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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 21

Carroll's Interpretation of the English BibleCarroll's Biblical Interpretation

Verses 1-11




2 Samuel 13:1-39; 2 Samuel 14:1-33; 2 Samuel 15:1-6; 2 Samuel 21:1-11; 2 Samuel 24:1-25; 1 Chronicles 21:1-30

On page 138 of the Harmony preserved in both 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles, is an account of another great affliction from God, and this affliction took the form of a pestilence in which 70,000 people perished. In one account it is said that the Lord moved David to number Israel, in the other that Satan instigated it. God is sometimes said to do things that he permits. There was a spirit of sinfulness in both the nation and king, on account of the great prosperity of the nation. Some preachers holding protracted meetings, and some pastors in giving their church roll, manifest a great desire to put stress upon numbers. So David ordered a census taken of the people. We search both these accounts in vain to find the law of the census carried out, that whenever a census was taken a certain sum of money from each one whose census was taken was to be put into the sanctuary. It was not wrong to take a census, because God himself ordered a census in Numbers. The sin was in the motive which prompted David to number Israel on this occasion. Satan was at his old trick of trying to turn the people against God, that God might smite the people. Oftentimes when we do things, the devil is back of the motive which prompts us to do them. It is a strange thing that the spirit of man can receive direct impact from another spirit.

It is also a strange thing that a man so secular-minded as Joab, understood the evil of this thing better than David. Joab worked at taking this census for nearly ten months, but did not complete it; be did not take the census of Levi or Benjamin. 1 Chronicles gives the result in round numbers, which does not exactly harmonize with 2 Samuel, one attempting to give only round numbers. Both show a great increase in population. After the thing was done, David’s conscience smote him, he felt that here were both error and sin; and he prayed about it, and when he prayed, God sent him a message, making this proposition: "I offer thee three things" [try and put yourself in David’s place and see which of these three things you would have accepted.] (1) "Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land?" He had just passed through three years of famine, and did not want to see another, especially one twice as long as the other. (2) "Or wilt thou flee three months before thy foes, while they pursue thee?" He rejected that because it put him at the mercy of man. (3) The last alternative was, "Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in thy land?" And David made a remarkable answer: "Let us fall now into the hands of the Lord, for his mercies are great; and let me not fall into the hands of man." I would myself always prefer that God be the one to smite me rather than man. "Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless millions mourn." It is astonishing how cruel man can be to man and woman to woman, especially woman to woman. Always prefer God’s punishment; he loves you better than anyone else, and will not put on you more than is just; but when the human gets into the judgment seat, there is no telling what may happen. Before this three days’ pestilence had ended 70,000 people had died. The pestilence was now moving upon the capital, and David was going to offer a sacrifice to God and implore his mercy. When he saw the angel of death with his drawn sword, about to swoop down upon Jerusalem, then comes out the magnanimity of David: "Lo, I have sinned and I have done perversely; but these sheep, what have they done?" Who greater than David used similar language in order to protect his flock? Our Lord in Gethsemane. Thereupon God ordered a sacrifice to be made, its object being to placate God, to stay the plague, a glorious type of the ultimate atonement.

When I was a student at Independence, the convention met there, and Dr. Bayless, then pastor of the First Baptist Church at Waco, took this text: "If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be Anathema Maranatha." He commenced: "When the flaming sword of divine justice was flashing in the sunbeams of heaven, and whistling in its fiery wrath, Jesus interposed and bared his breast, saying, ’Smite me instead.’ " Bayless was a very eloquent preacher. But though our Lord interposed, yet on him, crushed with imputed sin, that sword was about to fall. His shrinking humanity prayed, "Save me from the sword!" But the Father answered, "Awake, O Sword, smite the shepherd and let the flock be scattered." And here we find the type.

The threshing floor of Araunah became the site of Solomon’s Temple. It was the place where Abraham brought his son, and bound him on an altar, and lifted up the knife when the voice of God called: "Abraham, stay thy hand, God himself hath provided a sacrifice." There Abraham started to offer Isaac; there the Temple was afterward built, and the brazen altar erected on which these sacrificial types were slain. I ask you not only to notice David’s vicarious expiation, but also the spirit of David as set forth in 2 Samuel 24:24, page 141; "Neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the Lord my God, which cost me nothing." That old Canaanite man was a generous fellow, and offered to give him that place for such a purpose and to furnish the oxen for the sacrifice, but David refused to make an offering that cost him nothing. Brother Truett preaches a great sermon on that subject: "God forbid that I should offer an offering unto the Lord that costs me nothing." When he wants to get a really sacrificial collection; wants people to give until it hurts, he takes that text and preaches his sermon. We must not select for God that which costs us nothing. I will not say tens or hundreds, but I wills ay thousands of times in my life I have made such offerings where it cost me something – where it really hurt.

