EVENTS OF DAVID’S REIGN 2 Samuel 21–24
“The Lord lives! Praise be my Rock! Exalted be God, the Rock, my Saviour!” (2 Sam. 22:47)When you tell someone the story of your life, there are some things that just won’t fit in a chronological report. Here in an appendix the writer of 2 Samuel relates more about David.
David permitted the Gibeonites to exact revenge for Saul’s violation of an ancient treaty (21:1–14). The Philistine wars are summarized (vv. 15–22). David’s song of praise for deliverance is recorded (22:1–51). After a report of David’s last words (23:1–7) and a list of war heros (vv. 8–39), the book closes with an account of David’s sin in taking a census of fighting men (24:1–25).
Understanding the Text
“It is because he put the Gibeonites to death” 2 Sam. 21:1–14. At the time of the Conquest, nearly 400 years before Saul’s time, Israel had sworn in God’s name not to harm the Gibeonites. Saul broke this treaty and ferociously attacked the Gibeonites, who still held land in Israel. When David learned that a famine which had struck Israel was God’s punishment for breaking the oath sworn in His name, he asked the Gibeonites about reparations. The Gibeonites demanded the death of seven of Saul’s male descendants. David ordered they be executed and their bodies left unburied. Exposure of the dead body was considered a great disgrace in Israel. Old Testament Law prohibits punishing any person for a parent’s sins (Deut. 24:16). Because of this, and because 2 Samuel 21:1 fixes the blame on Saul and “his blood-stained house,” it seems likely that the seven David executed had leading roles in the attempt to exterminate the Gibeonites. Unpunished crime is a rebuke to any nation. It was especially abhorrent to God, who used the famine to bring this terrible crime to David’s attention. “David sang to the Lord” 2 Sam. 22:1–51. The psalm traces David’s rise from a fugitive to a conquering monarch, and praises God as the source of David’s deliverance and his achievements. God protected David when he was in deadly danger (vv. 1–7), and David was in awe of His mighty power (vv. 8–16). God rescued righteous David from his enemies (vv. 17–25), and David acknowledged God’s faithfulness to those who trust in Him (vv. 26–37). God raised David to power and international prominence (vv. 38–46), and David sang praises to the Lord for His unfailing kindness (vv. 47–51). This song of praise, very similar to Psalm 18, reflects David’s awareness that all he was and had become was a gracious gift of God. It was true, when the psalm was penned, that God’s reward was “according to my righteousness.” But this thought is no boast. David simply reflected on the fact that God is faithful in keeping his promise to bless those who keep “the ways of the Lord.” When I was a child I stood in the yard of my uncle’s farm home and watched rain pour down on a field just across the road, while I remained perfectly dry. What David is saying is that by obedience we cross the road and find showers of blessing. God’s blessings are always being poured out. Obedience puts us in the place where the blessings flow. “The last words of David” 2 Sam. 23:1–7. David’s last words praised God. More importantly, they show the basis on which David felt secure. “Has He not made with me an everlasting covenant, arranged and secured in every part? Will He not bring to fruition my salvation and grant me my every desire?” Death found a confident David, resting in the promises God had made to him, certain of his own salvation and of a future after death. The Bible picture’s death as man’s enemy, and fear of death as a stranglehold Satan has on mankind. David’s confidence reminds us that for the believer death is not the end of existence, but the doorway to a glorious future. “David’s mighty men” 2 Sam. 23:8–39. It’s likely that “the thirty” was an elite corps or special military unit, perhaps like our “green berets.” Others assume these war heros served as leaders of David’s legions. Whatever their role, they remind us that David did not win his victories alone. No leader can do it all himself or herself. Every leader needs talented and able persons around him or her. “Go and count Israel and Judah” 2 Sam. 24:1–17. While the chapter indicates that David committed a sin by taking a military census, the text does not indicate why David was wrong. Some suggest the census indicated self-confidence and a failure to rely on God. Others assume God commanded David not to take the census. The first-century Jewish historian Josephus says David failed to collect the half-shekel temple tax required of Hebrew males. Whatever the real reason, even General Joab knew David was wrong and argued against the census. When David persisted, the Lord gave David a choice of punishments. David selected the most severe but shortest of the three. It’s unwise to insist on our own way against the conviction of others that what we intend is wrong. “Burnt offerings that cost me nothing” 2 Sam. 24:18–25. The purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor is theologically significant. This height near David’s city of Jerusalem would be added to the city by Solomon, and become the site of the Jerusalem temple. The same mount is fixed by tradition as the place where Abraham came to offer up his son Isaac at God’s command. Placed here, at the end of the book that records David’s accomplishments, the purchase prepares us for the introduction of Solomon, who constructed the temple that David wanted so much to build. The personal significance of the incident is found in David’s response when Araunah offered to give him the land. “I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” God is not honored by leaving Him “tips” that we hardly miss. The God who loves us so much deserves costly offerings, whether of money or service.
Who Done It? (2 Sam. 24)
“The devil made me do it” is more than a saying. Sometimes Christians do blame the devil when caught up in some sin. Other times we may blame others. Or childhood trauma. Or any number of things. One of history’s worst serial killers, Ted Bundy, blamed pornographic pictures he saw as a teen for the murders he committed across the country. This chapter raises the question of blame by stating, “He [the Lord] incited David” to initiate the census (v. 1). In another account Satan is the one who incited David (1 Chron. 21:1). Yet in each of these chapters David accepts responsibility for the act and says, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done” (2 Sam. 24:10; see 1 Chron. 21:8). Part of the answer is found in the Hebrew concept of causation. God is the ultimate cause of all that happens. Satan, as an independent being, while acting under the umbrella of God’s permissive will, is an intermediate cause. But while God and Satan can be held responsible for their actions—God responsible for punishing Israel’s sin, and Satan for attempting to harm God’s people—David is ultimately responsible for his own choices as well. Neither God nor Satan made David count Israel. You and I too are subject to many influences. Influence brought to bear by our friends or family. Influences from our childhood. Influences that appeal to our emotions, our baser passions, our desire to do good, etc. Even God the Holy Spirit influences the Christian, and undoubtedly Satan attempts to influence us too. Yet in the last analysis, no one can say, “The devil made me do it.” Or, “My childhood made me do it.” Without in any way arguing for the unrestricted distribution of pornography, we can say with confidence that Ted Bundy’s early exposure to pornography did not make him commit his terrible crimes. Our own will stands between our actions and the many influences that bear on each one of us. Ultimately when we fail we must say with David, “I have sinned greatly.” The fault lies not with God, or with the devil, or with my childhood, but with me. Why is it so important to face this truth and accept responsibility for our failures? Because to admit fault is the first necessary step we take on our journey toward God. When we accept the fact of our sin, we are preparing our hearts to seek, and to find, the forgiveness offered us in God.
There is no one further from God than the person who refuses to accept responsibliity for his sins.