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Commentary on SAMUEL (or 1 & 2 Samuel) 14

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

SECTION 10. A Final Summary (21.1-24.25).

This final summary of the Book of Samuel presents a fitting conclusion to the whole book and what it has been all about. Central to the summary, and at its core, is a vivid portrayal of the invisible power of the living God at work, presented in poetic form, which is assumed to have been active during all the incidents described in the book (22.7-20). Together with this there is a description of His great faithfulness shown towards David in establishing the everlasting kingly rule of his house (22.1-23.6). Then, on either side of this glorious depiction of YHWH’s heavenly power at work, standing like earthly sentinels appointed to fulfil God’s purposes (the earthly equivalent of the Cherubim) are David’s mighty men, the men who were empowered by YHWH to watch over the purposes of God in David. They were the human instruments by which God’s purposes for David had been brought through to the end, the instruments who had always been there to aid him whenever the going got tough.

Acting as an outer layer to the sandwich are depictions of the failure of both the kings about whom the narratives have been speaking, depictions which bring out the reason for the failure and destiny of each, and which demonstrate what the consequences of such failures were. Saul is seen to have regularly failed because he never took sacred things seriously enough, imagining that he could shape them to suit his purpose or ignore them for his own convenience, and because he knew little of repentance, the consequence was the almost complete destruction of his house. David, in contrast, regularly failed after he had become king because of arrogance and apathy, but in he deepest heart he was concerned to please God, and he always deeply repented when he became aware of his sin. The end result was that he was always delivered from the final consequences of his sins, firstly because of the mercy and purposes of God, secondly as a result of temporary chastisement, and thirdly in consequence of the offering of a substitutionary and atoning offering. In the case cited here it resulted in the plague being stayed, and the consequence of their sin being removed from God’s people

The section also presents us with a brief overall summary of different aspects of David’s reign from its commencement, and it is no accident that the initial incident takes us back to the time of Saul. It thus begins with a description which summarises the sad legacy left by Saul, a legacy for which punishment had to come on Israel, in this case in the form of famine, together with a portrayal of the awful cost to Saul’s family of rectifying that error, something which almost leads to the destruction of his house (21.1-14; compare 1 Samuel 9.1 to 2 Samuel 1.27). It continues on with a description of how once David was in power David’s mighty men had humiliated the pride of the Philistines (21.15-22; compare 5.17-25; 8.1), and then describes in song YHWH’s continuing faithfulness towards David and towards Israel, which includes a celebration of the fact of His great promises to David (22.1-51; compare 7.1-29), calling to mind in the last words of David YHWH’s everlasting covenant with him (23.1-7; compare 7.8-17). This is then followed by a listing in detail of the particulars of David’s mighty men, who were from then on continually the backbone of his kingdom (23.8-19; compare 2.3 and often), guaranteeing his successes and dealing with any contingencies that arose, and it ends on a sombre note with a reminder that David by his sinfulness could similarly bring judgment on an Israel who had also sinned, here in the form of pestilence, although in his case YHWH would demonstrate His mercy by chastening but stopping short of total judgment. That was the difference between David’s rule and Saul’s. And the result in this case was David’s offering of thanksgiving for YHWH’s mercy, made at YHWH’s command, as a result of the cessation of the plague (24.1-25; compare 11.1-20.26).

As will be observed all this follows the usual chiastic form:

Analysis of 21.1-24.25.

  • a YHWH judges Israel with famine because of the sin of Saul, a judgment which is only removed at the cost of the blood of the house of Saul (21.1-14).
  • b David’s mighty men humiliate the pride of the Philistines (21.15-22).
  • c The song of David (22.1-15).
  • c The last words of David (23.1-7)
  • b The list of David’s mighty men (23.8-19).
  • a YHWH judges Israel with pestilence because of the sin of David, a judgment which is only removed in his case by the cost of the blood of a substitute (24.1-25).

The Legacy Of Saul. YHWH Judges Israel With Famine Because Of The Great Sin Of The House Of Saul, A Judgment Which Is Only Removed At The Cost Of The Blood Of Saulides (21.1-14).

In this passage we are taken back to the time of Saul and learn of a major crime of Saul, which had not been mentioned previously, the attempted genocide of the Gibeonites who were under YHWH’s protection. It is a crime which summarises all his other crimes, for its seriousness (in ignoring an oath made to God) parallels his previous willingness to ignore both the importance of the sacredness of the Sanctuary (1 Samuel 13.5-14) and the importance of not appropriating to himself things which had been devoted to YHWH (1 Samuel 15). In this particular case he ignored the sacred oath made by Joshua to the Gibeonites, which had protected them from being driven out of Canaan or being subjected to death (Joshua 9.3-27). As ever Saul is seen as being prone, when it suited him, to deal lightly with sacred things of a most serious kind, even though he could at the same time be particular on matters of less importance. He offered the sacrifices without the obedience (1 Samuel 15.22).

It is apparent from what is said here that Saul and his house had determined to rid Israel of the Canaanite Gibeonites once and for all, and that he did it ‘in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah’. From his narrow religious viewpoint, and in his varying moods, he wanted to be rid of them for ever, because he saw them as a blot on his people. With that in view he had carried out a mass slaughter among them, and by doing so he and his followers had ignored Israel’s permanently sacred oath, made in the sight of YHWH, with regard to them. His actions were thus themselves a blot on the whole of Israel, and we must remember in this regard that many Israelites must have assisted him in the venture, while most of them must have gone along with him in it. There is certainly no evidence at any time of any major objections. Thus this must not be seen as just the sin of one man. It was a sin in which all partook. All knew that the Gibeonites were under YHWH’s direct protection, and must not be touched, and yet no one had seemingly lifted a finger to help them. |Most probably felt that they had had it coming to them, and mention of his house as ‘his bloody house’ almost certainly suggests that his family had continued the work that he had begun.

Oaths were considered to be a very serious matter in those days. We have already observed how firmly David considered himself bound by an oath made to YHWH, even when it was obtained under false pretences (14.8-11), and how he had constantly spared Saul because he was YHWH’s Anointed and therefore protected by YHWH Himself. Such sacred oaths were considered inviolable, however obtained, and it is apparent that Joshua and Israel had previously also held the same view in Joshua 9. Thus we must not see Saul’s action as involving anything other than the gravest of crimes in terms of the thinking of those days. To slaughter a people protected by a sacred oath was an act which would have produced appalled horror even among non-Israelites. But what was worse was that, as a result of breaching the oath, he had shed innocent blood on YHWH’s very inheritance, the blood of people protected by an oath, and in view of that his, or his representatives’, blood would need to be shed in order to cleanse the land (compare Exodus 21.12-14; Numbers 35.33. See also Deuteronomy 21.1-9, although the substitution with a heifer only applied when the culprit could not be found. If he was found he would himself die). Until that shedding of blood had occurred the land would remained uncleansed (it was a life for a life).

It is clear from this passage that the plight of the Gibeonites as a result of Saul’s activities had become so extreme that YHWH was deeply concerned for them, as He was for all who were weak and unprotected, and ill-used. The thoroughness with which Saul had in fact carried out his task comes out in the extreme bitterness still prevalent among the Gibeonites these many years afterwards, although reference to his ‘bloody house’ suggests that Saul’s descendants had continued the action that he had begun, thus stoking up the bitterness (21.4-6). The Gibeonites may well have been driven into the hills and have consequently been living in appalling conditions. Consequently when YHWH was consulted about the severe famine, which must have occurred some way into David’s reign (certainly after Mephibosheth had been drawn to his attention in chapter 9 but probably before Shimei’s accusation that he had spilt the blood of the house of Saul), He chose to use the occasion in order to draw attention to the plight of the Gibeonites.

Our modern minds necessarily recoil from the thought of a man’s family having to take responsibility for his sins (although in many ways they do often have to, even now), but in those days the law of blood vengeance was clear, a life was required for a life, and it was seen as applying to the whole family. The family accepted joint responsibility for each other. And it was treated as a very serious matter. We have already seen how Joab was presumably able to justify his assassination of Abner on the grounds of blood vengeance, without repercussions, and there is a clear instance of the same idea in the life of Gideon (Judges 8.18-21). Blood vengeance was not considered to be a question of personal revenge, or to be an option, but was seen as one of doing what was right and obtaining justice for the whole family. The man who failed to obtain blood vengeance was actually seen as having failed in his clear duty, for it was by enforcing the law of blood vengeance that lawlessness would be avoided. We should note, however, that while YHWH was Himself demanding that the Gibeonites receive justice, the solution decided on was not a solution actually demanded by YHWH. The demand was made by the Gibeonites themselves on the grounds of the universally recognised law of blood vengeance, a law so ancient that it preceded the Sinaitic covenant (e.g. Genesis 4.23-24; 9.6) and was already known to Cain (Genesis 4.14). In the view of everyone, therefore, they would simply have been seen as obtaining their legally deserved rights. YHWH in contrast would presumably have been satisfied with the offering of a substitute in order to cleanse the land, as He will be in 24.25, together with an offer of compensation, if that had been acceptable to the Gibeonites. But there is no doubt that they were within their rights to demand what they did.

Analysis.

  • a And there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year, and David sought the face of YHWH (21.1a)
  • b And YHWH said, “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites” (21.1b).
  • c And the king called the Gibeonites, and spoke to them Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the children of Israel had sworn unto them, and Saul had sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah, and David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of YHWH?” (21.2-3).
  • d And the Gibeonites said to him, “It is not a matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house, neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.” And they said to the king, “The man who consumed us, and who devised against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel, let seven men of his sons be delivered to us, and we will hang them up to YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of YHWH.” (21.4-6a).
  • e And the king said, “I will give them”. But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of YHWH’s oath which was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul (21.6b-7).
  • d But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite, and he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before YHWH, and they fell all seven together (21.8-9a).
  • c And they were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest. And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured on them from heaven, and she allowed neither the birds of the heavens to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night (21.9b-10).
  • b And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done, and David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines slew Saul in Gilboa, and he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son, and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged. And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father, and they performed all that the king commanded (21.11-14a).
  • And after that God was entreated for the land (21.14b).

Note that in ‘a’ David sought the face of YHWH with regard to the severe famine, and in the parallel YHWH was entreated for the land. In ‘b’ YHWH’s verdict was that the whole house of Saul were blood guilty, and in the parallel David has mercy on the whole house of Saul, once they have been punished (the bones were seen as representing the whole man), because of the example set by Rizpah, with the result that he arranges for their proper burial. In ‘c’ we learn that the Gibeonites were under protection due to an oath made to YHWH, and in the parallel Rizpah protects the bodies of her sons, in the same way as the Gibeonites should have been protected by Saul. In ‘d’ the Gibeonites were asked what compensation they required, and they required the deaths of seven sons of the house of Saul, and in the parallel the seven sons of the house of Saul are given to them. Centrally in ‘e’ David fulfils his own oath and protects Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth.

2.21.1 ‘And there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year, and David sought the face of YHWH. And YHWH said, “It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he (or his house) put to death the Gibeonites.” ’

We are not told when this famine took place, although it was clearly some years into the reign of David over Israel, for it comes after Mephibosheth has come to his knowledge (chapter 9). It was thus well over seven years after the death of Saul (for we know that David had reigned in Hebron for seven years before receiving the throne of Israel). All we know is that it was a protracted famine which had lasted for ‘three years, year after year’, and was thus severe enough to raise serious questions in David’s mind. The rains had not come, and the ground was bone dry and not producing its harvests, which meant misery and starvation for the people.

This caused David as the intercessor for Israel, to earnestly seek the face of YHWH in order to discover the reason for the famine. YHWH’s reply was that what was in His mind was Saul and his ‘bloody house’, because he (or ‘they’, but expressed in the singular in Hebrew because ‘house’ is singular. Compare the use of ‘I’ in verse 4 speaking of the Gibeonites) had slaughtered the Gibeonites. The description of Saul’s house as a ‘bloody house’ would suggest that it was not only Saul himself who had slaughtered the Gibeonites, but that his house had continued to treat them in the same way, for many of the Gibeonites would be in Benjaminite territory (compare Joshua 18.25; 21.17) and would therefore still be on the lands of Saulides. Saul’s ‘bloody house’ would thus appear to have been continuing what Saul had begun. That would explain why they were seen as equally guilty with Saul, and why the famine came this late, God having given the family time for repentance. It was probably not just a case of the sons bearing the iniquity of their fathers, except in the sense that they were themselves being punished for doing what their fathers had taught them.

2.21.2 ‘And the king called the Gibeonites, and spoke to them Now the Gibeonites were not of the children of Israel, but of the remnant of the Amorites, and the children of Israel had sworn unto them, and Saul had sought to slay them in his zeal for the children of Israel and Judah.’

The king therefore summoned the Gibeonite elders in order to discuss matters with them, and we are reminded by the writer that the Gibeonites were not true Israelites, but were in fact Canaanites (Amorites), who had been spared from slaughter because they had obtained a treaty under false pretences (Joshua 9). Nevertheless, false pretences or not, a sacred treaty had been made, with the result that the Gibeonites had thereby come under the protection of YHWH. In consequence for Saul to seek to commit genocide by slaughtering them was not only a major crime, but was also a breach of a most sacred oath made before YHWH. However, as we know, Saul in fact tended to ride lightly over what was most sacred, even though at the same time he was particular about less important religious issues. He therefore appears to have considered, and to have taught the same to his family, that the Gibeonites, as Canaanites, were a blot on the landscape, a fact which counted for more than any oath. In his view, therefore, they had to be purged.

2.21.3 ‘And David said to the Gibeonites, “What shall I do for you? And with what shall I make atonement, that you may bless the inheritance of YHWH?” ’

As a result of all this David asked the Gibeonites what he could do in order to put right their wrongs, so that they would ‘bless the inheritance of YHWH’. (They had no doubt been calling down curses on it). He wanted to ‘make atonement’ and remove the curse from the land. ‘Making atonement’ primarily involved removing the antipathy of YHWH against the sin by the shedding of blood. But it also included propitiating the Gibeonites.

2.21.4 ‘And the Gibeonites said to him, “It is no matter of silver or gold between us and Saul, or his house, neither is it for us to put any man to death in Israel.” And he said, “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.” ’

Their reply was that it was not monetary compensation that they were seeking, and that they were in no position to put anyone to death in Israel, because of who they were. This was typical oriental understatement and the indication to be gathered from this was that they would only be satisfied with the application of the law of blood vengeance, which they looked to David to ensure. David consequently assured them that whatever they required he would do for them (as long, of course, as it was within the Law). “Whatever you shall say, that will I do for you.”

2.21.5 ‘And they said to the king, “The man who consumed us, and who devised against us, that we should be destroyed from remaining in any of the borders of Israel,” ’

The reply of the Gibeonites was immediate and simple. They wanted blood vengeance on the household of Saul, for Saul was the man who had ‘eaten them up’ and had devised plans against them so as to ensure that they could not remain within the borders of Israel, in other words in their ancient home, and whose ‘bloody house’ was presumably continuing with the same policy.