History of Absalom. – In the last discussion it was shown that there had been a number of antecedent sins in connection with Absalom: (1) It was a sin that the Geshurites had been left in the land. (2) It was a sin that David had married & Geshurite. (3) That he had married for State reasons. (4) That he had multiplied wives. (5) That he did not instruct and discipline Absalom. Absalom stands among the most remarkable characters of the Old Testament. He was the handsomest man in his day, according to the record. He was perfect in physical symmetry and body. That counts a good deal with many people, but here it is not a case of "pretty is that pretty does." He had outside beauties to a marvelous degree. In that poem of N. P. Willis, he assumes that Absalom’s body is before David in the shroud, and says that as the shroud settled upon the body it revealed in outline the matchless symmetry of Absalom. Absalom had remarkable courage; there is nothing in the history to indicate that he was ever afraid of anything or anybody. Again, he had great decision of character; he knew exactly what he wanted; he was utterly unscrupulous as to the means to secure it. However, he was a man of most remarkable patience; he had passions and hate, and yet he could hold his peace and wait years to strike. That shows that he was not impulsive; that he could keep his passions under the most rigid control. The idea of a young man like Absalom under such an indignity waiting two years and then carefully planning and bringing his victims under his hand and smiting them without mercy! That is malice aforethought. He alone could make Joab bend to him; he sent for Joab, but Joab did not come; then he sent to his servant saying, "Set fire to Joab’s barley field." That brought him! Spurgeon has a sermon on that. You know that a terrapin will not crawl when you are looking at him unless you put a coal of fire on his back. Absalom put a coal of fire on Joab’s back. Then, to show the character of the man, he could get up early in the morning and go to the gate of the city and listen to every grievance in the nation, pat each fellow on the back and whisper in his ear, "Oh, if I were judge in Israel your wrong would be righted!" There is your politician. Now for a man to keep that up for years indicates a fixedness of purpose, absolute control over his manner. Whoever supposes Absalom to have been a weak-minded man is mistaken. Whoever supposes him to have been a religious man is mistaken. He had not a spark of religion.

David’s oldest son, Amnon, commits the awful offense set forth in the first paragraph of this section. Words cannot describe the villainy of it, and if Absalom under the hot indignation of the moment had smitten Amnon, he would have been acquitted by any jury. But that was not Absalom’s method. He intended to hit and hit to kill, but he was going to take his time, and let it be as sudden as death itself when it came. David refrains from punishing Amnon. Under the Jewish law he could have been put to death at once, and he ought to have been, but David could not administer the law; seeing his own guilt in a similar case, stripped him of the moral power to execute the law.

You will find that whenever you do wrong, it will make you more silent in your condemnation of wrong in others.

We now come to a subject that has been the theme of my own preaching a good deal: "Now Joab, the son of Zeruiah, perceived that the king’s heart was toward Absalom," but he also perceived that that affection was taking no steps to bring about a reconciliation, so he falls upon a plan. He sent a wise woman of Tekoa to find David, feigning a grievance as set forth here, who among other things said, "We must needs die, and are as water spilt on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again," i.e., from one against whom our anger is extended, but in behalf of whom we are interceding. The fact that God had not killed him was proof that he was soaring him that he might repent. "But God deviseth means whereby his banished shall not be perpetually expelled." The application intended is this: "Now David, you are doing just the other way. You have only a short time to live, and when you die your opportunities of reconciliation are gone forever. Imitate God; devise means to bring your banished one home." David acted on this advice and sent Joab after Absalom, but he did not imitate God fully; he had Absalom brought to Jerusalem, but would not see him. Absalom waited there under a cloud for three years, and when he could stand it no longer, by burning Joab’s barley field he forced him to bring about a reconciliation. Absalom’s object in bringing about this reconciliation was to put him in position to rebel. He knew that the tenth son, Solomon, wag announced as the successor to David, and he was the older son, and under the ordinary laws of primogeniture entitled to the kingdom. So he determines to be king.

David at this time, as we learn from Psalm 41, was laboring under an awful and loathsome sickness – a sickness that separated him from his family, from his children, and from his friends. This caused him to be forgotten to a great extent. It was a case of "when you drop out of sight, you drop out of mind." While the people saw nothing of David, they were seeing much of Absalom; he had his chariot and followers, and paraded the streets every day, and his admirers would say, "There is a king for you! We want a king that is somebody!" David in retirement, Absalom conspicuous, making promises, and being the oldest son, captured the hearts of the people. Among these was Ahithophel. Then Absalom sent spies out all over the country and said, "When you hear the trumpet blow, you may know that Absalom is reigning." He went down to Hebron and announced himself as king. When the word is brought to David that the people have gone from him, there seems to be no thought in his mind of resistance; he prepares to leave the city, leave the ark of God and the house of God. Leaving his concubines and taking his wives and children with him) he sets out, and upon reaching Mount Olivet, looks back upon the abandoned city, and weeps. A great number of the psalms were composed to commemorate his feelings during this flight. Both priests, Abiathar and Zadok, wanted to take the ark with them, but David sent them back, saying he wanted some there to watch for him and send him word. Never in the annals of time do we find a more lively historic portraiture of men and events than here. Each lives before us as we read: "Ittai, Abiathar, Zadok, Hushai, Ziba, Shirnei, and Abishai."


