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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 8

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary



This chapter contains a general summary of David’s successful wars, closing with the mention (2 Samuel 8:16-18) of the chief officers of his kingdom. The expression with which it opens, “after this it came to pass,” is a formula of connection and transition, as we might say, “and besides this;” that it does not denote chronological sequence is plain from the fact that it is also used in 2 Samuel 10:1, of the beginning of the war with the Ammonites and Syrians, the conclusion of which is mentioned in this chapter, 2 Samuel 8:5-6; 2 Samuel 8:11-12.

The parallel passage is 1 Chronicles 18:0.

This chapter may be considered as the close of the direct narrative of David’s reign, the rest of the book being occupied with more detailed accounts of particular incidents occurring at various periods during its course. Thus 2 Samuel 9:0 treats of his kindness to Mephibosheth in connection with his affection for his departed friend Jonathan; 2 Samuel 10-12 of the war with the Ammonites and Syrians in connection with the story of Bathsheba (this is the only one of David’s wars treated of in detail, and this evidently for the reason just given); 2 Samuel 13-19 contain the story of Absalom’s rebellion, and 2 Samuel 20:0 of that of Bichri; 2 Samuel 21:0 is an account of the famine in punishment of Saul’s sin—at what period is quite unknown—closing with incidents of several Philistine campaigns; 2 Samuel 22:0 is a psalm of David; 2 Samuel 23:0, another psalm, followed by a more detailed account of the heroes during the whole reign; and the book closes with 2 Samuel 24:0, David’s sin in numbering the people, and his consequent punishment, with no note of time to show in what period of his reign it occurred.

Verse 1

(1) Subdued them.—In its connection this implies not merely the victory of a single battle, but the reversal of the former relation of the Philistines to Israel, and their reduction to a condition of inferiority and tribute.

Took Metheg-ammah.—No place of this name is known. The first word means bridle, and the other is probably, although not certainly, a derivation from the word mother, and has the sense metropolis. The translation will then be, took the bridle (i.e., the key) of the metropolis, and this seems sustained by the parallel phrase in 1 Chronicles 18:1, “took Gath and her towns (lit daughters).” Gath appears to have been already the principal among the five Philistine cities (1 Samuel 27:2), and with the rest of the country remained tributary to Solomon (1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 4:24).

Verse 2

(2) He smote Moab.—David’s former friendly relations with Moab (probably connected with his own descent from Ruth), are mentioned in 1 Samuel 22:3-4. The cause of his entire change of bearing towards them is not certainly known, but according to Jewish tradition the Moabites had proved false to their trust, and had put to death David’s father and mother. This is not unlikely, as his parents are never mentioned again after they were left in Moab. Others think that the Moabites had been guilty of some treachery towards David in his war with the Syrians and Ammonites. The two suppositions are quite consistent, and both may have been true. Many writers see in this conquest at least a partial fulfilment of the prophecy in Numbers 24:17.

With two lines.—This expression with the “one full line” of the next clause is equivalent to saying that David measured off the bodies of his prostrate enemies with a line divided into three equal parts. When they had been made to lie down upon the ground, side by side, the line was stretched over them. Such as were found under the two first parts of it were put to death, those under the third part were spared, thus two-thirds of all the Moabite men perished. There is no mention of this in 1 Chronicles 18:2.

Brought gifts.—A frequent euphemism for paid tribute. (Comp. 2 Samuel 8:6.)

Verse 3

(3) Hadadezer . . . king of Zobah.—This name is sometimes (1 Chronicles 18:3; 1 Chronicles 18:5; 1 Chronicles 18:7, &c.) spelt “Hadarezer,” the letters d and r being much alike in Hebrew and easily confused; but the form given here is right, Hadad being the chief idol of the Syrians. Zobah (called in the title of Psalms 60:0 Aram-Zobah) was a kingdom, the position of which cannot be exactly determined, but lying north-east of Israel, and formerly governed by petty kings with whom Saul had wars (1 Samuel 14:47). When or by what means it had become united under a single sovereign is unknown, but from 2 Samuel 8:4 with 2 Samuel 10:6; 2 Samuel 10:16, it is plain that he was a monarch of considerable power, and controlled tribes beyond the Euphrates.

