2 Samuel 22-23

Hope, Strength and the Kingdom

Discussion Question

(This question will work if you intend to look at all of 22:1-23:7 or just 23)

Pretend you are the CEO of Boost Juice and you are at your retirement party on your last day of work. The microphone is passed to you so you might give a rousing final word of encouragement to your staff. What would you say? What might the balance be between your own achievements, the company’s achievements and future potential? 

(If you are looking just at chapter 22)

When you last praised someone, what did you say to them and why? Do you struggle to praise people who have succeeded in the present but failed in the past? Do you think you praise people enough?  

Background (Context)

In Chapter 22-23 we hear lots of words of David – including what are described as the “last words” (23:1). The narrative appears to stall as the section begins with us listening to a song sung to the Lord when the Lord delivered David from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul (22:1). 

But we ought not view this pause in the narrative as disjunctive. Remember back in 2 Samuel 21 – David and his men conquered the Philistines in 4 back to back battles (that may not have been back to back but are written as such). Throughout the Old Testament it is not uncommon for a song to be sung after a significant battle or salvation moment (cf. Exodus 15; Judges 5; 1 Samuel 18:7).

The song before us carries further significance because this enemy has been Israel’s constant nemesis and now it appears they have been finally routed at the arm of David and his men. 

In addition to these comments on literary context, it is worth remembering the theological context of these chapters. Remember that David is the LORD’s King who he has strengthened (2 Samuel 2:10), and made promises to (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and been with (2 Samuel 5:10). In the midst of all his failings he has always been the LORD’s king who the LORD delighted in. The LORD has never departed from David as he did from Saul and indeed David redeemed himself in 21:1!

You may wish to refresh the events of 1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 5, 7, 11 and 12 to your mind in preparation for this study. 

As a final note, although 2 Samuel 23 contains the “last words” of David, David is not yet about to die. He has a few more things he needs to do and you can read about them in 1 Kings 1-2.

Read 2 Samuel 22-23

Follow this link to read the passage on BibleGateway… 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Why David Sings (Part 1) – 22:1
    • A God worth having (v.2-4)
    • A God who powerfully saves his King (v.5-20)
    • A God of righteousness (v.21-31)
    • A God who gives strength to the King (v.23-46)
    • A God worth having (v.47-51)
  • Why David Sings (Part 2) – 23:1
    • The God who speaks (v.2-3a)
    • The Word God speaks (v.3b-4)
    • The impact of righteousness (v.5)
    • The impact of unrighteousness(v.6-7) 
  • David’s Mighty Men and David’s Mighty Failings
    • The Big Three (v.8-17)
    • The Other Two (v.18-23)
    • The Thirty (v.24-39)

Why David Sings (Part 1) (22:1)

“when the LORD delivered” – when the song is sung is a critical question for interpreting the words of the song. Psalm 18 (where this song is repeated) gives us no help! The natural reading of v.1 is to say that it was sung after (and its meaning ought to be taken as being after) the events of chapter 19-21. The Philistines and Absalom were the last of David’s enemies who have now been defeated. Note that David took up a lament reflecting on Saul’s life in 2 Samuel 1. Is this now a song reflecting on his life? If it is, he has a lot to praise God for and he does it with vigour!

A God worth having – 22:2-4

“My…my…my…my…” – note that for David his relationship with God is not just religious but is personal and it is based on all that God has done for him in protecting him from enemies and danger. It is important to note the interaction between these verses and the setting for the Psalm. The narrator tells us “when” it is written and David tells us “who” is worthy of praise and “why” he has the privilege of singing this song. His enemies are clearly defeated because of the work of God and David is saved by the hands of God. We might ask of David, what was your role in all this?

A God who powerfully saves his King – 22:5-20

“Death…destruction…death…” – the language here is extreme and shows the way David thought about his time as King. He was constantly under threat. Note that some of these threats were self-induced because of his sin. His sin lead him to the edge of death at the hands of his enemies. Noting this will help us as we decipher v.21-25.

“ears…nostrils…mouth…feet…” – in the New Testament we read that God is Spirit and we know God does not literally have human form or come down in human form until Christ. This language (often called anthropomorphism) is used to help us connect with the actions of God and understand the view or action of God by using human forms. But it also underlines the reality that we have read throughout 2 Samuel and again here in v.2-4 – God is the victor; God is the triumphant LORD; God is the winner of battles. The humans involved cannot claim their own power or majesty for God is the powerful majestic God over all people and all the world. 

“because he was angry” – God was angry that his King was threatened with destruction. Sometimes the anger of God is confusing (doesn’t God = love?) but the anger of God against death and destruction and hatred is good news.

“He rescued…he rescued… because he delighted in me” – the confusion starts to set in here. In what way is God delighting in David given what we know of the Bathsheba/Uriah incident and the Amnon’s/Tamar incident and the Absalom incident… v.21-31 take this confusion to the next level.

A God of righteousness – 22:21-31

This whole section ought to have your group saying “say whaaaaaat?”. Just work through the passage and see the number of times David claims that he is OK with God. Verses 22 & 24 are stunning – has David got amnesia; is David claiming he sinned in these ways but never lost his vision for God; is this song placed here by mistake and should be sung at the end of 2 Samuel 10; or is something else going on? It will be important not to disconnect your conversation on these verses from what has already been said in this song. In the structure of the study you may wish to ensure you look carefully at v.1-20 first. 

