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DAVID IN FOUR ASPECTS
‘The son of Jesse … the man who was raised upon high … the anointed of the God of Jacob … the sweet psalmist of Israel.’
2 Samuel 23:1
Thrown on the opening words of this chapter, we do well to give due weight to the fact that they are David’s dying utterances. How do men speak in that hour? Is the mind always clear and logical, or is the heart so busy and the memory so quickened that often order will be set aside before the rushing flood of tender and mighty thoughts that sweep onward to the verge of eternity? The thoughts of a dying man like David are indeed ‘long, long thoughts.’ Yet I think the key-note of this hymn is struck in the first verse. David, the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said ——. His autograph, with which David starts off, following so far the usual custom ( Numbers 24:3-4), is four times repeated, only with different titles. It is David in four of his aspects, the man, the king, the inspired messenger, the psalmist. All that he has to say belongs to one of these four names of his. He seems to see himself, as he looks away from his deathbed, four times over.
I. David, the son of Jesse.—Intensely human, David was in no danger of forgetting his humble origin. He had none of that pitiful pride that ignores the lowly cradle in the splendour of the royal crown. When much else is forgotten, historians will remember how, at his inauguration as President, General Garfield stooped down to kiss his old mother. Voltaire says truly enough that whoever serves his country well has no need of ancestors, but perhaps the ancestors had a good deal to do with the loyal service. We must not forget that Ruth the Moabitess was one of the progenitors of David, the son of Jesse.
This reference to his birth may have suggested what David further said here as to his own descendants. The popular reading of the verse seems to be a mistaken one. The connection does not lead us to expect a tremulous note, and still less does the fact that here David was a prophet, knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his loins he would raise up Christ to sit on His throne. We shall probably come nearer to what he really did say if we read thus: For is not my house thus with God? For an eternal covenant hath He made for me, ordered in all things and secured: for all my salvation and all good pleasure shall He not cause it to spring forth? Connecting the sense with the preceding verse about the true ruler, David expressed his confidence that, because of God’s eternal covenant with him, such a ruler would arise out of his house.
II. The man who was raised up on high.—Realise literally this vivid expression by reading the last three verses of the 78th Psalm. Raised up to rule, that was the history of David. Now see how he paints the portrait of what a true sovereign must be. Six words only in the original, six vigorous touches, and the portrait lives before our eyes. He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God. Here are two points, a righteous rule, controlled by piety. ‘Royalty without religion is but eminent dishonour.’ Such being the governor, then, see what his reign or his term of office will be. A cloudless morning following rain, the air washed to a crystal purity, and the tender grass springing out of the earth in response to the clear shining of the sun. The shepherd lad of Bethlehem saw the fields about his father’s farm once more, and the poet spoke through the lips of the king.
Then follow the shadows in this glowing picture. ( vv. 6, 7.) The thorns grow apace amid the corn, and he who deals with them must arm himself with iron and a spear shaft, ‘an iron hook fastened to a long handle.’ Torn up in this way they shall be utterly burned with fire. Perhaps in this view of his enemies as sons of Belial, foes of God, men to be rooted up and cleared away, before prosperity can be looked for, we see an explanation of David’s last words to Solomon as to Joab and Shimei.
III. The anointed of the God of Jacob.—Thrice anointed by the hands of man David here speaks of the spiritual anointing, the unction from the Holy One, which made him prophet, psalmist, and king. Notice how assured he is that by him God has spoken. The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. Here he makes, in the plainest language, a claim to be inspired. Our Lord sets the seal of His approval upon the claim when He says, David in spirit calls Him Lord. We cannot dwell longer on this point, but there can be no doubt that here, on his deathbed, David’s language, as that of Jacob before him, ‘did attain to somewhat of prophetic strain.’
IV. Lastly, David speaks of himself as the sweet psalmist of Israel.—He was shepherd, sovereign, seer, and singer. Why did he put this title last? One sufficient answer is that his poetry was itself inspired. God spoke through these wonderful psalms. Another reason may be that after all it is by his psalms that David is remembered. The Temple, the dream of his life, the royal line on which his heart was fixed, these, in any literal sense, have ceased to be long ago. But David, the sweet psalmist of Israel, is immortal in his works.
(1) ‘David was lifted into prominence in Israel as a man after God’s own heart, as a king who aimed to rule by translating the law of God into his daily conduct, instead of following the promptings of personal ambition, and making use of his position and opportunities for his own selfish gratification.’
(2) ‘Note the description of the human personality. First, the natural “David the son of Jesse,” like “Balaam the son of Beor” in the earlier oracle. The aged king looks back with adoring thankfulness to his early days and humble birth, as if he were saying, “Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should proclaim the coming King.” Then follow three clauses descriptive of what “the son of Jesse” had been made by the grace of God, in that he had been raised on high from his low condition of a shepherd boy, and anointed as ruler, not only by Samuel and the people, but by the God of their great ancestor, whose career had presented so many points of resemblance to his own—the God who still wrought among the nation which bore the patriarch’s name, as He had wrought of old; in that, besides his royalty, he had been taught to sing the sweet songs which already were the heritage of the nation. This last designation shows what David counted God’s chief gift to him—not his crown, but his harp. It further shows that he regarded his psalms as divinely inspired, and it proves that already they had become the property of the nation. This first verse heightens the importance of the subsequent oracle by dwelling on the claims of the recipient of the revelation to be heard and heeded.’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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