Hope, Strength and the Kingdom
(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?
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
What did you see? (Observation)
- 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.