Note the parallel between v.21 & 25.

Note the parallel between v.22 & 24

This focusses our eyes on v.23.

The laws and decrees of the LORD include pathways for forgiveness and hope for sinners. David says here that he has never lost the reality that God is kind and merciful and wants to be in relationship with his people. He is noting that the sacrificial systems described in the laws and decrees were set up to symbolise forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. They point to the very heart of God as one who is able to delight in sinners because he acts to save them from death and rescue them from their enemies – even the last enemy death. We don’t read that David sacrificed and felt atoned but we know that forgiveness was God’s plan for his people. And David is able to cling to this reality and speak as he does here because he has already been forgiven by God. Do you remember 2 Samuel 12:13? You may want to plunge into Psalm 51 for further reflection on mercy and forgiveness and David.  

David’s evil actions do not undermine the fruit of God’s grace and promise in his life precisely because his wicked deeds have been forgiven, taken away and washed clean. 

“You…you…you…” – v.26-31 almost seem to provide apologetic weight to what we have read in v.21-25 as David focuses on the remarkable work of the God who forgives, saves and rescues.  

 A God who gives strength to the King – 22:32-46

The God who has delivered David so many times from dangers has one more accolade to be laid on him – he had plans to make David a great King. 

“His…his… his…You…you…you…” – David rejoices in what God has done for him personally which looks like the outworking of v.26-31. There we saw what God is like and here we see what he does because of it. 

“You have preserved me as the head of nations” v.44 – The outworking of God’s promises in 2 Samuel 7 has come to fruition. 

 A God worth having – 22:47-51

This rejoinder not only wraps up this song but all the themes of the Kingdom that are interconnected from 1 Samuel 16 through to 2 Samuel 7 and beyond. I wonder if you might imagine this part of the song on the lips of another King? I wonder if you might imagine all the song on the lips of another King. 

I wonder what our response to earthly Kings and heavenly Kings ought to be in light of verse 51?

Why David Sings (Part 2) – 23:1-7

Some people have called these last words, words of prophecy. You might want to ponder that characterisation. There is no inference that they connect to the previous chapter (as in David kept singing) but there are clear thematic parallels. We might (despite what is to come in 1 Kings) judge that these are the last words of David that sum up his life; they are perhaps the key to understanding everything that we have read about David and his whole life.

Note who is taking the action and in control in these verses.

Verse 1 – the layering of four descriptions of David describe his Kingship. The last is a little strange but is essentially noting that the people of Israel triumphed David as King not just the LORD. Working your way through the 4 phrases or descriptions of David here will be worth it for your group. (Cf 1 Samuel 16, 2 Samuel 5:10-15, 2 Samuel 7 for clues as to what the four phrases mean)

Verse 3 – “fear of the LORD” – cf 1 Samuel 12:12-25 – not a scared fear but a reverent and awe-captured fear that promotes submission to the rule and love of God.

Verse 5 – “my house….”  certainly we know his house is not perfect and only a shadow the Kingship to come but God has actually used David in accordance with his promises. 

Note the way this little song points us to the eternal realities of the promises of God in Christ. When our house is right with God, he brings to us salvation and grants every desire. 

David’s Mighty Men and David’s Mighty Failings- 23:8-39

Names, names and more names. The conclusion to this section is obscure if only for the fact that you are going to see lots of names you have never heard of, and the one name you do expect to hear about when we are talking of Mighty Men is only spoken of incidentally. Is the absence of Joab a subtle indication of the tension that existed to the end with David?

“The LORD brought about a great victory” – v.10, 12 – to miss what is behind these mighty men is to miss the whole purpose of this section. We may have outstanding stories about outstanding men who won outstanding victories (that are tantalising for their lack of detail) but we have one outstanding detail. God is in this. God is in charge of the outcome. God always had the battles in hand.

“He poured it out” – v.16 – what looks like dishonour to the men who risked their lives here is actually ultimately great honour to them and to God. The great devotion and sacrifice they showed really belongs to the LORD so the key words here are those at the end of v.16 – “before the LORD”. Here is David not taking honour to himself but directing great honour to God. He’s just like the LORD’s king should be. 

“Chief of the three” – v.3, 18 – who was chief of the three. It is likely that the footnote in our NIV to v.18 is the better reading. There cannot be two chiefs! 1 Chronicles 11:20 openly embeds the confusion. Abishai appears more likely to be chief of the 30. 

Our section ends with lots of cheering and fist pumping for the victories of the King and the triumph of the Kingdom. But let us not be fooled. There is more here than the Mighty Men and their victories under God. 

David’s men do a great job of overcoming violence with more violence. In the end, this is dissatisfying for the Kingdom of God because what we have been promised in 2 Samuel 7:10-11 is the end of violence and the bringing about of rest. There is no rest for David and the Kingdom. Perhaps 2 Samuel 21 indicated this. The Philistines just keep coming and coming and coming and coming. There must be some other Kingdom that awaits – and there is! Isaiah 9:6-7 and Luke 2:11-14 point us to a King who is Prince of Peace and who will bring peace.

