Ah, palace intrigue in old Jerusalem. One of David’s sons, Adonijah, sets himself up as king as David gets close to death, but God promised David and Bathsheba that their son Solomon would sit on the throne, and she holds David to that. Eventually Adonijah is dispatched, along with several others who could could pose a threat, including that descendant of Saul who had heaped abuse on David as he was driven from the city by Absalom. At the end of chapter 2 we read, “The kingdom was now established in Solomon’s hands.” Thus the lineage that will lead directly to Jesus of Nazareth continues its march through redemptive history.
We finish up 2 Samuel with these last two chapters. David leaves us with some final words about God’s eternal covenant promise to him, and the rest of the chapter is a description of some of David’s mighty men. As in the rest of the ancient world, war seems to have been a constant state of things.
Chapter 24 is very strange, as the Bible often proves to be. It begins with this:
Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
It doesn’t say why God’s anger burned, but we can assume it has something to do with their unfaithfulness, going after other gods, what have you. But why a census? David seems to think this is a command to count the army and not all Israel, and when he tells Joab to do it, he pleads with David not to and asks why he would do such a thing. Obviously, Joab knows why this is wrong, but why is it? And why would God command David to do something that is going to make God more angry?
According the commentaries, this episode is also referred to 1 Chronicles 21, and it begins thus:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
Some commentators say the Hebrew is rightly rendered Satan, others say it is not, but only “a one,” or “a someone” incites David to do this. Whatever the case, it was not God who commanded David to do something against his will and purposes. The idea of counting implies that God’s people would be putting their trust in something other than Him, i.e. in their own power and strength. We find these words in Psalm 33, which doesn’t say it’s written by David, but is in between two that say they are:
12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
You wonder whether he wrote this, as it seems likely he may have, before or after this event of counting his fighting men. There is obviously some dynamic going on here with David succumbing to some sort of temptation to put his faith in the size of his army.
Immediately David realizes the greatness of his sin and repents, but the Lord is going to exact his punishment. Yet another instance of events that make no sense to modern people. Why can’t God just blow it off. He’s done it before, hasn’t he? Not really. After David’s sin with Bathsheba, God says he will not die, but God’s judgment leads to suffering in David’s house. I think the best way to look at this is as God as King, as well as God as holy judge. The king’s honor must be defended, and a holy God must punish sin. The punishment is great because 70,000 people die in a plague until David offer’s a sacrifice and it stops. Just makes you grateful we live after the death and resurrection of Christ.
Which points out just how awesome and incomprehensible the holiness of God is. We moderns tend to see God as a little more powerful than us. He is not wholly other, transcendent and beyond our comprehension. We judge him by our human standards, not wanting him to judge us by his holy standards. The wages of sin is death because God is life; he is the animating principle of all existence. If this relatively trivial incident caused the death by God’s judgment of 70,000 people, imagine the judgment and wrath of God visited on Christ in the crucifixion for the sins of the entire world! We have absolutely no clue.
The entire chapter is David’s Song of Praise, his response “when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul.” He starts with his fundamental understanding of who God is:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
He says this salvation is from “violent men” and his enemies, but he knows it must go deeper. The key for David was that he “called to the Lord,” and he was saved. Unlike Saul who thought he could manipulate his way out of things, David knew God alone was his purpose. It seems that verses 8-16 are David looking back at how God revealed his power in the past by great physical events. These events certainly wouldn’t apply to him except by a metaphor for God’s power and strength.
Further, David admits that his enemies were powerful and too strong for him, something any follower of the living God must daily admit; David’s God and our God is a rescuer. This quotation from A.W. Pink gets it just right, and David would agree:
Christ came here not to help those who were willing to help themselves, but to do for His people what they are incapable of doing for themselves.
Then he says something that doesn’t seem to fit. He says God did this because he “delighted” in him, and proceeds to lay out his bone fides:
“The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I am not guilty of turning from my God.
23 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
24 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
25 The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to the cleanness of my hands.
Blameless? Maybe this is before his role as adulterer and murderer. Does he really believe he is righteous, clean, blameless, sinless? The only thing I can think of here that makes sense is verse 22, that he didn’t turn from his God, and this is true. Every time something happens, good or bad, his fault or not, he turns to God and trusts him. Maybe David reads that as what God requires ultimately, and not moral perfection. It would be in keeping with his trust in God’s mercy and grace.
Further on he exclaims that God is perfect and his word flawless. This gets to his heart of absolute trust in God. Most of the rest of the song is a praise to God for giving him victory in battle. We can be tempted to see this in purely earthly terms, but David doesn’t see it that way. Rather he sees his martial exploits in terms of God’s covenant promise, which is fundamentally why he is a man after God’s own heart. In the last verse he proclaims:
“He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.”
