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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 8

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

Verse 1



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?

Verse 2



2 Samuel 11:1-12:25; 2 Samuel 12:31; 2 Samuel 8:2

In the preceding discussion, three dark events of David’s career were omitted, first, because it was thought best to give in unbroken connection a history of his successful wars, carrying his kingdom to its promised boundaries and filling the world with his fame; secondly, because the three events called for special and extended treatment. Truly the wars closed in a blaze of glory, for "The Lord gave victory to David whithersoever he went," "his kingdom was exalted on high for his people Israel’s sake;" "So David gat him a great name," according to the gracious promise of Jehovah, "I will make unto thee a great name, like unto the name of the great ones that are in the earth." Indeed, at the close of these wars his was the most illustrious name on earth and his kingdom the greatest.

It is a bitter thing to give to this luminous glory a background of horrible darkness. Yet fidelity to truth and the ages-long value of the lesson, require us to dip the brush that paints the background in most sombre colors. It is characteristic of portrait painters to use a flattering brush, and it was Cromwell only who said sternly to his portrait maker, "Paint me as I am; leave not out a scar or blemish." What was exceptional with Cromwell was habitual with inspiration. It describes only one perfect, ideal man. It indulges in no hero worship. Noah’s drunkenness, Jacob’s meanness and duplicity, Aaron’s golden calf, the ill-advised words of Moses, the despondency of Elijah, the lying and swearing of Peter, the vengeful spirit of the beloved John, the awful sin of David, "the man after God’s own heart," must all appear in the pictures when the Holy Spirit is the limner.

Concerning the best of men standing in the limelight of infinite holiness) we must say with the psalmist, "I have seen an end of all perfection – for thy commandment is exceeding broad."

The three dark episodes of David’s war-career made the theme of this chapter, are: (1) David’s great sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah. (2) His treatment of his Ammonite captives. (3) His treatment of his Moabite captives.

The three are presented in one view because it is probable that the second, if not also the third, arose from a conscience blunted by the first. We need not go into the revolting details, since the record is before you, but consider the history only in the light of its practical value, seeing it was recorded "fur our admonition."

So far as the first and greatest sin is concerned, it has evoked a voluminous literature. In the "Pulpit Commentary" alone are more than fifty pages of condensed homilies, and in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David is much more, but perhaps the best homiletical and philosophical treatment you will find is Taylor’s David, King of Israel. His outline of discussion is: (1) The precursors of the sin. (2) Its aggravations. (3) The penitence manifested. (4) The forgiveness received. (5) The consequences flowing from it.

After all, however, the most searching light on his heart experiences are found in his own songs of conviction, penitence and forgiveness in the following order: Psalms 38, 6, 51, 32. Borrowing somewhat from Taylor’s order and treatment we submit this outline:

I. The precursors of David’s sin.

Sin has a genesis and development. It does not spring into life, like Minerva, full grown. James, the brother of our Lord, states the case thus: "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man; but each man is tempted, when he is drawn away by his own lust, and enticed. Then the lust, when it hath conceived, beareth sin, when it is full grown, bringeth forth death" (James 1:13-15). What, then, the explanatory antecedents of his sin?

1. Since his crowning at Hebron he had enjoyed a long course of unbroken prosperity. Before that event he had been "emptied from vessel to vessel" and so had not "settled on his lees," but now because he had no changes he becomes overconfident, less watchful and prayerful.

2. Up to the time of this sin he had been a very busy man, leading and sharing in all the privations and hazards of his army, but now, while Joab leads the army against Rabbah, "David tarried at Jerusalem." While his soldiers sleep at night on the tented field, David rises from his daytime bed of luxury to look at eventide on Bathsheba. How grim must have been the rebuke of Uriah’s words: "And Uriah said unto David, The Ark and Israel, and Judah, abide in booths; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing," 2 Samuel 11:11. It has been well said, "If Satan tempts busy men, idle and luxurious men tempt Satan."

