however, continued to try to obtain his downfall, and the result was that David was able to make a name for himself by defeating eighteen units of combined Aramaean and Edomite strength in the Valley of Salt which was on the southern borders of Judah. The fact that he ‘made a name’ for himself by this may suggest that no tribute was obtained at this time, so that he had to be satisfied with the increase of his reputation, although it may be reflecting YHWH’s promise to give him a great name like the great kings of the earth (7.9). The combined purpose of the whole passage is in order to bring out how David’s name became famous, and how much wealth he obtained as a result of booty and tribute. This war would appear to have been totally defensive, although it did then result in the invasion of Edom, who had been seemingly been allied with the Aramaeans. This fact of an alliance between the two is brought out by 1 Chronicles 18.12, where the Chronicler mentions Edomites, clearly wanting to connect the victory with the invasion that followed (compare also Amos 1.4 for a similar connection). That the Aramaeans did exercise authority around this area comes out in Isaiah 17.1-4 where the defeat of Aram (Syria) also resulted in the distress of Aroer. There were two Aroers, one in Judah near its southern borders (1 Samuel 30.28), and one by the River Arnon, east of the Jordan Rift Valley (Deuteronomy 2.36; 3.12; 4.48; Joshua 12.2 and often). Either way it reflected the continued involvement of Aramaeans around that general area. Thus we may well see this as a combined Aramaean/Edomite force.

An alternative is to accept the minority of Hebrew texts in 2 Samuel (and LXX) which read ‘Edom’ for ‘Aram’ (the names being differentiated in Hebrew by the tiniest of changes in one letter). But the textual evidence, such as it is, at present favours Aram.

2.8.14 ‘And he put garrisons in Edom, throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all the Edomites became servants to David. And YHWH gave victory to David wherever he went.’

The consequence of the Aramaean/Edomite invasion was that David retaliated by subduing Edom and setting up garrisons throughout the land, with the result that the Edomites became his vassals, and would, of course, pay tribute. But the writer is at this point more concerned with the fact that he was now making a name for himself as one of the great ones on the earth (7.9). And once again we are reminded that it was YHWH Who gave victory to David wherever he went (compare verse 6). The repetition of the phrase highlights it in the passage and gives it special emphasis. It is thus stressed that he owed both his growing wealth and his great name to YHWH.

2.8.15 ‘And David reigned over all Israel, and David executed justice and righteousness to all his people.’

The prime aim of David’s efforts, and the great name that he had attained, had been in order that YHWH might establish a righteous state for the benefit of His people, a kind of Kingdom of God. Thus having brought rest from war, and having safely established Israel in peace and security, David now reigned over them as YHWH’s representative in justice, equity and mercy. Note how this is also to be the sign of the great everlasting king (Isaiah 11.1-4).

Details Of David’s Administration As King And The Appointment Of His Son As Priests (2.16-18).

Analysis.

  • a And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host
  • b And Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder
  • c And Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests
  • b And Seraiah was scribe.
  • a And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests (or chief ministers).

Note that in ‘a’ Joab is over the host, and in the parallel Benaiah is over the king’s bodyguard. In ‘b’ Jehoshaphat is Recorder, and in the parallel Seraiah is the Scribe. Centrally in ‘c’ we have the names of the two High Priests. The description of David’s sons as priests (of a different kind) is then added at the end bringing out its emphasis. The parallel statements of the sons of the Aaronic house as priests with David’s sons as priests, arising in the second part of the chiasmus, follows a similar pattern found in earlier chiasmuses (see for example analysis of 1 Samuel 1.1-8).

2.8.16-18 ‘And Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, and Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests, and Seraiah was scribe, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests (chief ministers).’

Both David’s greatness and his administrative flair is brought out in his appointees. He appointed Joab as general over his army, Jehoshaphat (otherwise unknown) as his recorder, historian and chancellor, Zadok and Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech, as his (High) Priests, Seraiah as his Scribe, and Benaiah as commander over his bodyguard. But above all he established his own sons as ‘priests’, in the last case with a view to them (hopefully) sharing with him in his kingly intercessory priesthood. In all his greatness he did not ignore the spiritual life of his sons.

The word for ‘priests’ used of David’s sons is the same as that used for Zadok and Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech (who both ministered as ‘Priest’ (High Priest), presumably one at the Tabernacle in Gibeon where the majority of the Tabernacle furniture was, and the other at the Tent in Jerusalem before the Ark) but the separation in mention indicates that the priesthood of David’s sons is to be seen as of a different type of priesthood. This was probably the priesthood of Jerusalem ‘after the order of Mechi-zedek’ uniting them with their father in spiritual concern for the realm as spiritual guardians. (We would expect some such thing from an optimistic and godly David who would have the highest expectations of his sons). 1 Chronicles calls them ‘the first at the side of the king’, and some would therefore translate as ‘close ministers’ (compare the king’s friend who is also called a ‘priest’ - 1 Kings 4.5). But this would tie in well with their being, at least theoretically, prayer-upholders.

Note on the details of the list of names of David’s servants.

