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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 23

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-7

Second Samuel - Chapter 23

Last Inspired Words of David, vs. 1-7

By "the last words of David" is not meant the last words he ever spoke, but the last words of inspiration of the Lord which he uttered. David spoke many times in his psalms and prayers by the inspiration of God, most of them recorded in the book of Psalms. How near the end of David’s life he spoke these things cannot be known, though of course it must have been quite near it. David did a number of things from his death bed, as recorded in First Kings, chapter 1 and 2. The events of First Chronicles, chapters 22-29 also occur near the end of his life. Sometime contemporarily he must have received these words of the Lord and repeated them, perhaps to Solomon particularly.

It is interesting to note the accession of rank by which David speaks of himself in verse one. First, he is simply David, the son of Jesse. The lowly patronymic by which Saul and others had mocked David’s ancestry he admitted. David recognized his humble origin, which all must do to be exalted in the Lord as he was (1 Peter 5:6). Second, David called himself the man whom God raised up on high to become "the anointed of the God of Jacob." There seems to be Messianic import in this, in that the Lord raised up His Anointed, Jesus Christ. He also raises those who humbly come repenting to and trusting Him for salvation (Ephesians 2:4-7). Finally, he speaks of himself as "the sweet psalmist of Israel." David lacked some things in sweetness of character, but his songs, inspired of God, were a sweet legacy to all the world after him. It reminds one of the joyous singing which shall be in heaven eternally (Revelation 15:3; cf. Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16).

In verse two David lays claim to divine inspiration. It may be that some of the Old Testament writers did not realize that they were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a possibility that has been debated, but David knew that he spoke so at least some of the time (note 2 Peter 1:21). By inspiration the Lord informed David how rulers should rule over their subjects. They must be just, or fair and honest, and judge in the fear of the Lord. No man is fit to rule others who does not recognize that God judges him and his power is by His will.

God showed David that the rule of the king should be as enlightening to his people as the dawn of a new day and the rising of the sun. It should be as fair as the cloudless morning and as refreshing to his subjects as the rain to the grass. But David did not claim to be such a ruler, for he knew his shortcomings. Yet God had made it so by the covenant he had made with him, everlastingly ordered and sure (2 Samuel 7:4-11). This covenant David saw as the salvation of his house, according to all he could desire. The King James Version reads, "although he make it not to grow," but the American Standard reads, "Will he not indeed make it grow?" which seems more in keeping with the context.

The passage closes with an application to the wicked rulers. They are worthless sons of Belial, as liable to harm their associates as are thorns those who grasp them. Like the thorns they must be handled with iron, held down by a spear, taken and burned with fire in the place where they are found. This is like the unsaved who, found in their sin, are consigned to the eternal lake of fire (Revelation 21:8).

Verses 8-12

Three Great Exploits, 2 Samuel 23:8-12 AND 1 Chronicles 11:10-14

These parallel passages introduce an account of some of David’s most heroic mighty men, and discuss the deed by which they became renowned. The Chronicles account has a bit more introduction, showing that they were men whose loyalty was long standing and persistent for their king. They were among those few hundred who early on resorted to David when he fled from Saul.

The first of these mentioned was the chief of the captains. Scholars have determined that poor translation has resulted in a rendering of his name, (which was Jashobeam) by translating "that sat in the seat," which is what his name means. It should read, in the Samuel account, "The Tachmonite (or Hachmonite), Jashobeam, chief etc." He was called Adino the Eznite because of his slaying of several hundred in one battle. Adino means "a slender spear", and may also have been wrongly rendered in translation, as many scholars think. The two accounts also give two different numbers of his slain, which is probably to be accounted for by a scribal error.

Eleazar was the second of three chief mighty men. He is called the Ahohite, which is a reference to his town or family. He gained his fame by making a lone stand against the Philistines when the men of Israel had withdrawn. He fought so long and hard that his hand was cramped around the hilt of his sword so that he could not release it when the battle was over. He won the day, and Israel returned to take up the spoil after him, His hand cleaving to the sword has been used as an analogy of the Christian holding fast to the sword of the Lord until he is unable to let go of it (Ephesians 6:17).

