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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 8

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



During the forty-year reign of King David, he founded the Empire of Israel, which reached from Dan to Beersheba and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Euphrates River. All of the old enemies of Israel were defeated and made tributary to the king of Israel. Strong military garrisons were stationed at strategic locations throughout that vast area; and the stage was set for the magnificence and extravagant glory of the reign of Solomon.

This chapter is not a chronological report of David’s victorious wars. Military operations from all parts of David’s reign are included, not necessarily in any specific order of their occurrence.

There are a great many questions that arise from a comparison of this chapter with the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 18, but very few of these are of any great significance or of any particular interest to Christians. Different names for both places and persons should not be considered a problem. Many persons were known to have more than one name, and the exact location of towns, villages and other sites is, in the large picture, of no importance whatever. Besides, many places also had more than one name. This is nothing unusual. There is a town in Texas which has three names: Jake Hammond is the name of the railroad station; the Post Office is called Desdemona; and during the Oil Boom, the roughnecks for a hundred miles in all directions called it Hog Town. The place is still known by all three designations.

The problem of conflicting numbers regarding battle casualties, chariots, horses, horsemen, etc., is likewise incapable of any dogmatic solution; because, as pointed out by R. P. Smith, “Until the Arabs invented our present system of notation (numbers), the ancient methods of representing numbers were so liable to error that (in some instances) little dependence can be placed upon them.”(F1) It is an exercise in futility to spend much time considering such minor and unimportant discrepancies; which, in the last analysis, might have come about from damage sustained by the sacred texts which have come down through the centuries.

Verses 1-2


“After this, David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines. And he defeated Moab, and measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground; two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.”

“After this” “This is not a temporal clause.”(F2) It has nothing to do with chronology. The NIV renders it, “In the course of time”; and Willis affirmed that the word “’Now’ might be better.”(F3)

“David took Methegammah out of the hand of the Philistines” From the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 18. we learn that Methegammah (translated as, `the bridle of the mother city’)(F4) is actually a reference to the Philistine city of Gath and its adjacent towns. It is merely a gratuitous insult to the O.T. for any scholar to refer to that explanation in First Chronicles as only, “a brave guess.”(F5)

The actual meaning of Methegammah is unknown. “All of the versions are different.”(F6) For example, the Vulgate has, “David removed the bondage of the tribute which the Israelites paid to the Philistines.”(F7) Some have suggested that it might have been the name of some strategic fortress or stronghold, but, we accept the parallel explanation in First Chronicles as inspired and therefore accurate.

“Two lines to be put to death … one line to be spared” This massacre of the Moabites by David is surprising, not only because it is so inappropriate in the conduct of one who is called, “The Man After God’s Own Heart,” but because David at one time had trusted the Moabites to the extent of lodging his father and mother with the king of Moab while David was a fugitive from Saul (1 Samuel 22:3-4). “Whatever the Moabites had done to provoke this action by David, must have made him very angry.”(F8) We do not consider it important that the parallel account does not mention this. In the total absence of any other explanation of this, we find these words from Jamieson a possible reason for what otherwise must remain a mystery: “Jewish writers assert that the cause of this particular severity against the Moabites was their having massacred David’s parents and family, whom he had, during his exile, entrusted to them.”(F9)

The practice of killing whole armies or populations that were captured in war was widely prevalent in ancient times; but that cannot be made the justification of such a brutal and inhuman practice. “Septuagint and Vulgate versions indicate that only half the Moabites were put to death,”(F10) instead of two-thirds of them as revealed in our text. Some commentators have attempted to achieve a similar percentage here by seeing a difference between the “two lines” for those executed and the “one full line” for those saved. We cannot find any such distinction. Furthermore, the text is not clear as to whether this horrible massacre was perpetrated against the whole population of Moab, or merely against their army. We cannot identify it as anything else except an example of David’s rendering “evil for evil.”

Verses 3-8


“David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, the king of Zobab, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. And David took from him a thousand and seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand foot soldiers; and David hamstrung all the chariot horses, but left enough for a hundred chariots. And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobab, David slew twenty-two thousand men of the Syrians. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus; and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold which were carried by the servants of Hadadezer, and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Beta and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.”

“Hadadezer” This is the same person who is called Hadarezer (in 2 Samuel 10:16 in some versions) and throughout Chronicles.

“David hamstrung all the chariot horses” This was the greatest damage that could be done to a hostile military force, rendering their horses unserviceable. This was cruelty of a most contemptible kind; and a similar deed by Simeon and Levi resulted in Jacob’s unfavorable reference to it in their final blessing (Genesis 49:6).

