II Samuel 21–23. Warriors and Battles. A Victory Psalm From David.
Key Notes: Execution of Saul's sons. Rizpeh and the suffering women of I,II Samuel. Three circles of warriors around David. David's righteousness: a special case?
The last four chapters of II Samuel are a package of miscellaneous information with a great psalm in the middle, supported on either side by stories of military victory. There is a major crisis at the beginning and another at the end of the passage. It is like a nut, with a husk on the outside, the meat and heart in the middle. It can be seen as a palindrome:
21:1–14 David deals with a famine provoked by a previous atrocity
21:15–22 David’s men help him win against the Philistines
22:1–23:7 David gives psalms of praise to God
23:8–39 Exploits of David’s heroes
24:1–25 David deals with a plague provoked by a faulty census.
21:l-6 There was a famine and probably, a drought. David asked the Lord for help. The Lord said, “There is blood-guilt on Saul and on his house because he put the Gibeonites to death”. David called the Gibeonites to ask how he could make sacrifice so that they might bless the people of Israel. They said they did not want money and had no right to execute anyone, but when David persisted, they asked for seven of Saul's sons to be hanged.
“... no expiation can be made for the land, for the blood that is shed in it, except by the blood of him who shed it.” (Numbers 35:33).
Comment: We note that this drought came at a time of relative quiet. Perhaps God wanted to make sure that everyone got the message. II Samuel 21:2 suggests that Saul's sons were involved in the massacre of the Gibeonites, although the attack is not otherwise documented in Scripture. Saul’s action is a puzzle because his family originated from Gibeon. We would suppose that Saul would not attack people, although they were Canaanites, from his own city. (I Chronicles 9:35–39). Saul himself lived in nearby Gibeah. I Samuel 10:26
21:7–9 David spared Mephibosheth, son of Jonathon. He was probably innocent; his disability keeping him from fighting. He gave them Rizpah's Armoni and another Mephibosheth, and five sons of Adriel by Merab. (The Hebrew text says “Michal” rather than Merab. Did Michal raise Merab's children since she had none of her own?) They hanged them on the mountain at Gibeon before the Lord during the first days of the barley harvest.
21:10–14 Rizpah took sack-cloth, spread it on the rock for her tent as a sign of mourning. She kept vigil until the rains came, keeping the vultures and wild animals away. It was against the law to leave a body hung overnight ( Deuteronomy 21:22), but the laws were not in the current of Israelite society. Rizpah’s silent care for her dead sons is a testimony to the strength and courage of the women of Israel.
That was the end of the drought. When David was told what Rizpah had done, he collected the bones of Saul and Jonathon from the men of Jabesh-Gilead and the bodies of the seven sons of Saul and buried them in the tomb of Kish in Zela of Benjamin. Then God heard prayers for the land.
Were Saul’s sons guilty of killing Gibeonites? God, speaking through Moses said,
“The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, nor shall the children be put to death for the fathers; every man shall be put to death for his own sin” (Deuteronomy 24:16).
While we may wonder whether the law was being observed in David’s time, the rule was applied by a later king. (II Kings 14:6). It is also taught in Jeremiah 31:29–30 and Ezekiel‘:2–4. We conclude that they were guilty. It is amazing that God held Israel accountable for a treaty made gotten by fraud four hundred years before. (Joshua 9:3–15). Deuteronomy 23:21–23 commands us to keep our promises to the Lord. We are not required to make such promises, but we are required to keep the ones we make. When we remember all the treaties that have been broken in the last 200 years, we wonder what God thinks about our country’s bad faith as well as our personal infidelities--divorce and other broken vows.
21:15–17 The Philistines attacked, perhaps an upsurge late in David’s life. David grew tired and Abishai came forward to kill Ishbibenob, a giant who was about to kill David. Then the warriors told David not to come out to battle "...lest you quench the lamp of Israel". As his men had said in Absalom’s war," You are worth ten thousand of us.” (II Samuel‘:3). Like the Messiah of which he was a prototype, David was the light of Israel.
In another battle Sibbecai killed Saph, also descended from the giants. Another giant named Goliath (not David's) was killed by Elhanan of Bethlehem. I Chronicles 20:5 indicates that it was the brother of Goliath that was killed by Elhanan. Was Goliath a family name? A fourth giant with 24 digits was killed by Jonathon, son of Shimei, David's brother. All four of these giants were from Gath, principal city of the Philistines.
22:1–51 David's sang his song of victory on the day when God delivered him from all his enemies and from Saul. The psalm is divided into six parts. A and F are matched, as are B and E, and C with D:
A. 1–3 Praise
B. 4–19 Deliverance
C. 20–25 David’s heart
D. 26–28 God’s interaction
E. 29–43 David’s strength for war
F. 44–51 Victory over the nations.
A. (1–3) God is David's rock, fortress, shield, stronghold, refuge, savior, and deliverer. He uses seven words for God’s strength and support which alternate in intensity. He sets the theme: he called upon the Lord and He saved him from his enemies. God had delivered him from Goliath, Saul many times, Amalekites (I Samuel 30), Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, Edomites, Ammonites (II Samuel 8) and Absalom. We do not know if David refers to a specific crisis in this psalm or a summary of his life experiences.