‘Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the host.’ Joab was David’s nephew, being the eldest son of his sister Zeruiah. He had been David’s commander from the early days of his reign over Judah (2 Samuel 2.13-18; 3.23), and had presumably been with David, along with his brothers Abishai and Asahel, in the wilderness days (see 1 Samuel 26.6). He and his two brothers were thus prominent and faithful in the service of David, but Joab and Abishai were seen by David as having somewhat of a ‘hard’ streak (3.39), and Joab was never really forgiven for the slaying of Abner and Amasa, two rival generals (1 Kings 2.5-6). He did, however, seem to have David’s (and his own) concerns at heart as he demonstrated when he risked the king’s anger by arranging for the slaying of Absalom in the face of David’s objections, although he took the precaution of ensuring that it was execution by a number of people so that no one person could take the blame. He also tried to persuade him not to sin by ‘numbering’ Israel (24.3). He was David’s faithful commander to the end, but chose the wrong son (the eldest) when it came to the succession (1 Kings 1.7), and on David’s advice (1 Kings 2.5-6) Solomon had him summarily executed (1 Kings 2.28-34). All that can be said in David’s favour with regard to this was that Joab no doubt angered him by seeking to make Adonijah king without David’s permission even while David was alive, not as an act of rebellion against David, but in order to prevent the selection of Solomon. Knowing what a hard man he was David no doubt foresaw that he would not be able to be trusted from then on in regard to Solomon. (So David could be hard too).

‘Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder.’ We know nothing further of Jehoshaphat the recorder. As Recorder he would maintain the official records of David’s reign and may well have been responsible for the source lying behind chapters 9-24. His responsibilities would also probably include responsibility for keeping the king informed on important matters, advising him, and communicating the king's commands to others.

‘Zadok the son of Ahitub, and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar, were priests.’ The mention of Abiathar’s son, Ahimelech (named after his grandfather), makes clear that at this time Abiathar had for some reason dropped out from acting as High Priest for a time. This need not necessarily surprise us, for if he had contracted a skin disease, which was not uncommon in those days, he would have been excluded from such duties. Once the skin disease had cleared up he could then return to his previous post. It may well be that Ahimelech died while fairly young as he is not mentioned later apart from in 1 Chronicles 24.3, 6, 31. The necessity for having two High Priests would originally have arisen when Abiathar fled to David, and Saul wished to restore the Tabernacle ministry which had ceased when he slew the priests at Nob. He no doubt selected Zadok, who was descended from Eliezer, because he was from another branch of the Aaronic priesthood

‘Seraiah was scribe.’ That is, he was the secretary of state. In 20.25 he is called Sheva. In 1 Kings 4.3 he is named Shisha, which in 1 Chronicles 8.16 becomes Shavshah. These are probably simply variants of his official name received on appointment. Ancient names were very flexible.

‘Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites.’ Benaiah was one of David’s mighty men and was over David’s bodyguard. He later under Solomon became commander of the Israelite army in Joab’s place. Some have seen the nouns cherethi and pelethi as signifying ‘executioners (from carath - to ‘cut down’) and couriers’ (from palath - in Arabic ‘escape, flee’). This would tie in with the fact that David regularly called on his young men to carry out executions, and they would certainly sometimes act as couriers in the same way as 19th century AD aide-de-camps. However, the Cherethites mentioned in 1 Samuel 30.14 were probably originally Cretans who had come over in the Philistine invasion (compare Ezekiel 25.16; Zephaniah 2.5), in which case we may see the Pelethi as ‘Philistines’ with the ‘s’ dropped out and with the word popularly fashioned so as to resonate with the Cherethi, who probably came over via Crete from the Aegean. They may well have come into David’s service at Ziklag, and even have converted to Yahwism. If this be the case both groups would presumably be mercenaries who served David personally, something which might be seen as confirmed by the fact that the same combination of the two helped to set Solomon on his throne (1 Kings 1.44) and were then not heard of again.

‘David’s sons were priests (chief ministers).’ The word for ‘priests’ is the same one as that used for Zadok and Ahimelech. As suggested above this may indicate that they were seen as ‘priests after the order of Melchi-zedek’ (Psalm 110.4), possibly acting alongside David, and helping to fulfil his religious/political duties, especially when he was away. Certainly later Solomon reveals himself as a capable intercessor (1 Kings 8.54-55). Others see the word as here meaning something like ‘chief ministers’.

End of note.

The Restoration Of The Wealth Of The House Of Saul And Jonathan In The Person of Jonathan’s Son Mephibosheth (9.1-13).

While it has been made clear by the barrenness of Michal that YHWH had fully removed the kingship from even an indirect connection with the house of Saul for ever, it was fitting on the other hand that David should remember his covenant with Jonathan, and that YHWH should thereby show genuine compassion towards Saul’s descendants. Man of blood David may have been. But this story confirms that he was both loyal and true, and that he could show great magnanimity towards those who were willing to respond rightly towards him, just as he looked to YHWH to show great magnanimity towards him.

The story, (which is in direct contrast to that in chapter 10), commences with David making an attempt to seek out any member of the house of Saul in order that he might ‘show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake’. (Compare how in 10.2 he wanted to show the king of Ammon kindness for his father’s sake). It may at first sight appear strange that David was not aware of what descendants of Saul remained, but what that does testify to is firstly David’s lack off vindictiveness and total confidence in his own position, and secondly to the fact that those who had Mephibosheth’s interests at heart had not wanted to draw David’s attention to a Saulide who might be seen as a possible contender for the throne (in the hands of unscrupulous men) and have to be ‘got rid of’. They could so easily have sought to claim Saul’s lands back for Mephibosheth. But it is apparent that they had not. Furthermore Mephibosheth’s lameness would also have contributed to his being kept out of the limelight, for in those days the lame were looked on both with pity and contempt (compare 5.6) and attention would not have been drawn to him. In the circumstances it was to the great credit of Machir that he was concerning himself with Mephibosheth’s safety and wellbeing.

The story then goes on to show how David not only restores to Mephibosheth all Saul’s lands, but even more importantly in many ways, invites him to sit among his sons at the king’s table. It made evident the fact that he felt totally secure in his own position, and that his love for Jonathan, and the commitment that he had made to him, had not in any way diminished (1 Samuel 20.15-16). He was loyal to the end. Many a king in those days would have considered that exterminating those of his rival’s house took precedence even over a sworn covenant.