However, it seems that God approved of this action in warfare. David no doubt felt that Joshua’s hamstringing the horses of an hostile force confronting him during the Conquest (Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9), an action which was approved and commanded by God Himself, justified his similar action here. Nevertheless his keeping the horses for a hundred chariots was contrary to the spirit of the Law, “Which forbade horses to the Hebrews in either agriculture or war.”(F11) Presumably David intended to use them for formal occasions of state in Jerusalem.

“And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went” This is the thought that dominates the whole chapter. It was not the superior military ability of David, nor the overwhelming size of his armies, nor the genius of his strategy that resulted in these amazing victories. They were the doings of the Lord. Furthermore, God’s purpose in all this power being conveyed to the Chosen People should not be overlooked. In the plans designed in the eternal purpose of God, the preservation and continuity of the people of Israel, through whom the Messiah was promised, was absolutely necessary; and the development of Israel as a strong military state was a basic requirement. Without such a strong Israel, the Chosen Race would soon have been swallowed up by such godless powers as Assyria.

“Shields of gold.” The meaning of the word that is thus translated “is not clear.”(F12) DeHoff thought that these objects, “Were probably costly ornaments worn by the Syrian soldiers.”(F13) Whatever these might have been, they cannot be identified with the “shields of beaten gold” which were made by King Solomon (1 Kings 10:16).

Verses 9-12


“When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to greet him, and to congratulate him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him; for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze; these also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold which he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer, king of Zobab.”

“Toi, king of Hamath” Hamath was the northeastern bastion of the Solomonic Empire (2 Kings 14:25). Until the times of David, “It was the principal city of upper Syria, situated in the valley of the Orontes River. The people of Hamath were descendants of Ham and Canaan (Genesis 10:18).”(F14) Significantly, David did not have to fight to make Hamath tributary, because they readily consented to pay tribute out of gratitude for David’s defeat of their traditional enemy Hadadezer.

“Present-day interest in Hamath derives from the fact that capital city of the Hittites, a race whose very existence until recently was doubted in spite of the clear testimony of the Bible; but whose marvelous empire has been lately proved historical by Egyptian records and by cuneiform inscriptions.”(F15)

“These also King David dedicated to the Lord” All of the great stores of gold, silver, bronze and other precious articles which David appropriated from the nations which he subdued were “dedicated to the Lord.” There is little doubt that David, in these actions, was storing up the great wealth with which Solomon would construct that temple which God had forbidden David to build.

“And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze” R. P. Smith interpreted the following verses from the Psalms as David’s joyful feelings about this mission from Toi.(F16)

Thou didst deliver me from strife with the peoples;
Thou didst make me the head of the nations;
People whom I had not known served me.
As soon as they heard of me, they obeyed me;
Foreigners came cringing to me (Psalms 18:43-44).

Verses 13-14


“And David won a name for himself. When he returned he slew eighteen thousand Edomites in the Valley of Salt. And he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.”

Evidently the reason for the inclusion of this episode at this point in the narrative lies in its contrast with the conquest of the extreme northeast just related. “The Valley of Salt lay in the extreme south of the Arabah, southward from the Dead Sea.”(F17) Two great victories of the Israelites were won in this valley. In addition to this one, “Two centuries later, Amaziah king of Judah defeated another 10,000 Edomites and captured Sela.”(F18)

“David slew eighteen thousand of the Edomites” The avid seekers of `contradictions’ or `discrepancies’ are diligent to point out that David is here said to have slain those Edomites, but that 1 Chronicles 18:13 ascribes the victory to Abishai, and that 1 Kings 11:15-16 and the heading of Psalms 60 declare that it was Joab who did it! However, as Willis noted, “David was involved as king, Joab as commander of the army, and Abishai had charge of that particular battle.”(F19) In the same way it is correct to say that President Bush, Secretary of Defense Cheney, or General Schwartzkopf won the victory in Desert Storm.

Verses 15-18


“So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and equity to all his people. And Joab the son of Zeruriah was over the army; and Jehoshaphat, the son of Ahilud, was recorder; and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahirnelech the son of Abiathar were priests; and Seriah was secretary; and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites; and David’s sons were priests.”

This record of David’s wise and efficient administration of the affairs of his kingdom must be applied especially to the first half of his reign, before the king’s adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband placed him under the judgment of divine punishment from God. There was probably some truth in Absalom’s charges at that later time of the king’s incompetence.

“Zadok… and Ahimelech… were priests” Having two priests was contrary to the Law of Moses (these were actually high priests), but David skillfully contained the situation until during the greater stability of Solomon’s kingship, the situation was finally corrected.