B. (4–19) He was near death. Waves and torrents got hold of him, strangling, entangling, as if he were drowning, perhaps in a flood of the Jordan. In his distress he called to the Lord and He heard David’s cry. There came earthquake, fire, darkness, thunder and lightning, storm at sea as evidence of God’s anger. God came riding on an angel, the wind with darkness around Him to rescue.
David was saved by God, coming in all His power and glory, mobilizing the forces of nature. He pulled David out of the waters and set him on solid ground because He was pleased with him. This is a theophany, an appearance of God, reminiscent of Israel at Mt. Sinai when Moses was given the Law. Scripture does not record an event when David was in such distress and rescued so dramatically.
C. (20–24) He delivered me because He delighted in me. He rewarded me according to my righteousness. I have kept the ways of the Lord. I did not turn aside from his laws. I was blameless before Him, clean in His sight. (I Kings 14:8, 15:5). Although Romans 4:5–8 teaches that David was saved by his trust in God’s justifying grace, David here testifies to his obedience to God’s ordinances and statutes. We see him in his weaknesses; God sees him in his personal relationship to his Lord.
D. (26–28) God reciprocates: He is loyal to the loyal, blameless to the blameless, pure to the pure, perverse to the crooked. He delivers the humble and puts down the proud. We may believe God is always merciful, always forgiving, no matter what, but that is not a Biblical view. This principle is confirmed, although we dislike it, in Leviticus 26:23–24, II Chronicles 28:6 and other places:
“Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has forsaken you” (II Chronicles 24:20,24).
E. (29–43) God lights my darkness, gives me strength to leap over a wall, makes my way safe, sets me securely in the heights, teaches my hands to war, and makes my arms strong enough to bend a bronze bow.
He describes God as lamp, shield, rock, refuge, shield of salvation. He attributes his military skill and physical strength to God’s gifting.
F. (44–51) Deliverance from his national enemies: With God's help I destroyed the enemy, and crushed them down like the mire of the streets. Delivered from the strife of the peoples, God has kept me as head of the nations. Foreigners obey me. God lives, blessed and exalted, and he has exalted me and delivered me. For this I will extol You among the nations and sing praises to Your Name. God gives triumph to His king and shows mercy to His Anointed, to David and his descendants forever.
Comment: This is a Messianic psalm and it has a prophetic ring. The visual appearance of God (theophany) appears out of proportion to what we know of David's needs. It is not a psalm of personal salvation, but of defeat of enemies, enemies of God. His victory is God's victory. The King is ultimately Christ over the nations. Christ’s righteousness is his own. God’s mercy is to David the anointed and his descendants forever. His proclamation of praise is international.
II Samuel 23:1–7 This is David’s last testament.
It is the oracle of David, a word from God through the mouth of His prophet. The text is repeated in Psa.18. David is the anointed (messiah) of the God of Jacob, the sweet singer of Israel.
God's Spirit speaks by me, His word is on my tongue He said to me: When one rules justly and in the fear of God, God dawns on his children like the sun on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes the grass grow.
Does not my house stand so before God? He has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered and secure (II Samuel 7).
Will he not cause to prosper all my help and desire?
Godless men are like thorns to be discarded, touched only with sword and spear, utterly consumed with fire.
Comment: David was inspired by the Holy Spirit, full of confidence in God’s love and faithfulness. This is a clear statement of biblical inspiration coming from the Old Testament.
23:8–12 David had three great warriors:
*Josheb-basshebeth, chief of the three, killed 800 men with a spear.
*Eleazar, son of Dodo, defeated Philistines when Israel had retreated, fighting until his hand cramped and he could not release the sword.
*Shammah, son of Agee, took his stand in a field of lentils when Israel had retreated, winning a great victory.
23:13–17 These three, “three of the thirty”, went into the garrison of the Philistines camped at Bethlehem and brought out a drink of water for David. When David realized what they had done, he could not drink it. That water was too precious. He poured it out as a drink offering before the Lord.
23:18–39 Abishai was chief of the thirty, slew 300 men with a spear, but was not in the class with the first three. Benaiah was a doer of great deeds: he slew a lion in a pit on a snowy day; he killed an Egyptian with his own spear; he was over the bodyguard. Other mighty men included Asahel, brother of Joab; Ittai of Gath, Benaiah, Naharai the armor-bearer of Joab, and Uriah the Hittite, 37 in all. (That Uriah was one of David's mighty men makes his murder all the more reprehensible.)