To recover his border.—Literally, to cause his hand to return, a phrase which in itself might mean either to renew his attack, or to re-establish his power. The latter is shown to be the sense here by the expression in 1 Chronicles 18:3, “to establish his dominion,” and is so translated in the LXX. What happened is more fully explained in 2 Samuel 10:13-19 : the Ammonites had obtained the help of the Syrians when their combined armies were defeated by David; Hadadezer then attempted to summon to his aid the tribes “beyond the river” (i.e., the Euphrates), but David cut short his plans by another crushing defeat, which reduced them all to subjection. Our Version inserts the word Euphrates on the authority of the margin of the Hebrew, several MSS., and all the ancient versions. The river, however, would in any case mean the Euphrates.

Verse 4

(4) A thousand chariots.—The word chariots has evidently dropped out of the text here, but is rightly inserted, following the LXX. and 1 Chron.; 700 horsemen should also be changed to 7,000, in accordance with 1 Chron., this being a more fitting proportion to 20,000 infantry in the plains of Syria, and the difference being only in two dots over the letter marking the numeral in Hebrew.

Houghed, i.e., hamstrung, to render them incapable of use in war. (Comp. Joshua 11:6; Joshua 11:9.) This is meant to apply not only to the chariot horses, but to all those of the cavalry. Whether David’s reservation of the number needed for 100 chariots was wrong or not, is not said. David probably felt the need of these horses as a means of more rapid communication with the distant parts of his increasing empire; yet this act may have been the entering wedge for Solomon’s direct violation of Deuteronomy 17:16, by sending to Egypt to “multiply horses to himself.”

Verse 5

(5) Syrians of Damascus.—So called from their capital, this being the most powerful branch of the Syrian race.

Two and twenty thousand men.—Josephus (Ant. vii. 5, § 2) quotes from the historian Nicolaus a mention of the defeat of Hadad at this place by David.

Verse 6

(6) Garrisons.—The primary meaning of this word in the original is something placed, and then placed over. Hence it comes to have the different derived meanings of officer in 1 Kings 4:5; 1 Kings 4:19; 2 Chronicles 8:10, and garrison (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Samuel 13:3), which is probably its meaning here.

Verse 7

(7) Shields of gold.—Solomon also “made shields of gold” (1 Kings 10:17), which appear to have been a mark of oriental magnificence. Solomon’s shields were ultimately carried off by Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-28). The LXX. has here a curious addition, saying that Shishak carried off the shields which David captured, a manifest error, since those were made by Solomon.

Verse 8

(8) Betah and from Berothai.—There is no satisfactory clue to the situation of these places. For Betah 1 Chronicles 18:8 has Tibhath in the Hebrew, a mere transposition of the letters; and for Berothai, Chun. Berothah is mentioned in Ezekiel 47:16, as on the boundary of Palestine between Hamath and Sibraim. It is said in 1 Chronicles 18:8, that “Solomon made the brazen sea, and the pillars, and the vessels of brass,” of “the exceeding much brass” here captured. The LXX., and from it the Vulgate, has inserted the same notice here. It is very doubtful whether the metal intended was brass (copper and zinc) or simply copper, or, more probably, bronze (copper and tin). Some centuries earlier great quantities of copper were carried from Syria to Egypt.

Verse 9

(9) Toi king of Hamath.—The Vatican LXX. has the name, in accordance with Chron., Tau. Hamath, the capital of the kingdom of the same name, was situated on the Orontes. According to 1 Chronicles 18:3. David’s victory was on the borders of this kingdom. It was tributary to Solomon (1 Kings 4:24, 2 Chronicles 8:3-4), subsequently became independent, and was recovered by Jeroboam II. (2 Kings 14:28), and was finally captured by Assyria (2 Kings 19:13). It is described as “the great” by Amos (6:2), and a considerable town still occupies its site.

