Read 2 Samuel 21 here
Read 2 Samuel 22 here
Read 2 Samuel 23 here
Read 2 Samuel 24 here
- Famine in the land
- David wants to make amends with the Gibeonites due to Saul’s hostility
- The Gibeonites want to take revenge on Saul’s family
- Seven male descendants from Saul’s family are to be given over
- David agrees and these seven are put to death
- Rizpah, the mother of two of those killed, mourns.
- When David hears of this, he returns the bones of Saul and Jonathan to the tomb of Saul’s father (they were being kept elsewhere)
- God answered prayer on behalf of the land (v.14)
- Report of the wars against the Philistines (21:15-22)
Ch. 22 – “David’s song of Praise”
Ch. 23:1-7 – David’s last words
- List of David’s “mighty warriors”
- God “incites” David to take a census of Israel and Judah (the fighting men)
- David recognizes he has done something wrong and wants to repent
- God gives David three options for punishment.
- David chooses the plague
- David is instructed, through Gad, to build an altar at the threshing floor of Araunah, a Jebusite.
- Araunah offers to give David the land, but David insists on buying it.
- David built an altar and offered offerings. God then stopped the plague on Israel.
Today is our final day in the book of Samuel. And over the past many months, we have looked at Samuel as the story of David. However, as I’m sure most of you know, we continue to read about David in the early chapters of 1 Kings (though, even those chapters might be better characterized as the story of Solomon).
As we’ve worked through the book of Samuel, we’ve looked at David’s anointing as Israel’s king in place of Saul, we’ve looked at David’s rise in Israel, his exile due to Saul’s jealousy, his establishment as the one king of Israel, and then most recently his decline.
Now as a bit of an aside, some argue that the book of Samuel and the book of Kings (that is, 1&2 Samuel and 1&2 Kings) constitute a continuous narrative (rather than Samuel being one book and Kings being another, self-contained book). And that certainly has merit, especially as we noted that David continues to be present in the early part of 1 Kings (of course, this would mean that the characterization of Samuel as the story of David is, at best, incomplete). However, though recognizing that Israel’s history doesn’t simply end with David (and therefore, the story continues), there are those who argue that 1&2 Samuel constitute a coherent story – that is, with a beginning, middle, and end of its own.
The reason I bring that to your attention is because the chapters that we’re looking at today, 2 Samuel 21 – 24, the last 4 chapters of the book, seem a little out of place. Specifically, these chapters (especially chapters 21 and 24) don’t follow chapter 20, where we last left off. Rather, they pick up events that happened at other points during David’s reign.
Therefore, once again, I want to very briefly mention the overall structure of our chapters today. In short, there are four main sections: Two historical reports, and two sections of poetry of Psalms. They look like this:
- David and the Gibeonites (21:1-14)
- Reports of David’s battles with the Philistines (21:15-22)
- Song of David: Ch. 22:1-51
- Song of David: Ch. 23:1-7
- Reports of David’s mighty warriors (23:8-39)
- David’s Census (24:1-25)
Now you will probably notice that, similar to what we discussed last week, we are once again seeing a literary structure that we see frequently throughout scripture – the chiasm. To be a little more specific, our passage could be described as something like this:
- A. David and the Gibeonites (21:1-14)
- B. Reports of David’s battles with the Philistines (21:15-22)
- C. Song of David (22:1-51)
- C1. Song of David (23:1-7)
- B1. Reports of David’s mighty warriors (23:8-39)
- B. Reports of David’s battles with the Philistines (21:15-22)
- A1. David’s Census (24:1-25)
Short-handing a little bit, this structure suggests that these four chapters are not merely an anachronistic insertion into the story from Samuel and Kings, but rather constitutes an intentional wrapping-up of the book of Samuel. What we want to try to understand, then, is how do these chapters wrap up the story of David in Samuel. What might the author be trying to tell us at the end of David’s story?