3. He had prepared himself for a fall at the weakest point in his character by polygamy and concubinage, which while tolerated under restrictions under Mosaic law, was expressly forbidden to kings: "He shall not multiply wives to himself," which was the Mosaic prohibition of the kingdom charter, Deuteronomy 17:17. Sensualism is the sin of Oriental kings.

4. The sense of irresponsibility to moral law creeps with insidious power upon the rich and great and socially distinguished. The millionaires, the upper ten, the great 400 -- what avails their wealth and power if they be not exempt from the obligations of the seventh commandment? Let the poor be virtuous. The king can do no wrong. To all such people the lesson is hard: "God is no respecter of persons."

5. In times of war the bridle is slipped from human passions.

6. Subservient instruments are always ready to act as panderers to the great, while obsequious, high society paliates and condones their offenses.

7. In such conjuncture always comes opportunity as a spark of fire in a powder magazine; millions equally sensual have not sinned because there was no opportunity, no favorable conjuncture of circumstances.

II. The sin and its aggravations.

The sin, with all its progeny) was primarily sin against God, but it was adultery with Bathsheba, ingratitude, duplicity, and murder to Uriah, complicity in crime with his servants, a sin against himself and family.

1. It was a presumptuous sin against Jehovah, to whose favors it was ingratitude and to whose holiness it was insult, and to whose omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence it was a brazen dare.

2. It was a violation of his solemn coronation vow at Hebron as expressed in his own psalm that he would use his kingly office to put down offenses, and not for indulgences in them.

3. From his very exalted position as king over God’s people it caused the enemies of truth to blaspheme then and every since. It was a scandal in the etymological sense of the word, a stumbling block, over which thousands in every age have fallen. An inspired writer has said, "The wicked eat up the sins of my people." Like buzzards swarming around carrion, they gather and feast and flap their wings in gloating when a Christian sins.

4. It served then and does now as an excuse for worse and smaller men to repeat the offenses or to condone other offenses.

5. It put his reputation in the hands of the servants employed in the transaction, and paved the way for whatever blackmail the unscrupulous instrument, Joab, might choose to exact, so that indeed hereafter "the sons of Zeruiah will be too hard for him." Whoever calls in Turks, Tartars, and Huns for allies must afterwards reckon with the allies.

6. It was a sin against the devoted friendship of his brave champions, Uriah, the Hittite, and his comrade, Bathsheba’s father, who for many years of hazard and persecution had been his bulwark.

The meanness of the subterfuge in sending for Uriah that the offense might be hidden from him by making him an unwitting "cuckold," the hypocrisy of sending him choice dishes and the means of drunkenness to the same end, and the refined cruelty of making him the carrier of the letter which contained his death warrant, the deliberate provision for others to die with him when exposed to danger, the order to withdraw from him and then that they might die and the lying ascription of such death to the chances of war, are unsurpassed in criminal history. A classic legend tells of such a letter carried by Bellerophon, giving rise to the proverb, "Beware of Bellerophonic letters."

III. The sin on the conscience.

We may not suppose that David was without compunction of conscience for a whole year until reproved by Nathan. The Psalms 38 and 6 indicate the contrary. While his crime was ostensibly a secret, you may be assured that it was an open secret which greatly damaged the king’s reputation, of which he is evidently conscious. Known to Joab and his household servants, it would be whispered from lip to ear, and carried from house to house. Enemies would naturally make the most of it. The side-look, the shoulder-shrug, and many-winged rumors would carry it far and wide. Even in the house of God, where he kept up the form of worship, knowing ones would make signs and comment under the thinnest veil of confidence.

IV. Jehovah speaks at last, or Nathan and David.

Whatever was David’s own conception of his sin, or the judgment of man, our record says, "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. And the Lord sent Nathan unto David." Four things here impress the mind:

1. God’s judgment of human conduct is more than man’s judgment. It is the chief thing. We may hold out against, the adverse judgment of men if God approves in the matter of the thing condemned, but there is no withstanding the disapproval of the Holy One.

2. The fidelity of the prophets as mouthpieces of God. They make no apologies, nor soften words, nor have respect of persons. They speak to a king as to a peasant – to a rich man as to a pauper.

