2 Samuel 23 – David’s Last Psalm
A. David’s last psalm.
1. (1-4) The character of God’s perfect king.
Now these are the last words of David.
Thus says David the son of Jesse;
Thus says the man raised up on high,
The anointed of the God of Jacob,
And the sweet psalmist of Israel:
“The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me,
And His word was on my tongue.
The God of Israel said,
The Rock of Israel spoke to me:
‘He who rules over men must be just,
Ruling in the fear of God.
And he shall be like the light of the morning when the sun rises,
A morning without clouds,
Like the tender grass springing out of the earth,
By clear shining after rain.’
a. These are the last words of David: It wasn’t that these were the words David spoke from his deathbed, but they expressed his heart and longing at the end of his life.
i. “I suppose the last poetical composition is here intended. He might have spoken many words after these in prose, but none in verse.” (Clarke)
ii. This short psalm is a beautiful song of wisdom from David at the end of his life. “Wherein he doth, in few words but full of matter, acknowledge God’s benefits, confess his sins, profess his faith, comfort himself in the covenant, and [announce] destruction to unbelievers…. How much in a little!” (Trapp)
iii. What a life his was – we have a capsule of David’s life in the titles and descriptions of 2 Samuel 23:1:
· The son of Jesse: Jesse was a humble farmer and this title reminds us of David’s humble beginning.
· The man raised up on high: David allowed God to raise him up, so that he could confidently rest in this title.
· The anointed of the God of Jacob: David was anointed by God, not by himself or merely by man. He had a unique empowering and enabling from God.
· The sweet psalmist of Israel: David had a beautiful gift of eloquence and expression before God. This title reminds us of David’s deep inner life with God.
b. The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me: This indicates that at least at times, David was aware of the work of divine inspiration through him and expressed in his words.
c. He who rules over men must be just: As David looked back over his life and reign, he was struck by the great need for rulers to exercise justice. He knew this because he had seen the goodness of justice provided and the curse of justice denied.
d. Ruling in the fear of God: This is the key to justice in the work of a leader. When leaders rule in the fear of God they recognize that a God of justice reviews their work and will require an accounting of how the ruler has led.
e. He shall be like the light of the morning: David reflected on how a wise ruler is blessed when he rules with justice. Though David’s reign was not perfect it was blessed – and his reign is the one most identified with the reign of the Messiah.
i. From one perspective David’s reign was a disaster. He suffered from a dark scandal during his reign, he suffered under repeated family crises, under an attempted insurrection from his own son, under another civil war, and from three years of famine.
ii. In contrast to David, his son Solomon’s reign seemed perfect. Solomon enjoyed a reign of peace, great prosperity, prominence, and glory.
iii. Yet the Bible has nothing but praise for David and his reign, reflected in passages like Psalm 89:20, Isaiah 55:3-4, Romans 1:3, and Revelation 22:16. In contrast, Solomon is barely mentioned in the rest of the Scriptures and when he is, it is almost in a backhanded way (see Matthew 6:28-29 and Matthew 12:42).
iv. The difference between David and Solomon was found in their different relationships with God. David’s passion in life was simply to be with God (Psalm 84:10), while Solomon’s passion was personal improvement (1 Kings 3:4-15). We can also say that David endured to the end, loving and serving God in the final chapters of his life (2 Samuel 23:1-7), while Solomon forsook God in his later years (1 Kings 11:4-8).
2. (5-7) David’s trust in God’s covenant.
“Although my house is not so with God,
Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant,
Ordered in all things and secure.
For this is all my salvation and all my desire;
Will He not make it increase?
But the sons of rebellion shall all be as thorns thrust away,
Because they cannot be taken with hands.