It will be noted that in the section chiasmus above this incident parallels that which demonstrated YHWH’s establishment of David’s kingship and David’s receipt of a house of cedar. In the same way as David had received a house of cedar from YHWH, so Mephibosheth receives back his lands and his name, and is established at the royal court ‘for Jonathan’s sake’.

We find here a beautiful picture of the love of Jesus Christ for us. Like Mephibosheth we are ‘lame in both our feet’, but our Lord Jesus Christ not only came to redeem us back to Himself at the cost of His blood, but also promised that we would sit with Him at the King’s Table, yes, and even that, once we are there, He Himself will act as our servant and feed us at that table (Luke 12.37; Matthew 20.25-28). It is because of what He has done for us that our heavenly Father shows us kindness ‘for Jesus’ sake’.

Analysis.

  • a And David said, “Is there yet any who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?” (9.1).
  • b And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “Your servant is he” (9.2).
  • c And the king said, “Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” And Ziba said to the king, “Jonathan has yet a son, who is lame of his feet” (9.3).
  • d And the king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo-debar.” Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar (9.4-5).
  • e And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face, and did obeisance. And David said, “Mephibosheth.” And he answered, “Behold, your servant!” (9.6).
  • f And David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat bread at my table continually” (9.7).
  • e And he did obeisance, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look on such a dead dog as I am?” (9.8).
  • d Then the king called to Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that pertains to Saul and to all his house have I given to your master’s son. And you shall work the land for him, you, and your sons, and your servants, and you shall bring in the fruits, that your master’s son may have bread to eat, but Mephibosheth your master’s son shall eat bread always at my table. Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants (9.9-10).
  • c Then said Ziba to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so shall your servant do.” “As for Mephibosheth,” said the king, “he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons” (9.11).
  • b And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth (9.12).
  • a So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table. And he was lame in both his feet (9.13).

Note that in ‘a’ David wishes to show kindness to the house of Jonathan, and in the parallel he does so. In ‘b’ we learn of Ziba the servant of Saul, and in the parallel he becomes servant to Mephibosheth. In ‘c’ we learn of Jonathan’s son who is lame in both his feet, and in the parallel David seats him at the king’s table ‘as one of the king’s sons’. In ‘d’ David graciously fetches Mephibosheth from Lo-Debar and in the parallel he establishes him and gives him all that had pertained to the house of Saul. In ‘e’ Mephibosheth makes his obeisance to David, and in the parallel he does the same. Centrally in ‘f’’ David declares how he will show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake.

2.9.1 ‘And David said, “Is there yet any who is left of the house of Saul, that I may show him kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

We do not, of course, know at what stage in David’s reign this occurred (although we do know that it was some time before Absalom’s rebellion). But it was very probably in the middle of his reign, for Mephibosheth, who was twelve when David took the throne of Israel, seemingly by this time had a son (unless we see the mention of his son as simply indicating that he had one later). We should recognise that very few if any of David’s contemporary kings would even have considered the possibility of showing kindness to the house of those from whom they had taken over their kingship. Indeed they would have been busy rooting them out in order to destroy them. It was therefore a sign of David’s genuine compassion and loyalty towards Jonathan that he sought out a member of the house of Saul, not so that he could destroy him, but so that he could show him kindness ‘for Jonathan’s sake’. It makes clear that he had never forgotten the bond that had lain between them. It also make clear the total confidence he has in the ability of YHWH to maintain him on his throne. We should note also in passing that he began his search before he was aware that Mephibosheth was disabled. It was not a case of adopting a lame duck.

2.9.2 ‘And there was of the house of Saul a servant whose name was Ziba, and they called him to David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?” And he said, “Your servant is he.”

It is clear that David’s words were addressed to his ‘servants’ (advisers and courtiers) for it appears to have been they who sought out Ziba, a former estate manager of Saul, and brought him to David. It is probable that Ziba was somewhat afraid for he would recognise the danger inherent in his position as one of the deceased king’s prominent ‘servants’. We can almost hear the tentative note in his voice as, to the king’s question as to his identity, he says, ‘I am he’.

2.9.3 ‘And the king said, “Is there not yet any of the house of Saul, that I may show the kindness of God to him?” And Ziba said to the king, “Jonathan has yet a son, who is lame of his feet.” ’

He must therefore have been greatly relieved when the reason that he had been summoned turned out to be in order for David to show mercy to Saul’s descendants. For David questioned him about them in order to show ‘the kindness of God’ towards them. To David the ‘kindness of God’ was the highest form of unmerited kindness that it was possible to show, for he knew from experience what the kindness of God was like because God had shown His kindness towards him.. It might on the other hand mean a kindness wrought in the heart by God, but either way the thought is similar. Alternately in Hebrew idiom it can be seen as simply indicating ‘great kindness’ (in the same way as ‘the mountains of God’ could mean ‘great mountains’).

Note David’s awareness of the fact that Ziba would have been loth to answer his next question had he not indicated his intention to show mercy. It was not a wise thing to appear to be on terms with, or even familiar with, the household of the previous dynasty. It was no doubt the assurance of David that made him reply, ‘Jonathan has yet a son’ but he immediately hurried on to say ‘he is lame in both his feet’. That at least indicated that he was less likely to pose a threat to David.

2.9.4 ‘And the king said to him, “Where is he?” And Ziba said to the king, “Behold, he is in the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, in Lo-debar.” ’

When David enquired of his whereabouts Ziba informed him that he was under the protection of, and in the house of, Machir, the son of Ammiel (my kinsman is God), in Lo-debar (possibly the Lidebir of Joshua 13.26 RV margin). Machir was a very wealthy man living in Transjordan (probably not far from Mahanaim - 17.27-29; compare Joshua 13.26), who would later prove his genuine loyalty to David by helping to provision him and his men when David himself was fleeing from Absalom (17.27-29), an act of generosity and loyalty that could also have landed him in trouble if Absalom had been victorious. But when the news reached his house that Mephibosheth had been summoned into the kings presence he too must have felt some trepidation, both for himself (he would know that he himself could only too easily be accused of harbouring a rival claimant to the throne) and for Mephibosheth. Indeed it is very probable that the depth of his love and admiration for David was increased by this incident, even though David would have been totally unaware that he was casting his bread upon the waters which would in future return manifold (Ecclesiastes 11.1).