3. The prophet’s method of causing David to pass judgment on himself is an inimitable parable that has charmed the world by its simplicity, brevity, pathos, and directness.

4. Its application is like a bolt of lightning: "Thou art the man!" In one flash of light the heart of the sin is laid bare and judgment follows judgment like the dreadful strokes of a trip-hammer) thus: (a) "The sword shall never depart from thy house." (b) "I will raise up evil against thee in thine own house." (c) "What thou hast done secretly against another shall be done against thee openly."

V. David’s confession.

It is instant: "I have sinned against the Lord." There is no trickery nor subterfuge, nor evasion, nor defense. His confession is like the publican’s prayer, who stood afar off, not lifting so much as his eyes to heaven, but smiting upon his breast, and saying, "God be merciful to me, the sinner." The inspired prophet knew his penitence was genuine, and announces pardon for the world to come, but chastisement in this world, thus explaining those latter words of Jesus concerning another and greater sin which is eternal, having never forgiveness either in this world or in the next.

VI. The time penalties.

(1) The death of the child begotten in sin. (2) Following a father’s evil example, Amnon assaults his sister, Tamar. (3) Following the father’s example, and with much more justice, Absalom murders Amnon. (4) The devil once loosed, Absalom rebels against his father. (5) There being now no restraint, Absalom openly degrades David’s concubines, and this too under the advice of Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, who evidently resents the shame put upon his granddaughter. (6) Joab pitilessly murders Absalom, in open violation of the father’s orders, and so exacts immunity as blackmail for his complicity in David’s sin. (7) Adonijah’s rebellion, encouraged by Joab, and his death. Such the long train of evil consequences of one sin.

VII. The sincerity of David’s repentance.

It is evidenced by his humility, submission, and hope on the death of his child. The story is very touching. "The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare to David and it was very sick." The child was much beloved, but must die for the parents’ sin. This, David felt keenly: "This baby is dying for my sin." No wonder he fasted and wept and prayed. The submission and hope are manifested after the child is dead. No need now to fast and pray and weep, as when it was yet alive and perchance might be saved. The death is of the body only and for this world only. He lives safe and happy in that better world: "He cannot return to me, but I may go to him."

In all subsequent ages the doctrines of these words have illumined houses of mourning, "I shall go to him."

At one stroke it destroys all hope of visitation from the dead, and at another stroke confers all hope of visitation to the dead, with all the joys of recognition and reunion.

This is by far the lightest of David’s penalties. There is no hope of reunion when Amnon and Absalom and Adonijah die. The farewell in their case is eternal. The most impressive, therefore, of all contrasts is the hopeful lamentation over this child, and the hopeless lamentation over Absalom. What a theme for a sermon!

But the sincerity of his penitence is best evidenced in his psalm. While Psalms 38, 6 convey most the sense of convicting power, Psalm 51, through the ages, has been regarded as the most vivid expression of contrition and repentance. Two incidents bearing upon his sincerity and genuine penitence cited by Taylor are worth repetition:

1. The testimony of Carlyle, that hater of all shams and hypocrisies, in his "Lecture on the Hero as Prophet," says:

Faults! the greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none. Readers of the Bible, above all, one would think, might know better. Who is there called the man of God according to God’s own heart? David, the Hebrew king, had fallen into sins enough; blackest crimes; there was no want of sins. And thereupon unbelievers sneer and ask, "1s this your man according to God’s heart?" The sneer, I must say, seems to me but a shallow one. What are faults? what are the outward details of a life, if the inner secret of it – the remorse, temptations, true, often baffled, never-ending struggle of it – be forgotten? "It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Of all acts, is not, for a man, repentance the most divine? The deadliest sin, I say, were that same supercilious consciousness of no sin. That is death. The heart so conscious is divorced from sincerity, humility, and fact, is dead. It is pure, as dead, dry sand is pure. David’s life and history, as written for us in those Psalms of his, I consider to be the truest emblem ever given of a man’s moral progress and warfare here below. All earnest souls will ever discern in it the faithful struggle of an earnest human soul toward what is good and best. Struggle often baffled sore, baffled down into entire wreck, yet a struggle never ended; ever with tears, repentance, true, unconquerable purpose begun anew. Poor human nature! Is not a man’s walking in truth always that – "a succession of falls"? Man can do no other. In this wild element of a life, he has to struggle upward: now fallen, now abased; and ever with tears, repentance, and bleeding heart, he has to rise again, struggle again, still onward. That his struggle be a faithful, unconquerable one – that is the question of questions.

