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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 23

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries

Verses 1-7


“Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: `The Spirit of the Lord Speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God. He dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth. Yea, does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant. ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? But godless men are like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be taken with the hand; but the man who touches them arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they are utterly consumed with fire.’“

We are by no means satisfied with this translation; it stands in sharp variance with the KJV. By way of excuse for the RSV, it should be pointed out that, “The text is appallingly corrupt.”(F1) Added to that, we must consider the eagerness of may modern translators and commentators either to eliminate altogether or to diminish the impact of all Messianic prophecies in the O.T. For these reasons, we believe that Christians should be slow indeed to accept the RSV in these seven verses. Willis also warned that, “The text and precise interpretations of this paragraph are complicated … and (some of them) must be regarded as tentative.”(F2)

This writer’s problem with the passage lies principally in 2 Samuel 23:5, where the RSV puts into David’s mouth the declaration (in the form of an interrogative) that his house “stands so with God,” that is, “in perfection righteousness before God!” And we simply cannot believe that David could ever have said anything like that. The King James Version renders the same verse, “Although my house BE NOT SO with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant,” There is no doubt whatever that the negatives are in the Hebrew text; but the RSV translators contradicted them by “taking the negatives as interrogatives and thus changing them into strong assertions.”(F3) That is only another device for contradicting the word of God. We agree that, “The rendering of the Authorized Version here is that of the ancient versions and should be retained. David could not have but felt that his house was too stained with sin for him to have been able to claim that he was actually in fact what the theocratic king was in theory.”(F4)

True to the clearly visible purpose of critical commentators to deny all predictive prophecy of the Messiah, they always, as a last resort, will declare that a prophetic passage is “an interpolation,” or “a comparatively late production.”(F5)

Adam Clarke wrote concerning these seven verses, “The words of this song contain a glorious prediction of Messiah’s kingdom and conquests, in highly poetic language.”(F6) C. F. Keil likewise viewed this passage as absolutely Messianic, as elaborated in the notes below. We shall base our comments on the KJV rendition as far more trustworthy than the RSV in this particular passage.

“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, and his word was in my tongue.” “The introduction to this prophetic announcement (2 Samuel 23:1), both in form and substance, rests upon the last sayings of Balaam concerning the future history of Israel (Numbers 24:3; Numbers 24:15); and this indicates that David’s prophetic utterance here is intended as a further expansion of Balaam’s prophecy of the Star out of Jacob and the Scepter out of Israel.”(F7)

“2 Samuel 23:2 here carries the divine seal of all that David has sung and prophesied in the Psalms, regarding the eternal dominion of his seed, on the strength of the divine promise which he received through the prophet Nathan, that his throne should be established forever (2 Samuel 7). These words here are not merely a lyrical expansion of that promise, but a prophetic declaration by David concerning the true King of the kingdom of God.”(F8)

“The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me. He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springeth out of the earth by clear shining after rain.” The meaning here is not absolutely certain because the injunction must be is supplied by the translators, not being in the sacred text. Leaving out the supplied words, which are merely a guess, we have the following:

“The God of Israel saith,
The Rock of Israel speaketh to me:
A Ruler over men, just,
A Ruler in the fear of God.
And as light of the morning, when the sun rises,
As morning without clouds:
From shining out of rain… green out of the earth.”

“Ruler over men” does not mean `among men,’ but `over all men’. And just WHO is that Ruler? “According to the Chaldee version, he is the Messiah himself.”(F9)

“As the light in the morning when the sun rises,” Martin Luther explained this as meaning that, “In the times of the Messiah, it will be like the light of morning.” The words remind us of the Messianic promise in Malachi 4:2, “But unto you that fear my name shall the Sun of righteousness arise with healing in his wings.”

We have largely followed Keil’s exegesis on these first four verses; but we prefer to stay with the KJV in 2 Samuel 23:5, as indicated above.