But the man who touches them
Must be armed with iron and the shaft of a spear,
And they shall be utterly burned with fire in their place.”
a. Although my house is not so with God: David looked at the complete blessedness of a just ruler’s reign and he knew that his reign fell short of both perfect justice and complete blessedness.
b. Yet He has made with me an everlasting covenant: David knew that the everlasting covenant from God was not based on David’s perfection as a ruler. It was based on God’s gracious commitment to His everlasting covenant.
c. This is all my salvation and all my desire: David only said this because the covenant was based on God’s faithfulness and not his own. David knew that his own obedience was not enough to be a foundation for all his salvation and all his desire.
i. We can say that because of his sin and its consequences, David’s light dimmed towards the end of his life, but it was not extinguished. He shined until the end. “In the Divine dealing with us, there is no mistake, no lapse. Nothing has been permitted which has not been made to serve the highest purpose. This is so even of our failures, if, like David, in true penitence we have forsaken them and confessed them. It is certainly so of all our sorrows and trials.” (Morgan)
d. The sons of rebellion shall all be as thorns thrust away: The covenant was based on God’s faithfulness, but David knew that obedience still mattered. God would still oppose the sons of rebellion and they would end in ruin. David knew he could trust the LORD to take care of his enemies and wicked men.
i. “This was the whole theme of David. The Lord is in control. Rest in Him. Don’t fret yourself because of the evildoers that bring evil devices to pass. Rest in the Lord, trust also in Him. Delight thyself in the Lord! And all of the help, and the strength, the ministry of God’s Spirit to our hearts, through the Psalms, the sweet psalmist of Israel. What a legacy he has left.” (Smith)
ii. This remarkable relationship with God is the reason why David was Israel’s greatest king, and the most prominent ancestor of Jesus Christ. The New Testament begins with these words: The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David (Matthew 1:1).
B. David’s mighty men.
1. (8-12) The names and exploits of David’s top three soldiers.
These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-Basshebeth the Tachmonite, chief among the captains. He was called Adino the Eznite, because he had killed eight hundred men at one time. And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo, the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel had retreated. He arose and attacked the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to plunder. And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines had gathered together into a troop where there was a piece of ground full of lentils. So the people fled from the Philistines. But he stationed himself in the middle of the field, defended it, and killed the Philistines. So the LORD brought about a great victory.
a. These are the names of the mighty men: David was nothing without his mighty men, and they were nothing without him. He was their leader, but a leader is nothing without followers – and David had the mighty men to follow him. These men didn’t necessarily start as mighty men; many of them were the distressed, indebted, and discontented people who followed David at Adullam Cave (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
i. “These men came to David when his fortunes were at the lowest ebb, and he himself was regarded as a rebel and an outlaw, and they remained faithful to him throughout their lives. Happy are they who can follow a good cause in its worst estate, for theirs is true glory.” (Spurgeon)
ii. The day for mighty men and women – heroic men and women for God – has not ended. “The triumph of the church as a whole depends upon the personal victory of every Christian. In other words, your victory, your life, your personal testimony, are important to the cause of God today. What happens out in New Guinea, down in the Amazon jungle, over in disturbed Congo, is not unrelated to what happens in your own personal relationship with God and your personal battle against the forces of darkness. Victory for the church on the whole world-front depends upon victory in your life and in mine; ‘home’ and ‘foreign’ situations cannot be detached.” (Redpath)
b. Adino the Eznite: This leader among David’s mighty men was noted for having killed eight hundred men at one time.
i. “Three hundred is the reading in Chronicles, and seems to be the true one.” (Clarke)
c. Eleazar the son of Dodo: This leader of David’s mighty men was famous for enduring with David in a famous battle and when his hand was weary, and his hand stuck to the sword. Through his tenacity, the LORD brought about a great victory that day.
i. Spurgeon saw that Eleazar, in his solitary stand until victory, was a tremendous example for believers today. “Solitary prowess is expected of believers. I hope we may breed in this place a race of men and women who know the truth, and know also what the Lord claims at their hands, and are resolved, by the help of the Holy Spirit, to war a good warfare for their Lord whether others will stand at their side or no.”
ii. “Remember Mr. Sankey’s hymn, – ‘Dare to be a Daniel! Dare to stand alone! Dare to have a purpose firm! Dare to make it known!’Dare to be an Eleazar, and go forth and smite the Philistines alone; you will soon find that there are others in the house who have concealed their sentiments, but when they see, you coming forward, they will be openly on the Lord’s side. Many cowards are skulking about, try to shame them. Many are undecided, let them see a brave man, and he will be the standard-bearer around whom they will rally.” (Spurgeon)
d. Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite: This leader among David’s mighty men stationed himself in the middle of the field when others fled, and he held the ground single-handedly until the LORD brought about a great victory.