2.21.6 “Let seven men of his sons be delivered to us, and we will hang them up to YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the chosen of YHWH.” And the king said, “I will give them.”

They therefore requested that seven sons of Saul be handed over to them. In terms of what had happened to them their request was not in fact unreasonable. A large number of their own people had been slaughtered, and yet all that they asked in return was seven of Saul’s descendants as compensation. The number seven would indicate to them divine completeness and perfection. This would therefore be sufficient to satisfy their sense of justice. Then they would hang them up before YHWH in Gibeah of Saul, the place out of which their persecution had been organised and where much of the blood would have been shed, in order to display to YHWH that they had obtained ‘satisfaction’ so that Israel might no longer be seen as guilty. And this Saul, they reminded the king in deep irony, was the Saul who had declared himself to be the ‘the chosen of YHWH’. The phrase ‘the chosen of YHWH’ was probably intended to be sarcastic. They were declaring that he had claimed to be ‘the chosen of YHWH’ and yet had acted directly contrary to YHWH’S will (which was the theme of the latter part of 1 Samuel). David acknowledged their right and promised that their request would be granted. The purpose of this was in order to ‘cleanse the land’ by ensuring that justice was done (Numbers 35.33; and see Deuteronomy 21.1-9).

2.21.7 ‘But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan the son of Saul, because of YHWH’s oath which was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul.’

David knew, however, that Mephibosheth must be spared, and be exempted from the seven, because he was protected by a counter-oath, an oath made between himself and Jonathan (1 Samuel 18.3; 20.8, 16). He did not consider that he could break one oath in order to fulfil another. To him it was important that every oath made before YHWH should be observed. It is noteworthy from this that YHWH had so led the Gibeonites in making their request that it enabled Mephibosheth to be spared.

2.21.8 ‘But the king took the two sons of Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, whom she bore to Saul, Armoni and Mephibosheth, and the five sons of Michal the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel the son of Barzillai the Meholathite,’

The king consequently took two sons of Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul whom Abner had slept with when he had offended Ish-bosheth (3.7), and five sons of ‘Michal, the daughter of Saul, whom she bore to Adriel’. In fact we know that it was Merab, Saul’s eldest daughter, who was married to Adriel (1 Samuel 18.19). This may therefore suggest:

  • 1). That Merab also bore the name Michal, that being a family name, and a name then also given to her younger sister as a first name.
  • 2). That Merab had died (possibly in childbirth) and that Michal had been called on to bring up her children, becoming their substitute mother, with the description ‘which she bore to Paltiel’ simply abbreviating the situation in order to bring in the name of the natural father (such an idea of adoption by a woman is not, however, testified to elsewhere. But it must have been very common given the uncertainties of life in those days).
  • 3). That it was a copyist’s error. That, however, does not seem very likely for it was a mistake that would not be likely to have been made by a copyist familiar with Israel’s history, simply because the correct name would have been too well known to have allowed such an error to occur. (Although it must be admitted that even modern scholars can occasionally make such mistakes).

It is quite possible that some, if not all, of these seven had themselves been involved in direct activities against the Gibeonites, thus following in their ‘father’s’ footsteps. It would be less likely that Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth had been involved.

2.21.9 ‘And he delivered them into the hands of the Gibeonites, and they hanged them in the mountain before YHWH, and they fell all seven together. And they were put to death in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest.’

These sons were handed over to the Gibeonites who hung them (or ‘impaled’ them) in the mountain before YHWH, all seven at the same time. Gibeah (which means ‘the hill’) was, of course, itself in mountainous country so that this was clearly a ‘mountain’ closely connected with Gibeah, possibly the hill of Gibeah itself. The continual stress on their being hung up ‘before YHWH’ suggests that the Gibeonites were equally concerned about the drought and with how to satisfy YHWH. They too would be suffering through the lack of harvest. They were among the poor and there would be few gleanings at such a time.

We then learn that this was done ‘in the days of harvest, in the first days, at the beginning of barley harvest.’ At such a time the barren conditions would be most obvious to all due to the failure of the harvests. Their deaths could have been seen as to some extent replacing the lack in the firstfruits, as well as atoning for the land.

2.21.10 ‘And Rizpah the daughter of Aiah took sackcloth, and spread it for her on the rock, from the beginning of harvest until water was poured upon them from heaven, and she allowed neither the birds of the heavens to rest on them by day, nor the beasts of the field by night.’

Rizpah was naturally broken-hearted at what was happening to her sons, and being totally distraught, was determined that while they might execute her sons and display their bodies openly, no scavenging animals or birds would be able to ravage them. So she spread sackcloth (probably indicating mourning) on a rock near the execution site, on which she lay and herself provided the bodies with constant protection. As she acted in this way from the commencement of harvest in the month of Nisan (March/April) up to the time when the rains actually came (October/November), she was clearly there for some considerable time. Note the confirmation from this that that year the rains did actually come, demonstrating that, as a result of justice having been obtained, the drought was ended.

But we do Rizpah less than justice if we do not pause and consider the intensity of this brave woman’s ordeal. It was almost beyond the bounds of human bearing. Day after day she had to watch the decaying bodies of her two beloved sons impaled to the city wall, and was constantly called on to approach them, whether by day and by night, in order to drive away the scavengers who would have torn their decaying flesh, but her mother love was so great that she would not desert them however long and intense her ordeal. Indeed her ordeal was such that it would even move the heart of the king. But if this woman was willing to go through such trauma for love of her sons, how much more should we be willing to go through hardship for love of the One Who was impaled for us. She shames our very prayerlessness and our inactivity. ‘Could you not watch with Me one hour?’ (Matthew 26.40-41). Her flesh too was weak, and yet her spirit did not give way, and she watched for many hours, and days, and weeks, and months. Will she not stand up before the Judgment Seat of Christ and be a rebuke to us for our apathy?

We should note that the requirement in Deuteronomy 21.22-23 did not apply to this case because the impaling was seen as having the purpose of drawing YHWH’s attention to the fact that justice had been done and that ‘a life had been given for a life’. Their bodies would thus be required to hang there until the rains came.

2.21.11 ‘And it was told David what Rizpah the daughter of Aiah, the concubine of Saul, had done.’

News reached David of what Rizpah had done, and he was so moved by it that he determined that he also would act so as to ensure the protection and decent burial of the bodies of her sons, and of Saul and all his household, for he too felt that he was involved in this ordeal. It was, after all, because of his initial activity and his zeal for YHWH that her sons were there.

2.21.12-13 ‘And David went and took the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son from the men of Jabesh-gilead, who had stolen them from the street of Beth-shan, where the Philistines had hanged them, in the day that the Philistines slew Saul in Gilboa, and he brought up from there the bones of Saul and the bones of Jonathan his son, and they gathered the bones of those who were hanged.’

The bones of Saul and Jonathan themselves had been hanged (or ‘impaled’) as an act of shaming, by the Philistines, on the wall in the marketplace or street (the space around the gatehouse) and had not been decently buried, but rather had been sneaked away by the men of Jabesh-gilead who had given them a hurried burial in a secret place. So David arranged for the collection of their bones, along with the bones of those recently hanged (or ‘impaled’), in order to give them proper burial, a privilege won for them by the love of a faithful mother. All had suffered the same fate, but they were to enjoy a proper burial, a fitting reward for Rizpah’s sacrificial love. The whole house of Saul was thus seen to be involved, first in being punished, and then in being restored because of the love of a lowly concubine, and the loyalty of a king.

‘In the day (yom)’ means ‘at the time that’. It does not restrict the event to a particular day. ‘Yom’ has a wider meaning than just ‘day’.

2.21.14a ‘And they buried the bones of Saul and Jonathan his son in the country of Benjamin in Zela, in the sepulchre of Kish his father, and they performed all that the king commanded.’

The assumption must be made here that along with the bones of Saul and Jonathan were buried the bones of their newly slain relatives. Thus all the ‘bloody house’ were buried together in the sepulchre of Kish, Saul’s father, in Zela in Benjamin, having suffered the penalty of impalement. Justice was wholly satisfied. The importance of the bones lay in the fact that the bones were seen as representing the whole man (an idea also found in the fact that the skull and crossbones flag, later taken over by pirates, initially indicated the hope of the resurrection).

2.21.14b ‘And after that God was entreated for the land.’

The due processes of the Law having been carried out, and justice having been done, ‘God was entreated for the land’, and the rains came (21.10). With the execution and burial of the Saulides Israel’s famine was over. Proper retribution had been made. Now all depended on David maintaining true justice in the land.

David’s Final Victory Over The Philistines Portrayed In Terms Of The Defeat Of The Philistine ‘Giants’ By David’s Mighty Men (21.15-19).

The defeat of the Philistines at the commencement of David’s reign over all Israel has already been depicted in 5.17-25; 8.1. Now it is re-emphasised and we learn that there were in fact periods of continual on and off warfare leading up to their being finally subdued. But the great emphasis is on the part played by David’s mighty men. This is depicted here in terms of battles between the ‘giants’ (rapha -indicating overlarge warriors) of the Philistines with the ‘mighty men’ of David. Compare also 23.8-17. Each ‘giant’ was to meet his ‘David’ (compare 1 Samuel 17). It is testimony to David’s prowess and YHWH’s watch over His people that this time (in contrast with 1 Samuel 17) there were such men to challenge and overcome the ‘giants’.

Analysis.

  • a And the Philistines had war again with Israel, and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines (21.15).
  • b And David grew faint, and Ishbibenob, who was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spearhead was three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with new armour, thought to have slain David, but Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and smote the Philistine, and killed him. Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you quench not the lamp of Israel” (21.16-17).
  • c And it came about after this, that there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, then Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Saph, who was of the sons of the giant (21.18).
  • c And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, and Elhanan the son of Jaareoregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam (21.19).
  • b And there was again war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, who had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number, and he also was born to the giant, and when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, slew him (21.20-21).
  • a These four were born to the giant in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants (21.22).

Note that in ‘a’ David and his servants fought against the Philistines, and in the parallel the four ‘giants’ fell by the hands of David and his servants. In ‘b’ the impressive Ishbibenob was slain by David’s nephew, and in the parallel the ‘giant’ of Gath was slain by Jonathan, another of David’s nephews. In ‘c’ there was war with the Philistines at Gob, and in the parallel there was war with the Philistines at Gob.

2.21.15-16 ‘And the Philistines had war again with Israel, and David went down, and his servants with him, and fought against the Philistines. And David grew faint, and Ishbibenob, who was of the sons of the giant, the weight of whose spearhead was three hundred shekels of brass in weight, he being girded with new armour, thought to have slain David.’

In a war which presumably came some time after the battles described in 5.17-25 David and his men again fought against the Philistines. During the battle David, who was presumably by this time much older, and had no doubt fought hard, grew faint, and the result was that the Philistine ‘giant’ Ishbibenob, whose spearhead was so heavy that it weighed the equivalent of 300 shekels of bronze (only, however, half that of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.7), saw his opportunity and advanced on him in order to finish him off, aided by his ‘new armour’ or ‘new sword’ (the Hebrew text has no noun, but the point is that he was newly equipped). Everything was in his favour.

These were not, of course, giants in the modern fairy-tale sense, but simply overlarge warriors. It is simply that LXX translated raphah as ‘giantes’. The Hebrew has in mind the Rephaim which was the Hebrew word for certain huge and mighty warriors who originally inhabited the Canaanite coastal plain (compare Genesis 14.5; 15.19-21; Deuteronomy 2.11; 3.11, 13). If we identify them with the Anakim (see Deuteronomy 2.21) they terrified ten out of the twelve scouts whom Joshua sent out from Kadesh Barnea (Num. 13:33). The word indicates overlarge men, who simply terrified their opponents by their size. They were reputedly descended from Anak (Numbers 13.33; Deuteronomy 9.2; compare Joshua 15.13) and were also known as the Anakim. A group of them had settled in Philistia (Joshua 11.21 ff). There was a well known saying, ‘Who can stand before the sons of Anak?’ (Deuteronomy 9.2), and the answer given here is that David’s mighty men can.

2.21.17a ‘But Abishai the son of Zeruiah came to his aid, and smote the Philistine, and killed him.’

Abishai, who was fighting alongside David, saw the threat to David and came to his aid, smiting the Philistine and killing him. As we have already seen Abishai regularly tended to be alongside David (compare 20.6; 1 Samuel 26.6-11). He was a mighty warrior and captain of the second ‘Three’, and was at one time responsible (no doubt with his men) for the slaying of three whole units of Philistines (23.18). To such a man a ‘giant’ was easy meat. But we are intended to recognise that he was such a man because YHWH was with him.

2.21.17b ‘Then the men of David swore to him, saying, “You shall go no more out with us to battle, that you quench not the lamp of Israel.” ’

The consequence arising from this incident was that David’s men would no longer allow him to go out with them into the heat of battle, lest ‘the lamp of Israel’ be quenched. In the Tabernacle the lamp was never allowed to go out (Leviticus 24.2-3), and his men clearly saw David in similar terms. He was ‘the Anointed of YHWH’, thus he represented, outside the Tabernacle, what the lamp represented inside, the symbol of God’s presence, justice and truth among His people. He could not therefore be allowed to be extinguished. Compare Lamentations 4.20 where the Anointed of YHWH was seen as ‘the breath of our nostrils’. Thus he was seen as both their light and their very life. It was therefore fitting that from him would one day be descended the One Who would claim, ‘I am the light of the world’ (John 8.12; compare 12.46) and ‘I am the resurrection and the life (John 11.25; compare 14.6), although in a much fuller and more literal sense.

2.21.18 ‘And it came about after this, that there was again war with the Philistines at Gob, then Sibbecai the Hushathite slew Saph, who was of the sons of the giant.’

A further war with the Philistines followed at Gob (near Gezer), and in this war another ‘giant’ named Saph was slain by Sibbecai the Hushathite (1 Chronicles 11.29; compare 23.27 where he (or his replacement) is called Mebunnai). It is from this point on that we have a partially parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20.4-8, which sets this incident in the area of Gezer, and names the ‘giant’ as Sippai (which is Saph with the addition of a yod), but it is by no means the case that one account is simply copied from the other, for there are sufficient differences between them to indicate that the information in both is independently taken from a more detailed account which both have summarised.

2.21.19 ‘And there was again war with the Philistines at Gob; and Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Beth-lehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam.’

This further example of the victory of David’s mighty men over the ‘giants’ of the Philistines again took place at Gob and involved the slaying of ‘Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver’s beam’ (compare 1 Samuel 17.4, 7). It is quite clear that this occurred many years after David slew the original ‘Goliath’ and ‘Goliath’ thus appears to have been the title of honour given at any particular time to the current recognised Philistine champion. Compare how, in a similar way, Abimelech and Phicol were titles of honour for the king and the commander-in-chief passed down among the Philistines through the generations (see Genesis 20; 21.22-34; 26.26; Psalm 34 heading where Achish is called Abimelech), and compare Rabshakeh, Rabsaris and Tartan, all titles of honour among the Assyrians (2 Kings 18.17). Alternately this may have been a son or grandson of the previous Goliath. The previous Goliath may well be ‘the giant (rapha) of Gath’ of verse 22.