2.9.5 ‘Then king David sent, and fetched him out of the house of Machir the son of Ammiel, from Lo-debar.’

2.9.6 ‘And Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan, the son of Saul, came to David, and fell on his face, and did obeisance. And David said, “Mephibosheth.” And he answered, “Behold, your servant!”

If Ziba and Machir had been filled with trepidation Mephibosheth must have been literally terrified. In a king’s language ‘the kindness of God’ could have a number of meanings, not least of which was ominous in that it could be a euphemism for coming death. Whatever he had been told he probably could not bring himself to believe any other than that this summons was bad news. Note the emphasis on the fact that he was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of Saul. That in itself could be sufficient to guarantee his demise. Note also the slow, deliberate build up of the narrative. The tension would also be building up for the hearer when the story was read out. He would know what usually happened to the children of former dynasties. It is not surprising that Mephibosheth flung himself on his face before David.

On the other hand the writer also wants us to know that this was the one that David was seeking, a true Saulide of Jonathan’s house, to whom David was about to show great kindness ‘for Jonathan’s sake’.

2.9.7 ‘And David said to him, “Do not be afraid, for I will surely show you kindness for Jonathan your father’s sake, and will restore you all the land of Saul your father, and you shall eat bread at my table continually.”

But David immediately reassured him and told him that he need not be afraid, because his intentions were good towards him. He intended ‘surely’ to show him kindness for Jonathan his father’s sake. Indeed he intended to restore to him all his family’s lands, and give him the privilege of eating at the king’s table permanently. He would become the king’s friend. Humanly speaking this was a huge risk. A Saulide who was wealthy and could gain influence at court could always be a danger, even if innocently. It is an indirect assertion of David’s confidence in YHWH.

2.9.8 ‘And he did obeisance, and said, “What is your servant, that you should look on such a dead dog as I am?” ’

Mephibosheth again did obeisance to David in acceptance of his generous gifts, and his words indicate his true gratitude, but they may also well have included an element of his own bitterness at being a lame duck. He had to be carried everywhere. And there were few diversions for such as he. Thus his reference to himself as a ‘dead dog’ reflects both his sense of humility in the presence of the great king, and something of his bitterness. Compare for the description 16.9; 1 Samuel 24.14. A dead dog was the greatest nuisance possible. Alive it had been a continual flea-bitten scavenger to be avoided if at all possible, but dead it had become one mass of maggots and wholly to be rejected. No one wanted to take responsibility for a dead dog.

2.9.9-10a ‘Then the king called to Ziba, Saul’s servant, and said to him, “All that pertains to Saul and to all his house have I given to your master’s son. And you shall work the land for him, you, and your sons, and your servants, and you shall bring in the fruits, that your master’s son may have bread to eat, but Mephibosheth your master’s son shall eat bread always at my table.”

As good as his word David then called for Ziba and explained that he had given to Mephibosheth everything that had once belonged to Saul, and that Ziba was to be his estate manager and take practical overall responsibility for the maintenance of his lands. Ziba would know from this that he would be accountable to the king himself. He and his sons and servants were to look after the land and were to store up its fruit for Mephibosheth. This was, of course, also a reward for Ziba. He was being given a position of great responsibility, probably far above what he had had previously. He and his sons would not be lacking anything for it would be recognised that he would receive his fair portion of the produce, and that they would be able to hire many servants to do the hardest work. It is quite possible that he was already watching over the lands and obtaining his livelihood from them, (someone would be watching over them), but not to the extent that would now be possible when enjoying the king’s favour.

2.9.10b ‘Now Ziba had fifteen sons and twenty servants.’

Note the emphasis on Ziba’s own grandeur. He had fifteen sons, and twenty servants. He was thus a man of position and prestige in his own right, and was well equipped to fulfil the king’s command.

2.9.11 ‘Then said Ziba to the king, “According to all that my lord the king commands his servant, so shall your servant do.” As for Mephibosheth the king had said, “he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons.”

Ziba accepted the king’s command (he actually had little option) and assured the king that he would carry out his will as a true ‘servant’. The king meanwhile confirmed that Mephibosheth would eat at the royal table, and would indeed be treated as one of the king’s sons. (‘The king had said’ is lacking in the Hebrew, but is clearly required. Compare verse 10a. The whole sentence is an added participial clause confirming the privilege that was to be Mephibosheth’s with ‘he shall eat at my table, as one of the king’s sons’ being a kind of comment put into the first person). It was an exceedingly magnanimous gesture.

It should be noted that David nowhere refers to Mephibosheth’s lameness. It is Ziba and the writer who draw attention to his condition, the one to try to protect him from the king’s vengeance, the other so as to emphasise that he was no threat to the throne, and David’s magnanimity. There may also be the thought that his condition was a true picture of the house of Saul, as a house that could only stumble before God. David himself, however, appears to have treated him on a level of total normality. He was simply moved by loyalty to Jonathan, and ultimately by generosity, not by pity.

2.9.12 ‘And Mephibosheth had a young son, whose name was Mica. And all who dwelt in the house of Ziba were servants to Mephibosheth.’