Another viewpoint concerning the meaning of this very difficult passage is that of Willis who wrote: “If David and his descendants rule justly and in the fear of God, God’s everlasting covenant with him will continue (2 Samuel 23:3 c-5); but, if they rule wickedly, they will be utterly consumed with fire.”(F10)

However, that everlasting covenant that God made with David concerning the bringing in of the Messiah to mankind through David’s posterity, was not conditional nor was it premised upon the righteous rule of David’s posterity; because, the following kings in David’s dynasty were as wicked (generally) as any rulers who ever lived. God brought in the Messiah via David’s descendants in spite of the wickedness of both the kings and the people.

Certainly David had failed in the realization of the better purposes of his heart. “So it was God’s good pleasure that the covenant in spite of this personal failure remained firm and secure.”(F11)

Admittedly, this Messianic prophecy, if that is what it truly is, is not clear and unambiguous like many other prophetic promises pointing to the Christ; and perhaps we should explain that as due to the damaged nature of the sacred text at this place. Understanding the passage as a promise of Christ, as did many of the scholars in previous generations, is far more appealing to this writer than merely writing the passage off as untrustworthy.

Of course, that is exactly what Bennett did, calling it, “A false production, not produced by David at all.”(F12) However, in spite of the opinions of such critics, and in spite of the fact that some of the passage is uncertain, there are far more than sufficient grounds for hailing the passage as Messianic.

Verses 8-12


“These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshe-beth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three; he wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he slew at one time. And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdraw. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand cleaved to the sword; and the Lord wrought a great victory that day; and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils; and the men fled from the Philistines. But he took his stand in the midst of the plot, and defended it, and slew the Philistines; and the Lord wrought a great victory.”

“And the Lord wrought a great victory” The Scriptures do not fail to make it dear that, great as the ability and bravery of David’s mighty men assuredly was, it was the Lord himself who protected and blessed them and gave them the victory.

“He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he slew at one time” It would be interesting to know more of the details of how that happened. He certainly must have found some means of protecting himself from multiple attacks simultaneously.

“A plot of ground full of lentils” This line reveals that the purpose of the Philistine raid was that of robbing Israel of their crops ready to be harvested.

Verses 13-17


“And three of the thirty chief men went down, and came about harvest time and came to David at the cave of Adullum, when a band of the Philistines was encamped in the valley of Rephaim. David was then in the stronghold; and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. And David said longingly, “O that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem which is by the gate”! Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem which was by the gate, and took and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it; he poured it out to the Lord, and said, “Far be it from me, O Lord, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives”? Therefore, he would not drink it. These things did the three mighty men.”

“Three of the thirty chief men… These things did the three mighty men” There is a difference of opinion among scholars as to whether or not the “three mighty men” who brought David the water from the well at Bethlehem were the same as “the three” mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:9. The mention of a total of thirty-seven men in 2 Samuel 23:39 favors the view of Smith that, “The number 37 is exact, there being thirty ordinary members; and, since Asahel was deceased, we have a replacement mentioned, giving thirty-one names in the list of the thirty, plus three chiefs of the first class, and three chiefs of the second class.”(F13)

Cook also agreed, “This reckoning is correct; although only 36 names are given, the names of only two of the second triad being given; but 31 names are given in 2 Samuel 23:24-39, which, added to the two triads of six, makes 37.”(F14) Thus there were two companies of “the three”; and it was that second group who brought the water from Bethlehem.

This leaves unexplained why “the three” are said to be of “the thirty chief men” (2 Samuel 23:13), but it might mean that they were closely associated with them as also were the first triad.

This touching story of David’s refusal to drink water which had been procured for him at the personal risk of the lives of his men is one of the most beautiful in the Bible and stresses the deeply religious nature of King David. This story also emphasizes the contrast in David’s life before and after his fall. Here he would not drink the blood of the men who had risked their lives for him; but after his fall, “At a later time, under different circumstances, he did not hesitate to have one of the thirty killed on the battlefield in order to get his wife and (in a vain attempt) to cover his own adultery.”(F15)

“Water from the well at Bethlehem” “Today, Bethlehem is supplied with water by an aqueduct; and the wells close to the city no longer exist. There is a cistern called David’s Well three quarters of a mile north of Bethlehem, too far away to be the well that David meant.”(F16)

Verses 18-19


“Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and slew them, and won a name besides the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty; but he did not attain to the three.”