Note On Goliath The Gittite.

The probable explanation of what appears to be a coincidence of names is that the Philistines gave the title ‘Goliath’ to whoever was their current champion. Thus David slew ‘Goliath the Gittite’ in 1 Samuel 17, and here, many years later, a ‘Goliath the Gittite’ is slain by Elhanan. An alternative possibility is that this was the former Goliath’s son or grandson per verse 22.

However, in view of 1 Chronicles 20.5 (although, as we have noted, the passages are not exact parallels), many have sought to deal with the problem by suggesting corruption of the text. Such corruption did sometimes tend to take place, especially when names were being dealt with, because the Hebrew text was written without spaces or word divisions or vowels, and the names might be unknown and non-Hebraic. While writing in this way did not usually cause a problem with the normal text because of the way Hebrew is constructed, (to a person familiar with them the constructions did in most cases immediately point to the right significance of the letters), it did cause a special problem with names, especially foreign ones, which were unknown to the writer and which might not tie in with the usual constructions. In order to present the case for this viewpoint let us parallel the two passages where this subject is dealt with:

  • 2 Samuel 21.19. 'Elhanan the son of Yaare-oregim the Bethlehemite slew Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam ('oregim).'
  • 1 Chronicles 20.5. 'Elhanan the son of Yair slew Lahmi, the brother of Goliath the Gittite, the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam'.

It is suggested that these two texts are so alike that they must be directly related, and in fact, in the Hebrew the two texts are much closer than they are in the English. Thus :

  • In Samuel --------- elhnnan bn y'ry 'rgym byth hlchmy 'th glyth hgthy w'ts chnythy cmnwr 'rgym -
  • In Chronicles ------ elhnnan bn y'wr 'th lchmy 'chy glyth hgthy w'ts chnythy cmnwr 'rgym

Indeed in Hebrew lettering the likeness is even closer for in Hebrew lettering 'ch' and 'th' are very similar and can easily be confused. Note also how the additional 'rgym in the name in Samuel parallels the same letters at the end of the sentence. It is therefore often suggested that that has crept into the text from the end of the sentence, or alternatively that Y'r was known as 'Y'r of the beam' being a weaver, something known by the writer in Samuel and therefore incorporated into the text as very apposite in view of the description of the spear. Furthermore, it is argued, the copyist in Samuel, reading the original text which lay behind the Chronicles account, and knowing that Elhanan was a Bethlehemite (2 Samuel 23.24; 1 Chronicles 11.26), may, in a poor copy, possibly have misunderstood 'eth Lachmi' as 'beth halachmi' (Bethlehem). But it will be appreciated that this is all necessarily pure speculation.

Alternately it has been suggested that the original text behind the two may have read 'Elhanan the son of Yair the Bethlehemite slew the brother of Goliath', the Chronicler then misconstruing Bethlehemite as a noun preceded by 'eth (which is a Hebrew accusative particle indicating that the noun is an accusative, but which is never translated). But it is not really easy to see how all this could have happened with a copyist who would already be very familiar with the actual wording of the Scriptures. The number of alternative suggestions made in seeking to amend the text brings out that such errors, if they do exist, do not follow a simple identifiable pattern. Thus it would have required an extremely careless copyist to make these errors, a copyist whose work was then allowed to affect all future official copies.

It must be seen as equally possible that the two sentences in fact stood side by side in the original records, with the intention of depicting the slaying of both the current ‘Goliath’ and his brother, and both being deliberately made similar in typical ancient fashion. The original aim would then be to bring out the slaying of both the current Goliath and his brother. In that case, in that original text, the description in Samuel would have come first (because it explains that Yair is a Bethlehemite, something not then needing to be repeated), and the one in Chronicles would have followed.

We can understand why neither writer wanted to include both, with the Chronicler wanting to dispense with what he saw as an error. But there is no good reason why Elhanan, a mighty warrior, should not have slain both the current Philistine champion and his brother, with both being originally stressed in the initial record. The Chronicler may well have dropped the first because he thought that it conflicted with 1 Samuel 17. The writer of Samuel, nearer to events and not having the same problem, may similarly have dropped mention of the success which he saw as the lesser victory. This may also explain why ‘the Bethlehemite’ was not included in Chronicles, not having been necessary in the statement taken from the original record because the information had already been given in the previous line. If the term ‘the staff of whose spear was like a weaver's beam' was by custom attached to whoever was Goliath, we can see why it might also be applied to Goliath’s brother once Goliath had been slain.

Our preference is thus for our original idea that the second Goliath was either the new champion or the son/grandson of the previous Goliath, and that Lachmi was his brother, with Elhanan being ‘Elhanan of the weaver’s beam’ who came from Bethlehem, and had gained victory over both.

End of note.

2.21.20 ‘And there was again war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, who had on every hand six fingers, and on every foot six toes, four and twenty in number, and he also was born to the giant.’

In a further war at Gath there was a ‘giant’ whose name was apparently not known, and who was famed for having extra fingers and toes, who ‘defied Israel’, as the original Goliath had before him (1 Samuel 17.10, 25, 26, 36). The description of the number of his fingers and toes is probably, like the ‘new armour’ of the first ‘giant’, intended to make us realise what an awesome prospect he was. The non-mention of his name is, however, strange, and the fact that he ‘defied Israel’, may well have indicated that he had now become the new champion of the Philistines, in which case he might also have been named ‘Goliath the Gittite whose spear was like a weaver’s beam’, the name and description being dropped by the writer in his case in order to avoid confusion.

2.21.21 ‘And when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimei, David’s brother, slew him.’

When this ‘giant’ defied Israel, he was slain by Jonathan, David’s nephew (brother to Jonadab). This Jonathan may have been the same Jonathan as the one mentioned in the list of mighty men which would explain why no further detail is given there (23.32), but 1 Chronicles 11.34 counts against that idea.

2.21.22 ‘These four were born to the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.’

All four of these ‘giants’ were sons of ‘the giant in Gath’. This latter may well have been the original Goliath, with some of his sons becoming Goliaths as the previous one was killed. Alternately he may have named one of his sons Goliath. But the important fact was that all four fell at the hands of David and his men. The ‘giants’ of Gath were no match for the mighty men of David because YHWH was with them.

A Psalm About The God Who Delivers, And Of How He Has Delivered (22.1-51).

Having revealed by the judgment on the house of Saul that God is a just God who deals severely with sin and judges those who go against His covenant (21.1-14), and having described the earthly means (the mighty men) by which He had provided for the deliverance of both David and Israel (21.15-22), the section now focuses in on the God of Deliverance Himself. Its purpose is to make clear that the background to all that has been described in the book of Samuel has been that of God acting invisibly but effectively in deliverance. It is that fact that has been the secret of David’s outwitting of Saul, and it that fact that has been the secret of all his victories over his enemies. Thus in the Psalm that now follows we are given an insider’s view of the effective, invisible activity of God working on David’s behalf.

This activity is depicted in terms of vivid and powerful natural phenomena, but it should be noted that it actually occurred, as far as men were concerned, invisibly to the naked eye, or even to human experience, for when the battle was on or the chase was taking place there was usually no visible storm. Rather the sun would usually have been shining blissfully in a cloudless sky. The activity was only visible to the eye of faith. But the point of the Psalmist is that whatever might be men’s physical apprehension of the situation at the time (and it might have been a beautiful summer’s day), when David called on the invisible God, He was immediately there, acting as powerfully as a magnificent storm, and sweeping all before Him. Earth might outwardly appear relatively quiet to those involved, but that was because men could not see the invisible. But to those who did see the invisible, the heavens became filled with powerful and violent activity, because YHWH was acting on David’s behalf (compare 2 Kings 6.17 where it is put in a slightly different way for Elisha and his servant). And the result was that his enemies, totally unaware of the powers at work against them and striving vainly against him, could not stand before him.

Analysis.

  • a YHWH has delivered David from his enemies and especially from Saul (22.1).
  • b YHWH is David’s rock, fortress and shield and the horn of his salvation, his Saviour Who has saved him (22.1-4)
  • c David cries in his need to YHWH, Who hears him, with the result that YHWH comes in His great power and splendour to act on David’s behalf (22.5-13).
  • d YHWH routs the enemy by His power, and delivers David from his particular trouble (22.14-20).
  • e This is because David has walked righteously before Him, the same is true for all who walk righteously (22.21-28).
  • f YHWH is David’s lamp who enables him in all that he has to face (22.29-30).
  • e He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him (22.31-32).
  • d YHWH has made David powerfully effective in war, that is why his feet do not slip and his enemies flee before him (22.33-40).
  • c And that is why his enemies are powerless before him, and no nation can stand before him (22.41-46).
  • b Because YHWH is his rock and salvation none can be effective before him (22.47-49).
  • a That is why he thanks God, because He gives great and everlasting deliverance to His king, to His Anointed (27.50-51).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH delivered David from all his enemies and especially from Saul (who sought him because he suspected that he was YHWH’s Anointed), and in the parallel he thanks YHWH for his deliverance because he is YHWH’s Anointed. In ‘b’ YHWH is David’s Rock, and is the horn of his salvation, and in the parallel He is David’s rock, and the rock of his salvation. In ‘c’ David cries in his need to YHWH and YHWH comes to him effectively and powerfully, and in the parallel that is why David is invincible. In ‘d’ YHWH routs the enemy by His almighty power, and in the parallel He makes David powerfully effective in war so that he routs all his enemies. In ‘e’ all who walk righteously are watched over by YHWH and in the parallel He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him. Centrally in ‘f’ YHWH is David’s lamp and sufficiency.

The whole point of the Psalm in context is in order to bring out that everything which was good that has happened to David he owes to YHWH, and that he is where he now is because of YHWH’s constantly revealed power, and because of His constant watch over him.

2.22.1 ‘And David spoke to YHWH the words of this song in the day that YHWH delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul.’

For a parallel ‘introduction’ to a Psalm see Deuteronomy 31.30. Note how this statement very much has 1 Samuel in mind. It is a reminder that Samuel is to be seen as one book, for the statement lays great emphasis on David’s deliverance from Saul (the previous chapter having already reminded us of the bloodthirstiness of Saul (21.1)). But it also has in mind David’s later victories, for it emphasises that it has been by YHWH that he has been delivered out of the hands of all his enemies. The writer was by this emphasising that David wanted no glory to go to himself. Rather David was emphatically recognising that he owed all to YHWH and to His great demonstrations of invisible power. For David was only too well aware that when he and his men had trudged the hot and dusty desert as they had fled from Saul, it had been YHWH Who had been there, effectively working in his defence in supernatural power. And it had been the same when he had faced his other enemies. And he was duly grateful.

2.22.2-4 ‘And he said:

“YHWH is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, even mine,
God, my rock, in him will I take refuge,
My shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge,
My saviour, you save me from violence.
I will call upon YHWH, who is worthy to be praised,
So will I be saved from my enemies.”

Note how these verses pile one description on another as David seeks to express the confidence that he has in YHWH, a confidence matured by bitter experience. YHWH is his Rock, and his Fortress, and his Deliverer, yes, ‘even mine’. He was ever conscious of how unworthy he was that YHWH should be so good to him. The emphasis is on the fact that he is firmly established and totally safe. He is founded on YHWH as his Rock, he is safe in YHWH as his heavenly mountain fortress, and he looks to YHWH as his own personal Deliverer. Furthermore YHWH is the Rock in which he finds refuge, is his Shield and Protector, and is the One Whose mighty strength (horn) constantly saves him. He is his High Tower and Refuge. How could he possibly have been safer?

Note also the emphasis on salvation. ‘Refuge’, ‘salvation’, ‘Saviour’, ‘save me’, ‘so will I be saved’. His whole dependence for deliverance is in his God who saves him from violence and from his enemies and from all that he has to face. That is why He is worthy to be praised. The idea underlines the whole Psalm.

2.22.5-7

“For the waves of death encompassed me,
The floods of worthlessness made me afraid,
:
The cords of Sheol were round about me,
The snares of death came on me.”
In my distress I called on YHWH,
Yes, I called to my God,
And he heard my voice out of his temple,
And my cry came into his ears.”

And he had needed YHWH’s protection because of the horrors that he had had to face, the waves of Death trying to drown him, the floods of the Ungodly/the Unworthy (Saul and his warriors/the hosts of Aram) filling him with fear, the cords of the Grave wrapping round him and binding him as he looked death in the face, and the snares of Death entangling him as he felt himself being slowly drawn in. He had felt as though he was constantly in danger of being both engulfed and ensnared. The description is vivid. It is the picture of a man fighting for his very existence, with death a hairsbreadth away.

No wonder then that he had often been distressed. But in that distress he had called on YHWH, yes, he had called on his God. And his God had heard him ‘out of His heavenly Temple’ (compare 11.4; Isaiah 6.1; 29.6; 63.15; Micah 1.2; Habakkuk 2.20). His cry had reached God’s ears. And the result was that God had come in majestic and awesome (even if in invisible, and outwardly unnoticeable) power. The Spirit of YHWH had manifested His powerful working effectively.

2.22.8-13

“Then the earth shook and trembled,
The foundations of heaven quaked,
And were shaken, because he was angry.
There went up a smoke out of his nostrils,
And fire out of his mouth devoured,
Coals were kindled by it.”
“He bowed the heavens also, and came down,
And thick darkness was under his feet.
And he rode on a cherub, and did fly,
Yes, he was seen on the wings of the wind.
And he made darkness pavilions round about him,
Gathering of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
At the brightness before him,
Coals of fire were kindled.”

YHWH’s coming to David’s assistance is vividly portrayed in terms of a terrible storm (compare Judges 5.4). The violent thunder causes the earth to shake and reveals His anger. The lightning starts fires, the smoke of which, as it were, comes out of His nostrils. The darkness surrounds Him like a tent or pavilion and the wind swirls around Him, while the thick thunder clouds also gather around. Note how these pictures of the earth shaking, the mighty thunder, the vivid lightning, the smoke and the fire are all reminiscent of Sinai (Exodus 19.16, 18). It is the God of Sinai Who is acting on David’s behalf.

So the fierceness of God’s anger over the treatment of His Anointed is being expressed in terms of the quaking earth and the mountains shaking at their very bases, in the midst of the thick, swirling clouds that sometimes come down to cover the earth and with the fire and smoke, which result from bolts of lightning starting fierce fires on it, as the lightning strikes the very ground. It presents us with an awe-inspiring scene. And as we have seen there is surely a reference to the appearance of YHWH at Sinai in thunder, and quaking earth, and thick cloud, and smoke and fire (Exodus 19.16, 18). The God of Sinai was coming, even though invisibly, to David’s aid. As Saul sought to track down David and kill him he was, of course oblivious of such activity. Saul was totally unaware of the heavenly vengeance that he was bringing down on himself. To him the heavens seemed silent, and there was nothing further from his mind than the idea that YHWH was fighting for David. What he overlooked was the fact that the mills of God were grinding him, and that though they were grinding slowly, they would grind exceeding small, and with great power.