1. How do you harmonize 2 Samuel 24:1 and 1 Chronicles 21:1?

2. What was the sin of this numbering of Israel?

3. What was the lessons to preachers?

4. What was David’s course?

5. What was God’s proposition to David?

6. What was David’s answer, and reason for his choice?

7. How was the plague finally stayed?

8. What type here, and the New Testament fulfilment?

9. What was the site of Solomon’s Temple?

10. What historic events connected are with this place?

11. What great text for a sermon here, and who has preached a noted sermon from it?

12. Rehearse here the antecedent sins in connection with Absalom?

13. What was his physical appearance?

14. Analyze his character.

15. What was the lesson to preachers from the sin of Amnon and David’s attitude toward it?

16. What was the lesson for David from the woman of Tekoa?

17. How did David receive it?

18. To what expedient did Absalom resort, and why?

19. What was David’s disadvantage and Absalom’s advantage here?

20. What was David’s course when he saw that the hearts of the people had turned toward Absalom?

21. What was the nature of this part of the history?

Verses 1-14



2 Samuel 5:13-16; 2 Samuel 9:1-13; 2 Samuel 12:24-25; 2 Samuel 21:1-14

Our present discussion commences with 2 Samuel 9:1-13, David’s kindness toward Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. When Jonathan’s child was five years old, there came to his mother’s home an account of the death of the father on the battlefield of Gilboa, and as the nurse that carried him was frightened and ran with the five year old child, she stumbled and fell, or let the child fall, and it crippled him for life. Jonathan had acquired a very considerable estate. The subsequent history referring to Mephibosheth will appear in a later chapter. David’s kindness to Mephibosheth will give us the conclusion of the history. It certainly is a touching thing that in this connection David remembers the strong tie of friendship between him and Jonathan, and upon making inquiry if there be any left of Jonathan’s house) he finds that there is one child, this crippled son, and he appoints Ziba, a great rascal, by the way, as we learn later, to be the steward of the estate, the rente of the estate to be paid to Mephibosheth, and Mephibosheth to eat at the king’s table. The closing paragraph, 2 Samuel 5:13, "So Mephibosheth dwelt in Jerusalem; for he did eat continually at the king’s table; and he was lame on both his feet." Spurgeon takes this for a text, and preaches a remarkable sermon on it. He makes it in a sense illustrate the imperfect saint, the lame feet representing the imperfection, continually feasting at the table of his king. That is the manner in which he spiritualizes it, and by which he illustrates the great privilege of a saint to eat continually at the table of his Lord, to sup with him and be with him.

The next point is the birth of Solomon, the fourth son of Bathsheba. He received two names: "Solomon," which means "peace," and "Jedidiah," which means the Lord’s "beloved," and an announcement was made by the prophet that this child should be the successor of David.

The next paragraph tells about the family of David, and has an important bearing upon the subsequent history of Absalom. Let us give special attention to this record of David’s family. We have names in the Bible of seven of his wives. There were others not named. We have the names of nineteen sons and one daughter. They were the children of his regular wives. He had a good many other daughters not named. Then he had a number of children by his concubines. So we have the names of seven wives and twenty children. There were more wives and more children, but these are enough. I suppose he did not have names enough to go around.

As introductory to the next chapter, which is on Absalom, note that four of these sons became very important in the history. Amnon, the first son, and the son of his first wife, Ahinoam, will figure in the Absalom chapter. The third was Absalom, but his mother was Maacah, the daughter of Tairnai, king of Geshur. Geshur is located in the hills of Bashan. These people were left there contrary to the divine law; that is the law first violated. God told them not to permit any Canaanites to remain in the Promised Land, but we learn in Joshua 13:13 that the Geshurites were allowed to remain. Another law was, as you learned from Deuteronomy 7, that the Israelitish people should not marry into these tribes. David violated that law by marrying the daughter of the king of Geshur. So there are two violations of the law in connection with Absalom. Absalom was half Geshurite and half Israelite. The next son of any particular note was the fourth son, Adonijah. We come to him later. His mother was still a different woman, about whom we do not know anything in particular. The next son is Solomon, the tenth son. The first son of importance in the history is Amnon; second important in history (the third son) Absalom; third son important in history by a different mother is Adonijah; and the fourth important son (the tenth son) Solomon. The law in Deuteronomy says that if they should select a king, he should not multiply wives; there is the third law violated. So, in going back to the past violations of the law of God, the evils of polygamy are manifest in David’s history. There would necessarily be jealousies on the part of the various mothers in their aspirations for their sons. It is said that every crow thinks its nestling is the whitest bird in the world) and every mother thinks her child E Pluribus Unnm. She is very ambitious for him) and she looks with a jealous eye upon any possible rival of her child. These four sons – Amnon) Absalom, Adonijah, and Solomon, all illustrate the evils of polygamy.