That is not the only problem with the way things end here. Do you note who is mentioned in v.34? Eliam. Have a look at who he is related to!! (2 Samuel 11:3) And then look at the last name on the list of David’s mighty men!!

David’s great might was poisoned by David’s great failings and we ought to ponder whether these lists are here to bear the names that point clearly to David’s mighty failure – and thereby in turn point to God’s great gracious mercy. The mighty men might be mighty and faithful and devoted – but David murdered one of them! This Kingdom consumes even its own. But there is another Kingdom to come that will be characterised by there being no more death or mourning or crying or pain for the old order of things will have passed away (Revelation 21:1-4). Oh let us look at David and his mighty men, and while giving thanks for the mercy of God, let us long for the Kingdom of Christ which only required one mighty man to conquer every enemy and who will take us to be with him forever. By his wounds, our enemies and sins are destroyed.  

What did we learn? (Meaning)

At the high point of his kingship (22:1) and at the end of his life (23:1), David waxes lyrical! But his focus is not upon himself! He recognises all that God has done for him and the way the LORD has conquered his enemies, saved him from death and placed him in a safe, secure position. The one who is the Rock of Israel has been for David a secure Rock on which to stand – despite his failings, despite his disgraceful sin, despite his errant ways. We are pointed here afresh to the character of God as the one who forgives sins, keeps his promises and does not deal with his people as they ought to be dealt with. God is indeed compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in love (Psalm 103:8). He has mercy on failures like you and me because of his unfailing love (Psalm 51:1). 

Although we may want to stand in judgement over David (and be shocked at God’s mercy) the meaning of these chapters ought to be considered from a personal perspective. Have you noticed in the New Testament that God does not label Christians “completely failed sinners who I forgave” but “saints” or “God’s holy people”! (Ephesians 1:1, Philippians 1:1) There is a sense of completion to the forgiveness and mercy of God in and for us through the death and resurrection of Christ such that we are deemed to be holy! Perhaps we are best to reserve our shock at God’s mercy toward David until we consider that the same mercy is towards us in Christ?   

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The Anger of God and the Anger of Man. People sometimes object to the idea that God can be angry. God is love and Jesus was rarely angry at anything except religious hypocrites. However, the anger of God means that life matters to God. The things that go on in the world matter to God. God is more complex than we might imagine and to think that he could not both love the world and be angry at the world at the same time is to underestimate God. You might want to ask your group, “Is it good news that God is angry with the world?” Would they rather a God who did not care or a God who is moved by the state of his creation? 

Topic B: Earthly Kings and the Heavenly King. There are a myriad of people who you can follow in this world. Pop stars like Taylor Swift are kings. Politicians like Scott Morrison and Donald Trump have been treated like kings by some. But are these kings worth having? Who is worth following in the world? You might want to ask your group to think about who influences them in life? Our Kings need not be stars or authorities, they can be family members and spouses. Are these “kings” worth devoting yourself too? How does your devotion to earthly kings get shaped by your devotion to Jesus. How does having (or Does having..) Jesus as your King actually shape your attitude to earthly “kings”?  

Topic C: Waiting patiently for the LORD. There is a real sense of frustration in the world when you see evil prosper. You could discuss what people’s experience of this is like; do they get frustrated, do they feel they need to speak out and act out all the time. Are they willing to leave judgement to the LORD. 2 Samuel 23:6 reminds us that the LORD will deal with people who are evil. You may want to look at Romans 12:14-21 together and ponder how you might encourage each other to wait patiently for the LORD in a world that wants nothing to do with the LORD.

2 Samuel 16:15-18:18 – A King’s Son

Discussion Question

Would you describe yourself as a friend of Jesus? How do you recognise a friend?

Background (Context)

David’s house is in turmoil. Everything went pear-shaped after David’s sin with Uriah’s wife. David has fled from his own palace because his son, Absalom, has risen up to take the kingdom from David.

Ahithophel was introduced in 2 Samuel 15:12 as David’s counselor but he was summoned by Absalom and became his adviser instead. You can see in 16:23 how highly the advice of Ahithophel was in the land. Being on Absalom’s side was a real trouble to David. So, he prayed that the LORD would confuse the council of Ahithophel ( 15:34).

Hushai the Arkite was phase one of the answer to that prayer. He was the king’s confidant (1 Chronicles 27:33). He met David as he was fleeing Jerusalem and David instructed him to go and join Absalom’s side in order to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice. He was also instructed to send word to David who would wait at the fords in the wilderness.

David had concubines who he had left behind in Jerusalem. The calamity that has come upon the house of David, forcing him out of Jerusalem, began with the moment he set eyes on a beautiful woman on the roof of her house – he slept with her and had her husband killed. When David was confronted with this by Nathan the prophet, he was told, “Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight.” (12:12)

Absalom’s political campaign has gathered many of the people of Israel to his side in conflict with David. We pick up the story as David has fled and Absalom arrives in Jerusalem to occupy his father’s throne.

Read 2 Samuel 16:15-18:18

Copy and paste text here. 