For the idea of YHWH riding on the cherub and flying see the vivid description of YHWH on His airborne throne borne by the cherubim in Ezekiel chapters 1 and 10. Compare also Psalm 104.3. (In earlier Canaanite literature Baal also was described as ‘the Rider of the clouds’).

Note the dual repetition of the kindling of ‘coals of fire’ (verses 9, 13), perhaps a symbol of the coals of fire upon the altar (Isaiah 6.6). It may suggest that YHWH had in mind a sacrificial offering. But it may simply express God’s holy anger. Fire regularly indicates God’s anger (97.3; Exodus 15.7; Deuteronomy 32.22; Hebrews 12.29).

There is also in all this very much a picture which contains the air of mystery. Note the emphasis on ‘darkness’, the darkness of the hiddenness, of His mysterious working. Darkness and thick clouds were ever His hiding place and His enveloping tent, His protection and His cover. For man was not allowed to see His direct activity, nor could man see God and live. All that they saw was the results.

2.22.14-16 “YHWH thundered from heaven,

And the Most High uttered his voice.
And he sent out arrows, and scattered them,
Lightning, and discomfited them.
Then the channels of the sea appeared,
The foundations of the world were laid bare,
By the rebuke of YHWH,
At the blast of the breath of his nostrils.”

But there is not just a revelation of YHWH’s power here. There is also reference to His warlike activity. He thunders from Heaven, He utters His voice, He sends out arrows of lightning, He opens up the sources of the sea , He lays bare the foundations of the earth, and all this occurs as a result of the rebuke of YHWH and the blast of the breath of His nostrils (compare Exodus 15.8). Here YHWH is acting in all His awe-inspiring mightiness and power on David’s behalf as he had at the Red Sea. No wonder David was victorious over all his enemies.

2.22.17-20 “He sent from on high, he took me,

He drew me out of many waters,
He delivered me from my strong enemy,
From those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
They came on me in the day of my calamity,
But YHWH was my stay.”
He brought me forth also into a large place,
He delivered me, because he delighted in me.”

David then remembers back to how YHWH had ‘sent from on High’, and drawn him out of the trials that seemed to be engulfing him. His strong enemy had been primarily Saul and his courtiers, who had hated him, and had appeared to be too mighty for him. And he had perhaps often asked himself, ‘what was he that he should constantly oppose the king?’ And each time their coming on him had been calamitous to him. But he had overcome because YHWH had been his stay. And YHWH had always brought him out into a large place, the place of deliverance. And He had done it because He had delighted in him. Thus all that he now enjoyed he owed to YHWH and His elective goodness and love. David was very conscious of YHWH’s love for him, a love which he full reciprocated (except during bad periods).

2.22.21-25

“YHWH rewarded me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands has he recompensed me.
For I have kept the ways of YHWH,
And have not wickedly departed from my God.
For all his ordinances were before me,
And as for his statutes, I did not depart from them.
I was also perfect toward him,
And I kept myself from my iniquity.
Therefore has YHWH recompensed me according to my righteousness,
According to my cleanness in his eyesight.”

Many see these words as indicating a time before David had sinned in respect to Bathsheba and Uriah, and they ask how could he otherwise speak of the cleanness of his hands and of himself as not having departed from his God and as having kept himself from his iniquity? And it may possibly be so. But perhaps such thinking ignores the wonder of full forgiveness. How many of us constantly bring to mind our past, forgiven sins? Surely we do not, and should not. We have put them behind us, because God has put them behind Him (Isaiah 38.17). Many of us have sinned deeply in the past in different ways, but having been forgiven, we have rightly learned to accept forgiveness, and forget our forgiven sins and put them out of our memories. Having repented and been forgiven we have rightly seen ourselves as starting afresh on the way of righteousness. That may equally have been true of David here. He knew that his sins had been atoned for and forgiven.

For David is not representing himself here as having never sinned, but as having deliberately turned his back on his sins to follow YHWH’s will. Having truly repented of the past he sees himself as having had his hands made clean (‘cleanness (bor) of hands’ is a figure describing moral purity in terms of the practise of washing the hands with soda (bor)), and as having constantly kept the way of YHWH and as not having wickedly departed from Him, and that as an attitude of current daily life. Forgiveness often makes us more sensitive of sin, not less, and more determined to put it behind us, and that very forgiveness makes us aware that we have been made clean. His point is thus rather that his eyes are now fixed on YHWH’s commands so that he will not depart from His statutes, and will thus keep himself from iniquity. Indeed he recognises that YHWH has not recompensed him as he deserved, but as a forgiven sinner now seeking to do the right. And it is because of that determination to hunger and thirst after righteousness with all his heart that he has been made clean, and is therefore acceptable in God’s sight. This view of the matter finds confirmation in the next phrase where he emphasises the great mercy of God.

2.22.26-28

“With the merciful you will show your merciful,
With the perfect man you will show yourself perfect,
With the pure you will show yourself pure,
And with the wayward you will show yourself perverse.
And the afflicted people you will save,
But your eyes are on the haughty, that you may bring them down.”

David recognises that it is a settled principle of the spiritual life that men will reap what they sow. Those who are merciful, will find mercy from God (compare Matthew 5.7). This statement suggests in itself how aware David was that he had especially received the mercy of God. Those who are truly developed in righteousness will discover that God’s righteousness is fully developed towards them, so that He acts towards them as the Righteous One.. Those who are pure will discover that God deals with them purely, and reveals His utter dependability and integrity.

In contrast those who are wayward will never be sure how God will deal with them. He will appear to be as ‘wayward’ in His dealings with them as they are with Him. This is the contrary side to God’s reciprocation. Not for David the idea that God will overlook sin in all. To him those who are wayward in respect of God’s ways must expect God to behave waywardly with them (Leviticus 26.23-24; Isaiah 29.9-12; Proverbs 3.34). And while He will certainly save those who are afflicted, He will also bring down those who are haughty. For He seeks always those who are of a humble and contrite spirit (Isaiah 57.15). David wants us all to recognise that God is responsive to what we are, and acts towards us as we act towards others, and that he therefore deals hardly with those who fail to walk in His ways. It is a general principle of the spiritual life. This is the normal way of things.

2.22.29-30

“For you are my lamp, O YHWH,
And YHWH will lighten my darkness.
For by you I run upon a troop,
By my God do I leap over a wall.”

And because his heart is towards God with a desire to do His will David sees YHWH as his lamp Who will show him the way in which he must go. And the consequence of that is that he is confident that He will lighten his darkness, and show him the way forward. It is because God lights his way that he can successfully attack a troop, and can equally successfully leap over the walls of a resisting city. The twofold thought here is of success in warfare. He had not chosen warfare but it had been forced on him by YHWH. And he knew that his success in that warfare had also been of YHWH. To ‘run on a troop’ is to race at them, and then chase, attack and defeat them, as he had done with the Amalekites (1 Samuel 30), to leap over a wall described his taking of cities like the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. Such walls were no hindrance to him. He, as it were, simply leapt over them. And it was because YHWH was with him. He gave all the glory for his success to God.

2.22.31-32

“As for God, his way is perfect,
The word of YHWH is tried,
He is a shield to all those who take refuge in him.”
“For who is God, save YHWH?
And who is a rock, save our God?”

And all this relies on the fact that the way of YHWH is ideal, and the word of YHWH, is tried and tested. Both are thus fully to be relied on. Nor can we go wrong in them if we follow Him in them, for He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him. Indeed the truth is that YHWH is the only God Who counts for anything, and as such He is the perfect and only foundational Rock for those who trust in Him. So with all his failings David’s heart was set firmly on the way of YHWH, and he trusted wholly in His upholding, and it was this that explained the greatness of his success.

2.22.33-36

“God is my strong fortress,
And he guides the perfect in his way.
He makes his feet like hinds’ feet,
And sets me on my high places.
He teaches my hands to war,
So that my arms do bend a bow of bronze,
You have also given me the shield of your salvation,
And your gentleness has made me great.”

David was aware that it was not because of his own ability and strength that he had succeeded up until now. It was because YHWH was his strong fortress, his guaranteed protection, and because YHWH always guides those whose hearts are set on doing His will in the right way, in His way. For the ‘perfect’ are those who seek to do His will and are committed to His covenant. He makes their feet stable and firm however rough the pathway, in the same way as the hind never loses her footing on even the most precipitous mountain path. Or the thought may rather be of the speed at which the hind moves, but the parallel with God as his strong fortress suggests safety, security and sure-footedness.

And it was because his heart was set on doing YHWH’s will and fulfilling His covenant, that YHWH had set him on high places and was keeping him there. All his success was to be seen as due to YHWH. It was YHWH Who taught his hands to war, and enabled him to bend a bow of bronze (the toughest of bows to bend). And it was YHWH who had given him the shield of His salvation, and Who by His gentleness towards him had made him great. It was YHWH Who had kept him, who had continually saved him and Who had made him what he is.

2.22.37-40

“You have enlarged my steps under me,
And my feet have not slipped.
I have pursued my enemies, and destroyed them,
Neither did I turn again until they were consumed.
And I have consumed them, and smitten them through,
So that they cannot arise, yes, they are fallen under my feet.
For you have girded me with strength for the battle,
You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.”

The consequence of all this was that David had been able, through YHWH’s enabling, to bestride his world. He had been able to make great strides, without his feet having slipped. He had been able to pursue his enemies and destroy them, never having to turn back until he had utterly defeated them, until they had fallen under his feet. And it was all because YHWH had girded him with strength for battle, and had Himself subdued those who rose up against him. He owed all his victories to YHWH.

2.22.41-43 “You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me,

That I might cut off those who hate me.
They looked, but there was none to save,
Even to YHWH, but he answered them not.
Then did I beat them small as the dust of the earth,
I did crush them as the mire of the streets, and did spread them abroad.”.

It was YHWH Who made all his enemies turn their backs on him and run, so that he was enabled to cut off all who hated him. And when they looked to YHWH they received no answer, because they only did so in a superstitious and ritualistic way (consider, for example, Saul, Abner, Absalom, and Sheba), otherwise they would have been responsive and obedient towards the one who was YHWH’s Anointed. The result was that David had been able to beat them into fine dust, and to crush them like men do when they walk on the mire of the streets, and then scatter it abroad (there were no regular rubbish collectors in those days).

2.22.44-46 “ You have also delivered me from the strivings of my people,

You have kept me to be the head of the nations,
A people whom I have not known will serve me.
The foreigners will submit themselves to me,
As soon as they hear of me, they will obey me.
The foreigners will fade away,
And will come trembling out of their close places.”

And all this applied both to the strivings of his own people against him (under Abner, Absalom and Sheba), and to peoples whom he had not known over whom YHWH had given him supremacy (e.g. the Aramaeans from ‘beyond the River), thus making him ‘the head of the nations’. It was YHWH Who had enabled him to defeat the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites, and the Aramaeans, with the result that other nations had submitted willingly without even a fight, before he had even approached them (e.g. Toi king of Hamath in 8.10).

(Previously, of course, we have seen that it was through his mighty men (e.g. 21.15-22), his invincible bodyguard (the Cherethites and the Pelethites), and his own private army, ‘his men’ that he mainly obtained victory. But now it is being made clear that they had succeeded only by His power, which was why they had been able to slay the ‘giants’. Everything was owed to YHWH Who had made David’s name great as He had promised).

2.22.47-49

“YHWH lives, and blessed be my rock,
And exalted be God, the rock of my salvation,
Even the God who executes vengeance for me,
And who brings down peoples under me,
And who brings me forth from my enemies,
Yes, you lift me up above those who rise up against me,
You deliver me from the violent man.”

David now relates his victories to his prior commencing eulogy about YHWH as his Rock in verse 2. He has been delivered from all his enemies because YHWH lives, and because He is his Rock, even the Rock of his salvation. All his deliverances are owed to that solid Rock Who has made his feet firm and has brought down his enemies. It was YHWH Who had executed vengeance for him so that, for example, he had been able to leave Saul in God’s hands without smiting him himself. It was YHWH Who had brought down people under him, and had always brought him back from the presence of his enemies in triumph. It was YHWH Who had always lifted him up above those who rose against him, and who had delivered him from ‘the violent man’ (of whom Saul was the most obvious, but not the only, example) .

2.22.50-51

“Therefore I will give thanks to you, O YHWH, among the nations,
And will sing praises to your name.
Great deliverance gives he to his king,
And shows lovingkindness to his anointed,
To David and to his seed, for evermore.”

And all this was because He was fulfilling His everlasting divine promises to His king and to His Anointed (7.8-17; see also 1 Samuel 2.10; 16.13) and was revealing towards him His covenant love (chesed - lovingkindness, covenant love). No wonder then that David expresses his thanks and praise to YHWH among the nations for all that He has so lovingly done for him. He will not fall short in making clear to all the power and love of YHWH.

It will be noted that the Book of Samuel originally began with a look forward to YHWH’s coming king and Anointed one (1 Samuel 2.10), a promise which has now found in David its partial fulfilment, but nevertheless only partial because 7.8-17 looks forward to a greater fulfilment in an everlasting kingdom. That is what the book is about, the rise and establishment of YHWH’s Anointed.

We finish our commentary on the Psalm by again drawing attention to the wonderful way in which it commences with the idea of David’s total dependence on YHWH (verses 1-7), continues by revealing the almighty power of YHWH by which David was delivered (verses 8-20), and emphasises that that power is only revealed on behalf of those who keep His covenant and seek to do His will (verses 21-28). That has been why David has been made successful over all his enemies, with the result being complete victory for His chosen king and Anointed One both over the nations and in every other way (verses 29-51). David is making clear that he owes everything to YHWH.

The Final Oracle Of David (23.1-7).

We are told that these are ‘the last words of David’ (i.e. his last official words in the light of approaching death). The last words of a man were seen as having special importance, compare Genesis 49.1, 33; Deuteronomy 33.1, and were seen as prophetic of the future.

The pattern of the opening words here is partially based on two oracles of Balaam in Numbers 24.3-4, 15-17, demonstrating David’s close awareness of the ancient tradition. It is worth making a direct comparison with Number 24.15-17a.