Abishai was indeed a great soldier for David. He accompanied David into Saul’s camp when David took Saul’s spear; he once saved David’s life, and he was ready to Execute Shimei if David had allowed it.

Verses 20-39


“And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds; he smote two ariels of Moab. He also went down and slew a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. And he slew an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff, and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand, and slew him with his own spear. These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard.”

This concludes the special record of the unusually brilliant and sensational achievements of certain individuals among the mighty men. The others are named, but their deeds are not especially mentioned. It is significant that a duplicate list of these mighty men appears in 1 Chronicles 11:10-45, with some variations, but essentially the same; and then an additional list of sixteen members of the “thirty” is also appended. This suggests that, as members of the thirty were lost in battle, they were replaced, keeping the company up to its normal size. The report in Chronicles also states that this group gave David, “Strong support in his kingdom” (1 Chronicles 11:10).

“He smote two ariels of Moab” The meaning of ariels is unknown; the common guesses suppose that it might mean lions or lion-like men.


“Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty” He was one of the three sons of Zeruiah, David’s sister, who lost his life when he tried to kill Abner (2 Samuel 2:18-23). Joab avenged Asahel’s death by murdering Abner (2 Samuel 3:26-30).

“Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem” This son of Dodo should not be confused with Eleazer the son of Dodo (2 Samuel 23:9). The Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia distinguishes them as sons of different Dodo’s.(F17)

“Shammah of Harod” Isaacs identified this Shammah with the one mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:11, but pointed out that 1 Chronicles 11:10 ff ascribes that deed of bringing David the water from Bethlehem to Eleazer the son of Dodo.”(F18) Another of the mighty men had the same name (2 Samuel 23:33).

“Elika of Harod” We are given no additional information about Elika.

“Helez the Paltite” “From 1 Chronicles 11:27, it appears that this man was an Ephraimite and captain of the seventh monthly course (1 Chronicles 27:10).”(F19)

“Ira the son of Ikkesh” Ira is also mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:28, but no additional information is given.

“Abiezer of Anathoth” 1 Chronicles 27:12 states that he was a Benjaminite with twenty four thousand men in his division. His was the Ninth course.

“Mebunnai the Hushathite” “This man’s name appears only here in this form; but he is elsewhere called Sibbechai (2 Samuel 21:18; 1 Chronicles 20:4), or Sibbecai 1 Chronicles 11:29; 1 Chronicles 27:11).”(F20)

“Zalmon the Ahohite” “He may have been named Zalmon to indicate his strength; he is called Ilai in 1 Chronicles 11:29).”(F21) “A mountain near Shechem was called Zalmon.”(F22) “The name means shady or ascent.”(F23) We might have called him “a mountain of a man.”

“Maharai of Netophah” See 1 Chronicles 11:30. “He was one of the twelve monthly captains in David’s reign, serving in the tenth month. He came of the family of Zerah from Netophah in Judah, serving in the tenth month over 24,000 men (1 Chronicles 27:13).”(F24)

“Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah” “This man is called Heled in 1 Chronicles 11:30 and Heldai in 1 Chronicles 27:15. He also was one of the monthly captains over 24,000 men in the twelfth month.”(F25)

“Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the Benjaminites” “The name means plowman or living. He is called Ithai in 1 Chronicles 11:31.”(F26)

“Benaiah of Pirathon” Lockyer gives two possible meanings of this name. “Either Jehovah hath built or is intelligent.”(F27) He is mentioned again in 1 Chronicles 11:31; 1 Chronicles 27:14, where we learn that he commanded one of the twelve divisions of 24,000 men who were called on a monthly basis to serve David the king. His tour of duty in that capacity was in the eleventh month. He belonged to the tribe of Ephraim.

“Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash” “His name means mighty or joyful.”(F28) Gaash was in Ephraim.

“Abialbon the Arbathite” This one of David’s heroes is mentioned in the Chronicles list under the name of Abiel (1 Chronicles 11:32). “His name may mean father of strength. Presumably, he was from Betharabah (Joshua 15:6; Joshua 15:61; Joshua 18:22).”(F29)

“Azmaveth of Bahurim” Two or three other Biblical characters wore this name which is sometimes said to mean counsel. He appears again in 1 Chronicles 11:33; and “Some identify him as the same Azmaveth whom David placed over his treasures (1 Chronicles 27:25).”(F30)

“Eliahba of Shalbon” This hero also is mentioned in 1 Chronicles 11:33; and. “His name means, whom God hides.”(F31) In view of all the dangerous exploits of this group, the name might well have been applied to all of them.