We now learn that Mephibosheth had a young son whose name was Mica. He would be very much a youngster, but he would not be lame, and could well have turned out in the future, as a Saulide, to be a threat to David’s dynasty. Thus David’s act of kindness was not simply based on Mephibosheth’s incapacity. It was based on his total confidence in YHWH. Mica would apparently be maintained on the Saulide estates watched over by his mother, and Ziba. He would himself later bear four sons and his son’s sons would become skilled fighting men and archers, and would themselves be very fruitful, developing into a large family (1 Chronicles 8.34-40). But there is never any hint of disloyalty. David’s confidence had not been displaced.

The mention of this son is probably deliberately intended as in contrast to Michal’s barrenness. God’s blessing on Mephibosheth is to be seen as not only including Saul’s lands and a place at the king’s table, but also as including a fruitful wife. Unlike Michal he was being given all that a person could desire because his attitude was right.

Meanwhile we learn that Ziba and his family served Mephibosheth. It was only later that ambition would drive him to be disloyal to Mephibosheth. It was not Mephibosheth’s loyalty that would be in question, but Ziba’s.

2.9.13 ‘So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, for he ate continually at the king’s table. And he was lame in both his feet.’

So from this time on Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem, the royal city, and ate continually at the king’s table. David proved to be as good as his word. The reference to the fact that he was lame in both his feet is probably intended to underline David’s generosity. Many another would have dismissed such a person as not fit to live in the royal city and sit at the king’s table, especially as he would be excluded from the court of the Tent of Meeting. But in David’s eyes he stood in the place of Jonathan his friend.

David’s Victory Over Ammon And Their Aramaean Allies (10.1-19).

The greatest threat to Israel at this time, with both Egypt and Mesopotamia in a weak condition, was a burgeoning Aramaean empire to his immediate north (8.3). This was something that Saul had had to combat in its infancy (1 Samuel 14.47), and it would appear that it was now stirring up some of the minor Transjordanian powers (note the connection of Zobah with the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites in 1 Samuel 14.47) to act against Israel. It may well have been their influence on Moab which had resulted in their continual aggravation of David, which had made him have to deal so harshly with them (8.2), and we learn of a similar connection of the Aramaeans with the Edomites in 8.13. David had earlier removed the threat which had been in the middle of his land (the Jebusites of Jerusalem), now he would have to deal with this empire, which itself was seeking expansion and stirring up trouble on every quarter.

It was not, however, initially a consequence of David’s choice. Paradoxically it arose because he wanted to show kindness to the son of Nahash, the king of Ammon who had previously shown kindness towards him. But in view of what follows we must surely see the attitude of the princes of Ammon as inspired because of their intrigues with their Aramaean ‘allies’. Those who are suspicious of other people’s attempts at spying usually have something to hide. Perhaps they did not want David to be aware of the fact that they themselves were building up their armed forces, and even had Aramaean advisers among them. And the sudden availability of a combined Aramaean army can surely not have been coincidental. It smacks of preparedness. (You do not just contact someone and say, ‘Oh by the way, I think I have offended David. Do you think that you could lend me three armies from scratch’ and expect them to arrive in time to deal with his reprisal).

The Suspicions of The Ammonites Cause Them To Insult David’s Ambassadors (10.1-5).

On the death of Nahash, king of Ammon, his son Hanun came to the throne, and because Nahash had shown him kindness in the past David sent ambassadors to him with messages of condolence. This, however, raised the suspicions of the princes of Ammon, who simply saw the ambassadors as spies, with the consequence that they treated them in such a way as deliberately to insult David. The usual cause of suspicions like that is that those who are suspicious have something to hide. Messages of condolence on the death of a king would not usually arouse suspicions. This seems to be confirmed in what follows, which, while only covered briefly, suggests a major and protracted war with major powers with which David had to contend, who would have had no reason for coming to the aid of the Ammonites other than because they had already had communications with them with David in mind.

The rise of David would have pleased no one in the area around Palestine, and we know already that the Moabites must somehow have behaved abominably. Given that David had reason to be grateful to them for looking after his parents when he was fleeing from Saul (1 Samuel 22.3-5), and that he tended to be generous in his appreciation of those who were kind to him (9.3; 10.2), his harsh treatment of them (8.2) could only possibly have arisen as a result of some heinous behaviour on their part, while the necessity of culling their forces so severely suggests that he had larger problems to deal with and could not risk having to deal with their further activities. This might be seen as indicating that he already knew that he was facing the threat of action from elsewhere. And as the Philistines had already been dealt with, and the Egyptians were busy with their own affairs, that could only be from enemies in the north.

But those enemies were seemingly still unsure of their ground, and it would appear that they had therefore approached some of the princes of the Ammonites and the Edomites as potential allies with a view to arousing them against David, the Moabites having already responded to their suggestions and having been mercilessly crushed (they would not be the first to act in expectation of help from others, only to discover that the help did not materialise). This very crushing of and treatment towards the Moabites would in itself have aroused fears and dislike among the Ammonites and Edomites. Who knew whom David would savage next? (They would not consider that the Moabites may have brought it on themselves. The Moabites were their friends).

This pernicious influence of the Aramaeans would serve to explain why they are seen as connected with both the Ammonites (10.6) and the Edomites (8.13), and as so willing to assist them. They had, however, seemingly made no firm commitment, for on David’s forces being gathered to attack the Ammonites, it resulted in the Ammonites appealing to the Aramaeans and paying them a large sum (a thousand talents of silver - 1 Chronicles 19.6) to come to their aid. As so often, those who were mainly responsible for the trouble and had stirred it up did not want to get their hands dirty unless it was made worth their while. It may well have been tribute.

Analysis.

  • a And it came about after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead. And David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me” (1.1-2a).
  • b So David sent by his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Ammon (10.2b).
  • c But the princes of the children of Ammon said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think that David is doing honour to your father, in that he has sent comforters to you? Has not David sent his servants to you to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” (10.3).
  • b So Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away’ (10.4).
  • a When they told it to David, he sent to meet them; for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Wait at Jericho until your beards are grown, and then return” (10.5).