Regarding Ahimelech and Abiathar, some manuscripts make Ahimelech the father and Abiathar the son; but Our Lord settled the matter in Mark 2:26 where He made Abiathar the father and the one who gave David the bread of the Presence. The uncertainties resulting from such things are of no special importance; and, if we knew all of the facts, all difficulties would disappear.

We reject the speculation which denies that Zadok was a Levite.(F20) “According to Biblical genealogies, both Zadok and Abiathar (or Ahimelech) were descended from Ahitub, a son of Aaron, who was the father of Eleazar and Ithamar, Zadok being descended from Eleazar and Abiathar from Ithamar.”(F21) A slight variation in the spelling of the name of Ahitub (in some versions) is no excuse whatever for the false notion that “the same person is not necessarily meant in both references.”(F22)

One other bizarre allegation sometimes leveled against Zadok (2 Samuel 8:17) is that, “He might not even have been a Levite, but some kind of a successor to Melchizedek as a Priest of God Most High in the Jebusite city of Jerusalem. who was accepted by Saul as his High Priest after Saul’s murder of the priests of Nob.”(F23) SUCH A POSTULATION IS NONSENSE. Saul did not possess Jerusalem; and besides, Melchizedek had no successors, being a “priest for ever.” Melchizedek ruled in Salem a thousand years, almost, before the events mentioned here.

“The Cherethites and the Pelethites” “This bodyguard of foreign mercenaries here appears for the first time in Israel’s history.”(F24) Ancient kings considered them more dependable than bodyguards recruited from native populations. Thus, both of these rival High Priests were actually descendants of Aaron and thus eligible for the office of high priest. This refutes the allegation of Bennett that, “The priesthood was not limited either to the house of Aaron nor to that of Levi.”(F25)

“And David’s sons were priests” Some believe that the sons of David actually performed priestly functions, but the Bible has no record of any such thing. Can it be supposed that Absalom was a priest? or that another son of David, the godless Amnon, who raped Tamar (his half-sister; 2 Samuel 13:14) was a priest? Before assigning our reasons for rejecting this rendition here as inaccurate, or, at least, denying absolutely the critical interpretation of the place, it must be said that IF David’s sons (any of them) ever served as a priest of God, then such a fact would fit into the typical nature of David; because, certainly, the sons of that “Greater David” (who is Christ) are all priests (1 Peter 2:9).

First, the mention of any ordinary priest in this passage would have been totally out of order. Abiathar (Ahimelech) and Zadok were mentioned because they were High Priests, one elevated by Saul, the other by David. This paragraph is a list of David’s administrators for the business of the kingdom, among whom the sons of David were certainly included, as we learn later in the activities of Absalom. The parallel inspired account tells us exactly what were the functions of David’s sons. “And David’s sons were the chief officials in the service of the king” (1 Chronicles 18:17). In no sense whatever were they `priests.’

“But the word in the text here is PRIESTS.” Even the scholars who are tempted to see the meaning here as PRIESTS in the ordinary sense admit that, “David’s sons were hardly priests in the sense that Abiathar and Zadok were priests.”(F26)

Canon Cook gives us the true explanation of this problem: “The word [~kohen] here rendered `chief rulers’ (as it stands in the KJV and as `chief ministers’ as it stands in the ASV) is the regular word for `a priest.’ In the early days of the monarchy, the word had not quite lost its etymological sense from the root meaning `TO MINISTER,’ or `TO MANAGE AFFAIRS.’ although in later times its technical sense alone survived.”(F27) From this, it is clear that in the times of David the true meaning of the word is that given in the KJV and in the ASV. Therefore, we do not hesitate to designate the RSV rendition of the word here as “priests, “contrary to the proper rendition of the passage in 1 Chronicles 18:17 by the inspired author - we do not hesitate to designate the RSV in this rendition as a “bastard translation.” R. Payne Smith, another very distinguished scholar writing in the Pulpit Commentary has this:

“In the time of the writing of 1 Kings, this word [~kohen] as a word for `priest’ was already becoming obsolete, as proved by 1 Kings 4:5; and therefore the author of 1 Chronicles 18:17, writing at a still later time, changed the passage to give the correct meaning. We are certain that the Chronicler knew what the passage in 2 Samuel 8:18 meant, and that he was also aware that the word [~kohen] had gone out of use as a term for chief officials; and so he properly rendered the passage thus: `David’s sons were the chief officials in the service of the king.” (F28)

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 8". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-8.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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