Yet another law was violated. Kings now make marriages for State reasons; for instance, the prince of England will be contracted in marriage to some princess of France, or a princess of England contracted in marriage to a prince of Sapin) like Phillip II. Through these State marriages some of the greatest evils that have ever been known came upon the world) and some of the greatest wars. When David married the daughter of the king of Geshur, there was a political reason for it; he wanted to strengthen himself against Saul, and that gave him an ally right on the border of the territory held by Saul. We will find Solomon making these political marriages, marrying the daughter of the king of Egypt, for instance. That is the fourth law violated, all in connection with Absalom. I name one other law, a law which included the king and every other father, that his children should be disciplined and brought up in the fear and admonition of God. That Eli did not do, and David did not do. The violation of that law appears in the case of Absalom.

In running comment on our text we next consider from page 138 National Calamities, 2 Samuel 21:1: "And there was a famine in the days of David three years, year after year; and David sought the face of the Lord." In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses in his farewell address sets before the people, so clearly that they could not possible misunderstand, that famines and pestilences are God’s messengers of chastisement; that if they kept God’s law they should be blessed in basket and store, but if they sinned he would make the heavens brass above and the earth iron beneath.

This famine resulted from a drought. When the drought first commenced, no particular attention was paid to it, except that everybody knew that it meant hard times. The second year and still no rain, no crops, no grass, and it began to be a very serious matter. When the third year came, it became awful, and men began to ask what was the cause of it, and they remembered God’s law that when they sinned against him, he would send famine and pestilence upon them. David determines to find out the cause, so he goes before the Lord and asks him the reason of this terrible chastisement on the land, and the answer is given in our text: "And the Lord said, It is for Saul, and his bloody house, because he put to death the Gibeonites."

Let us look at that case of Saul. Saul was king of Israel; David had been anointed to succeed him, and there was sharp jealously between David and Saul, particularly upon Saul’s part, and he was seeking methods to strengthen himself. One thing that a king needs, or thinks that he needs, in order to strengthen himself with his adherents, is to have places to give them – fat offices, estates to bequeath to them. Saul, being a poor man himself, looks around to see how he can fill his treasury and reward his followers, particularly the Benjamites, and right there in the tribe of Benjamin live the Gobeonites. After the fall of Jericho, one of the Canaanitish tribes determined to escape destruction by strategy. So they sent messengers to Joshua in old travel-worn clothes, with old bread in their haversacks, as if they had been a long time on their journey. They met Joshua and proposed to make a covenant with him, and he, judging from their appearance and from the rations they carried, supposed that they must have come a long way and were, therefore, not people of that country, entered into a solemn covenant with them. They thus fooled him and the princes of Israel swore an oath before God that they would maintain their covenant with the Gibeonites. Very soon the fraud practiced was found out, and while they could not, for their oath’s sake, kill these people, they made them "hewers of wood and drawers of water" – in other words, servants. They let them remain in the land in that servile position, a kind of peonage state. These Gibeonites had been living there, holding their land, yet servants of the people for about 400 years, uncomplainingly submitting to their position, but on account of the oath made by Joshua, retaining their possessions.

Saul, as I said, looked around to find resources of revenue and said to himself, "Suppose we kill these Gibeonites and take what they have." And he and his sons, "the bloody house of Saul," made an attack upon these people and took everything that they had in the world and divided it up among the Benjamites. Saul afterwards boasted of it. He said, "What has David to offer you, and who will give you estates, as I have given you estates?" This act upon his part, (and his family assisted him in it,) was unprovoked, cold-blooded, murderous, and confiscatory, with reference to their property, upon a people that had been faithful as servants for 400 years. And even up to this time in David’s reign these people were yet deprived of any redress.

God did not overlook that wrong. He holds communities responsible for community sins, nations responsible for national sins, and just as he sent a plague upon the children of Israel on account of Achan, so he sent this famine upon Israel, because in the nighttime this poor, poverty-stricken people, who had been defrauded of home and property and almost destroyed by: the "bloody house of Saul," prayed unto God. God hears such cries. Whenever a great national injustice is done, as Pharaoh did to the Israelites in Egypt, retribution follows, and as the Spaniards did to the Indian tribes whom they subjugated, particularly in Cuba, there came a day when the thunder of American guns in Santiago avenged upon Spain the wrongs that Cuba had borne for 400 years. "There is no handwriting in the sky that this people is guilty of a great inhumanity or national wrong, and therefore I will send a pestilence," and he sends it and leaves them to inquire the cause.