What did you see? (Observation)

Structure

  • Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)
  • The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)
  • Spies work for David (17:15-23)
  • David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)
  • How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

Sleeping with the enemy (16:15-23)

“Absalom said to Hushai, ‘So this is the love you show your friend?’” Good question Absalom. It sets a theme for the passage before us. What is it to be a friend? Hushai needed to pursuade Absalom that he was now a friend to Absalom. But we know that this is fake.

“Hushai said to Absalom…I will serve you.” Verses 18-19 sound like a blunt lie from Hushai. It is indeed a trick but it is probably a clever one. He avoids using Absalom’s or David’s name but refers to father, son, these people and men of Israel. He especially begins with ‘the one chosen by the LORD’. His intention is to serve the chosen one of God who is the same man (David) the people of Israel all chose back in Chapter 5. He ends his pitch to Absalom with two rhetorical questions: Whom should I serve? And Should I not serve the son? He doesn’t answer them and Absalom can do what he likes with those questions. His final statement sounds very much like a dedication to serve Absalom but if we remember 15:34, he is directly serving David. Hushai is a friend to David and loyal to him.

“Sleep with your father’s concubines…in the sight of all Israel.” Ahithophel gave this advice to Absalom and he does it. In a way that was made known to all Israel. Recall how a similar thing happened in Chapter 4 between the son of Saul (Ish-Bosheth) and his key advisor, Abner? It seems like going one step further than taking a man’s house is to take the man’s concubines. And with that advice, Ahithophel has severely damaged the relationship between David and Absalom. It’s like a massive middle finger to his dad’s authority and place. The deed also echoes two parts of David’s story. It was on the roof that David saw Bathsheba and then sinned with her. And as a result, the LORD declared that David’s wives would be taken away and slept with in broad daylight. There is a difference between wives and concubines but the declaration from Nathan in Chapter 12 and this episode seem too connected to disqualify that difference.

“Now in those days the advice Ahithephel gave was like that of one who inquires of God.” This section ends, or transitions with this high praise of Ahithephel. Both David and Absalom regarded him so highly. We have seen various advisors in the king’s house give really wicked and shrewd advice to the king’s sons. Ahithephel, without any previous mention of him, has entered the story for the purpose of critiquing the wisdom of men versus the wisdom of God. The problem for David is that he needs the wisdom of Ahithephel to be turned into folly.

The LORD confuses the advice of Ahithophel (17:1-14)

“…attack [David] while he is weary and weak…” This was the advice from Ahithophel and what is smart about his advice is the timing. David is weary and weak. While Absalom and all the people strolled into Jerusalem full of breath, David had escaped and needed refreshing (16:14). Ahithophel’s advice is a good one (for Absalom).

“…Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – be gathered to you…then we will attack him…” Hushai is given a chance to give counter advice and he takes it. He convinces Absalom with knowledge of David that is factual but not the full truth. David is a mighty warrior and all of Israel know this. Before Absalom was even a twinkle in his father’s eye David had great experience as a warrior. What Hushai does not tell Absalom is that he knows where David is waiting. And he is camped with his army, not hiding in a cave. Then Hushai gives advice that sounds awesome but is really buying David time. Rather than act swiftly and quickly and get the job done while David is weary, Hushai says, do this right. Get all of Israel together and let’s just bulldoze David down. We don’t want stealth and risk. We want to throw all our resources into this and do it once and do it right.

“For the LORD had determined to frustrate the good advice of Ahithophel in order to bring disaster on Absalom.” Not much to comment on here but to draw attention to this verse. God’s sovereignty and the plans of men are on view here. God gets his way without even turning up. Absalom heard two plans and chose the more foolish one. Praise God.

Spies work for David (17:15-23)

Let’s just quickly do names…

Hushai – the king’s confidant now acting as spy to frustrate Absalom’s adviser.

Zadok and Abiathar – priests.

Jonathan and Ahimaaz – sons of those two priests (2 Sam 15:27, 36).

En Rogel and Bahurim seem of low significance at a quick glance but give movement to the story. The Jordan is of course a major landmark which is like a gateway to the promised land.

“Now send a message at once and tell David…” The friends of David will network now to save David’s neck. The king was to wait at the fords in the wilderness for a message from the priests (2 Samuel 15:27-29). Hushai advises the priests who then send a female servant to the priest’s sons waiting in En Rogel. They hid in a well at Bahurim to escape Absalom’s men. When they felt safe, they found David and delivered the message. They risked life to get the message to David, their king.

“By daybreak, no one was left who had not crossed the Jordan.” The escape was not just for David but for all of the king’s followers. They didn’t delay in case the plan of Ahithophel was set in motion. Hushai had saved David from a quick and sudden attack. The plans were thwarted and he was allowed to retreat so that David, not just Absalom, could muster an army. David’s advantage was growing.

“…Ahithophel…hanged himself…” He had advised Absalom to sleep with David’s concubines in phase one of his plan but phase two was not followed by Absalom. His plans had been frustrated and not followed. He saw no way out but to end his own life. Such a hopeless end. His eggs had been placed in one basket and it depended on his plans being followed. His hopes were in his own wisdom and that had failed him. Praise God that our hopes do not rest on our own wisdom and strength. The story has informed us, the readers, that he was up against the wisdom of the LORD who had determined to frustrate his plans. It’s an uneven competition. He was not wise enough to realise this.