---------------Numbers 24.15-17a ------------------------ David’s Last Words -----------

And he took up his utterance and said ------------ And these are the last words of David’
“Oracle of Balaam, the son of Beor, -------------- “Oracle of David, the son of Jesse,
And oracle of the man whose eye was closed --- And oracle of the man who was raised on high
He says who hears the word of God --------------- The anointed one of the God of Jacob
And knows the knowledge of the Most High ----- The delightful one in Israel’s songs of praise
Who sees the vision of the Almighty --------------- The Spirit of YHWH spoke by me
Falling down and having his eyes open ----------- And his word was on my tongue
I see him, but not now --------------------------------- The God of Israel said to me
I behold him, but not near,---------------------------- The Rock of Israel spoke
There will come forth a star out of Jacob --------- A Ruler over men, a righteous one
And a sceptre shall rise out of Israel --------------- A Ruler in the fear of God

It will be noted that while the words are in the main considerably different, the ideas and pattern behind them are remarkably similar, given that one was speaking as a pagan prophet in a trance, and the other as a prophet of YHWH under inspiration. Thus the one sought to foster mysteriousness, while the other could speak with the confident certainty of one who knew God. But both lead up to the idea of the Coming King (the Messiah). And we should note that it is this declaration that the whole book of Samuel has been leading up to, as is made clear in the original oracular utterance in 2.10, where we read, ‘YHWH will judge (rule over) the ends of the earth, and He will give strength to His king, and exalt the horn of His Anointed’. It is the book of preparation for the Messiah.

David then goes on to describe the Coming King in terms of the rain and sun producing fruitfulness, an idea taken up by Solomon in Psalm 72.6, 17 concerning the righteous king. Fruitfulness from rain and sun were regularly indicative of the coming new age of righteousness (Isaiah 32.15-17; 44.3-4; 45.8; 55.10-13; 59.19; 60.1-3; compare Matthew 5.45; 13.43; 17.2).

Analysis.

  • a David is the one raised on high, the anointed one, the delightful singer of Israel’s praise (23.1).
  • b YHWH has spoken of a coming king who will rule righteously in the fear of God (23.2-3).
  • c His coming will be like the glorious rising of the sun after rain producing fruitfulness and blessing (23.4).
  • b YHWH has made with David a sure and certain everlasting covenant which fulfils all his desire and brings salvation (23.5).
  • a This is all in contrast with what will happen to the unworthy who will be like thorns which cannot be taken in the hand and can only be touched with a long spear, and will finally be burned with fire (23.6-7).
.

Note that in ‘a’ David is exalted to Heaven, the chosen of God, the inspired one, while in the parallel the unworthy are like thorns and thistles, and doomed to the fire. In ‘b’ the coming of the everlasting king is described, and in the parallel the emphasis is on the sure and certain everlasting covenant which will bring salvation and blessing. Centrally in ‘c’ His coming is announced in glorious terms.

2.23.1 ‘Now these are the last words of David.

“Oracle of David the son of Jesse,
And oracle of the man who was raised on high,
The anointed one of the God of Jacob,
And the delightful singer of Israel’ praise.”.

What a contrast there is between David in ecstasy in the presence of the living God and Balaam involved in the spirit world. ‘Raised on high -- anointed -- delightful singer of Israel’s praise’ contrasts with ‘the man whose eye was closed -- falling down and having his eyes open -- seeing Him, but not now, beholding Him but not near’ (Numbers 24.15, 17). The first is the glorious reality, the second is but the shadow.

‘These are the last words of David.’ The last words of a prophetic man were seen as of telling importance and as predictive of the future. What he said would come about. And here David was undoubtedly claiming special inspiration by God’s Spirit. The word ‘oracle’ (neum) is itself indicative of ‘the inspiration of God as He speaks to men’, and the idea is repeated twice so as to guarantee that it is a sound witness. And while it is the oracle of the mere son of Jesse, it is the oracle of the one whom God has raised up and exalted, the one whom God has anointed and set apart for Himself, the one whom God has chosen as the instrument of the praise of the whole of Israel.

2.23.2-3 “The Spirit of YHWH spoke by me,

And his word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel said to me,
The Rock of Israel spoke,
‘One who rules over men, a righteous one,
Who rules in the fear of God’.”

And David’s emphasis is on the wonderful message that he has to proclaim. What he has to speak of arises because the Spirit of YHWH is speaking through him, and His word is on his tongue. For his words are the words of the God and Rock of Israel (the firm and sure foundation on which the certainty of the everlasting covenant is based). And what is the Spirit declaring? He is declaring the coming of a Ruler Who will rule righteously as the Righteous One, a Ruler Who will rule in the fear of God (compare Isaiah 11.1-4).

In one sense this was partly to be fulfilled in the first part of Solomon’s reign. David’s hope and the people’s hope may well have been that Solomon would be the one (we have the same ambivalence between Solomon and the Coming King in 7.8-17). But Solomon deteriorated, as did all who came after him, even Hezekiah and Josiah, and all therefore failed to be its true fulfilment, something anticipated in 7.14-15 with the assurance that it would not annul the coming of the everlasting kingdom. Thus would the promise be carried into the future as Israel began to look for the coming of the Messiah, The One Who would truly be righteous and rule righteously and Who would rule everlastingly in the fear of God (Isaiah 9.6-7; 11.1-4; Jeremiah 23.5; 33.15; Ezekiel 37.22-28). And finally Jesus Christ did come as the Righteous One (Acts 7.52), and He established God’s Kingly Rule on earth for all who follow Him, the Kingly Rule of light as opposed to the tyranny of darkness (Colossians 1.13), which is like a colony of Heaven on earth (Philippians 3.20), a Kingly Rule (basileia) which will lead to a final culmination in His Kingly Rule above (Matthew 13.43). Note how this parallels the words of Balaam concerning the star that would arise out of Jacob, and the sceptre which would arise out of Israel who would establish his people (Numbers 24.17).

2.23.4

“As the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
The tender grass from the earth,
Through clear shining after rain.

And this Coming One will arise like the brilliance of the rising sun as it bathes the earth with light. He will introduce a glorious morning beneath a cloudless sky, with no clouds present to dull its glory. It will be like the arrival of new shoots springing into life as a result, first of the activity of the rain and then of the shining sun, as the sun’s clear brilliance draws life out of the earth following the rain (Isaiah 32.15-17; 44.3-4; 45.8; 55.10-13; 59.19; 60.1-3; compare Matthew 5.45; 13.43; 17.2).

The word for ‘clear shining’ is an interesting one, for it is always reserved in Scripture in order to describe ‘heavenly’ things. It is only ever used either of the sun and the moon themselves, shining in the heavens, or alternatively of the shining brilliance of the coming activity of God. For examples of the latter see 22.30; Isaiah 4.5; 60.3; Ezekiel 1.4, 27, 28; 10.4; and contrast Amos 5.20. Note also Matthew 13.43; 17.2.

2.23.5

Truly my house is not so with God,
(or ‘Is not my house truly so with God?’)
Yet he has made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things, and sure,
For it is all my salvation, and all desire,
Although he does not make it to grow.
(Or ‘Does he not surely make it to grow?’)

But David is aware that his own house is not like this with God, something that he has cause to know as he looks back on his own behaviour, and the behaviour of Amnon and Absalom. ‘Truly,’ he says, ‘my house is not so with God’. And that is why his house appears to be diminishing rather than growing, ‘although He does not make it to grow’, as one son dies after the other. Nevertheless he recognises that in all his undeserving, and the undeserving of his house, God has made with him an everlasting covenant, an ordered and sure covenant, which will ensure the bringing about of the salvation that he desires, the salvation that is to result from his house, and will fulfil the strong desires of both his heart and of God’s heart (7.8-17).

Alternatively some see the statements in respect to his house as being a question (there were no punctuation marks in Hebrew). In this case he is exalting in what God is aiming to do through his house.

2.23.6-7

“But the ungodly will be all of them as thorns to be thrust away,
Because they cannot be taken with the hand,
But the man who touches them must be armed with iron and the staff of a spear,
And they will be utterly burned with fire at their dwelling.”

David closes his last words with a reference to ‘the worthless’ (belial = ‘worthlessness’, they are worthlessness personified), typifying the ungodly. In contrast with the glory of the Coming One they are like thorns which should be thrust away as they are rooted up by the use of implements, lest they cause the hands to bleed. Like thorns they cannot be taken in the hand, but can only be touched by a man fully equipped to deal with them. For the man who would touch them must do it with tools of iron or the staff of a spear, or else he will come away bearing the marks of the thorns. So the worthless will be rooted up, and their final destiny, instead of enjoying the glory of the everlasting kingdom (Matthew 13.43), is to be burned with fire (compare Matthew 13.30, 42, 50; John 15.6; Hebrews 6.8) in the place where they have revealed their worthlessness.

The Mighty Men Of David (23.8-39).

Prior to the song and last words of David we were given a taster about David’s mighty men who had disposed of the ‘giants’ of the Philistines (21.15-22). Now we are introduced to them in their full glory. It is a reminder that while God’s purpose is wonderful, sure and everlasting, the greatest wonder of it is that it is carried forward through human beings. Thus in one sense we have learned that David had triumphed through the almighty power of YHWH, but in another sense we now learn that he had done so because God had provided him with mighty men who were his faithful servants, although even here it is stressed that their victories were of YHWH (verses 10, 12).

Initially we will look at the exegesis of the text without looking at the underlying problems, which will mainly be dealt with by way of note, for our aim is to interpret the passage in its context. And what the text appears to indicate is that the mighty men were made up of an initial Three consisting of especially outstanding warriors (who almost formed an army in themselves), a second Three consisting of warriors almost, but not quite, as outstanding, and then the noble Thirty, although in the last case the number must not be taken too literally, for it was more of a title for the group than a number to be taken literally, and would alter up and down as men were slain and others were incorporated. These were David’s elite force, and would also probably each act as captains of their own military units (compare 1 Chronicles 27) when a battle was in prospect.

Analysis.

  • a These are the names of the mighty men whom David had (23.8a).
  • b The Three Mighty Men (23.8b-12).
  • c The exploit at the well at Bethlehem illustrative of the mighty men (23.13-17).
  • b The Second Three (23.18-23).
  • a The names of the mighty men (23.24-34).

The Names Of David’s Mighty Men.

2.23.8a ‘These are the names of the mighty men whom David had.’

As can be seen the passage commences with a description of what it is all about. Its aim is to provide a roll of honour of the names of David’s mighty men, his principle champions and officers who, throughout his career, were the bulwark humanly speaking of his success. These were the men who bore the brunt of bringing in the ‘kingdom of YHWH’ under David, and they are worthy of all honour. They are a reminder that God does not forget the names of those who are faithful in His service.

The First Three.

The first Three are Adino the Ezrite, Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite (his father being earlier well known as an officer of David - 1 Chronicles 27.4), and Shammah, the son of Agee, a Hararite. Adino appears to have been given the technical title ‘the Tachcemonite (‘wise commander’) indicating his superior rank, a title which previously belonged to Jashoboam, who was entitled ‘the Chacmonite’, an abbreviation of the previously mentioned title.

2.23.8b

‘The one who sat in the seat, (or Josheb-basshebeth) the Tachcemonite,
Chief of the captains,
The same was Adino the Eznite,
Against eight hundred slain at one time.

As we consider the first Three we are immediately faced with a problem of translation in respect of the first of the Three. For if we follow most translations the first warrior would appear to have had two names, Josheb-basshebeth and Adino, which was of course a possibility, with the former possibly being a name given to him when he took up his senior military post. Alternatively some would translate as, ‘The one who sat (yosheb) in the place of honour (ba-shebeth), the shrewd one (one made wise - tachcemoni), chief of the captains, he was Adino the Eznite.’ Next to Joab the commander-in-chief he would be leader of the war council. His most famous feat was to stand up to and slay eight units of the enemy on one particular day. He may, of course, have had the assistance of his armourbearers and a number of warriors

Jashoboam the Chacmoni mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11.11; 27.2 previously held the same position prior to Adino, also being entitled ‘the shrewd (chacmoni)’. ‘Tachcemoni’ was, in fact, probably the ancient technical title, preserved by the writer in Samuel, describing the military leader who was second to the commander-in-chief, with ‘Chacmoni’ being the post-exilic ‘modernisation’.

2.23.9-10

‘And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the son of an Ahohite,
One of the three mighty men with David,
When they defied the Philistines who were there gathered together to battle,
And the men of Israel were gone away.
He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary,
And his hand clave to the sword,
And YHWH wrought a great victory that day,
And the people returned after him only to take spoil.’

The second member of the first Three was Eleazar, the son of Dodai, the son of an Ahohite. In 1 Chronicles 27.4 Dodai (Dodo) the Ahohite was captain of the second month’s division of on duty warriors, and was seemingly Eleazar’s father. This would appear to indicate that in contrast with 1 Chronicles 27.4 these statistics in Samuel must mainly be seen as referring to a later period in David’s reign, although as we shall see the names of ‘the Thirty’ do include warriors whose deaths have previously been recorded which may be an explanation of why more than thirty are named. The dead heroes may, however, have deliberately been kept on the roll (note that they come first and last). This late date for the names of ‘The Three’ would also help to explain why Jashobeam the Chacmonite has been replaced by Adino the Eznite, the present ‘Tachcemoni’.

Eleazar’s outstanding feat was that along with David and two other mighty men he had defied the Philistines after the main Israelite forces had withdrawn, and had fought until he was very weary and his hand adhered to his sword as he slew Philistine after Philistine. But even so the credit for the victory was to be given to YHWH. It was in the last analysis He Who had wrought a great victory that day. Then once the battle was over, the remainder of the people returned in order to collect spoil, as they will.

The fact of ‘the hand adhering to the sword’ due to unusually heavy fighting. resulting in the swordsman being unable to release his grip on the sword, (either as a result of congealed blood or cramp, or both) is testified to elsewhere. Thus a highland sergeant at Waterloo in 1815, who suffered from the same problem, had to have his hand released by a blacksmith after the battle, while Sheikh Ali Amad experienced a similar phenomenon after his exhaustive massacre of numerous Christians at Mount Lebanon in 1860.

2.23.11-12

And after him was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite.
And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop,
Where was a plot of ground full of lentils,
And the people fled from the Philistines.
But he stood in the midst of the plot,
And defended it, and slew the Philistines,
And YHWH wrought a great victory.’

The third member of the first Three was Shammah the son of Agee a Hararite. When a troop of Philistines entered Israel seeking spoil and advanced on a plot of ground in Israel containing growing lentils, he stood and defended it even though all the local people had fled, and he ‘slaughtered the Philistines’, with the result that YHWH was seen as having wrought a great victory. These three mighty men were thus ample evidence that YHWH was with David and had made provision for his success. They had been chosen to play their part in seeking to establish and secure the kingdom of God in Israel, and ensure the containment of the Philistines. It was such men who were seen as responsible under YHWH for David’s continuing success. They were God’s host.

An Incident Involving Three Of The Thirty Chief Men (23.3).