He sent this famine, and the third year men began to inquire as to its cause, and God answered by pointing out this sin. If that is the cause this nation must remain under the scorching fire of that drought until expiation is in some way made for that sin. David sent for the remnants of the Gibeonites and acknowledged that this wrong had been done to them, and that they, as remnants of the multitude that had been slain by Saul, had a right to blood revenge; so David said to them, "I will do what you say to right this wrong." They said the children of the man that did this shall die; he himself is out of the way, but they are living. " ’The bloody house of Saul,’ seven of them, must be given up to be put to death as we think fit and where we think fit, so that compensation may be made. They must be gibbeted, crucified, and they must remain there in Gibeah, Saul’s home, and the scene of the crime that he committed; they must remain there until the offense is expiated."

David declined to let any of Jonathan’s sons help pay that penalty. He exempted Mephibosheth, who was eating continually at his table, and who, doubtless, judging from the character of Jonathan, had nothing to do with this grievous crime. He selected two sons of Saul’s concubine, Rizpah. She was a very beautiful woman, and after Saul’s death there came very near being a civil war about her. She occasioned disturbances between Abner and Ishbosheth, who was then king. She had two sons, one named Mephibosheth, the younger one, and the older one, named Armoni. Her two sons and the five sons of Merab (not Michal, as the text has it) were taken by in Gibeonites to Gibeah, Saul’s home, put to death and then gibbeted, after they had been put to death by crucifixion, or put to death and then crucified. "Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree." This execution occurred about the time of the passover, and the bodies had to hang there until it was evident that God has removed the penalty. The rain did not come until October, about the time of the last feast, so these bodies hung there six solid months. Rizpah took her shawl, or cloak, and made a kind of a booth out of it, and resting under it, she stayed there six months and kept off carrion birds and beasts of prey from these bodies – two of them her children – all day and all night long – in her mother love, wishing that the curse could be lifted from the bones of her children; wishing that the disgrace could be removed; wishing that they might be taken down and have an honorable sepulture. Six months after she took that position it rained, the drought was broken, the famine stopped, and the sin was appeased. David heard how this mother had remained there and it touched his heart. He had the bodies taken down and also had the bones of Saul and Jonathan brought from Jabeshgilead, and accorded to all an honorable burial.

What this woman did has impressed itself upon the imagination of all readers of the Bible. The undying strength of a mother’s love! It impressed itself upon the mind of an artist, and a marvelous picture was made of this woman fighting off the carrion birds and jackals. It appealed to the poet, and more than one poem has been written to commemorate the quenchless love of this mother. A mother’s love suggested by the case of Rizpah is found in an unpublished poem by N. P. Willis. He represents the famine as so intense that the oldest son snatches a piece of bread from a soldier’s hand and takes it to his mother, and the youngest son is represented as selling his fine Arab horse for a crust of bread and bringing it to his mother. When I was a schoolboy at old Independence, our literary club had a regulation that every member should memorize at least one couplet of poetry every day and recite it. I memorized a great many. I remember my first two. The first one was The man that dares traduce because he can With safety to himself is not a man. The second one was In all this cold and hollow world There is no fount of strong, and deep, and deathless love Save that within a mother’s heart,

Dore, who illustrated Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, and the Bible, was a wonderful artist. He had 45,000 special sketches and paintings. Perhaps in the Dore gallery of Bible illustrations this picture appears. The artist puts in his picture seven crosses; on one a carrion bird has alighted, and others are coming, and peeping out of the rocks are the jackals gathering to devour these bodies, and there is Rizpah frightening away the birds and jackals. It is a marvelous picture.


1. Rehearse the story of Mephibosheth, and David’s kindness to him. Who preached a sermon on 2 Samuel 9:13?

2. What great king was born just at this time, what his names, and the meaning of each?

3. How many wives had David, and how many children?

4. What four sons of David became important in history, what five violations, in connection with Absalom, of the law of Moses, and what the evils of polygamy in David’s case?

5. What national calamity just now, its cause, and how ascertained?

6. Rehearse the story of the Gibeonites.

7. What principle of God’s judgments here set forth?

8. How was this offense expiated?

9. Who were exempted, and why?

10. How did Rizpah show her mother-love in this case, and its impress upon the world?

Verses 15-22



2 Samuel 5:11-25; 2 Samuel 8:1; 2 Samuel 10:1-19; 2 Samuel 21:15-22; 2 Samuel 23:13-17; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 1 Chronicles 12:8-15; 1 Chronicles 14:1-2; 1 Chronicles 14:8-17; 1 Chronicles 18:1; 1 Chronicles 19:1-19; 1 Chronicles 20:4-8

Our last chapter intimated that the union of the nation under such a king as David, in such a capital, would naturally excite the jealousy and alarm of all neighboring heathen nations. This section commences thus: "And when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to seek David."