David’s new army mustered at Mahanaim (17:24-18:4)

“David went to Mahanaim…” Remember that this was where Saul’s son set his base when competing with David for king of Israel. The town name means ‘two camps.’ We see again a divided kingdom and wait to see which will last.

“For they said, ‘The people have become exhausted and hungry and thirsty in the wilderness.’” We might remember the words of Ziba in 2Sam 16:2. We suspect that Ziba had a hidden agenda and was deceitful to David. We see more hospitality given to David but without any hint of deceit. Mixed with the subtle but real theme of friendship in this passage, I wonder if we are seeing true hospitality here. The exiled king is still received and cared for.

“Even if half of us die, they won’t care; but you are worth ten thousand of us.” We finish this section now with an overwhelming allegiance to David. He may not know a fraction of who these people are but there are thousands of people who know who David is and consider him their friend. It is not a friendship like two mates chatting over coffee, but it is a loyalty of the many who name David as their beloved king. They are prepared to give to him, welcome him in, leave their homes and palace for him and die for him.

How Absalom died (18:4-18:18)

“The king commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, ‘Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.’” These words sound more like the words of a father for his son than of a king for a rebel. There is grace and mercy, compassion and patience, and longing in David’s instructions. Pitty? The three generals were given these plain instructions and the troops all heard the instructions.

“The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.” Ephraim would become the popular name for the alternate and rebellious kingdom of Israel when it splits after Solomon. The battle on this day went everywhere and the land itself seemed to do more damage that the weapons. An odd thing but sets us up for what happened next.

“He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.” The image is ironic. Note that his hair is not mentioned here. Later commentators would suspect that his glorious hair was part of his demise in the end. The text doesn’t tell us that at all. But ok. It works. He is floating between heaven and earth – with his majestic…mule…riding away from him. Is this a reflection of his foney kingdom? Left behind by a donkey – like a donkey. His end is not beautiful. It gets worse.

“I just saw Absalom hanging in an oak tree.” Can you imagine it? “Excuse me general…ah Joab, sir?” – “Yes, what is it?” – “I just saw Absalom…hanging in an oak tree.” – “Are you sure?” – “Yes, it definitely looks like an oak tree. I could be wrong.”

“Joab…took three javelins in his hand and plunged the into Absalom’s heart…” We all know what David had wanted. The troops knew. This was clearly against the wishes and order of the king. But those were the words of a father. The very father who had failed to discipline his sons (Amnon and Absalom). Who failed to retrieve Absalom and deal with his methods swiftly and helpfully. Joab saw an opportunity to make a decision on behalf of the king. Sometimes, as they say, it’s better to say sorry than to ask for permission. Joab had dealt like this before (2 Samuel 3:30) and David had commented on how hard Joab was compared to his gentleness (2 Samuel 3:39).

“…it is called Absalom’s Monument to this day.” We are told that Absalom had no sons which must mean that those mentioned in 14:27 had died young – makes sense since they were never named. Absalom’s body is discarded like a sinner or enemy of Israel and all that remains of him is a monument. The lasting memory of Absalom for most people is that of him hanging in an oak tree. Not an heir of David’s kingdom. Not a son of David who inherited the kingdom of David’s house. But a muleless rebel.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

We have observed a growing friendship and loyalty surrounding David while Absalom died alone in the woods. He was easily tricked by Hushai because all he heard was what he wanted to hear. He also responded to the tactic of winning by creating a huge army. Once he died, there was no more battle and all that was left was a monument that he had made for himself. His body was discarded. No tribute by his followers. Absalom had built a shallow kingdom for himself. It looked good on the outside but had no substance. David, in contrast, had thousands willing to lay down their life for him. Absalom tried to make a name for himself but it had no substance. David was the king of a living body, proactive and for him. Not just shallow friends but friends in deed.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The great effort of making nothing for ourselves. Much effort can be spent in life to build – what? Jesus tells us to choose where our treasure is. Money (power, economic position, social status, things, location, etc) or the Kingdom of God. One is eternal and has your name written in the book of Life. The other is temporary and will not last. It is an empty shell. Absalom betrayed God’s king in order to make a name for himself. God’s king, Jesus, has already made a name for us by emptying himself at the cross. Once again, let’s be thankful for the effort that Jesus made to give us a life full of substance.

Topic B: What a friend we have in Jesus. Now, this is a bit of a backward application. The passage has described all of the friends of the king, rather than the king being friends of his kingdom. So, if I am to say that Jesus is my friend, what kind of friend am I? What kind of friend are you? Being loyal to the true king always. Not putting anybody above his friendship. Sharing and being hospitable with brothers and sisters in Christ. Love as he has first loved us. Talk about him with others like you know him, love him and think others would be better off if they were friends with him too! 

Topic C: Are you struggling with this part of scripture? We are a long way into 2 Samuel. Many times, in our study we have noticed that the story of David is the story of the foreshadowing of God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus said that all of the Old Testament is about Him (John 5:39). “God’s Big Picture Plus+” is a course (following a book written by Vaughan Roberts with extra material added) we run at Campbelltown Anglican Churches and we are due to run the course again soon. Look out for it being advertised. Every Christian ought to get a grip on the whole message of the bible in all of it’s parts put together as one Big Picture.