Firstly, I want to take a look at the two narrative sections (chapter 21 and 24, roughly speaking). Unfortunately (yes, yet again), we are going to review these very quickly. So to begin with chapter 21, specifically vv. 1-14, we get a story about David and the Gibeonites. Just by way of reference, the Gibeonites are that people-group in Canaan with whom the Israelites made a covenant during the period of the Judges. Though they accomplished this through deceit, the Gibeonites were assured by the Israelites that they would not be destroyed. Again, this wasn’t merely a promise or a treaty – the Israelites made covenant with the Gibeonites.
Now the story takes place some time after the death of Saul but prior to David’s decline that we just read about. And we read that there was a famine in the land that we’re told is because of Saul’s treatment of the Gibeonites. Saul, ignorant of or disregarding the previous covenant, tried to wipe out the Gibeonites.
So David tries to make things right with the Gibeonites. And their demand is that seven descendants of Saul be given over to them to be killed, or sacrificed, to which David agrees. Now there are a number of concerns and questions that we, in the 21st century western world, might have about this. But the text makes it clear, it seems to me, that reckoning for Saul’s sin is precisely what is required by God.
The second historical or narrative section occurs in chapter 24. This again is a passage that raises a lot of questions and doesn’t give us many explicit answers. But what the text tells us is that God is angry at Israel and “incited David against them” (NIV). David decides to take a census of Israel, specifically it seems, of Israel’s fighting men, its army. When the census was completed, after more than nine months of counting, David learns that there are 800,000 men in Israel and another 500,000 in Judah.
The text tells us that David was “conscience-stricken” when he had finished counting the army, but it doesn’t specifically tell us why. He knows that he has sinned against God, but the text doesn’t tell us what exactly that sin was. Nevertheless, God speaks to David and tells him that he must choose between three options (three judgements from God) in order to expiate his sin. Out of the three, David chooses a plague that would cover Israel.
So God sent a plague over the nation and seventy thousand people had died. David then seeks God’s forgiveness and, without going into detail, gains land to build an altar, and sacrifices to God. Then, we read, the Lord answered David and the plague was stopped.
Now there are several things that I want to consider between these two passages: Chapter 21 and the story of the Gibeonites, and chapter 24 and the story of David’s census.
In the first story, disaster comes on Israel in the form of a famine. In the second story, disaster comes on Israel in the form of a plague.
And in the first story we know that the famine is a direct consequence of Saul’s sin – the text makes this explicit. In the second story, though it’s slightly more convoluted, it is likewise clear that the plague is a result of David’s sin.
Now the first story clearly tells us that Saul’s sin was his hostility against the Gibeonites. We talked about this briefly, earlier, but again it has to do with Saul breaking the Israelites’ covenant with the Gibeonite and attempting to wipe them out. In the second story, David’s sin is not immediately clear. It seems evident that is sin is taking the census, but why exactly this is a sin is not clear.
So at this point, I should be clear that we are entering the realm of (my) conjecture. This is merely what I think might be going on. But it seems fairly clear that Saul’s sin was his overly aggressive military attitude towards Gibeon (and if we remember the characterization of Saul, this seems in line with what we know). So perhaps the second story also tells us about David’s emphasis on his armies? The text seems to tell us that the emphasis for his census was on Israel’s fighting men – his military strength. Might this suggest that David was overly concerned with how he was to use military means to defend Israel? Was this where he placed overly much of his trust? Was this the means by which David hoped to build or keep the kingdom?
And again, this is further conjecture. But perhaps this is why both of these stories are immediately connected to, firstly, an account of David’s battles with (and victories over) the Philistines; and secondly, an account of David’s mighty warriors and their military accomplishments.
Now returning to our comparisons, both of these narratives contain vignettes involving another person (other than David): In chapter 21, we get an account of Rizpah, who was mother to two of Saul’s descendants who were turned over to the Gibeonites. It’s a tragic story of suffering and loss, and one we shouldn’t pass over too quickly (like I am doing here). In chapter 24, we get an account of Araunah who owns the land (“the threshing floor” in the text) where David will build an altar and offer sacrifice.