David knows it’s ultimately not about him; it’s much, much bigger. When he speaks of forever, that’s what God’s promise was. I’m sure he can’t fully grasp what that means; he probably doesn’t have a clue, maybe thinks forever is just a metaphor for a real long time. But we know in Christ that much of David’s song applies in spiritual terms, in Ephesians 6:12 terms, and in the book of Revelation terms: Literally for-ever!
Lots more blood and death, including Absalom’s. When it finally happens David mourns, but he does it in a way that almost alienates all the men who fought for him. But David gets good advice, and most importantly takes it, and wins over the men again and is secured again as Israel’s king. Unlike Saul who did the wrong thing and continued on in deluding himself, David does wrong and then admits it. An important point of character for a man after God’s own heart.
There are various and sundry stories, lots of battles with the Philistines, but I didn’t quite get chapter 21, where the Gibeonites are avenged. For three successive years there was famine in the Land. David “sought the face of the Lord,” and was told it was because Saul broke a promise of safety to them given hundreds of years before by Israel, and slaughtered them. I found a good explanation at this website:
He killed the Gibeonites: When David heard it was because of an attack against the Gibeonites, a chill probably ran up his back. He knew they were a people especially wrong for Saul to attack and kill.
- In the days of Joshua – more than 400 years before David’s time – Israel swore not to harm the Gibeonites, a neighboring tribe (Joshua 9). God expected Israel to keep its promise, even though the Gibeonites tricked Israel into making the agreement. Saul’s crime was not only in killing the Gibeonites but also in breaking this ancient and important oath.
- This emphasizes many important principles:
- God expects us to keep our promises.
- God expects nations to keep their promises.
- Time does not diminish our obligation to promises.
- God’s correction may come a long time after the offense.
iii. If God has such a high expectation that men keep their covenants, we can have great confidence that He will keep His covenant with us. There is an emerald rainbow around the throne of God to proclaim His remembrance to His everlasting covenant with His people (Revelation 4:3).
So David works out a deal with the Gibeonites. They don’t want money or land, but seven men of Saul’s clan who will pay with their life for his sin. This of course seems harsh to us, but the ancient world played by different rules, and God’s rules are also not ours. For some reason this sin had to be atoned for, and the way it is done here points forward to God’s ultimate atonement in Christ. It says they “exposed them on a hill before the Lord,” which in other versions says they hanged them, which means on a tree. So they were cursed by God in place of the Israelites, and God’s wrath appeased, the land was healed.
This stuff is worthy of Shakespeare, where I’m sure he got much of his inspiration. It seems just because David has let him come back to Jerusalem, Absalom is not quite ready to forgive and forget. In fact, he must have for a long time been quietly harboring a desire to depose his father and become king. Eventually he amasses an army and drives David out of Jerusalem, and what stands out in these chapters is that heart of David that is after God’s own.
It must have been a sad site, seeing the Great King David marching out of the city and through the countryside fleeing his son. They took the ark of God with them, but David knows the ark doesn’t belong to him. His instructions reflect the essence of what the heart God requires, trust:
25 Then the king said to Zadok, “Take the ark of God back into the city. If I find favor in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again. 26 But if he says, ‘I am not pleased with you,’ then I am ready; let him do to me whatever seems good to him.”
David knows that God’s judgments are perfect, and whatever they are is good with him. We see back in chapter 7 in David’s prayer why he can have such equanimity in the face of disaster; God is sovereign, and God is good, God blesses. Fundamentally David trusts God’s goodness, and his power to fulfill his good will toward his covenant people. David knows that even man’s stupidity and evil will not thwart God’s sovereign purposes.
One of the more funny and strange scenes in scripture is in chapter 16. A relative of Saul’s comes out as David and his men are marching, and he starts pelting them with rocks and stones, cursing them. He name was Shimei, obviously still a bit bitter that David took over Saul’s throne. He obviously thinks David took it unjustly because he calls him a scoundrel and man of blood. You imagine that Saul’s clan probably thinks that’s actually true, even though it was Saul’s own fault and God’s rejection of him that led to his downfall.