2 Samuel 10

A Despised King

Discussion Question

Is there anyone in the world that does not deserve the kindness of God?

Background (Context)

2 Samuel Chapter 10 contains a few place names that we need some background information on. A good bible dictionary can really speed up research like this but remember that 99% of what we need to know about places in the Old Testament come from the Old Testament itself. Therefore, a good bible search tool or cross-reference bible are both very helpful.

The Ammonites are descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew. The Israelites were commanded not to harm or take the land from the Ammonites in Deuteronomy 2:19 because God had made a separate promise to Lot. But the Ammonites were also forbidden to join in the Israelite blessing (Deuteronomy 23:3-6) because they had hired Balaam to prophesy against Israel. Nahesh, king of the Ammonites besieged Jabesh-Gilead (an Israelite town) at the time when Saul became king. Saul rescued Jabesh-Gilead. We are told in 2 Samuel 10:2 that David had a good relationship with King Nahesh.

In Chapter 8, we read of David defeating Hadadezar, king of Zobah. David took a lot of gold and bronze from Hadadezar. People from Damascus tried to help Hadadezar but failed. It appears that the people of Zobah and of Damascus and of Rehob are also part of a common group known as the Arameans – the Arameans of Damascus, of Zobah and of Rehob for example. Hadadezar oppressed the people of Hamath who then thanked David for defeating Hadadezar.

Joab was a commander in David’s army (2 Samuel 8:16).

The theme of Chapter 9 was about the kindness of God shown through David to Mephibosheth. The events of Chapter 10 continue the theme of God’s kindness but this time as it is directed to the nations around Israel.

Read 2 Samuel 10

10 In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died, and his son Hanun succeeded him as king. David thought, “I will show kindness to Hanun son of Nahash, just as his father showed kindness to me.” So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy to Hanun concerning his father.

When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites, the Ammonite commanders said to Hanun their lord, “Do you think David is honoring your father by sending envoys to you to express sympathy? Hasn’t David sent them to you only to explore the city and spy it out and overthrow it?” So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.

When David was told about this, he sent messengers to meet the men, for they were greatly humiliated. The king said, “Stay at Jericho till your beards have grown, and then come back.”

When the Ammonites realized that they had become obnoxious to David, they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers from Beth Rehob and Zobah, as well as the king of Maakah with a thousand men, and also twelve thousand men from Tob.

On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men. The Ammonites came out and drew up in battle formation at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans of Zobah and Rehob and the men of Tob and Maakah were by themselves in the open country.

Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him; so he selected some of the best troops in Israel and deployed them against the Arameans. 10 He put the rest of the men under the command of Abishai his brother and deployed them against the Ammonites. 11 Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to come to my rescue; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come to rescue you. 12 Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The Lord will do what is good in his sight.”

13 Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him. 14 When the Ammonites realized that the Arameans were fleeing, they fled before Abishai and went inside the city. So Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.

15 After the Arameans saw that they had been routed by Israel, they regrouped. 16 Hadadezer had Arameans brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam, with Shobak the commander of Hadadezer’s army leading them.

17 When David was told of this, he gathered all Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam. The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him. 18 But they fled before Israel, and David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousand of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shobak the commander of their army, and he died there. 19 When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw that they had been routed by Israel, they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.

So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.

What did you see? (Observation)

For the sake of clarity, here is a quick summary of Chapter 10! David wanted to extend his friendship to the next king of the Ammonites but instead of friendship, king Hanun humiliated David’s men. The Ammonites then hired 20,000 Aramean foot soldiers and others. David sent Joab and his whole army to fight the Ammonites. The Ammonites stood outside their city to wait for Joab while the hired men went behind Joab. Joab took half of his men to turn and fight the Arameans while Abishai, his brother, took the other half to confront the Ammonites. The Arameans got scared and fled. The Ammonites got scared and retreated into their city. Joab returned to Jerusalem but the Arameans regrouped and descended, along with more men from the Euphrates to a town called Helam. David himself came out with his men to fight at Helam and he defeated them. Everyone who was once subject to Hadadezar now became willing subjects to David.

Structure

  • The King’s kindness extended (1-2)
  • The kindness rejected (3-5)
  • The conflict that followed (6-16)
  • The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)

The King’s kindness extended (1-2)

“In the course of time, the king of the Ammonites died…” As mentioned in the Context section, we may read this chapter as what happened when the Ammonite king died, rather than ‘what happened next’ chronologically. This chapter is a story about what happened when this king died. A time that is fragile for kingdoms – an opportune moment for other nations to take advantage of their transition.

“David thought, “I will show kindness…”” The theme of this chapter is also kindness just as Chapter 9. This kindness is stretched out beyond the borders of Israel. The Ammonites were East of the Jordan River. The Kingdom of David, which foreshadows the Kingdom of God, is to be an international blessing. Abraham was told that his descendants would be a blessing to all the nations.