Finally, in both stories, God’s judgement (famine, plague) only ends after sacrifice. In chapter 21, the sacrifice is the descendants of Saul who are offered up to the Gibeonites. In the second story, it is a burnt offering on the altar built on Araunah’s threshing floor.
Now again, I am engaging in conjecture here. But I wonder if the resolution to both of these stories – one of famine, one of plague, both of sin – is a reminder that deliverance comes only from God. Judgement only comes from God, of course. But deliverance comes not from might or power – neither Saul nor David can ensure the prosperity of their kingdoms (or their kingships) by their own strength. (And this may shed some light on the Rizpah and Araunah stories – in both cases, it is nothing that David can give that is sufficient). It is only by the mercy of God that deliverance can come.
Now there’s more to say here about the significance of sacrifice. We’ve touched on this before – simply to say that we have to take sin seriously. The fact that the forgiveness of sin in these stories requires sacrifice points to that fact. But though there’s more to say and more to reflect upon, I want to move on to the rest of our passage for today.
So we’ve considered the two narratives that bracket our passage. And we’ve hinted at the reports of David’s military successes. But we cannot neglect the two songs of David that constitute the fulcrum (so to speak). Again, we are going to examine these two passages extremely quickly. So I won’t try to discuss everything, but I do want to draw your attention to a few of points.
Firstly, all of chapter 22 is devoted to the first of these two of David’s songs. And in (very) brief, the song has to do with David’s recognition and praise that everything he has is given to him by God. Specifically, David reflects on how God has delivered him from his enemies (presumably, Saul), kept him safe, and sustained him. And it was through this deliverance and sustenance that God has placed David on the throne of Israel. This is an exalting song, a song of thanksgiving and praise. Note David’s final few verses of this song:
47 “The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be my God, the Rock, my Savior!
48 He is the God who avenges me,
who puts the nations under me,
49 who sets me free from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from a violent man you rescued me.
50 Therefore I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing the praises of your name.
51 “He gives his king great victories;2 Samuel 22: 47-51
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever.”
David’s second song in chapter 23 (1:7) is notably shorter and the tone is noticeably different. But the theme is not. David’s first song is exuberant, joyful, and victorious. This second song is much more restrained. But thematically, it repeats the idea that everything David has is due to God’s grace. It recognizes that the kingdom of Israel is, in the end, sustained solely by God. However, it also contains almost a note of warning. It tells us that one must rule “in the fear of God.” And it warns that those who fail to do so will face judgement.
Now the additional thing that I want to draw your attention to is the timeframe given to each of these songs. Specifically, 22:1 tells us, about the following song, “David sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” In other words, the first song is attributed to when David was delivered (specifically) from the hand of Saul. And as we know, it was at this time that David finally became king over Israel.
The second song, according to 23:1, occurs at the end of David’s life.
1 These are the last words of David:
“The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse,2 Samuel 23: 1
the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
the hero of Israel’s songs:
In other words, these two songs bracket the whole of David’s reign, his first and last songs, as king of Israel.
So what should be clear is that this entire section is indeed meant to wrap up the story of David, the book of Samuel. But again, the question we had was how does the writer wrap up this story?
Now, I’m not a fan of wrapping scripture up in easy to digest, bite-sized aphorisms or black and white moralisms. I think a big part of the reason we’re given so much of scripture as story instead of an expanded version of the 10 Commandments (which, of course, are indeed scripture) is so we can enter into and inhabit the story. Because we are part of that same story.
But with that said, what are some of the things that we can understand about the conclusion to Samuel? I want to note, very quickly, just a couple of things:
Firstly, I want to note the theme of God’s judgement throughout this section. Both narrative blocks revolve around judgement for sin – in particular, the sin of the kings of Israel. Now in both cases, we can discern God’s grace in response to repentance, but it seems to me that judgement takes center stage.