2. The effect of Psalm 51 on Voltaire when he read it with a view to caricature it. Dr. Leander Van Ess tells it as an undoubted fact that Voltaire once attempted to burlesque this psalm, and what was the result? While carefully perusing it, that he might familiarize himself with the train of sentiment which he designed to caricature, he became so oppressed and overawed by its solemn devotional tone, that he threw down his pen and fell back half senseless on his couch, in an agony of remorse.

But if Psalm 51 is the highest expression of penitence, Psalm 32 is the model expression of the Joy of forgiveness: Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom Jehovah imputeth not iniquity.

See the use Paul makes of this psalm in his great argument on justification by faith.

By application of this experience of David we learn other serious lessons.

1. The pen that writes the letter of Uriah must also write Psalm 51.

2. It is easy to fall, but difficult to rise again – a thought most vigorously expressed by Virgil and less vigorously rendered by Dryden: The gates of Hell are open night and day; Smooth the descent, and easy is the way; But to return and view the cheerful skies, In this the task and mighty labor lies.

3. One sin another doth provoke; Murder’s as near to lust as fire to smoke.

4. The hardening power of sin. It petrifies spiritual sensitiveness and tenderness. As Burns so well expresses it: I waive the quantum of the sin, The hazard of concealing; But och! it hardens within, And petrifies the feelin’.

5. Sooner or later all extenuations fail, and the shifting of the blame on God or chance or circumstance. There comes one at last to the naked soul, and pointing accusing finger, says, "Thou art the man."

6. The reproach of Uriah has found expression in noble song: And self to take or leave is free, Feeling its own sufficiency: In spite of science, spite of fate, The Judge within thee, soon or late, Will cry, "Thou art the man!" Say not, I would, but could not, He Should bear the blame who fashioned me. Call a mere change of motive, choice I Scorning such pleas, the inner voice Cries out, "Thou art the man!"

Edgar Allan Poe has used with dramatic effect Nathan’s words, "Thou art the man," in one of his detective stories. In order to force confession, he puts the body of the murdered man in a wine-case, so adjusted on springs that when the lid is raised by the murderer, the body will sit up and point the finger at him, while a ventriloquist will make the dead lips say, "Thou art the man!" The Ark of God is in the field, Like clouds around the alien armies sweep; Each by his spear, beneath his shield, In cold and dew the anointed warriors sleep. And can it be? thou liest awake, Sworn watchman, tossing on thy couch of down; And doth thy recreant heart not ache To hear the sentries round the leisured town? Oh, dream no more of quiet life; Care finds the careless out; more wise to vow Thine heart entire to faith’s pure strife; So peace will come, thou knowest not when or how.– Lyra Apostolica.

7. On the gracious words of pardon, "The Lord hath put away thy sin," Keble, in his "Christian Year," thus writes: The absolver saw the mighty grief, And hasten’d with relief; – "The Lord forgives; thou shalt not die"– Twas gently spoke, yet heard on high, And all the band of angels, us’d to sing In heaven, accordant to his raptur’d string, Who many a month had turn’d away With veiled eyes, nor own’d his lay. Now spread their wings, and throng around To the glad mournful sound, And welcome, with bright open face, The broken heart to love’s embrace. The rock is smitten, and to future years Springs ever fresh the tide of holy tears And holy music, whispering peace Till time and sin together cease."– Keble, "Sixth Sunday after Trinity."