An incident is now described which especially brings out David’s loyalty to, and concern for, his men, combined with an indication of their love for him. It is deliberately anonymous and exemplifies the attitude of all the mighty men. When three of his mighty men bring him water from the well at Bethlehem, David recognises what a sacrificial risk the three have taken on his behalf, simply in order to satisfy a whimsical wish. He had expressed his desire for water from the well at Bethlehem, (his home town where he had grown up and now occupied by the Philistines), but he had never dreamed that three of his loyal followers would try to grant his wish whatever the risk to themselves. On his part he had simply been dreaming nostalgically about the past, and remembering happy days when as a thirsty young boy he had regularly satisfied his thirst at the local spring on hot summer days, and was thinking how satisfying the cool, fresh water had tasted, almost like the nectar of the gods. But these men had wanted to please him, and that is why they had done what they did. And his love for them was such that in return he did not feel that he could drink something which had involved such loving sacrifice. He felt that only YHWH was worthy of such sacrifice, and so he had offered the water to YHWH. By his act he was offering his mighty men themselves to YHWH, for the water represented their blood.

2.23.13-14 ‘And three of the thirty chief men went down, and came to David in the harvest time to the cave of Adullam, and the troop of the Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. And David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Beth-lehem.’

The incident had taken place at the time when David had been sheltering in the stronghold of the cave of Adullam (1 Samuel 22.1), and the Philistines had been encamped in large numbers in the valley of Rephaim and had had a garrison in Bethlehem. The three men had come to join up with David in his stronghold around harvest time, in the midst of the hot summer. The fact that they were ‘three of the thirty’ suggests that they were not The Three mentioned above.

2.23.15-16 ‘And David longed, and said, “Oh that one would give me water to drink of the well of Beth-lehem, which is by the gate!” And the three mighty men broke through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Beth-lehem, which was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David, but he would not drink of it, but poured it out to YHWH.’

No doubt feeling hot and thirsty in the summer heat, David had nostalgically remembered his hometown spring, near the gate in Bethlehem (but not necessarily within the town itself), and had expressed his longing for water from it. The result was that the three men had made their way through the Philistine defences at the risk of their lives, and had drawn water from the well so that they could bring it to David, in order to demonstrate to him their love and loyalty. David had been so full of emotion when he considered what his men had risked for his sake that he had felt that only YHWH could possibly be worthy of such sacrifice. And so he had poured the water out as a sacrificial offering to YHWH because he saw it as so precious.

2.23.17 ‘And he said, “Be it far from me, O YHWH, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.’

And as he had made the offering he had disclaimed any suggestion that he was worthy of their sacrifice, emphasising that he could not, as it were, drink of the blood of these men who had obtained the water at the risk of their lives. Drinking the water would have been as though he was drinking their blood, and benefiting by their having faced imminent death, and that was inconceivable to him. So he offered the lives of his men to YHWH by pouring out the water before Him. But the incident demonstrates that such was the quality of his mighty men and also that such was the quality of his concern for them. In the eyes of the writer both their attitude and his attitude had been truly worthy of servants of YHWH.

The Second Three.

Although the writer introduces the fact of the second Three, for some reason he gives only two of their names. The first is Abishai, Joab’s brother, who regularly acted as commander alongside Joab (18.2; 20.6, 10), and the second is Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada, who became captain of David’s bodyguard (20.23). Perhaps that was because all knew that the third member of the Three was Joab, with his name being blotted out from the roll of honour because he had later been executed as a traitor (1 Kings 2.30-34). Compare the omission of Simeon from Moses’ last words (Deuteronomy 33) because of the behaviour of the Simeonite prince in Numbers 25.14. What counts against this suggestion is that Abishai was chief of the second Three, and he was unlikely to have been chief over Joab. On the other hand if the gradings were based simply on fighting capability (the leading warrior of the Three on the basis of his personal feats) and did not indicate rank, it is quite possible that Joab would be graded below Abishai for fighting capability. An alternative is that it was Asahel, the first to be mentioned of the Thirty, who had been of the Three.

2.23.18-19 ‘And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred and slew them, and had a name among the three. Was he not most honourable of the three? Therefore he was made their captain. However that might be he did not attain to the first three.’

The chief, or man of greatest prominence, among the second Three was Abishai, Joab’s brother. He was remembered for having ‘lifted up his spear against three military units’ and having slain them, although it is not said that it was on the same day (as it had been with Adino). He may have been involved with them at different times and then have had them listed on his roll of scalps. Thus he had a name among the three. The spear was in fact usually used as a stabbing weapon rather than a throwing one, even though it could certainly also be used for throwing (1 Samuel 18.11).

2.23.20-21 ‘And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man of Kabzeel, who had done mighty deeds, he slew the two of Ariel of Moab. He went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow. And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man, and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand. But he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear.’

The next of the Three was Benaiah, the son of Jehoiada. He was the son of a valiant soldier from Kabzeel (see Joshua 15.21), and had himself done mighty deeds. Thus it was he who had slain the two Ariel (lions of God) of Moab, who were clearly renowned fighters. He had also found himself in a pit or cystern during a period of snow (the latter description possibly explaining why he had fallen down it), and had found himself face to face with a lion, which he had slain, probably without weapons. Alternately the lion may have taken shelter in the cystern because of the snow, thereby frightening all the local people, until Benaiah had come forward and dealt with the menace, meeting the lion in single combat. Furthermore he had also slain a notable Egyptian warrior (according to 1 Chronicles 11.23 an Egyptian equivalent to Goliath) who had come at him with a spear in his hand when he himself had only had a staff. He had disarmed him with his staff and had then used the man’s own spear to kill him.

2.23.22-23 ‘These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and had a name among the three mighty men. He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard.’

These were some of the things which Benaiah had accomplished, with the result that his name was listed among the second Three of the mighty men. Thus he stood out from the Thirty, but did not attain the level of the first Three. And David set him over his bodyguard. He was in fact also captain over the third course of David’s warriors (1 Chronicles 27.5). The fact that he was ‘more honourable than the Thirty’ suggests that the Three were not included within the Thirty.

The Names Of The Thirty Chief Officers

The thirty chief officers are now listed, (in our list below the parallel names in 1 Chronicles 11 follow in brackets where they differ. 1 Chronicles also has a number of additional names). Where only the reference in 1 Chronicles is given both names are identical, otherwise variations are shown. In most cases the variations may well simply be different ways of presenting the same name, with the designation presented being dependent on the geographical viewpoint of the writer (e.g. Charorite and Charodite may be possible alternative renderings dependent on the dialect or geographical viewpoint of the writers, although it is true that the consonants ‘r’ and ‘d’ are almost identical in Hebrew and could have been mistaken in copying (all too easy an excuse). The same may be true of Paltite and Pelonite, Barchumite and Bacharumite which may again be differing descriptions used by people in different regions). Occasionally a warrior may have had two distinct names (e.g. Mebunnai and Sibbecai, Zalmon and Ilai), although we must always take into account the possibility that the different names actually represent two distinct persons, the one having replaced the other as officer over a unit coming from the same area. But there is always in some of the instances of almost parallel names the possibility of a miscopying due to the complications associated with names when they are included in a long string of letters as they were in the original Hebrew text.

The names of ‘The Thirty’ are:

2.23.24-32a ‘Asahel the brother of Joab among (was one of) the thirty’ (compare 2.23; 1 Chronicles 11.26). He was captain of the fourth course of David’s warriors, followed by his son Zebadiah (1 Chronicles 27.7).
‘Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem’ (compare possibly 2.19; 1 Chronicles 11.26),
‘Shammah the Charodite’ (1 Chronicles 11.27 - Shammoth the Charorite),
‘Elika the Charodite,’
‘Helets the Paltite’ (1 Chronicles 11.27 - Helets the Pelonite. He was captain of the seventh course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.10),
‘Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite’ (1 Corinthians 11.28; he was captain of the sixth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.9),
‘Abiezer the Anathothite’ (1 Corinthians 11.28; he was the captain of the ninth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.12),
‘Mebunnai the Hushathite’ (compare 22.18; 1 Chronicles 11.29 - Sibbecai the Hushathite. Sibbecai may have been his other name, or may have been the name of his father in whose footsteps he had followed. He was the captain of the eighth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.11),
‘Zalmon the Achochite’ (1 Chronicles 11.29 - Ilai the Achochite),
‘Maharai the Netophathite’ (1 Chronicles 11.30; he was the captain of the tenth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.13),
‘Cheleb the son of Baanah the Netophathite’ (1 Chronicles 11.30; he was possibly the same as Cheldai the Netophathite of Othniel who was the captain of the twelfth course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.15),
‘Ittai the son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of Benjamin’ (1 Chronicles 11.31),
‘Benaiah a Pirathonite’ (1 Chronicles 11.31; he was captain of the eleventh course of David’s warriors - 1 Chronicles 27.14),
‘Chiddai from the brooks of Gaash,’ (1 Chronicles 11.32 - Churai from the brooks of Gaash),
‘Abi-albon the Arbathite,’ (1 Chronicles 11.32 - Abieli the Arbathite,
‘Azmaveth the Barchumite,’ (1 Chronicles 11.33 - Azmaveth the Bacharumite),
‘Eliachba the Shaalbonite’ (1 Chronicles 11.33)
‘The sons of Jashen,’ (1 Chronicles 11.34 - the sons of Chashem the Gizonite),
‘Jonathan,’ (1 Chronicles 11.34 - Jonathan the son of Shageh the Hararite),
‘Shammah the Chararite,’
‘Achiam the son of Sharar the Ararite,’ (1 Chronicles 11.35 - Achiam the son of Sacar the Chararite),
‘Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maacathite,’ (1 Chronicles 11.35 - Eliphel the son of Ur),
‘Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,’
‘Chezro the Carmelite’ (1 Chronicles 11.37)
‘Paarai the Arbite,’ (1 Chronicles 11.37 - Naarai the son of Ezbai),
‘Yigal the son of Nathan from Zobah,’
‘Bani the Gadite,’
‘Zelek the Ammonite’ (1 Chronicles 11.39),
‘Naharai the Beerothite, one of the armourbearers to Joab the son of Zeruiah’ (1 Chronicles 11.39),
‘Ira the Yithrite’ (1 Chronicles 11.39),
‘Gareb the Yithrite’ (1 Chronicles 11.39),
‘Uriah the Hittite’ (1 Chronicles 11.40),
Thirty and seven in all.’

It will be noted that (ignoring ‘the sons of Jashen’, a phrase which may refer back to the previous two or three names) there are thirty one names which together with the two Threes make up the thirty seven. However, ‘The Thirty’ probably did not always comprise a specific number of officers, being simply a standard description incorporating all of David’s officers and valiant men however many there were, so that dogmatism is ruled out. (Alternatively if we bring in the sons of Jashen as one name then we have thirty seven names in all, the Three, Abishai and Benaiah, and the thirty two names in the list).

Jonathan may well have had no other designation because he was so well known that it was felt to be unnecessary (more details are given in 1 Chronicles 11.34) The sons of Jashen may have regularly been associated together, being inseparable (compare the sons of Zebedee in the New Testament) or the term ‘sons’ may have a wider significance and refer back to previous names. Uriah the Hittite may well have been mentioned last in order to bring in a sombre note, and as reminder of David’s past failure, now thankfully over with. Note that the first and last names in the list were of those who were dead, being a reminder of the past narrative of Samuel, and of the fact that they were still remembered by God. The list as a whole is a reminder that God does not forget those who contribute towards bringing in His kingdom. He remembers them all by name. None are unimportant.

Brief Note On The Differences in Names Between 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11.

The relationship between the information given here and that in 1 Chronicles 11.10-47 is difficult to determine, as we have already partially seen. It is too simplistic to say that they are simply copies of the same source. Both certainly had access to similar information, and probably to common sources, but they did not just copy from them, and comparison of the two brings out that they have used that information in such different ways that they cannot be seen as simply copying a single original record. They are on the whole distinctive enough to prevent us from thinking that we can compare them verse by verse and then build up an original from them. There is in fact a clear restructuring of the material in both cases, even if we do consider much of it to have come from consideration of the same source, (the Chronicler may also have had the book of Samuel to consult), and we must also quite probably take into account the fact that both supplemented what they wrote from other material, for we need not doubt that each had other sources of information. Furthermore each may well be considered to have taken descriptions found in the original sources and used them in different contexts, for battles and skirmishes with the Philistines were numerous, and they would regularly, for example, take place in fields where crops were growing. The wording of material found in a source might therefore have been seen as applicable to a number of situations. That being so we must beware of being too simplistic when making a comparison, or of assuming too easily a wholesale ‘corruption of the text’ when it may simply be an example of a free use of wording in a source.

We must further remember that the names in the lists of the mighty men would vary over time, as some were slain and replaced by others. Thus the list of David’s captains in 1 Chronicles 27 does not contain names that we might have expected to find had the writer been restricted to this list in Samuel, and vice versa. Especially noticeable is the fact that 1 Chronicles 27.4 mentions Eleazar’s father Dodai (Dodo) as one of David’s captains. That clearly makes the list in 1 Chronicles 27 indicate a time quite a number of years earlier than the list in Samuel, where it is Eleazar his son who is the prominent warrior. Similarly the list in 1 Chronicles 11.10-47 is linked in Chronicles with the initial capture of Jerusalem, something that also makes it earlier than the list in Samuel. That being so some of the names in Samuel may be seen as from a different generation to those in 1 Chronicles. For example Eleazar who appears in 1 Samuel 23 was the son of the Dodai (Dodo) who appears in the list of officers in 1 Chronicles 27. There is a clear generation gap. That same list in 1 Chronicles 27 also contains reference to Jashobeam the Chacmonite (wise commander), who slew three units, who might well therefore have been replaced as an officer by Josheb-basshebeth the Tachcemonite (Chacmonite with a preceding Ta), who later slew eight units. The latter may thus well have been the successor of Jashobeam the Chacmonite, who slew the three hundred. The same applies if we translate as ‘the Tahchemonite who sat in the place/seat’ and see his name as Adino the Eznite. The list in 1 Chronicles 27 also includes at least one name not known elsewhere, Shamhuth the Izrahite, who may well have died early on in David’s reign. While these considerations may not solve all the problems, they certainly solve a good number, and do have to be borne carefully in mind in an area where it would be foolish to be dogmatic. They warn us against dogmatism when we are dealing with a long reign in which captains would be constantly slain in battle and replaced by others. Some scholars can be too prone to assume that other people apart from themselves are careless. Before accusing people of that we should always first seek to discover if there is another solution.

End of note.

David Sins By Numbering Israel Resulting In Pestilence From YHWH And A Final Act Of Atonement (24.1-25).

The act of numbering the men of Israel would appear to have been seen as an act of rebellion against YHWH. According to 1 Chronicles 27.23-24 YHWH had promised that the number of the children of Israel would be as the stars of the heavens. They were thus not to be numbered arbitrarily (it was permitted in a general way for organisational purposes when mustering to battle but not otherwise - 18.1) nor have any limit put on them. For in the end they were YHWH’s people, not David’s. To number them was thus an act of human arrogance and self-exaltation. It was to see them as David’s own people and at his disposal, rather than as YHWH’s people to be preserved by Him as He willed. David is seen as once more having got above himself. It was a similar act of arrogance to that of Moses smiting the rock in Numbers 20.10-12, something which also had painful consequences.