Your attention has already been called to the necessity of breaking the power of the hostile heathen nations lying all around Judah, if ever the Jewish nation is to fulfil its mission to all other nations. The geographical position of Judah, which is the best in the world for leavening the nations with the ideas of the kingdom of God, if it maintained its national purity and adherence to Jehovah, also made it the most desirable possession for other peoples having far different ideals. As the salvation of the world including these very hostile nations, depended on the perpetuity and purity of Israel, these nations, through whom came idolatry and national corruption, must be broken, hence the seeming cruelty and partiality of Jehovah’s order through Moses to destroy the Canaanites, root and branch, and to avoid the corruptions of the other nations, were meant as mercy and kindness to the world.

The nations against which David successfully warred, so far as our text records them, were the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Syrians of Zobah, the Syrians of Damascus, the Moabites, and the Edomites. He had previously smitten the Amalekites of the Negeb. On these wars in general the following observations are noteworthy:

1. He was never the aggressor.

2. He never lost a battle.

3. His conquest filled out the kingdom to the boundaries originally promised to Abraham.

4. The spoils of all these wars, staggering credulity in their variety and value, were consecrated to Jehovah, making the richest treasury known to history.

5. By alliance without war he secured the friendship of Hiram, king of Tyre, most valuable to him and to his son Solomon. As Phoenicia, through the world-famous fleets of Tyre and Sidon, commanded the Mediterranean with all its marine commerce, and as David ruled the land through whose thoroughfares must pass the caravans carrying this traffic to Africa, Arabia, India, Syria, and Mesopotamia, it was of infinite value to both to be in friendly alliance. To these merchant-princes it was of incalculable advantage that all the land transportation of their traffic should lie within the boundaries of one strong and friendly nation rather than to have to run the gauntlet between a hundred irresponsible and predatory tribes, while to David, apart from the value of this peaceful commerce, the whole western border of Judah along the Mediterranean coast was safe from invasion by sea so long as friendship was maintained with Hiram, king of the sea.

6. By the voluntary submission of Hamath after his conquest of Damascus, he controlled the famous historic "Entrance into Hamath," the one narrow pathway of traffic with the nations around the Caspian Sea, thus enabling David to reach those innumerable northern hordes so graphically described in later days by Ezekiel, the exile-prophet.

7. By the conquest of Damascus he controlled the only caravan route to the Euphrates and Mesopotamia, since the desert lying east of the trans-Jordanic tribes was practically impassable for trade and army movement from a lack of water, We have seen Abraham, migrating from Ur of the Chaldees, low down on the Euphrates, compelled to ascend that river for hundreds of miles in order to find an accessible way to the Holy Land through Damascus. In his day, also Chedorlaorner’s invasion had to follow the same way, as we will see later invasions do in Nebuchadnezzar’s time, which at last conquered David’s Jerusalem.

8. By the conquest of Ammon, Moab, and Edom, all the Arabah passed into his hands, checkmating invasion by Arabian hordes, as well as barring one line of invasion from Egypt. By the conquest of the Philistines and Amalekites the other two ways of Egyptian invasion were barred. You should take a map, such as you will find in Huribut’s Atlas, and show how David’s wars and peaceful alliances safeguarded every border, north, east, south, and west.

Besides these general observations, we may note a special feature characterizing these, and indeed all other wars, prior to the leveling invention of gunpowder and other high explosives, namely, much was accomplished by individual champions of great physical prowess and renown. David himself was as famous in this respect as Richard, the Lionhearted, until in a desperate encounter, related in this section, his life was so endangered that a public demand justly required him to leave individual fighting to less necessary men and confine himself to the true duty of a general – the direction of the movements of the army.

Your text recites the special exploits of Jashobeam, Eleazer, Shammah, Abishai, Benaiah, or Benajah, after whom my father, myself, and my oldest son were named. With them may be classed the ten Gadites whose faces were like the faces of lions and who were as swift as the mountain deer, the least equal to 100 and the greatest equal to 1000. These crossed the Jordan at its mighty flood and smote the Philistines in all its valley, east and west.