So one of David’s men wants to go cut off this “dead dog’s” head, but again David’s response is instructive:
10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah?If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”
11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”
David is totally God-centered, and he knows somewhere deep inside he kind of deserves this. If it’s of the Lord, so be it. No doubt his situation is miserable, yet he trusts in God. Not because he’s so virtuous, but because of who God is. Notice David is depending on God’s “covenant blessing.” He obviously knows his Hebrew history very well, and how Israel’s past, present and future is rooted in God’s promise to himself. We can assume he knows of God’s covenant promise to Abram in Genesis 15, a kingly promise to himself as he walked through the dead animals’ entrails. And back again in chapter 7 we read:
21 For the sake of your word and according to your will, you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant.
Indeed, a man after God’s own heart. All of God’s purposes are accomplished not because of anything in us, but because of him! That is why we can trust. If the basis of our trust, our peace of mind, our satisfaction were in us, woe would be us! As Calvin says in the book 3, chapter 2 of the Institutes:
Indeed, if we should have to judge from our works how the Lord feels toward us, for my part, I grant that we can in no way attain it by conjecture. But since faith ought to correspond to a simple and free promise, no place for doubting is left. For with what sort of confidence will we be armed, I pray, if we reason that God is favorable to us provided our purity of life so merit it?
And who knew this better than David, whose purity of life was, shall we say, suspect.
The rest of chapter 16 and 17 is setting up the confrontation between the real king, and the would be king, his son. It will not go well for the latter:
For the Lord had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.
From adultery and murder, to incest and more death. More R rated Holy Bible. The story in these chapters is of David’s son, Amnon, and his half sister, Tamar, a virgin who he has serious lust issues with. David, like other kings of the time took more than one wife, and we can see here one of the downsides of such arrangements. Chances are if Amnon and Tamar were full brother and sister who lived under the same roof there would be no lust issues. He goes on to rape her, and his response rings true to life:
15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
He knew he had done something evil, so after the lust is dissipated he basically blames her, thus the intense hatred. But he compounds his evil deed by casting her from his presence, and another of David’s sons, Absalom, takes her in. In the culture of the time Tamar was a disgraced women and would never marry. As God predicted would be David’s lot in life, this poison will have destructive consequences:
21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.
But what did David do? Absolutely nothing. He just let the hatred fester. A couple years go by and Absalom gets his revenge by killing Amnon. Something that never needed to happen if David was any kind of decent father or king or man. It seems David did not like confrontation, one of his many character flaws. Absalom flees, so now David mourns a dead son and a missing one as well, banished because he committed murder.
Eventually the king lets Absalom come back to Jerusalem, but still refuses to see him. Several years go by, and Absalom has children, one a daughter he names after his disgraced sister, Tamar. Eventually Absalom convinces the king to see him, and David kisses him, but you can be sure Absalom is not a happy man. Because David didn’t act, he did, and for years now he has suffered the consequences. A perfect recipe for anger and bitterness that will not turn out well.
We could call this chapter, David gets busted. It’s hard to fathom that he could actually think he could get away with something so utterly abhorrent, but apparently this king thing went seriously to his head. You wonder if some of those around David thought he should be confronted with his wrong doing, but nobody would have the guts to confront a king as powerful as David. So the Lord sends someone David respects and who has given him words from the Lord before, the Prophet Nathan. He proceeds to tell him a story.
Because of the unjust actions of a rich man against his neighbor, David “burned with anger against the man.” And David’s judgment is that he must die. Nathan’s response is classic: “You are that man!” And he proceeds to give him a message from the Lord about his evil actions. There will be consequences for the rest of David’s life; as the Lord said, he did it in secret, what’s going to happen to him will be done in broad daylight.
David’s response is in one sense noble, but seems a little odd on the surface. He says, “I have sinned against the Lord.” No excuses, just I sinned. But you might think he’d say he sinned against the man he killed, no? Of course, but all sin is fundamentally first against the Lord. In the Psalm of confession (51) David writes after this episode he says this:
3 For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
4 Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.
It’s even stronger here. David Knows he can never get forgiveness from the man he had killed, obviously; he can only find forgiveness from the one he ultimately wronged. And this Psalm is a perfect example of why God choose David; he knows he is a sinner, and that it is God’s character he must trust for his salvation. David knows he cannot earn his way to God’s acceptance no matter what he does. Some of his thoughts in the Psalm are striking:
1 Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
7 Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
9 Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.
14 Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
15 Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise.
It reminds me of Jesus’ parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in Luke 8. The latter was boasting of all he does before the altar and how that makes him acceptable to God, while the former wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but bowed and beating his chest says, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus declares that that man went away justified. God’s heart is mercy and grace. Sinners cannot earn their acceptance before him. This is the only thing that can give hope to sinners, which means all of us, and hope for even the worst of sinners, like David.
Nathan tells David that the Lord has taken away his sin, and that he will not die, but the child conceived in sin will. Once the son dies and the time of mourning is over, David and Bathsheba conceive again, and she gives birth to Solomon. How like God to continue the lineage toward the Savior of the World through a relationship initiated in pure lust and greed. He is a God where the unexpected is always expected, where what seems strange to us is normal to him.