Inscrutable Justice and Mercy

Introduction
This passage concludes the narrative of the book of Samuel, and it does so with a story that sounds odd to modern ears—for various reasons. Some of those reasons have to do with the coming of the gospel, and some of them have to do with us drifting away from a biblical understanding of God’s ways with man.

The Text:

“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah . . .” (2 Sam. 24:1-25).

Summary of the Text:

God’s anger was kindled against Israel, and so He made David make a bad decision (v. 1). David told Joab to go and number the people of Israel (v. 2). Joab, wisely, was opposed (v. 3). But David prevailed against Joab and the military leaders (v. 4). They traveled through all Israel, taking 9 months on the census (vv. 5-8). The number was 800,000 in Israel and 500,000 in Judah (v. 9). Upon receiving this information, David’s conscience struck him (v. 10). A prophetic word came to the prophet Gad (v. 11), and it was a word that offered David three options (v. 12). So Gad came to him and gave him the choice between 7 years of famine, 3 months of fleeing from enemies, or 3 days of pestilence (v. 13). So David chose to fall into the hands of God, not man (v. 14), and God sent pestilence that killed 70,000 men (v. 15). The angel of pestilence was coming upon Jerusalem, but the Lord “repented him” of the evil, and told the angel to stand by (v. 16). When David saw the angel, he offered himself and his own house instead of the people (v. 17). Gad told David to build an altar where the angel was, which was the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (v. 18). David obeyed (v. 19), and Araunah saw David coming and bowed before him (v. 20). David told him that he had come to buy the threshing floor, in order to build an altar that would stop the plague (v. 21). Araunah offered to give him everything he needed (vv. 22-23). David refused to offer that which cost him nothing, so he paid fifty shekels of silver for it (v. 24). And so David offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and the plague was stopped (v. 25).

The Census Sin:

First, what was the sin involved in the census? It was not because of the mere fact of the census—because that was allowed and assumed by the law (Ex. 30:12). And Jesus teaches us that counting our troops is a wise and prudent thing to do (Luke 14:31). So what was the problem here? Note that Joab, the consummate politician, was against it. Note also that David repented as soon as he heard the numbers. And note that the breakout of the numbers divided the troops according to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. The cultural fault lines that defined two future kingdoms were already there, and I believe that David realized that he had just badly exacerbated them. It was his job to be king of all Israel, and not to toy with war games that speculated on what would happen if they turned on each other.

Sin As Judgment:

A True Sun King

Introduction
In this passage, we have the last formal pronouncement that the great David gave. This message from David spoke of the blessing that comes from a godly ruler. Louis XIV was the Sun King of France, and his idea of it was absolute monarchy. David, by way of contrast, spoke of a sun king very differently.

The Text:

“Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, And the man who was raised up on high, The anointed of the God of Jacob, And the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me . . .” (2 Sam. 23:1–39).

Summary of the Text:

These are the last words of David, referring to his last pronouncement (v. 1). He was the sweet singer of Israel (v. 1), and God spoke through him (v. 2). A ruler must be just (v. 3), and if he is, then he is a morning sun (v. 4), a cloudless morning (v. 4), and as new grass after rain (v. 4). Though David’s house does not deserve it, God has made an everlasting covenant (v. 5). Sons of Belial, sons of worthlessness, are rulers who must be hedged with weapons, and then burned (vv. 6-7).

The Meaning of Blamelessness

Introduction
With just a few variations, this chapter is also found in Scripture as Psalm 18. A common feature of ancient Hebrew writing is to conclude an extended narrative with a song, as Deuteronomy does, or as we see with Jacob’s prophecies at the end of Genesis. In this case, we find the narrative of both books of Samuel bookended with Hannah’s song and with David’s. Because I have preached through Psalm 18 before, in this message we will focus on one fascinating aspect of the psalm.

The Text:

“And David spake unto the Lord the words of this song in the day that the Lord had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul: And he said, The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer . . .” (2 Sam. 22:1–51).

Summary of the Text:

The psalm was written in the aftermath of God’s deliverance of David from Saul (v. 1), but it is also appropriately placed here, near the end of David’s life. God is David’s Rock and Fortress (vv. 2-3). No matter the distress, God is there to be called upon (vv. 4-7). When God intervenes, and comes down, He does not do it in a small way (vv. 8-16). But this is not just directionless power; God actually delivers David in real time (vv. 17-20). God delivered David in accordance with his righteousness (vv. 21-25). God uses our own currency in His dealings with us (vv. 26-27). God on high looks down on those who lift themselves up, and He takes them down (v. 28). God enlightens and enables (vv. 29-30). God is the power and strength of the warrior (vv. 31-43). God gives David authority over the heathen (vv. 44-49). He is therefore worthy of all praise (v. 50), and David exults in the final fulfillment of all of God’s kindness in the coming of the Messiah (v. 51).

High and Low:

The Glory of Giant Killing

Introduction
We have concluded the main narrative of Samuel, and have now come to an a-chronological coda, tying up some loose ends from the David story. The fact that the “appendix” is deliberately thought through can we see in the fact that the coda is a chiasm. That chiasm is straightforward—we have A. deliverance from a natural disaster in Israel (21:1-14), B. giant-killing (21:15-22), C. then a song of David (22:1-51), C’ then David’s last words (23:1-7), B’ then the heroics of the 33 (23:8-39), and last A’ deliverance from another natural disaster (24:1-25).