Quite to the front also, as giant-killers, were Sibbecai, Elhanan, and Jonathan’s nephew. Of others, all mighty heroes, we have only a catalogue of names as famous in their day as Hercules, Theseus, and Achilles, Ajax, Ulysses, Horatius, and .King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table, but, as philosophizes Sir Walter Scott in lvanhoe concerniog the doughty champions at the tourney of Ashby de la Zouch: "To borrow lines from a contemporary poet, ’The knights are dust, And their good swords rust, Their souls are with the saints, we trust,’while their escutcheons have long mouldered from the walls of their castles; their castles themselves are but green mounds and shattered ruins; the place that once knew them knows them no more. Nay, many a race since theirs has died out and been forgotten in the very land which they occupied with all the authority of feudal proprietors and lords. What then would it avail to the reader to know their names, or the evanescent symbols of their martial rank?"

One exploit of three of these champions deserves to live forever in literature. It thrills the heart by the naturalness of its appeal to the memory of every man concerning the precious things of his childhood’s home. David was in his stronghold, the Cave of Adullam, weary and thirsty. Bethlehem and his childhood rise before him: “O that one would give me water to drink of the Well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!" His exclamation thrills like Woodworth’s famous poem, “How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood, As fond recollections presents them to view! The orchard, the meadow, the deep-tangled wildwood, And ev’ry loved spot which my infancy knew”.

David’s longing for water from that particular well, and Woodworth’s "Old Oaken Bucket" harmonize with my own experience whenever I am delirious with fever. I always see a certain spring on my father’s plantation issuing from the mosscovered, fern-bordered rocks, and filling a sucken barrell. Hard by, hanging on a bush, is the gourd which, when dipped into the cold, clear spring, is more precious to thirsty lips than the silver tankards or gold drinking cups of kings; only in my fever-thirst I never am able to get that gourd to my lips. Three of David’s mighty men heard the expression of his longing for that water out of the Well of Bethlehem, and slipping quietly away, not caring that a Philistine garrison held Bethlehem, the three men alone break through the defended gate and under fire draw water from the well and bring a vessel of it over a long, hot way to thirsty David. It touched his heart when he saw their wounds. He could not drink water purchased with their blood, but poured it out as a libation to such great and devoted friendship.

Some other incidents of the Philistine war are worthy of comment:

1. So great was the defeat of the Philistines in their first battle, where David, under divine direction, attacked the center of their army, the scene is named "Baal-Perazirn," i.e., "The place of breaking forth." Splitting their column wide open at its heart, he dispersed them in every direction. They even sat their gods behind them to be burned by David’s men. We need not be startled at the burning of such gods, for history tells of one nation that ate their god, made out of dough, in times of famine. This breaking of a battle-center was a favorite method with Napoleon later, and vainly attempted by Lee at Gettysburg.

2. In the second great battle, again following divine direction, he avoided the center where they expected his attack as before and were there prepared for him this time, and "fetched" a compass to their rear, sheltered from their view by a thick growth of balsam trees, and on hearing "a sound of a going" in these trees, struck them unawares and overthrew them completely.

So Stonewall Jackson, his movements sheltered from observation by the trees of the wilderness, marched and struck in his last and greatest victory at Chancellorsville. And so did that master of war, Frederick the Great, screened by intervening hills, turn the Austrian columns and win his greatest victory at Leuthen. Major Penn, the great Texas lay-evangelist, preached his greatest sermon from "This fetching a compass," and "When thou hearest the sound of a going in the mulberry trees, bestir thyself." His application was: (a) Let great preachers attack the center, as David did at Baal-Perazim. (b) But as I am only a layman I must fetch a compass and strike them in the rear where they are not expecting attack. (c) As the signal of assault was the sound of a going in the mulberry trees, which we interpret to mean the power of the Holy Spirit going before, we must tarry for that power, for without it we are bound to fail. (d) But that power being evident, let every member of the church bestir himself. On this last point his zealous exhortation put every man, woman, and child to working.

3. The third incident of this war was its culmination. He pressed his victory until "he took the bridle of the mother city out of the hand of the Philistines;" that is, he captured Gath and the four other cities, or daughters, that had gone from it. To take the bridle of a horse from the hand of a rider is to make that horse serve the new master, so Gath and her daughters paid tribute to David and served him – quite a new experience for the Philistines.

4. The result of these great achievements is thus expressed: "And the fame of David went out into all lands; and the Lord brought the fear of him on all nations."

The occasion of his next war, the one with Ammon, was remarkable. Nabash, the king of Ammon, held very friendly relations with David. The fact is that he may have ’been the father of Amasa, a son of David’s sister, Abigail. Anyway, the relations between them had been very pleasant, so when Nahash died, David, out of the kindness of his heart, always remembering courtesies shown him, sent a friendly embassy to Hanun, the son of Nahash, but the princes of Ammon said to the young king, "Do you suppose that love for your father prompted David to send these men? He sent them to spy out the land so that he can make war successfully against us." This evil suggestion led the young king to do a very foolish thing, and one that violated all international policy. He arrested these ambassadors and subjected them to the greatest indignity. Their venerable beards were cut off. I don’t know whether that means cut off half-way or just shaved off one side of the face. Then he cut off their long robes of dignity so they would be bob-tailed jackets striking about the hips, and sent them home. No mortification could exceed theirs. Somebody told David about it and he sent this word to them: "Tarry at Jericho until your beards grow out."