Both Joab (verse 3) and David (verse 10) in the end recognised what a sinful act David’s was. It was thus not an unconscious or unrecognised sin. The situation was that David had slipped into being simply ‘a king like all the nations’ instead of the unique Nagid (prince, war-leader) of YHWH. He had thus thrust YHWH into the background in his thinking, and that was why he had to be jolted out of it. The sad thing was that the people had to suffer for it because it was necessary to nullify the census by diminishing their numbers, but it should be noted that it is made quite clear that they suffered for their own sins and not for David’s (verse 1). They were thus not just being punished for what he did. For David it would mean a diminishing of the people over whom he ruled.

Other alternative suggestions have been made as to why the numbering was sinful, although they are nowhere specifically supported by the text. The following are examples:

  • David was numbering his people in order to commence a period of external aggression which YHWH disapproved of.
  • David was numbering Israel for military purposes because of the threats of an aggressor (satanas - 1 Chronicles 21.1). This would, however, have been allowable.
  • David’s aim was to levy widespread taxation on God’s people over and above the tithe (compare 1 Kings 9.15).
  • David’s aim was in order to prepare for dividing the people up for the purposes of compulsory levies for building programmes (compare 1 Kings 5.13; 9.21).
  • David had neglected the paying of the atonement money (Exodus 30.12).

All these suggestion fail, however, on the basis that had they been correct the reason would surely have been mentioned by the writer.

The passage divides into three sections;

  • The description of David’s sinful purpose to number Israel and the carrying out of that purpose (24.1-10).
  • YHWH’s choice of punishment is offered to David by Gad and is carried out (24.11-15).
  • YHWH’s chastisement is limited by His mercy as He shows compassion on Jerusalem. This is followed by David’s offering of atonement offerings (24.16-25) (24.16-25).

David’s Sinful Purpose To Number Israel And The Carrying Out Of That Purpose (24.1-10).

As suggested above David’s sin lay in the fact that he was acting in disregard of the fact that he was YHWH’r regent or Nagid, and not Israel’s sole king. His act was thus seen as an act of rebellion, fostered by his own arrogance and pride. It indicated that he was forgetting his status, which was why it had to be severely dealt with.

It is significant that the book which commences with the unusual birth of the one who would introduce kingship to Israel (1 Samuel 1), and a prophecy of the Coming Anointed King (1 Samuel 2.10), finally ends with an indication of the failure of that king to obey YHWH and the need therefore for chastisement and atonement. It was an indication that the final promised righteous king had not yet come.

Analysis.

  • a And again the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah” (24.1). ’
  • b And the king said to Joab the captain of the host, who was with him, “Go now to and fro through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number you the people, that I may know the sum of the people” (24.2).
  • c And Joab said to the king, “Now YHWH your God add to the people, however many they may be, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” (24.3).
  • d Notwithstanding, the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host (24.4a).
  • c And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel. And they passed over the Jordan, and encamped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad, and to Jazer, then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtim-chodshi; and they came to Dan-jaan, and round about to Sidon, and came to the stronghold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, at Beer-sheba (24.4b-7).
  • b So when they had gone to and from through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days . And Joab gave up the sum of the numbering of the people to the king, and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) men (24.8-9).
  • a And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said to YHWH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, O YHWH, put away, I beg you, the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (24.10).

Note that in ‘a’ David is moved to number Israel, and in the parallel he confesses his sin of having done so. In ‘b’ the numbering is to go on so that David can know the sum of the people, and in the parallel he learns the sum of the people. In ‘c’ speaks of the numberlessness of God’s people, and in the parallel the vastness of the area that they covered in outlined. Centrally in ‘d’ the king’s word prevailed against all advice.

2.24.1 ‘And again the anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” ’

Many have questioned why the people should have had to suffer for David’s sin, but that question is clearly answered here. David’s action and its punishment was not just the result of his own sinfulness, it was as a consequence of the sin of the whole people. ‘The anger of YHWH was kindled against Israel.’ It was Israel as a whole who had sinned. The nature of Israel’s sin is not described, but it can probably be summed up in two words, widespread disobedience to the covenant Law and growing idolatry (compare Judges 2.11-15, 17, 19; 3.7-8), something that had been brought out by the two rebellions as the people had rebelled against ‘the Anointed of YHWH’. Thus David’s numbering of Israel, and its consequences, were actually originally brought about as a result of the people’s sinfulness and disobedience. Israel would suffer for their own sins.

The writer puts it in terms of YHWH ‘moving David to number Israel’. But this was the viewpoint of someone who saw everything that happened as being the direct result of YHWH’s will. In fact the Chronicler tells us that David was moved to number Israel by an adversary (satanas), or even by Satan, the greatest of man’s adversaries (1 Chronicles 21.1). Joab meanwhile lays the blame squarely on David himself. All three aspects were in fact involved. History results from sinful man’s random actions, is regularly prompted by Satan, but underneath is finally controlled by an omnipotent God. So when David was prompted by Satan, and took his own rational and sinful decision, behind it all could be seen YHWH’s purpose of punishing Israel for its sinfulness. The phrase ‘Dan to Beersheba’ which is regularly used as describing all Israel, indicates (roughly) the northernmost and southernmost cities in Israel, and occurs previously in Judges 20.1; 1 Samuel 3.20; 2 Samuel 3.10; 17.11.

2.24.2 ‘And the king said to Joab the captain of the host, who was with him, “Go now to and fro through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, and number you the people, that I may know the sum of the people.” ’

The result was that the king called in Joab, the commander of the host of Israel, and ordered him to number the whole people (i.e. the adult males over twenty) in all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba so that he, David, could know the total sum of the people. The assumption that he was making was that they were his people and that he was therefore summing up his possessions. But this, of course, went totally contrary to the teaching of the Law that they were YHWH’s covenant people, and that it was He alone Who determined, or should be interested in, their number.

The point is that it was not the numbering itself that was sinful. Moses had twice numbered the people, the first time with a view to organising the march through the wilderness and the subsequent invasion (which was then aborted for thirty eight years), and the second time with a view to the second invasion and the apportioning of the land (Numbers 26.53-54). But both were at YHWH’s command and for practical purposes. Here David’s only aim was with a view to self-gloating aver what he was seeing as ‘his people’, and so that he could have a ‘global total’.

2.24.3 ‘And Joab said to the king, “Now YHWH your God add to the people, however many they may be, a hundredfold, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” ’

The fact that Joab was appalled at the suggestion indicates that he clearly saw that the number of the people of Israel was neither his nor David’s concern. It was YHWH Who determined the number of people in Israel. He it was who could add to them a hundredfold as He had promised, something in which David could delight, but it was not for David to regulate the number of people. That was YHWH’s prerogative for the people were His ‘portion’ (consider Deuteronomy 32.8-9). The fact that they could not be numbered was an indication that they were God’s people (Numbers 23.10). Why then was David concerning himself to do so? He was taking such matters out of God’s hands. Was he then seeking to take over YHWH’s portion and inheritance?

(For David to number the people would be like the church counting up its converts so that it could rule them and pride itself in its achievements. It was a sad day when it began to do so. It was an indication that the church saw themselves as ‘possessing’ those souls and as having authority over them, and a sign that they were failing to recognise that they themselves were only the servants of God in winning men to Christ and building them up, and not the masters of the church. Such numbers have to left to God, for it is He Who alone can determine their number).

2.24.4 ‘Notwithstanding, the king’s word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.’

Despite Joab’s protest, seemingly also backed up by David’s principle military officers, the count was to go on, for the king ordered it and his word necessarily prevailed. Joab and David’s principle officers therefore went out from his presence to number the men of Israel.

2.24.5-7 ‘And they passed over the Jordan, and encamped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad, and to Jazer, then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtim-chodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan, and round about to Sidon, and came to the stronghold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, at Beer-sheba.’

It would appear that what happened as they reached each area was that they encamped and then summoned to them all the adult males of Israel in order to carry out the count. It would be a huge task. They commenced in Transjordan, at Aroer, encamping in the valley of Gad (which was to the south), then moving to Jazer, which had been a city of Sihon, the Amorite king captured by Moses (Numbers 21.32), which was more central, after which they came to Gilead in the north, to the land of Tahtim-chodshi. The census in Transjordan having been completed they then moved over to Dan-jaan, west of the Jordan, a site which is unidentified, although distinguished from Dan to the far north. If all the census points are mentioned (but this is unlikely. The writer probably mentions the Canaanite cities specifically in order to bring out why YHWH was angry at Israel) then from Dan-jaan the call went out to most of Israel west of the Jordan. They then followed this up by going up to an area around Sidon on the west coast, which, while Canaanite (Phoenician), was seemingly fairly heavily populated with Israelites, after which they moved down to the stronghold of Tyre. They then covered all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites which had not been conquered or divested of their inhabitants by the Israelites, and in which seemingly many Israelites dwelt (it was this contact with Canaanites and their ways which may help to explain YHWH’s anger against Israel). This would cover large parts of northern Israel, including Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun and Issachar. They then moved south to the Negev of Judah and to Beersheba, which was in the Negev, finally completing the task there.

2.24.8 ‘So when they had gone to and fro through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.’

Having covered the whole land, moving too and fro, they returned to Jerusalem. Their journeying had taken nine moon periods and twenty days. It had been a long and arduous process.

2.24.9 ‘And Joab gave up the sum of the numbering of the people to the king, and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand (or ‘units of’) men.’

And at the end of it all Joab was able to give the totals that they had arrived at to the king. Note that it is not said that they were accurate or true, only that that was the figure that Joab had arrived at. They would, in fact, inevitably not have been strictly accurate (even if Joab had not fiddled the figures - 1 Chronicles 21.6; 27.24), for many who should have been included may well not have been available in their areas at the time that their censuses were taken, but they probably did present a fairly accurate and comprehensive picture, even if only roughly. The total came to eight hundred eleph (military units/families/tent groups) for Israel, and five hundred eleph (military units/families/tent groups) for Judah. The word translated ‘thousand’ (eleph) has varying meanings, e.g. ‘a thousand, a military unit, a family unit, a clan’.

The Chronicler in fact has differing figures, giving one thousand one hundred military units/familes/tent groups for Israel and four hundred and seventy military units/families/tent groups for Judah. But we have to take into account the probability that the statistics gathered produced a number of totals, e.g. those of ‘true’ Israelites, and then those of Canaanites and Israelites combined, and so on. Furthermore the Chronicler tells us specifically that because Joab was unhappy at the situation he was fiddling the figures, leaving out Levi and Benjamin (1 Chronicles 21.6). So Joab was not intent on providing accurate figures.

The ‘one thousand one hundred eleph in Israel’ in Chronicles may therefore have been a figure which included Canaanites, for we must see it as very probable that a number of different sets of figures would be presented to David which conveyed different statistics. The eight hundred in Samuel would then refer to true Israelites. Furthermore in his usual way Joab deliberately sabotaged what he disagreed with, so that we are specifically told in 1 Chronicles 21.6; 27.24 that in fact not everyone was counted, that the counting was thus incomplete, and that no actual numbers were put in the official records, so that the whole result was clearly inaccurate anyway. It did not point to reliable figures having been obtained. The four hundred and seventy military units of Judah (where there would have been few Canaanites) may have been a more specific figure, of which the five hundred was simply a round number, or the four hundred and seventy units may have omitted the Benjaminites, with the five hundred units including an estimate of them (at least one of the captains would have a good idea of Benjamin’s military strength as he would have commanded them).

We do, also have to bear in mind the huge problems of taking an accurate census and take into account the fact that a number of the captains may have kept their own count as a kind of counter-check on each other, coming up with differing figures, with two or even more sets of numbers being presented to the king. (The writer in Samuel was not interested in the details of the census results). Thus David may have received two or more versions of what had been assessed which according to the Chronicler included a certain amount of guesswork due to the incomplete nature of the census.

If David found himself being drowned in differing figures which presented him with different pictures, it may well explain why his conscience was then stirred by the recognition that God’s people were indeed numberless, and that he had just been foolish.

2.24.10 ‘And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said to YHWH, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, O YHWH, put away, I beg you, the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”

For once David received the numbers he realised what a fool he had been. He was faced up with the fact that these were not his men but YHWH’s, and that they were as numberless as the stars in Heaven (1 Chronicles 27.23). His conscience being thus smitten, he cried to YHWH and sought His forgiveness, declaring that he had sinned greatly through his arrogant attitude, and asking Him to put away his iniquity. And no doubt YHWH would have done so more easily had He not also had a controversy with the people as a whole (verse 1).

YHWH Offers David Three Alternative Chastisements: Famine, War Or Punishment (24.11-15).

In response to David’s prayer YHWH offers him a choice from three alternative chastisements, seven years of famine, three months of defeat by an enemy or three days of pestilence. David rejects the central one because he would rather that Israel were in God’s hands rather than man’s, but seemingly leaves YHWH to choose between the other two, and the result was that YHWH sent a three day pestilence from which seventy clans/families died.

Analysis.

  • a And when David rose up in the morning, the word of YHWH came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and speak to David, ‘Thus says YHWH, I offer you three things, choose for yourself one of them, that I may do it to you’.” (24.11-12).
  • b So Gad came to David, and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land?” (24.13a).
  • c “Now obtain yourself advice and consider what answer I shall return to him who sent me” (24.13b).
  • b And David said to Gad, “I am in a great strait. Let us fall now into the hand of YHWH, for his mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man” (24.14).
  • a So YHWH sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning even to the time of assembly, and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand (or ‘family units of’) men (24.15).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH offers a choice of three alternative chastisements, and in the parallel a three day pestilence came on Israel from which seventy thousand/family units died. In ‘b’ the details of the offer are made and in the parallel David declares that his preferred choice is to fall into the hand of God rather than into the hand of men. Centrally in ‘c’ he is called on to provide the answer that Gad is to give to YHWH Who sent him.

2.24.11 ‘And when David rose up in the morning, the word of YHWH came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,’

David having made his confession to YHWH, the next morning, when David woke up, YHWH was giving His prophetic word to Gad. It would be a severe one.

2.24.12 “Go and speak to David, ‘Thus says YHWH, I offer you three things, choose for yourself one of them, that I may do it to you’.”

YHWH told Gad that David was to have a choice of three alternatives of which he would have to choose one, which would then fall on him. Notice that YHWH speaks as though it is David himself will suffer (‘that I may do it to YOU’), for he will truly suffer when his people suffer. But as we already know the chastisement is not just because of his sin, but for the sins of the whole of Israel (verse 1). What the choices involve we learn in the next verse.