2. (13-17) A daring exploit from David’s days at Adullam.
Then three of the thirty chief men went down at harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullam. And the troop of Philistines encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then in Bethlehem. And David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” So the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate, and took it and brought it to David. Nevertheless he would not drink it, but poured it out to the LORD. And he said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this! Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things were done by the three mighty men.
a. Came to David at the cave of Adullam: David spent time in this cave when those who would become his mighty men first came to him in 1 Samuel 22:1-2. This passage describes something that happened either during that time or a later time of battle against the Philistines when David went back to the cave of Adullam.
b. David said with longing, “Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem”: During this time David had a nostalgic longing for the taste of water from a well near his boyhood home.
c. The three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, drew water from the well of Bethlehem: In response to David’s longing – which wasn’t a command or even a request, just a vocalized longing – these three mighty men immediately went to fulfill David’s desire at great personal risk.
d. He would not drink it, but poured it out to the LORD: David was so honored by the self-sacrifice of these three mighty men he felt that the water was too good for him – and worthy to be poured out in sacrifice to the LORD. He believed that the great sacrifice of these men could only be honored by giving the water to the LORD.
i. “Accounting it too dear a draught for himself, he poured it out unto the Lord, out of a religious respect.” (Trapp)
3. (18-23) Two more notable men among the mighty men.
Now Abishai the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of another three. He lifted his spear against three hundred men, killed them, and won a name among these three. Was he not the most honored of three? Therefore he became their captain. However, he did not attain to the first three. Benaiah was the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man from Kabzeel, who had done many deeds. He had killed two lion-like heroes of Moab. He also had gone down and killed a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day. And he killed an Egyptian, a spectacular man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand; so he went down to him with a staff, wrested the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and killed him with his own spear. These things Benaiah the son of Jehoiada did, and won a name among three mighty men. He was more honored than the thirty, but he did not attain to the first three. And David appointed him over his guard.
a. Abishai the brother of Joab: This leader among David’s mighty men was famous for his battle against three hundred men. His leadership is also recorded in passages like 1 Samuel 26:6-9, 2 Samuel 3:30, and 2 Samuel 10:10-14.
b. Benaiah the son of Jehoiada: This leader among David’s mighty men was famous for his battles against both men (two lion-like heroes of Moab…. an Egyptian, a spectacular man) and beasts (a lion in the midst of a pit on a snowy day).
4. (24-39) A list of David’s mighty men.
Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite, Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite, Abiezer the Anathothite, Mebunnai the Hushathite, Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai the Netophathite, Heleb the son of Baanah (the Netophathite), Ittai the son of Ribai from Gibeah of the children of Benjamin, Benaiah a Pirathonite, Hiddai from the brooks of Gaash, Abi-Albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth the Barhumite, Eliahba the Shaalbonite (of the sons of Jashen), Jonathan, Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite, Hezrai the Carmelite, Paarai the Arbite, Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Beerothite (armorbearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah), Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, and Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all.
a. Eliam the son of Ahithophel: This man is notable among the mighty men because he was the father of Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11:3) and this shows that Ahithophel was Bathsheba’s grandfather.
b. Uriah the Hittite: He is notable among the mighty men because he was the husband of Bathsheba. When David heard of Bathsheba’s relation to Uriah and Eliam and Ahithophel (2 Samuel 11:3) he should have put away every idea of adultery.
c. Thirty-seven in all: These remarkable men were the foundation of the greatness of David’s reign. They did not come to David as great men, but God used his leadership to transform them from men who met David back at Adullam Cave: men who were in distress, in debt and discontented (1 Samuel 22:1-2).
i. “More than all his victories against outside foes, the influence of his life and character on the men nearest to him testify to his essential greatness.” (Morgan)