A deacon of the First Church at Waco, when I was pastor, whenever a young member of the church would propose some innovation on the customs of the church, would draw up his tall figure – he was quite tall – and would reach out his long arm and point at the young man and say, "My young brother, you had better tarry at Jericho until your beard grows out." It was very crushing on the young brother, and I used to exhort the deacon about his curt way of cutting off members who, whether young or old, had a right equal to his own to speak in conference.

Having practiced that unpardonable indignity upon the friendly ambassadors, the Ammonites know they must fight, since they have made themselves odious to David, so they raise an enormous sum of money, 1,000 talents of silver, and hire 33,000 men from the Syrians, the different branches of the Syrians. Some of them were horsemen from across the Euphrates, some from Tob, some from Maacah, and the rest of them from Zobah. David sends Joab at the head of his mighty army of veterans to fight them. The Ammonites remain in their fortified city of Rabbah, and as Joab’s army approaches, 33,000 Syrians come up behind them, and Joab sees that there is a battle to be fought in the front and in the rear, so he divides his army and takes his picked men to attack the Syrians, and commands Abishai, his brother, to go after the Ammonites as they pour out of their city to attack in front. Joab says to his brother, "If the Syrians are too strong for me, you help me, and if the Ammon-ites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you," and so they fight both ways and whip in both directions with tremendous success. Joab destroys the Syrians, and Abishai drives the Ammonites back under the walls of their city.

That victory leads to another war. When the Syrians heard of the overthrow of the contingent sent to succor Ammon, they sent across the Euphrates again for reinforcements and mobilized a large home army to fight David. David met them in battle and blotted them off the map, and having disposed of the Syrians, at the return of the season for making war, he sent Joab with a mighty army to besiege the city of Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites. Joab besieges them and when he sees them about to surrender he sends for David to come and accept the surrender and David puts the crown of the king of Ammon on his own head. Then having destroyed the Ammonites, he marches against their southern ally, Moab, and conquers them. Following up this victory he leads his army against Edom, and conquers all that country. This war lasts six months. He gains a great victory over the Edomites and through Abishai, his leader, 18,000 of the Edomites were slain. The heir of the king escapes with great difficulty to Egypt, and is sheltered there. Joab remained six months to bury the dead and gather up the spoils. So ends this period of conquest.

The text tells you, in conclusion, who were the administration officers during this period. You will find it on page 122 of the Harmony. Joab was over the host, Jehoshaphat was recorder, Zadok and Ahimelech were priests, Seraiah was scribe, Benaiah, or Benajah, was over the Cherethites and Pelethites and David’s sons were chiefs about the king.

That great round of successes is followed by the magnificent song of thanksgiving, which needs to be analyzed specially and which is transferred to the Psalter as Psalm 18.

That you may have a connected account of these wars, the consideration of three periods is deferred to the next chapter:

1. The great sin of David, with its far-reaching consequences, 2 Samuel 11:2-12:24.

2. His treatment of the Ammonites after the fall of Rabbah, 2 Samuel 12:31 and 1 Chronicles 20:3.

3. His treatment of the Moabites, 2 Samuel 8:2.


1. What is the necessity of breaking the power of the hostile nations within and around Judea?

2. Show why the geographical position of Judea was favorable to its mission of leavening all nations with the ideas of the kingdom of God, and why Judea was a desirable possession to those nations.

3. What event brought a tide of war on David?

4. According to the record, with what nations did he wage successful war?

5. What eight general observations on these wars?

6. What special feature characterized them and all other ancient wars, and what modern inventions have now divested war of this feature?

7. Cite the names of some of David’s champions and their exploits.

8. How does Sir Walter Scott, in Ivanhoe, philosophize on the speedy oblivion coming to great champions?

9. Recite one exploit that deserves to live in literature, and why?

10. Cite the notable characteristic of the battle of Baal-Perazirn.

11. Name the more decisive battle which followed, and give illustrations from history of the different methods of attack in those two battles.

12. Give Major Penn’s text and sermon outline on some words concerning this battle.

13. Explain: ’’He took the bridle of the mother city out of the hand of the Philistines."

14. What the result of these great achievements?

15. Recite the occasion of the war with Ammon and its results, and describe the first battle.

16. Give a brief statement of wars with Syria, Moab, and Edom.

17. With a map before you, show just how by these wars and alliances David safeguarded all his borders.

18. How did he commemorate his victories?

19. How did he celebrate them?

20. Into what other book was his thanksgiving song transferred, and how numbered there?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 21". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/2-samuel-21.html.
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