2.24.13 ‘So Gad came to David, and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your enemies while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now obtain yourself advice and consider what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”

So Gad came to David and offered him the three choices. He could choose between his people suffering seven years of famine, three months of continual defeat from an enemy, or three days of pestilence. The threefoldness of the offer emphasises the completeness of the chastisement. The numbers seven and three both indicate completeness, with seven adding an extra emphasis on the divine aspect of that completeness (the Chronicler actually changes the seven to three in order to make three threes (1 Chronicles 21.12), but he would not have seen himself as in any way altering the sense of the passage for such numbers were used adjectivally in order to indicate, in this case, completeness, not in order to be taken literally. Compare the use of seven and three in Genesis for ‘a longer’ and ‘a shorter’ journey. Numbers in ancient days were used much more freely in order to express ideas, rather than being used mathematically as we would use them). The first choice would take time to settle in and become noticeable, but once the stores of food were low it would begin to bite and would result in prolonged suffering and many dying, and leave the people in the hands of unscrupulous corn merchants. It would be far worse than the three years famine of 21.1. The second would involve three months of war with all the problems that went along with it such as the destruction of crops as well as the death, rape and misery of a good number of Israelites. The third would be sharp but short and would be very much more in the hands of YHWH. David was therefore to take advice from his counsellors and then give to Gad the answer that he could convey to the One Who had sent him. (It must again be stressed that this chastisement was not just the result of David’s sin, but of the sins of the whole of Israel).

2.24.14 ‘And David said to Gad, “I am in a great strait. Let us fall now into the hand of YHWH, for his mercies are great, and let me not fall into the hand of man.”

David naturally found the choice a great burden. None of the alternatives were palatable, and they all tore him apart. But in the end he chose rather to fall into the hand of a YHWH Whose mercies were great, than into the hand of men who would show no mercy. In this he was emphasising his trust in the grace and mercy of God. Famine would leave the people in the hands of the corn chandlers, with himself mainly untouched. War would leave people at the mercy or otherwise of their enemies. Pestilence, however, put all on an equality and could strike from the highest to the lowest

2.24.15 ‘So YHWH sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning even to the time of assembly (or ‘an appointed time’), and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.’

YHWH responded by sending what was to be a three day pestilence on Israel through the Angel of YHWH (verse 16). It was, through the mercy of God, cut short. It commenced in the morning and went on ‘to the time of assembly’ or ‘to an appointed time’. And the result of the pestilence was that there were a great many deaths in seventy clans/wider families of Israel, with clans from one end of the country to the other being affected. Israel was being given a short, sharp warning of what would happen if they continued to ignore God’s requirements for their lives.

‘To the time of assembly’ or ‘to an appointed time’ raises problems for us (although probably not to the first readers) as to what exactly is meant. With the article the word for assembly could have referred to a set time (‘the appointed time’), but here there is no article which takes away the definiteness of the statement and leaves it more open. It may therefore be deliberately vague and mean ‘an appointed time’ i.e. whichever time that YHWH would appoint and choose. Or it may mean that it would continue until the assembly of Israel had been called together in order to weigh up and deal with the emergency, which would take two or three days, at which point they could appeal to YHWH (the problem with that is that it did not happen as far as we know). Or it may have in mind David’s assembling of his courtiers at the threshing-floor of Araunah. Or it may refer to a feast that was about to take place (compare the usage in Hosea 9.5; 12.9), or possibly even to the time for assembling at evening prayers on the third day.

YHWH’s Chastisement Is Limited As A Result Of His Mercy As He Shows Compassion On Jerusalem. This Is Followed By David’s Offering Of Atonement Offerings (24.16-25).

The Book of Samuel now comes to an end with a description of YHWH’s mercy shown to Israel, and David’s resultant offering of atonement offerings and sacrifices on behalf of Israel. The chastisement of Israel described here will be the pattern of the next few hundred years as they lurch continually from one crisis to another, but the promise here is that always there will be available to them the possibility of YHWH’s compassion and mercy if they seek Him in repentance as David did, and offer atonement. It was in the end their failure to do this that finally led to the destruction, first of Samaria, and then of Jerusalem, and then to all that followed, until a King came Who would offer Himself as an atonement for His people.

The passage is also a fitting reminder that whatever the promises made to David they could not finally be fulfilled in him because he was too sinful. The hope of Israel therefore lay in the mercy of God, and the rise of a better king than David. To begin with Solomon must have looked as though he might be the fulfilment of their hopes, but as the original promise had already indicated he too would sin and require chastisement (7.14-15). Thus the fulfilment of the promise of the everlasting kingdom still lay some way ahead. But what had been laid was the foundation through David which had brought him to this place, and the expectation of hope for the future, with the promise given here that when Israel did sin there would always be the possibility of atonement from a merciful YHWH.

Analysis.

  • a And when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, YHWH repented him of the evil, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough, now stay your hand.” And the Angel of YHWH was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (24.16).
  • b And David spoke to YHWH when he saw the angel who smote the people, and said, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely, but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father’s house” (24.17).
  • c And Gad came that day to David, and said to him, “Go up, rear an altar to YHWH in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite” (24.18).
  • d And David went up according to the saying of Gad, as YHWH commanded. And Araunah looked forth, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him, and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground (24.19-20).
  • e And Araunah said, Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing-floor from you, to build an altar to YHWH, that the plague may be stayed from the people” (24.21).
  • d And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Behold, the oxen for the burnt-offering, and the threshing instruments and the yokes of the oxen for the wood, all this, O king, does Araunah give to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “YHWH your God accept you” (24.22-23).
  • c And the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will truly buy it from you at a price. Nor will I offer burnt-offerings to YHWH my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver (24.24).
  • b And David built there an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings (24.25a).
  • a So YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel (24.25b).

Note that in ‘a’ YHWH stayed the hand of the angel from bringing the pestilence on Jerusalem and in the parallel the plague was stayed from Israel. In ‘b’ David admits to his sin and prays for the pestilence to be diverted from the people, and in the parallel David offers multiple offerings of dedication and atonement both for himself and the people. In ‘c’ David is told to raise an altar on the threshing-floor of Araunah, and in the parallel he buys the threshing-floor in order to offer burnt offerings upon it. In ‘d’ Araunah saw the king and his courtiers coming and went out and greeted him with his face to the ground, and in the parallel Araunah offers all that he has to the king so that he can carry out the offerings, and expresses his hope that the offerings will be successful. Centrally in ‘e’ David declares his purpose to buy the threshing-floor, and to build an altar to YHWH in order that the plague might be stayed from the people.

2.24.16 ‘And when the angel stretched out his hand towards Jerusalem to destroy it, YHWH repented him of the evil, and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough, now stay your hand.” And the angel of YHWH was by the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’

The widespread pestilence was now approaching Jerusalem with its relatively large population, being controlled by the Angel of YHWH. But it was then that YHWH in His mercy and compassion called a halt to the misery. He recognised that the people had suffered enough to have learned their lesson, and called on the destroying angel to ‘stay his hand’. Justice was to be tempered by mercy.

This picture of the Angel of YHWH directing the pestilence is a reminder to us that, whatever men may think, in the end all things are controlled from Heaven, and even disease is subject to His control. For Israel the consequence of this was that the pestilence did not spread beyond the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite. It did not take possession of Jerusalem.

The Angel of YHWH is a mysterious figure in the Old Testament. He both represents YHWH in visible form and yet is YHWH. See Genesis 16.7-13; 21.7-19; 22.15-18; Judges 2.1-5; 13.2-23). He intercommunicates with YHWH (Zechariah 1.12). He is a reminder that while being One, YHWH is a composite figure.

2.24.17 ‘And David spoke to YHWH when he saw the angel who smote the people, and said, “Lo, I have sinned, and I have done perversely, but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray you, be against me, and against my father’s house.” ’

David was one of the few who were permitted to see the heavenly being who was responsible for what was happening on earth (Arauna also saw him, and possibly his sons - 1 Chronicles 21.20), and it brought home to him the depths of his sin. He had sinned sufficiently for this awesome judgment to have come upon Israel. He was being made to realise that he had been looking at things from a wholly earthly point of view, as though men decided their own destinies and controlled world affairs. That was why he had decided to ‘number Israel’ over which he saw himself as having total control. Now he was being made to recognise that there were unseen forces at work that made such an idea ridiculous. But he was not at this time aware that his sin had merely been a reflection of the sins of the whole of Israel and so he prayed that YHWH would not continue to punish the sheep for what the shepherd had done. Let YHWH rather bring the punishment on the one to whom it belonged, to him and his house. (In a way it indicates that he still had too much of a sense of his own importance). We do not know whether David’s prayer came before or after the Angel had been told to stay His hand, and in a way it does not matter, for God often anticipates our prayers.

2.24.18 ‘And Gad came that day to David, and said to him, “Go up, rear an altar to YHWH in the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” ’

But what God did want David to appreciate was that His forgiveness could not be obtained without cost. Substitutionary and atoning sacrifices were necessary if David and Israel were to be spared further chastisement, for sin could not just be simply ignored. And so He commanded him to go and build ‘an altar to YHWH’ on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite, where He had stayed the Angel’s hand. The threshing-floor would be a large, flat, exposed area where the grain could be gathered, and tossed into the air with a winnowing fork so that the prevailing wind could remove the chaff. It was a fitting picture of the need for the removal of all that was unsuitable.

Araunah was the Canaanite name of the owner of the threshing-floor. His Hebrew name was Ornan (1 Chronicles 21.18). The fact that the threshing-floor was in Canaanite hands may well have been one reason for choosing it. By being purchased it would become one more official part of YHWH’s inheritance, pointing to the continual advance of God’s kingdom on earth. Perhaps there was also in this a pointer to the fact that YHWH’s anger was directed at Israel largely because of their accommodation with Canaanite ideas. Thus a Canaanite site for the offerings would be poetic justice.

2.24.19 ‘And David went up according to the saying of Gad, as YHWH commanded.’

David, brought back into the way of obedience, did according to all that YHWH had commanded through Gad, and went up to the threshing-floor with his courtiers. 1 Chronicles indicates that they were clothed in mourning garb because of the pestilence (1 Chronicles 21.16).

2.24.20 ‘And Araunah looked forth, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him, and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king with his face to the ground.’

We are left to imagine the thoughts of Araunah when he looked up and saw a large number of Israel’s most important officials, including the king himself, approaching his threshing-floor. It would certainly have been startling, and might even have aroused fear in his heart. He was a Jebusite, one of the old original inhabitants of Jerusalem, and he would not have been in favour with many Israelites. He would be one of the first to be blamed when calamities came on Israel. So he may well have gone out to meet the approaching grandees fairly apprehensively. And it would be somewhat fearfully that he fell on his face to the ground before David.

2.24.21 ‘And Araunah said, Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing-floor from you, to build an altar to YHWH, that the plague may be stayed from the people.” ’

And crouched there on his face before the king he put the question that must have been stabbing at his heart. What was it that David wanted with him, who was but a humble servant of the king? What had he done? He must have been greatly relieved when he heard the answer. It was in order to buy his threshing-floor so that there they could build an altar to YHWH so that the plague might be stayed from the people.

2.24.22-23a ‘And Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Behold, the oxen for the burnt-offering, and the threshing instruments and the yokes of the oxen for the wood, all this, O king, does Araunah give to the king.”

Hugely relieved Araunah informed the king that he could have whatever he liked. Not only the threshing-floor, but also the oxen for sacrifices, and the wood of his instruments for firewood. All this he would give to the king. However, in typical oriental fashion there may have been a hint here that, while he would not withhold it from David, all this would not be without cost to Araunah.

2.24.23b ‘And Araunah said to the king, “YHWH your God accept you.” ’

Araunah then expressed his pious wish that YHWH would accept David and his offering. It was possibly just an expression of polite hope, but pestilence affected all, both Israelite and Jebusite, and showed no favours. It would thus be for everyone’s benefit if it could be stayed. So his wish may have been heart felt.

2.24.24 ‘And the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will truly buy it from you at a price. Nor will I offer burnt-offerings to YHWH my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.’

But the king was not out to take advantage of his loyal subjects, and assured him that he would give him the full price. Nor would he offer burnt offerings to YHWH which had cost him nothing. He wanted his offering to be true and from the heart. And the result was that David bought the threshing-floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.

The Chronicler gives the price as six hundred shekels of gold, which at first sight seems incompatible with the price mentioned here, but the reason for that was probably that the Chronicler had in mind the full price later paid for the wider area with a view to the building of the Temple. Fifty shekels of silver would only have bought a very small piece of ground, which, while it would be sufficient for the building of an altar, could otherwise have been of very little use. The Chronicler had the grand scale of the coming Temple in mind (2 Chronicles 3.1).

2.24.25 ‘And David built there an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings. So YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.’

And there on that threshing-floor David built an altar to YHWH, and offered burnt offerings (dedicatory/atoning offerings) and peace offerings (propitiatory/atoning offerings). And so YHWH was entreated for the land (compare 21.14), and the plague was stayed from Israel. This last statement ‘YHWH was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel’ looks back to all that has gone before not just to the final offering. It was not simply the offering that stayed the hand of YHWH (which had already been stayed). David’s repentance undoubtedly played a hugely important part in it.

This ending to the book is of vital importance. It brought home the lesson to Israel of the need for dedication, atonement, propitiation and thanksgiving in their dealings with YHWH. These alone could provide the grounds for their acceptance by Him, and it was on this basis they could approach a merciful God. In context it also brought home the fact that YHWH would not require human blood (as might at first appear from 21.1-14) but would be satisfied with a substitutionary and atoning offering brought to Him from a genuinely repentant heart. This was to be the basis of the kingdom until the King came Whose right it was to reign (Genesis 49.10; Numbers 24.17; 1 Samuel 2.10; 2 Samuel 7.13, 16; 23.3-4).

We should note that while it is true that the threshing-floor of Araunah would later be connected with the building of the Temple (1 Chronicles 22.1; 2 Chronicles 3.1) there is no suggestion that that is in the mind of the writer here, otherwise he would have said so. He was more concerned with the theological lesson that was being taught.

We may close by pointing out that from the point of view of salvation history the Book of Samuel is a vital one. It began with Israel seen as a loose confederation of tribes, overseen by weak leaders, and very much suffering under a continually threatening and growing Philistine menace, although looking forward to a king who would one day arise to establish them as a people (1 Samuel 2.10), and goes on to outline the traumas that led up to a stable and strong Israel/Judah, an Israel/Judah surrounded by vassal states and under a strong king, who had been promised that his dynasty would last through the ages, until the king came who would establish the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7.13, 16).

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Further free Bible articles and commentaries

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. David Defeats The Philistines, Captures Jerusalem, Is Promised Everlasting Kingship, Is Triumphant Over all His Enemies, Shows Kindness To Mephibosheth

2 Samuel 11.1-15.6. David And Bathsheba, Uriah The Hittite, Nathan The Prophet Rebukes David, Solomon Is Born, Rabbah Is Captured, Amnon And Tamar, Absalom’s Revenge, Absalom Returns From Geshur And Wins The Hearts of The People

2 Samuel 15.7-20.26> Absalom’s Rebellion And Its Quelling, Controversy Between Israel and Judah, Sheba’s Rebellion

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