It has been not improbably supposed that a connection exists between David’s great sin, through its hardening of his yet impenitent heart and

VIII. His treatment of the conquered Ammonites.

See 2 Samuel 12:31 and 1 Chronicles 20:3. As this matter calls for particular and honest treatment let us first of all look at the text in three English versions. The American Standard revision renders the two paragraphs thus: "And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln; and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem" (2 Samuel 12:31). "And he brought forth the people that were therein, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. And thus did David unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem" (1 Chronicles 20:3). The margin puts "to" for "under," and adds: "Or, with a slight change in the Hebrew text, ’made them labor at saws, . . .?’ "

Leeser’s Jewish English version copies in both passages the American Revision. The Romanist Douay English version thus renders 2 Samuel 12:31: "And bringing forth the people thereof, he sawed them, and drove over them chariots armed with irons and divided them with knives, and made them pass through brick-kilns: so did he to the children of Ammon. And David returned with all the people to Jerusalem." 1 Chronicles 20:3: "And the people that were therein he brought out; and made harrows, and sleds, and chariots of iron, to go over them, so that they were cut and bruised to pieces. In this manner David dealt with all the cities of the children of Ammon: and he returned with all his people to Jerusalem."

With the text thus before us the first inquiry is, What mean these passages, fairly interpreted? Do they mean merely, as the margin of the American revision intimates, that David enslaved his captured prisoners, putting them to work with saws, harrows, and axes, and at brick-making, or that he put them to torture by sawing them asunder, driving over them with iron-toothed harrows, mangling them in threshing machines, chopping them up with axes, cooking them alive in brick-kilns? How stand the commentators? Josephus, adopting the torture interpretation, says, "He tormented them and destroyed them."

The comment in the Romanist version on 2 Samuel 12:31 is, "Sawed" – Heb., "he puts them under saws and under rollers of iron, and under knives, . . ." The Jews say that Isaiah was killed by being sawed asunder; to which punishment Paul alludes (Hebrews 11:37). "Brick-kilns, or furnaces." Daniel and his companions were thrown into the fiery furnace ( Daniel 3:6-12). Saliem blames Joab for what seems too cruel. But though he was barbarous and vindictive, we need not condemn him on this occasion, no more than his master; as we are not to judge of former times by our own manners. War was then carried on with great cruelty. With these agree substantially, Kirkpatrick in "Cambridge Bible," Blaikie in "Expositor’s Bible," "The Speakers’ Commentary," "The Pulpit Commentary," Jamieson, Fausset & Brown, Geikie, and many others.

On the contrary, Murphy on 1 Chronicles 20:3, following the idea of the margin in American Standard revision says, "As saws, harrows, or threshing drags, and axes or scythes, are not instruments of torture of execution, it is obvious that David did not ’cut’ them, but forced or ’put’ them to hard labor as serfs with instruments of husbandry, or in the making of bricks, as is added in Samuel. The verb rendered ’cut’ is nowhere else used in this sense, but in that of ruling, and therefore employing in forced labor." "Nor does he stand alone. Many authorities on both sides might be added. But these are sufficient to set the case before you. In extenuation of the "’torture" interpretation the following argument may be considered: David was under the Mosaic law. That law bears on two points:

1. The law of war for captured cities, Deuteronomy 20:10-14: "When thou drawest nigh unto a city to fight against it, then proclaim peace unto it. And it shall be, if it make thee answer of peace, and open unto thee, then it shall be, that all the people that are found therein shall become tributary unto thee, and shall serve thee. And if it will make no peace with thee, but will make war against thee, then thou shalt besiege it: and when Jehovah thy God delivereth it into thy hand, thou shalt smite every male thereof with the edge of the sword: but the women and the little ones, and the cattle, and all that is in the city, even all the spoil thereof, shalt thou take for a prey unto thyself; and thou shalt eat the spoil of thine enemies, which Jehovah hath given thee."

2. The lextalionis, or law of retaliation, i. e., "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, . . ." Under the first law a city carried by storm was devoted to destruction, which custom unfortunately prevails in modern wars. Under the second law, the evils practiced on others were requited in kind. See case of Adonibezek (Judges 1:5-7). Applying this second law, the cruel things done by David to the Ammonites, under the "torture" interpretation of our passages, had been practiced by them against others then and later. (See Amos 1:13.) They caused their own children to pass through the fire to Moloch, hence the retaliation of the brick-kiln.