Note that in ‘a’ David aims to show kindness to the Ammonite king, and in the parallel we have an indication of the rebuttal of that kindness. In ‘b’ the ambassadors are sent and come into the land of the children of Ammon, and in the parallel they are shamed and sent away. Centrally in ‘c’ we learn of the reason for the bad treatment of the ambassadors.

2.10.1 ‘And it came about after this, that the king of the children of Ammon died, and Hanun his son reigned in his stead.’

The passage commences with the background to what follows. All arose as a result of the death of the current king of Ammon, Nahash, who was seemingly on good terms with David. He had been replaced by his son Hanun. The end of a long reign was often the time when men began to think about how the current situation could be altered, especially if they were egged on by others.

2.10.2 ‘And David said, “I will show kindness to Hanun the son of Nahash, as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent by his servants to comfort him concerning his father. And David’s servants came into the land of the children of Ammon.’

News of Nahash’s death reached David who immediately determined to show his sympathy and offer friendship to Hanun, because Nahash had previously shown kindness towards him. We have no indication of what this kindness was, and it may have been related to his time when he was a fugitive from Saul. On the other hand it may simply indicate that they had maintained good relations during their respective reigns, with each helping the other. It parallels David’s intention of showing kindness to the house of Saul in 9.1, the only difference being that this time it backfired against him.

So David sent messengers of comfort to Hanun, and his messengers accordingly entered the land of the children of Ammon.

2.10.3 ‘But the princes of the children of Ammon said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think that David is doing honour to your father, in that he has sent comforters to you? Has not David sent his servants to you to search the city, and to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” ’

The princes of Ammon, however, far from being grateful, sought to persuade their new king against David. The death of Nahash had increased their ability to influence the throne, and it must seem very probable that these half wild princes of a half wild people (situated between the more sophisticated Moabites and the even wilder Arabian nomads) had been stirred up by outside troublemakers to take this attitude in view of the fact that they were opposing the view of their late king. It was in fact regularly during an interregnum and the commencement of a new reign that such troublemakers would seek to take advantage of the situation to stir up trouble, and if Moab had been ‘pacified’ fairly recently it would explain their attitude even more. Thus these princes, possibly taking advantage of his innocence, suggested to the new young king that what David was doing was not genuinely showing honour to his dead father, but simply spying on them and assessing their capabilities with a view to an invasion. It is doubtful if they really thought this, for there had been a fairly long period of peace between Israel and Ammon (although it is quite true that it was at the commencement of a new reign that a potential aggressor might have such intentions). It is far more likely that they were being influenced by troublemakers from outside, namely the Aramaeans, who did not want to attack Israel themselves, but were hoping to foment trouble with that aim eventually in view.

2.10.4 ‘So Hanun took David’s servants, and shaved off the one half of their beards, and cut off their garments in the middle, even to their buttocks, and sent them away.’

The result of their urgings was that the new and rather naive king, no doubt egged on by his princes, decided to show David what he thought of him, and took David’s ambassadors, and shaved off half their beards, and cut their robes so that their buttocks were revealed, and then sent them away. This was a deliberate insult of a most serious kind. To a Near-Easterner to have the beard shaved off was looked on as a major insult, and indeed warranted a death sentence on the culprit. Men would rather die than had their beards shaved off. And to shave off only half their beard added to the insult. There are a number of examples throughout history which demonstrate how deeply such insults were felt. Furthermore to have the buttocks bared was equally shameful (compare Isaiah 20.4). The ambassadors thus arrived back in Jericho feeling utterly shamed and humiliated, and in doing it to his ambassadors Ammon had in effect done it to David.

2.10.5 ‘When they told it to David, he sent to meet them; for the men were greatly ashamed. And the king said, “Wait at Jericho until your beards are grown, and then return.” ’

When David heard what had happened to his messengers he sent messages of sympathy and support to them at Jericho and told them that they could wait there until their beards had re-grown. Then they were to return to court. Meanwhile the insult was so great that retaliation was inevitable. No king could have held his head up after such treatment if he did not do something about it. So, as the Ammonites clearly recognised with some trepidation, an aggressive response to the insult would only take a matter of time.

David’s Response To Ammon And The Consequent War With Ammon and Aram (10.6-19).

The Ammonites did not wait for David to attack but immediately sent messages to the Aramaeans along with a thousand talents of silver (a considerable sum) calling on them to come to their aid. This tends to confirm that there had already been contact with the Aramaeans, otherwise why would there have been such an immediate response to their request? It suggests that the Ammonites had in fact succumbed to Aramaean troublemaking suggestions, and were now looking for their assistance in facing up to the repercussions. In view of the fact that they knew that they could not face David alone they would hardly have deliberately insulted David in the way that they had unless they had had some plan already in mind which they had reason to think would be successful. They must have been absolutely confident that the Aramaeans would respond.

The Aramaeans did immediately respond. It gave them their opportunity to test David in battle without actually invading Israel, or Israel invading them. But what they had certainly not anticipated was the skill of David’s highly trained forces, and such a resounding defeat of their own forces. To put it in the way that the writer puts it, they had failed to recognise that YHWH was with Israel (8.6, 14; 10.12).

Analysis.