“The sons of Jashen, Jonathan” The name means God gave,(F32) or, as we might say, “The gift of God.” His name appears again in 1 Chronicles 11:34, where he is identified as “a son of Shagee the Hatafire.” Such difficulties are common in this section of the O.T. We have already cited at least seven or eight uses of the word “son,” grandson, or descendant of being among them. This was a very common name in the O.T., there being at least a dozen characters who were named Jonathan.

“Shammah the Hararite” Two of David’s mighty men bore this name, one of “the three” (1 Samuel 23:11) and this one “of the thirty.” He is called Shammoth in 1 Chronicles 11:27 and Shammuth in 1 Chronicles 27:8, where we learn that he commanded 24,000 men in the fifth month for David.

“Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite” Little is known of this man. He is called “the son of Sacar” (1 Chronicles 11:35), which is probably a variation of the same name.

“Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah” This name is variously spelled. David must have had a special love for this hero, because he named one of his sons born in Jerusalem Eiphelet (1 Chronicles 3:8).

“Eliam the son of Ahithophel of Gilo” This man, the father of Bathsheba, stood in relation to David as a father-in-law. He is called Amiel in other passages, which is only a variation of Eliam. “The name means, my God is a kinsman.”(F33) The presence of Bathseba’s father in the list of David’s thirty heroes adds further to David’s shame in violating her. Her grandfather Ahithophel was David’s principal counselor; her father and her husband (Uriah) were both among his thirty mighty men.

“Hezro of Carmel” “This name is also spelled Hezrai (1 Chronicles 11:37); it means enclosed or beautiful.”(F34)

“Paarai the Arbite” “The name means devotee of Peor. He was one of David’s thirty-seven valiant men and undoubtedly the same person as Naarai of 1 Chronicles 11:37.”(F35)

“Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah” “Zobah was a part of Syria,”(F36) and thus we must reckon Igal as among the foreigners who supported David. “The name `Igal’ means `God redeems’.”(F37) This was also the name of one of the unfaithful spies sent out to Canaan by Moses (Numbers 13:7).

“Bani the Gadite” This name is not in the list given in 1 Chronicles 11; but the lists may be viewed as supplementary. There is no need for deleting the name of Bani from the list. It might easily have been omitted by accident from the roster in 1 Chronicles. It is significant that many of the tribes of Israel and even a number of foreign countries were represented among David’s top ranking soldiers. Bani was of the trans-Jordanic tribe of Gad.

“Zelek the Ammonite” Here is another foreigner. Cook listed, “Igal of Zobah, Zelek the Ammonite, Nahari the Beerothite and Uriah the Hittite as the foreigners in this list.”(F38)

“Naharai of Beeroth the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah” Beeroth was one of the four cities of the Hivites who deluded Joshua into a treaty of peace with them (Joshua 9:17). It is now el Bireh, located eight miles north of Jerusalem.”(F39)

“Armor-bearer of Joab” Some have marveled that Joab is not in this list of the “thirty-Seven” mighty men,’ but he is in it. He is mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:18; 2 Samuel 23:24; 2 Samuel 23:37, the only man to be mentioned three times. He was David’s great commander-in-chief who stood prominently above the mighty “thirty-seven.”

“Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite” Ithrites was the name given to one of the families descended from Kiriath-jearim (1 Chronicles 2:53). Two members of David’s mighty men (and bodyguard), Ira and Gareb, came from this family (2 Samuel 23:38; 1 Chronicles 11:40) and may have originated from the town of Jattir (1 Samuel 30:27).”(F40) “Jattir is located in the mountains of Judah.”(F41)

“Uriah the Hittite, thirty seven in all” There is little need to comment on Uriah at this point, since many things concerning him have already been mentioned in Second Samuel. He was the Hittite husband of Bathsheba whom David ordered to be murdered by the hand of Joab in a vain effort to hide David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-23.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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