“…just as his father showed kindness to me.” This is surprising since they had not shown kindness toward Saul but we take David at his word. At the least, there was no hostility between David and Nahash. Their relationship may have gone further but we do not know.

“So David sent a delegation to express his sympathy…” David sent messengers with his condolences. Although David did not go in person, he sent people with authority to announce his words. We may ponder how God has sent prophets and apostles into the world to announce His intentions for peace.

“When David’s men came to the land of the Ammonites…” Now the problem of the story is ready. David’s men have travelled across the Jordan into foreign territory to represent the king of Israel. What reception will they get?

The kindness rejected (3-5)

“…the Ammonite commanders said to…their lord, “Do you think…” In contrast to David being in command of his men and sending them based on his thinking, the commanders in Hanun’s court speak to their lord and try to influence his thinking. I’m not sure how big a deal this difference makes except to contrast David’s command with Hanun’s.

“So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.” If I could put an emoji here it would be the one with no mouth and wide round eyes! David’s men may not have even had the opportunity to speak what they had been sent to say. King Hanun despised the kindness of King David. The half shaven beard and the trouserless men were sent away humiliated. The darker side of Nahash (1 Samuel 11:2) is seen in his son, Hanun.

“David…sent messengers to meet the men…”Stay in Jericho till your beards have grown…” David’s kindness is seen again. He was alert to the news of what had gone down and didn’t wait for the men to return to Jerusalem. He knew that they would be ashamed to come to Jerusalem as they were. Even if they had acquired clothing on their journey back, they still had their shaved beards to bare (see Leviticus 19:27; Jeremiah 48:37 and Ezekiel 5:1 for examples of how the beard was a sign of dignity).

The conflict that followed (6-16)

“When the Ammonites realised that they had become obnoxious to David…” Another clue here is given to show David’s care for his messengers. The way that his messengers were treated were directly felt by King David. They were truly his flesh and blood – part of the body of Israel with David as the head. We don’t hear what David thought of the Ammonites but they devised that they had become a stench to David. A strong rejection was felt from the point of view of the Ammonites. But what will they do in response to this awareness?

“…they hired twenty thousand Aramean foot soldiers…” They could have opted for an apology – to repent – but they chose to go all in and gather supporters. Enter the Arameans of Beth Rehob and Zobah (where Hadadezer is from) plus some from Maakah and Tob. See Romans 2:4 to remember the kindness of God toward sinners.

“On hearing this, David sent Joab out with the entire army of fighting men.” O-Oh…they’re in trouble! David has remained at Jerusalem but his whole fighting army has gone out with the commanding officer. We ought to picture a righteous response to the aggression initiated by the enemy of Israel. We ought also wonder what the result will be since David is not with them and there has not been that particular habit of enquiring of the LORD.

“The Ammonites came out…at the entrance of their city gate, while the Arameans…were…in the open country.” Picture the city of the Ammonites guarded by soldiers in front and the Israelite army approaching but a third army forming behind the Israelites. The people of God have been sent by God’s king into the world and the nations are hostile all around them.

“Joab saw that there were battle lines in front of him and behind him…” The surprise attack was revealed. Joab saw what was literally happening on the battlefield – in contrast to how the Ammonites saw that they had become obnoxious to David (Verse 6). The Ammonites were reacting to an inner fear while Joab was seeing real hostility forming around him.

“…best troops in Israel…against the Arameans.” The greater threat to Israel appeared to be the Arameans rather than the silly Ammonites who cut beards and dack their enemy.

“Joab said…” The speech from Joab is unexpectedly long in this passage. A good rule in reading the bible is to take note of what people say in the narratives. They reveal their intentions (derr) but the narrator (Holy Spirit driving the writer) uses speech to disclose important details.

“Be strong, and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God.” When brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God are in battle, spiritually and through interacting with the world we live in, how good is it to hear something like: take courage, be strong, think of what we are doing here. Let us support and rescue one another and be mindful that we are doing battle with the enemy of God. We need to unpack how this translates to Christians fighting which we will look at in the application.

“The LORD will do what is good in his sight.” After the plans of Joab have been laid out, we hear of his faith or at least his understanding of God’s sovereignty. The fighters in David’s kingdom know that they are part of the plans of God. They make the plans but God will direct the outcome. He may not know what God would do but he does know that whatever God does will be good.

Let me quote John Woodhouse on this speech from Joab…

“Joab’s words to Abishai stand at the heart of this chapter. He makes the only direct reference to God in the whole chapter, and what he said illuminates the whole episode. The words are a wonderful expression of faith in God. Faith is knowing that the Lord is good and that he does what is good. What is good is decided by God, not us.42 But with this faith we can face any enemy, any situation, any threat with a strength that comes from this faith. As we walk honestly before God, doing what he approves, he will give us strength that surpasses whatever power confronts us (cf. Romans 8:31–39).”

“…Joab returned from fighting the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.” Both hostile armies fled. There was no need for Joab to support Abishai nor Abishai to support Joab. There were no recorded deaths in this battle. The enemy fled in both directions. The first outcome seems like a win for God’s people. Joab was able to return all the way to Jerusalem.