  • a And when the children of Ammon saw that they were become odious to David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Aramaeans of Beth-rehob, and the Aramaeans of Zobah, twenty thousand footmen, and the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and the men of Tob twelve thousand men (10.6).
  • b And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men (10.7).
  • c And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the entrance of the gate, and the Aramaeans of Zobah and of Rehob, and the men of Tob and Maacah, were by themselves in the countryside (10.8).
  • d Now when Joab saw that the battle was set against him before and behind, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Aramaeans, and the rest of the people he committed into the hand of Abishai his brother, and he put them in array against the children of Ammon (10.9-10).
  • e And he said, “If the Aramaeans prove too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the children of Ammon prove too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God, and YHWH do what seems good to him” (10.11-12).
  • d So Joab and the people who were with him drew nigh to the battle against the Aramaeans, and they fled before him, and when the children of Ammon saw that the Aramaeans were fled, they likewise fled before Abishai, and entered into the city. Then Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem (10.13-14).
  • c And when the Aramaeans saw that they were put to the worse before Israel, they gathered themselves together, and Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Syrians who were beyond the River, and they came to Helam, with Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer at their head (10.15-16).
  • b And it was told to David, and he gathered all Israel together, and passed over the Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Aramaeans set themselves in array against David, and fought with him (10.17).
  • a And the Aramaeans fled before Israel, and David slew of the Aramaeans the men of seven units (hundred) of chariots, and forty units (thousands) of horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, so that he died there. And when all the kings who were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were put to the worse before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Aramaeans feared to help the children of Ammon any more (10.18-19).

Note that in ‘a’ the Ammonites called on the help of the Aramaeans and their numbers are given, and in the parallel the Aramaeans feared to help the Ammonites any more and the numbers of their dead are given. In ‘b’ David sends out all his troops and his mighty men with Joab, and in the parallel he himself takes out the host and fights with the Aramaeans. In ‘c’ the children of Ammon set themselves in array against Israel and the Aramaeans are gathered together for that purpose, and in the parallel the Aramaeans are gathered together for the purpose of facing Israel. In ‘d’ Joab divides his forces between himself and Abishai, and in the parallel Joab and Abishai defeat their respective enemies. In ‘e’ and centrally the call is to have good courage and defend ‘the cities of our God’ and the assurance is that YHWH will do what seems right to Him.

2.10.6 ‘And when the children of Ammon saw that they were become odious to David, the children of Ammon sent and hired the Aramaeans (Syrians) of Beth-rehob, and the Aramaeans of Zobah, twenty thousand footmen, and the king of Maacah with a thousand men, and the men of Tob twelve thousand men.’

It would not have taken much intelligence for the Ammonites to realise that having deeply insulted David they must expect repercussions. Indeed that must surely have been their intention. It therefore suggests that what follows was already pre-planned. For the Ammonites sent a thousand talents of silver (1 Chronicles 19.6) to the Aramaeans (Syrians) and their allies seeking for their assistance. It was a kind of tribute. The result was that twenty units of footmen were provided by the Aramaeans of Beth-rehub and Zobah, a further unit by the Aramaean king of Maacah, and twelve units by ‘the men of Tob’.

For Beth-rehob see Numbers 13.21; Judges 18.28, in which case it was at Lebo-Hamath (or ‘the entering in of Hamath’), and north of Laish/Dan. The kings of Zobah are mentioned in 1 Samuel 14.47 alongside Ammon, Moab and Edom as neighbouring tribes, and as this chapter now indicates (verses 3, 5, 9), it was to be found in the vicinity of Damascus and Hamath, and was thus to the north of Israel, and probably north-east of Damascus. For ‘the land of Tob’ as just north of Gilead see Judges 11.3.

1 Chronicles 19.6 tells us that ‘they hired chariots and horsemen’ amounting to thirty two military units, which came from Aram Naharaim (Paddan-aram), and out of Aram Maacah, and out of Aram Zobah. The mention of Aram Naharaim may suggest that this number had in mind all the chariot units that were used during what would turn out to be a protracted conflict (10.16) and not only the initial ones sent, for initially Aram Naharaim does not appear to have been initially involved. Thus the figure in Chronicles (thirty two units of chariots), appearing in an abbreviated account, may have in mind the total range of resources available to the Aramaeans over the whole conflict, not only those of the original invasion. It may thus have included chariot forces and horsemen that had to be faced later (compare 10.18). Chronicles in fact is not in the least interested in the footmen. It would appear therefore that the Chronicler was rather impressed with the chariot power that they finally had to face, and felt that it said all that needed to be said. To him this revealed what a formidable foe they were facing, and that such an army necessarily had a large number of footmen would go without saying. Both accounts, therefore, would appear to have taken their information from a more detailed source, selecting what they saw as giving the impression that they wanted to convey. Samuel perhaps gives a better picture of the initial forces faced by Joab, with its massed army of footmen gathered near Rabbah. Perhaps the hope was that their very numbers would make Israel withdraw. The chariots may have been held in reserve in a place more suitable for chariots. They are said by the Chronicler to have amassed at Medeba in the territory of Reuben, which was on the King’s Highway. Possibly the intention was in order to secure and protect the trade route. (10.18 makes clear that the writer of Samuel was aware that chariots and horsemen were involved at some stage, but not seemingly at the beginning).

2.10.7 ‘And when David heard of it, he sent Joab, and all the host of the mighty men.’

As soon as David heard of the hiring of the Aramaean contingents he mustered his army and sent ‘Joab and all the host of the mighty men’ to the land of the children of Ammon, in order to avenge the insult to his messengers, and to him.

2.10.8 ‘And the children of Ammon came out, and put the battle in array at the entrance of the gate, and the Aramaeans of Zobah and of Rehob, and the men of Tob and Maacah, were by themselves in the countryside.’

Once the Israelite army approached, the warriors of the children of Ammon ‘came out’ from their various cities and stood ready to do battle at the gate of the city at which battle was to be joined. That would enable them if necessary to retreat into the city. We are not given the name of the city in either account, but 11.1 may suggest that it was Rabbah, their capital city Meanwhile the Aramaean footmen had congregated out in the countryside. Israel were thus faced with the prospect of having to fight on two fronts at once.