Verse 10

(10) Joram=Hadoram, 1 Chronicles 18:10. Joram is probably the Jewish form of the same name. An embassy headed by the king’s son was an especially honourable one. The occasion was David’s conquest of Toi’s neighbour and constant enemy, and the large presents sent by him have something of the character of tribute. The phrase “to bless him,” is simply equivalent to “congratulate him,” by which the same word is translated in 1 Chronicles 18:10.

Verse 11

(11) Which also.—The dedication of the gifts of Toi is especially mentioned, because these were not, like those of 2 Samuel 8:7; 2 Samuel 8:11-12, the spoils of conquered nations. David, forbidden himself to build the temple, makes every provision possible for its erection.

Verse 12

(12) Of Syria.1 Chronicles 18:11 reads Edom. The two names differing in the original only by one very similar letter (the d and r, which are so often confused), it might be supposed that one was an error for the other, were it not that both were actually conquered and the spoils of both dedicated by David, Syria is spoken of here because Edom has not yet been mentioned, and the account of its conquest is given afterwards (2 Samuel 8:14; 1 Kings 11:15-17); while Edom is given in Chron. because the booty from Syria had just before been spoken of particularly. It may be, however, that both names were originally in both places.

Amalek.—This is the only allusion to a war with Amalek after David came to the throne. They had been “utterly destroyed” by Saul (1 Samuel 15:0); but they were a nation of many tribes, and Saul’s victory can relate to only one branch, since David afterwards inflicted a severe blow upon them (1 Samuel 30:0), and there is no reason why still other branches of the nation may not have proved troublesome, and been defeated by him at other times.

Verse 13

(13) When he returned from smiting of the Syrians.—Possibly, from the similarity in the original between Syria and Edom (see 2 Samuel 8:3; 2 Samuel 8:12), the words “he smote Edom” have dropped out of the text, but this supposition is not necessary. The course of affairs appears to have been as follows:—the war was originally undertaken against the Ammonites (2 Samuel 10:1-12), who had obtained the aid of the Syrians. In the first campaign their combined armies were defeated (2 Samuel 10:13-14), and they sought aid from every quarter, from the tribes beyond the Euphrates, on the north (2 Samuel 10:16), and from the Edomites on the south. David first inflicted a crushing defeat upon the allies near Hamath, and then “returned” to the south, where he again met them in “the valley of salt”—the Arabalt south of the Dead Sea, this latter army being naturally chiefly composed of Edomites, and so called in 1 Chronicles 18:12, and in the title of Psalms 60:0, but here spoken of as Syrians because the whole confederacy is called by the name of its most powerful member. David himself returned from the southern campaign; but what was done by his general, Abishai, under his orders, is naturally said to have been done by him. Meantime, when this first battle, attended with the slaughter of 18,000 men, had been won by Abishai, Joab, the general-in-chief, being set free by the victories in the north, gained another battle in the same locality, killing 12,000 (Psalms 60:0, title). The power of Edom was now completely broken, and the whole forces of Israel were mustered under Joab to overrun their country and destroy all its male inhabitants (1 Kings 11:15-16), certain of them, however, excepted (1 Kings 11:17), and their descendants in after ages were relentless foes of Israel. (Comp. the prophecy of Isaac, Genesis 27:40.)

In this summary of David’s reign the historian here turns from his wars and victories over other nations to the internal affairs of his kingdom. Substantially the same list of officers is again given in 2 Samuel 20:23-26.