The weight of authority seems to favor the "torture" interpretation, and yet how readily does a humane mind turn in preference to Murhpy’s rendering. If this "torture" interpretation be true (and we must count it doubtful) then we need not cry out too loud in horror at the torture of prisoners by North American savages, and we may rejoice at the coming of one who in his Sermon on the Mount gives us something higher and better than the lextalionis.

In the case of the Moabite prisoners made to lie prostrate and measured in bulk by a tape-line, one-third to live and two-thirds to die, we find something more merciful than in the case of the Ammonites, but sufficiently revolting in the wholesale mathematical method of selecting the living by lot. The black and white beans for the Mier prisoners impress more favorably. The sum of the truth is that war in any age, now as well as then, "is hell." The reconstruction measures forced on the conquered South after the war between the States surpassed in the bitterness of its prolonged anguish all the quick tortures of saw, harrow, ax, and brick-kiln inflicted on the Ammonites. No language can describe the height, depth, length, breadth of the horrors of reconstruction; not a fleeting agony like being sawn asunder, or burnt in a brick-kiln, but a deliberate harrowing of the South back and forth and crisscrossing for twenty-five years, every tooth in the harrow red hot, until the whole harried country found expression for its hopeless woes in the Lamentation of Jeremiah: Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow?

There was no measurement of the prostrate South by tapeline, sparing a part, but one vast humiliation extending from Virginia to Texas.

And if Jehovah sent condign punishment on Nebuchadnezzar, the wicked ax of his vengeance for the spirit with which this desolation was brought on sinning Jerusalem and the self-complacency of the deed, so will he yet in his own way visit his wrath on the land of those who had no pity on the desolate South.

The Jews are accustomed to excuse David’s apparent ingratitude for Moab’s past kindness to his father and mother, and his seeming disregard of the ties of kindred through Ruth, on the score that Moab murdered his parents when trusted to their hospitality. Of this there is no historic evidence. A better reason lies in the fact that Moab joined the conspiracy with Ammon, Syria, and Edom to destroy David and his kingdom.


1. Cite the passages which show that David’s wars closed in a blaze of glory.

2. What said Cromwell to the painter of his portrait?

3. What always the character of inspiration’s portrait-painting?

4. What the three great sins that darken this part of David’s career?

5. What books show the voluminous homiletical use of first & greatest sin?

6. What Taylor’s outline?

7. What psalm, in order, throws the greatest light on his heart experiences of this sin?

8. What the precursors of this sin, preparing for his fall?

9. What the sin itself in its manifold nature?

10. What its aggravations?

11. What evidence that David’s sin was on his conscience before the visit of Nathan?

12. What four things impress the mind in Nathan’s words to David?

13. What may you say of David’s confession of sin?

14. What the twofold verdict on the confession, and how does it explain our Lord’s saying on the unpardonable sin?

15. What the time penalties inflicted, and which the mildest?

16. In what ways is the sincerity of David’s penitence evidenced?

17. What two doctrines in David’s words concerning his child, "He shall not return to me but I shall go to him," and what the comfort therefrom?

18. Concerning the evidence of sincere repentance in Psalm 51, what says Carlyle?

19. How did it affect Voltaire?

20. What psalm the model expression of the happiness of the forgiveness, and how does Paul use it?

21. What the first lesson of the application on the experience of David arising from this sin?

22. What the second, and Virgil’s expression of it?

23. What couplet on one sin provoking another?

24. Cite the passage from Burns on the hardening power of sin.

25. Cite the stanzas on "Thou art the man," and give Edgar Allan. Poe’s use of the phrase. 26, Cite the stanzas on the reproach of Uriah.

27. Cite Keble’s lines on "The Lord hath put away thy sin."

28. What the two interpretations of 2 Samuel 12:31 and 1 Chronicles 20:3, and which do you adopt?

29. What scriptural argument may be made in extenuation of the "torture" theory of interpretation?

30. How do the Jews excuse David’s treatment of the Moabite captives, and what the better reason?

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 8". "Carroll's Interpretation of the English Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bhc/2-samuel-8.html.
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