We see that there were three rings of military power around David: “the three” heroes, “the thirty” champions, and his army. In the next lesson, we will learn about the impact of this superb group.
Post Script I: Rizpah reminds us of the suffering women of I & II Samuel:
*Hannah was treated as second-class wife because she had no child. However, she triumphed through prayer and birthed Samuel, one of the great men of the OT. I Samuel 1:6
*The wife of Phinehas died in childbirth as her husband died in battle. I Samuel 4:19
*Merab was promised to David, but later was given to Adriel the Meholathite. I Samuel‘:19
*Michal loved David and was given to him as wife. Then she was given to Palti when David was in exile. She was taken from him and given back to David at his insistence. She later turned against David and was estranged from him for the rest of her life. I Samuel‘:20,27; 25:44; II Samuel 3:13; 6:20–23
*Bathsheba's husband Uriah was murdered by David who took her as wife. II Samuel 11:1–27
*Tamar was raped and abandoned by her half-brother Amnon. II Samuel 13:1–19
*Absalom raped David's concubines in a political ritual. II Samuel 16:22
*Rizpah kept vigil day and night to keep her sons' bodies from vultures when they were left hanging for weeks on the mountain. II Samuel 21:10
This is not to say that there was no suffering by men, only that women had unique roles and were not always in control of their own lives.
An amazing number of psalms tell of David’s suffering, especially from his enemies, but also from illness and perhaps melancholy.
Post-script II: God rewards us because we are righteous?
David said God rewarded him according to his righteousness. In three references that seems quite clear:
"If You try my heart, if You visit me by night, if You test me, You will find no wickedness in me; my mouth does not transgress. With regard to the works of men, by the word of Thy lips I have avoided the ways of the violent. My steps have held fast to Thy paths, my feet have not slipped." (Psalm 17:3)
"The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to the integrity that is in me. O let the evil of the wicked come to an end but establish Thou the righteous, You who try the minds, and hearts, You righteous God." (Psalm 7:8)
"But You have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in Your presence for ever." (Psalm 41:12)
That is not to say that David thinks he is sinless. He confesses sin in a general way in addition to the sin with Bathsheba.
"I acknowledged my sin to Thee, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; then Thou didst forgive the guilt of my sin." (Psa.32:5)
:...there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities have gone over my head; they weigh like a burden too heavy for me." (Psa.38:3). " I confess my iniquity. I am sorry for my sin." (Psa.38:18)
In other passages from David’s writing, it is God’s righteousness in David that is in view.
"Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me room when I was in distress. Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer." (Psalm 4:1)
"As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding Your form." (Psalm 17:15)
"He committed his cause to the Lord; let Him deliver him, let Him rescue him, for He delights in him." (Psalm 22:8)
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name's sake." (Psalm 23:3)
Does God reward our righteousness, or His righteousness in us? David uses both expressions, but speaks of his righteousness more than anyone except possibly Job:
"I hold fast my righteousness and will not let it go. My heart does not reproach me for any of my days." (Job 27:6)
Solomon said, "... act, and judge thy servants, condemning the guilty by bringing his conduct upon his own head and vindicating the righteous by rewarding him according to his righteousness." (I Kings 8:32)
What does the OT teach about righteousness in us?
"[Abraham] believed in the Lord and it was counted to Him for righteousness." (Genesis 15:6)
"It will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the Lord our God, as He has commanded us." (Deuteronomy 6:25)
" Do not say in your heart, after the Lord your God has thrust them out before you, 'It is because of my righteousness that the Lord has brought me in to possess this land', whereas it was because of the wickedness of these nations that the Lord is driving them out before you." (Deuteronomy 9:4)
"All our righteousness is as filthy rags in his sight." (Isaiah 64:6)
"He shall be called, 'The Lord our righteousness.'"(Jeremiah 23:6)
"O Lord, righteousness belongs to Thee." (Daniel 9:7)
" For you who fear my name the Sun of Righteousness shall rise, with healing in His wings." (Malachi 4:2)
The bulk of the Old Testament witnesses to righteousness in man being the righteousness of God. David and Job alone claim righteousness. But David knows that pride and haughtiness are an offense to God: "You deliver a humble people, but your eyes are upon the haughty to bring them down." (II Samuel 22:28)
There are three possible interpretations:
1) David speaks as God's anointed, as Messiah, whose righteousness really is his own. We know David is a type of the Messiah.
2) David speaks of his righteousness, knowing that it is God's righteousness in him.
3) David was really the one "who kept my commandments and followed me with all his heart, doing only that which was right in my eyes" (I Kings 14:8). "David did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and did not turn aside from anything that he commanded him all the days of his life, except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite" (I Kings 15:5).
All three solutions appear to be acceptable. Our righteousness is God's righteousness imputed to us. “...that we might be the righteousness of God in Him” (II Corinthians 5:21). This makes us righteous, and results in our doing right.