Secondly, in both cases, the appropriate response to God’s judgement is repentance. In the case of both of these stories, repentance is worked out by sacrifice. Now we’ve touched base on the significance of sacrifice already so I won’t repeat myself here. But it seems to me that, for us, this points to the true sacrifice, the full and final sacrifice of Jesus Christ that is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
In the songs of David, we noted the theme that David’s kingdom, that is the kingdom of Israel, is due solely to the grace of God. To put it another way, David owes his kingdom to God. God gives it, God sustains it, and (referring to the theme of judgement), God can take it away.
Therefore – and this is worked out primarily in the second song (in ch. 23) – fidelity to God, faithfulness to God, is a requirement for the continued blessing of that kingdom. And if we remember the terms of the covenant that God established with David (2 Sam. 7).
Now with all this in mind, what we might be able to conclude is that the writer of Samuel wanted (among other things) to remind future Israelites of the basic truth of their constitution. That is, that they are a covenant people. That the people of God exists by the grace of God and requires faithfulness to God. To put it another way, I think that this concluding block of Samuel serves as a reminder and a warning.
Remember that we’ve claimed that future generations of Israel looked back on the rule of David as the highlight of Israel’s history. They saw David’s reign as that period of time when they (Israel) had the most power, the most influence, the most blessing. And they longed to return to that.
But if we read Samuel with clear eyes, it’s hard to be overly optimistic about any human kingdoms – even David’s. It’s hard to not be but cynical about any human ruler.
So if the conclusion of Samuel is meant as a warning for future Israel, what does it mean for us? How are we to read the book of Samuel in a post-resurrection world?
Firstly, I want to remind us of what we should know well. That is, what is a warning for future Israel is in many ways good news for us. And that is precisely that, because of Jesus, our sins are completely forgiven. For those who put their faith in Christ’s work on the cross, God’s judgement is put aside. There is no other sacrifice necessary. There is no work that we can or need to do.
However, that does not mean that we can do whatever we want to do: Shall we continue to sin so that God’s grace may abound? Certainly not. On this side of eternity, sinfulness still abounds in the world and in us. And we continue to need God’s discipline and to live out of God’s forgiveness.
That is simply to say that holiness matters. And holiness matters all the more (I think) because we know that what we see in and of this world is not all there is. We live for more because there is more to live for. We seek holiness, we seek Godliness, because that is what we were meant for.
What we see in this conclusion (or what we might understand from this conclusion) is that David, God’s king for God’s kingdom, still sought to establish the kingdom by earthly means (and we certainly know that this is what Saul sought to do). The temptation to use worldly means to accomplish (so-thought) Godly ends is pervasive.
Therefore, we must examine ourselves, seek to repent of such desires and inclinations, to trust God’s work (and indeed, to get in on His work), and to live fully and into the kingdom of God.
So, and as much as I hate reducing scripture to simple lists of do’s an don’ts (as you probably well know), I also understand that can be helpful to some. Therefore, what I want to encourage us all to is two things:
Firstly, and again, the importance of the practice of repentance. And I’ve spoken in the past that repentance is not merely “saying sorry for things I’ve done wrong.” This is certainly important and necessary. But I’m also talking about the importance of examining ourselves to uncover those assumptions and expectations about how the world is supposed to work, and what role we are to take in it.
And for clarity’s sake, I want to refer you again to David’s apparent tendency, which we see repeatedly throughout scripture, of using worldly means to accomplish what we think are godly ends.
Secondly, and related to this, we need to constantly refer to scripture to revise our worldview. I encourage you to pay attention to what kind of kingdom God is creating and how he goes about creating that kingdom. Again, this is repetitive, but if you need a point of reference, read again Jesus’ sermon on the mount. What does Jesus say the kingdom is like. And remember again that Jesus accomplishes that kingdom, not by raising armies, increasing the number of his fighting men, but by His death on a cross.
So, that concludes our walk through the book of 1&2 Samuel. I know that we’ve gone through it rather quickly, and that I might have left you with more questions than answers. But I hope that it has been of benefit to you. And I hope that it encourages you to desire to know more truly and more deeply God’s heart for you, for us, and for this world.