“After the Arameans saw…they regrouped.” The enemy gets their second wind. One battle had been won but the enemy takes every opportunity to attack. Even a quick beating will not resolve this situation. The enemy is relentless.

“Hadadezer…” He is mentioned in Verse 16 for the first time in this chapter but is named twice more. We met him in Chapter 8 when we heard of his defeat and David acquiring much gold and bronze from him. He is the king of Zobah and has therefore been part of this conflict since Verse 6. Hadadezer means “Hadad is [my] help”. Hadad was a pagan storm-god known as “the one who smashes.”

“…brought from beyond the Euphrates River; they went to Helam…” The enemy regrouped but came back even stronger and came to Helam. The location of Helam is not certain but way closer to home. Perhaps some 60km east of the Sea of Galilee.

While the Ammonites had retreated to their city, their hired help were now determined to show their strength against Israel. So far it has been a battle led by commanders, Joab and now Shobak. The enemy are poised to engage with more force than the first time.

The king who ended the conflict and those who thanked him (17-19)

“When David was told this…” The next stage of the story begins here – the resolution. David is now brought back into the story and we watch to see what he does.

“…he gathered Israel, crossed the Jordan and went to Helam.” He doesn’t send this time but he gathers and goes. The king is going to war.

“The Arameans formed their battle lines to meet David and fought against him.” Both sides are engaged to fight with all the force they can gather. It’s multiple tribes of the Arameans against David.

“But they fled before Israel…” It’s all over folks. Nothing to see here. David wins. This time, however, there is more than just the enemy fleeing…

“…David killed seven hundred of their charioteers and forty thousans of their foot soldiers. He also struck down Shoback the commander of their army, and he died there.” David not only won but he disabled any future attacks from this evil people. There were a few points in this chapter which would have allowed the enemy to live. They first of all should not have sided with the city that shunned David’s kindness. They should have also kept away after the first battle. These were a people bent on attacking God’s people.

“When all the kings who were vassals of Hadadezer saw…they made peace with the Israelites and became subject to them.” We learn here that Hadadezer, king of Zobah, was lord over other kingdoms too. These other kings were subject of him with a kind of feudal allegiance. He would not harm them if they saluted him. Likely they paid tribute or taxes and perhaps they would receive some protection from him. The details of the arrangement can differ but he was their dominant rival. They get to keep their land but as subjects of Hadadezer. But they see that David has defeated them. They make peace with David – accepting the kindness that was initially offered to the Ammonites. They reject the power of king Hadadezer and come to David now as their King.

“So the Arameans were afraid to help the Ammonites anymore.” The Arameans were defeated but the story leaves us to contemplate the future of the Ammonites. They were the ones that were offered David’s kindness. They rejected it. They did not relent but looked for help from others. Now, they do not have the kindness of King David nor the help from anybody else. They are left on their own. Alone in the world and without the friendship of God’s King.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The kindness of God’s king is offered to the nations of the world. If only they would learn to trust in the offer that God makes instead of choosing to hate His friendship. Those who oppose the goodness of God will face the judgement of God. There are those in command who stand up against God’s kingdom but there is One True King who will receive all who come to Him and call Him Lord.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The gospel for all nations. The story opens and closes with the message of kindness to nations outside of Israel. David opens his hand to a foreign king and it is rejected. But the conclusion of the story is of other nations coming to David – recognising that he is the king to be at peace with. The gospel is very much like this. Romans 10:9 tells us that salvation is about declaring Jesus as Lord. How can people do that if they do not know because they have not heard. Did you notice along the story how everybody acted on what they saw (V6, 9, 15, 19)  and on what they heard (V5, 7, 17). The gospel is not a secret to be kept but a message of what God has done, what He is like, and how He wants to make peace with all who will not stand up against Him.

Topic B: The encouragement of a Christian brother or sister. As noted, Joab’s speech is a significant one. It is a conversation between two brothers fighting for the same king and trusting in the same God. The battle ahead would be daunting especially when they felt trapped by two armies. But their trust was in the LORD to do what the LORD sees as good. They were of one mind with regard to their mission. Their faith was in God who they trust will do good. The word of encouragement is not simply to toughen up but to see the bigger picture and know that Yahweh is God. And to go even one step further, they are to be ready to rescue one another. It is important for us all to have friends. Not just work colleagues or fellow church goers but friends. It is so great when we have a friend who will talk to us about God and give us courage to keep trusting in the LORD.

Topic C: The trouble with kindness is that it is too subtle for fools. The kingdom of God has two faces – the face you see depends on your response to the kingdom. On the one hand there is kindness. God created a good world, damaged by the sin of humanity, but kept mercifully going by God, his wrath held back so that many can be saved. This is the loving kindness of God to the world that says, “God gave His one and only Son, so that whoever believes in Him will…have eternal life.” What a wonderfully generous offer that we all ought to accept straight away! But the other face of the kingdom is punishment on fools who say that there is no God, or that God does not deserve to be recognised. John 3:16 implies that if we continue in our unbelief then we will perish.  John 3:36 puts it like this: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” All of humanity are experiencing the kindness of God while He refrains from pouring His wrath on those who have not yet turned to the King. Our race mistakes God’s kindness as idleness when really it means salvation. As Romans 2:4 says, “do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?