2.10.9-10 ‘Now when Joab saw that the battle was set against him before and behind, he chose of all the choice men of Israel, and put them in array against the Aramaeans, and the rest of the people he committed into the hand of Abishai his brother, and he put them in array against the children of Ammon.’

Immediately summing up the situation Joab divided his forces into two. He himself took the best trained and most effective units in order to deal with the sophisticated Aramaeans, while he gave to Abishai the remainder of his forces in order that they might meanwhile keep the Ammonites at bay. He did not want to meet the Aramaeans and at the same time be attacked from behind.

2.10.11 ‘And he said, “If the Aramaeans prove too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the children of Ammon prove too strong for you, then I will come and help you.”’

Then he instructed his brother to face up to the Ammonites, probably without attacking them unless necessary, while also keeping an eye out so that if Joab and his forces seemed to be failing he could send troops to assist him. Meanwhile he would do the same for Abishai if the Ammonites did attack.

2.10.12 “Be of good courage, and let us play the man for our people, and for the cities of our God, and YHWH do what seems good to him.”

After this he gave the instruction that to the writer was all important. It was to the effect that they should be of good courage and play the man, for the sake of their people and for the cities of their God, and then he committed the result to YHWH. Here would be the secret of their success. His very words suggest his awareness of the seeming superiority of the forces that were arraigned against them.

2.10.13 ‘So Joab and the people who were with him drew nigh to the battle against the Aramaeans, and they fled before him.’

Then Joab and his elite forces advanced on the Aramaeans and dealt with them so effectively that the Aramaeans fled before them. David’s highly trained forces, led by his mighty men, were too much for the Aramaeans.

2.10.14 ‘And when the children of Ammon saw that the Aramaeans were fled, they likewise fled before Abishai, and entered into the city. Then Joab returned from the children of Ammon, and came to Jerusalem.’

As soon as the Ammonites saw that the Aramaeans had been put to flight they panicked, and fled before Abishai, seeking refuge in their city. At this point Joab, recognising that they had not seen the last of the Aramaeans, decided to leave the Ammonites cooped up in their city (possibly with containing troops surrounding it) and returned to Jerusalem, no doubt to warn David of what the situation was and in order to prepare for a major war with the Aramaeans. The Ammonites could wait.

2.10.15-16 ‘And when the Aramaeans saw that they were put to the worse before Israel, they gathered themselves together. And Hadarezer sent, and brought out the Aramaeans who were beyond the River, and they came to Helam, with Shobach the captain of the host of Hadarezer at their head.’

Recognising that his forces had been put to the worse by Israel Hadarezer gathered together, along with the remainder of his own forces, reinforcements from Beyond the River (from the Aramaeans in Mesopotamia proper). It was probably now that the majority of the Chronicler’s thirty two units of chariots come into play, along with a multitude of horsemen (1 Chronicles 19.6-7). This was going to be the real test for David and his men. This powerful army then made for Helam, and were personally commanded by Shobach, Hadarezer’s commander-in-chief (who is mainly mentioned because he will shortly be slain). Helam was in northern Transjordan and may have been modern ‘Alma.

2.10.17 ‘And it was told to David, and he gathered all Israel together, and passed over the Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Aramaeans set themselves in array against David, and fought with him.’

Once David learned of this major force approaching northern Transjordan he gathered all his forces and, crossing over the Jordan, went out to meet them. And there at Helam battle was joined.

2.10.18 ‘And the Aramaeans fled before Israel, and David slew of the Syrians the men of seven units (hundreds) of chariots, and forty units (thousands) of horsemen, and smote Shobach the captain of their host, so that he died there.’

The result of the battle was that the Aramaeans were totally defeated and fled before Israel, with David killing Shobach the Aramaean commander-in-chief and destroying seven units of chariots, and forty units of horsemen. These figures agree with the figures in 1 Chronicles 19.18, although in Chronicles the word used for military units of chariots is eleph (‘thousands’) rather than meoth (‘hundreds’). The two terms appear to have been interchangeable when used of military units.

2.10.19 ‘And when all the kings who were servants to Hadarezer saw that they were put to the worse before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Aramaeans feared to help the children of Ammon any more.’

The result of David’s string of victories was that all the kings who had been vassals of Hadarezer noted how David had totally defeated him, and quietly switched their allegiance to David, accepting him as their overlord, becoming his vassals and paying him tribute. And the final result was that the Ammonites no longer had allies to look to and were left to rue having insulted David so grievously.

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Commentary on Samuel - Contents

1 Samuel 1.1-4.1a The Birth of Samuel And His Subsequent Career

1 Samuel 4.1b-8.22 The Movements of the Ark of God and the Judgeship of Samuel

1 Samuel 9.1-12.25 Saul Becomes King

1 Samuel 13-15 The Downfall Of Saul

1 Samuel 16.1-18.4 David Is Anointed And Slays Goliath

1 Samuel 18.5-20.42 The Rise Of David And Jealousy Of Saul

1 Samuel 21.1-22.23 The Murder of The Priests, David Builds a Private Army

1 Samuel 23.1-26.25 Saul Constantly Harasses David, David And Nabal, David Twice Spares Saul’s Life

1 Samuel 27.1-30.31 David Defeats The Amalekites Who Had Sacked Ziklag, Saul and Jonathan Die On Mount Gilboa

2 Samuel 1.1-5.5. David Is Anointed As King of Judah, Civil War In Israel, David Is Anointed As King Of Israel

2 Samuel 5.6-10.19. Promise Of An Everlasting Kingship, David’s Widespread Conquests, David’s Kindness To Jonathan’s Son Mephibosheth, The Defeat Of Aram

2 Samuel 11 onwards

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