The Text:

“Then there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David inquired of the Lord. And the Lord answered, It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites . . .” (2 Sam. 21:1-22)

Summary of the Text:

There was a three-year famine in the land, and when David inquired of the Lord, he was told that it was because of bloodguilt that Saul had incurred against the Gibeonites (v. 1). So David summoned the Gibeonites (v. 2), and asked them what he could do (v. 3). The Gibeonites did not ask for money, but did hint about the need for blood (v. 4). They charged Saul with a crime (v. 5), and asked for seven of his descendants to be killed (v. 6). David spared Mephibosheth from this (v. 7). But the king turned over two sons of Rizpah, and five sons of Merab (vv. 8-9), and they were all hanged. Rizpah made a lean-to out of sackcloth and stayed near the bodies from April to the following fall (v. 10), protecting them from birds. When David heard of this (v. 11), he arranged for an honorable burial (vv. 12-14).

Yet Another Head Wound

Introduction
At the conclusion of chapter 19, hot words were exchanged between the men of Israel and the men of Judah—with the men of Judah being the harsher of the two. This created an opportunity for a demagogue to arise, and history shows us that such opportunities are seldom neglected.

The Text:

“And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel . . .” (2 Sam. 20:1).

Summary of the Text:

For most of this chapter, this account is structured in a chiasm:

A. Tents and trumpets (2 Sam. 20: 1-2);

         B. David orders the rebellion be dealt with (2 Sam. 20: 3-7);

                 C. Joab takes out Amasa (2 Sam. 20: 8-13);

         B’ Joab deals with the rebellion (2 Sam. 20:14-22a);

A’ Tents and trumpets (2 Sam. 20:22b).

Losing a Regained Grip

Introduction
We saw in the previous chapter that the death of Absalom was a reverse type of the death of the great son of David. We will see in this chapter another set of related contrasts—the attitude and response of the respective fathers involved.

The Text:

“And it was told Joab, Behold, the king weepeth and mourneth for Absalom. And the victory that day was turned into mourning unto all the people: for the people heard say that day how the king was grieved for his son . . .” (2 Samuel 19:1-43)

Summary of the Text:

Joab was told that David was in mourning (v. 1). The victory of the people was consequently turned into mourning (v. 2). The troops crept back into the city, as though they had been defeated (v. 3). The king covered his face, and cried out loudly (v. 4)—meaning that he could not see or hear. Joab came in and rebuked him bluntly (vv. 5-6). He tells him to get out there and review the troops (v. 7). Word spread that the king had come out, and the troops appeared before him (v. 8).

Between Heaven and Earth

Introduction
We see in this passage a stark contrast between the shrewdness of Joab and the sentiment of David. Joab was not a godly man, but he was often clear-headed about the politics of the thing. David was a godly man, but he was at times muddled by his own sense of mingled love and guilt. This is one of those times. We also see a striking example of what might be called a reverse type of Jesus, the Messiah.

The Text:

“And David numbered the people that were with him, and set captains of thousands and captains of hundreds over them. . .” (2 Sam. 18:1-33).

Summary of the Text:

So David set his troops in order (v. 1). He placed a third of them under Joab, a third under Abishai, Joab’s brother, and the remaining third under Ittai, the warrior from Gath who had just joined David (v. 2). When the elderly king set out to go to battle with them, he was diplomatically dissuaded (v. 3). The king reviewed the troops as they went out (v. 4). Everyone heard the order that David gave his three commanders concerning Absalom (v. 5). So they went out, and the battle was joined in the forest wilderness of Ephraim (v. 6). And Israel fell before the servants of David (v. 7). In the aftermath, the wilderness devoured more than the sword did (v. 8). Absalom himself encountered some of David’s soldiers, and as he was fleeing from them on his mule, his head got caught in the branches of a tree (v. 9). A soldier saw this and reported it to Joab (v. 10), only to have Joab rebuke him for not killing the rebel leader (v. 11). The man replied that he wouldn’t have killed Absalom for a million bucks, not after what David had said about it (v. 12). He would have taken his own life in his hands, and Joab wouldn’t have said a word to defend him (v. 13). Then Joab said he didn’t have time to argue like this, and took three sticks and thrust them into Absalom’s heart (v. 14). His ten armor bearers followed suit, and killed him (v. 15). So Joab blew the trumpet, and the pursuit of Israel ceased (v. 16). They then buried Absalom ignominiously (v. 17), he who had erected a pillar in his own honor during his lifetime (v. 18).

A Toxic Civil War

Introduction
We see here in this passage that God is always sovereign, and His Word always comes to pass—regardless of who seems to be in power, and who seems to be powerless. Shrewd counsel is disregarded, and bad counsel followed, and why? Because God determines the movements of men.

The Text:
“Moreover Ahithophel said unto Absalom, Let me now choose out twelve thousand men, and I will arise and pursue after David this night . . .” (2 Sam. 17:1-29).

Summary of the Text:
Ahithophel advises immediate pursuit with 12,000 men, which would represent all of Israel (v. 1). They are vulnerable, they will all scatter, and David only will be struck (v. 2). The people will become Absalom’s and there will be peace (v. 3). Absalom and all the elders were pleased with this advice (v. 4). But Absalom wanted a second opinion and called for Hushai (v. 5). When Hushai arrived, Absalom summarized Ahithophel’s counsel, and asked Hushai what he thought (v. 6).