Verse 16

(16) Was recorder.—This was a different office from that of “the scribe” (filled by Seraiah), and appears from 2 Kings 18:18-37; 2 Chronicles 34:8, to have been one of considerable importance. (Comp. also Esther 6:1.) His duty is supposed to have been something like that of the modern “chancellor,” and he not only registered the king’s decrees, but was his adviser. The same person continued to fill the office in the early years of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 4:3).

Verse 17

(17) Ahimelech, the son of Abiathar.—So Ahimelech is also described in 1 Chronicles 18:16; 1 Chronicles 24:6; on the other hand, Abiathar is expressly said to be the son of Ahimelech in the narrative in 1 Samuel 22:20-23. This difficulty is increased by the further notices of the men bearing these names. Ahimelech was certainly the high priest who gave the shew-bread to David, and was slain in consequence by Saul (1 Samuel 21, 22), and Abiathar, who fled to David, and afterwards became high priest, and was finally put out of the high-priesthood by Solomon (1 Kings 1:2) was certainly his son; but, on the other hand, in 1 Chronicles 24:3; 1 Chronicles 24:6; 1 Chronicles 24:31 Ahimelech. is said to have been the co-priest with Zadok during the reign of David, and our Lord says that David ate the shew-bread “in the days of Abiathar, the high priest” (Mark 2:26). These apparently conflicting facts have occasioned unnecessary perplexity. The simple solution of the difficulty seems to be that both names were borne alike by father and by son, so that both of them are spoken of sometimes under one name, sometimes under the other.

On the double high-priesthood of Zadok and Abiathar, see Note at the beginning of 2 Samuel 6:0.

Verse 18

(18) The Cherethites and the Pelethites.—These bodies of men, here mentioned for the first time, afterwards appear frequently, constituting the most trusted part of the king’s army, and forming his especial body-guard (2 Samuel 15:18; 2 Samuel 20:7; 2 Samuel 20:23; 1 Kings 1:38; 1 Kings 1:44; 1 Chronicles 18:17). Benaiah, who commanded them, a hero from Kabzeel (2 Samuel 23:20), was afterwards promoted by Solomon to be general-in-chief (1 Kings 2:35). But the meaning of the words, “the Che-rethites and the Pelethites,” has been much disputed. On the one hand it is urged that the form of the name indicates a tribal designation, and that there was a tribe of Cherethites living south of Philistia (1 Samuel 30:14), who are also mentioned in connection with the Philistines in Ezekiel 25:16; Zephaniah 2:5. Besides, these names appear as those of bodies of troops only during the reign of David, and the objection that he would have been unlikely to employ foreign mercenaries may be met by the supposition that they had embraced the religion of Israel. On the other hand, the Chaldee (“archers and slingers) and Syriac (“nobles and Tustics”) understood them as appellatives, and it is said that they should properly be translated “executioners and runners,” such offices falling to the chief troops in all Oriental armies; no tribe of “Pelethites” is known, and in 2 Samuel 20:23 the expression translated “Cherethites and Pelethites” has another form for “Cherethites,” which again occurs with “Pelethites” in 2 Kings 11:4; 2 Kings 11:19, and is translated “the captains and the guard.” The question does not seem to admit of positive determination.

Chief rulers.—So these words are rendered in all the ancient versions except the Vulg., and the same term is applied in 1 Kings 4:5 to Zabud, with the explanation “the king’s friend,” and also in 2 Samuel 20:26 to Ira, “a chief ruler about (literally, at the side of) David.” The word, however (cohen), is the one generally used for “priest,” and there seems here to be a reminiscence in the word of that early time when the chief civil and ecclesiastical offices were united in the head of the family or tribe. Such use of the word had become now almost obsolete, and quite so in the time when the Chronicles were written, since they substitute here (1 Chronicles 18:17) “chief about (literally, at the hand of) the king.” For this change in the use of the word, “exact analogies may be found in ecclesiastical words, as bishop, priest, deacon, minister, and many others.”—Speaker’s Commentary.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 8". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/2-samuel-8.html. 1905.
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