The engagement against the Philistines in which Shammah proved his prowess in war occurred in a field at Pas-dammim. This was in the Philistine plain and the site of several bloody conflicts. The name means "bloody boundary." The field was planted with lentils according to Samuel, barley in Chronicles. Lentils was a cereal crop, as was barley, so that both may have been growing in the field. Shammah stood and defended the field against the Philistines, and the Lord gave Israel a great victory as a result. These incidents show what the Lord can do with one person devoted to His cause.

Verses 13-17

A Feat of Loyalty, 2 Samuel 23:13-17 AND 1 Chronicles 11:15-19

The heroes of this incident are called "three of the thirty chiefs (captains)." In the closing lines of the Chronicles account they are called "these three mightiest," which may mean Jashobeam, Eleazar, and Shammah, mentioned above. The incident evidently took place in the early stages of David’s war against the Philistines in which they were subjected (2 Samuel 5:17-25). The location was southwest of Jerusalem, the valley of Rephaim. Here the Philistines had pitched their army against David, and David was in the stronghold of the cave of Adullam The Philistines had also garrisoned the town of Bethlehem, cutting David off from his hometown.

During a period of apparent stalemate David began to dwell nostalgically on the things of home. He remembered how cool the water of the well of Bethlehem beside the gate had been to a shepherd boy bringing in the sheep from pasture on a dry and dusty evening. As he thus reminisced he uttered a sigh of desire for a draught of that good water from the well of Bethlehem according to his desire.

David was deeply moved by this great show of respect and dedication to him by these men. He realized at what terrible danger these men had undertaken this feat of love for their king. He could not drink it, for it represented the very lives of these men, which they would gladly have sacrificed on account of him. David said, "My God forbid it me, that I should do this: shall I drink the blood of these men that have put their lives in jeopardy?" So he poured it out as a libation before the Lord. Such devotion illustrates how God’s children should love doing those things pleasing to the Savior more than they love their own lives (Lu 14:26-27).

Verses 18-23

Abishai and Benaieh, 2 Samuel 23:18-23 AND 1 Chronicles 11:20-25

In this passage are introduced two of David’s chief captains. The first, Abishai, frequently appears in the career of David as a very brave, loyal man. In some of David’s battles he was second in command to his brother, Joab, and this passage indicates that he was captain of the mighty men. He was the son of David’s older sister, Zeruiah, and in time the king came to despise him, along with Joab, because of their insubordination. This was particularly manifested in the assassination of Abner (I1Sa 3:30) and the murder of Amasa (2 Samuel 20:6-10). Abishai’s brave deed that won him his position was the slaughter of three hundred of the enemy in one battle.

There is a puzzling statement about Abishai, however, "Was he not most honorable of three? ... howbeit he attained not unto the first three." The New American Standard Bible renders the numeral "thirty" rather than "three". The meaning seems to be that Abishai was a most honorable man among the thirty mighty men and became their captain. However, his deeds did not measure up to those of the first three, Jashobeam, Eleazar, and Shammah, who jeopardized their lives to bring David a drink of water from the well of Bethlehem.

The second outstanding hero of this passage was Benaiah, who commanded the Cherethites and Pelethites. He was the son of Jehoiada of Kabzeel, a town in the southernmost part of Judah, not far from Beersheba. The exploits of Benaiah included slaying two lionlike men of Moab. (Later versions say "two sons of Ariel of Moab," Ariel meaning "lionlike".) He was also noted for going into a pit where a lion had been trapped on a snowy day and killing it. The third deed of honor Benaiah performed was the single handed slaying of a formidable Egyptian more than eight feet tall. With a club Benaiah knocked the Egyptian’s spear from his grasp, seized it, and killed him with his own spear. He was also listed among the honorable, but did not rank with the first three. When Solomon became king and had Joab executed Benaiah was promoted to the position of captain of the host (1 Kings 2:28-35).

Verses 24-39

Other Heroes of David, 2 Samuel 23:24-39 AND 1 Chronicles 11:26-47

These two passages are the listing of David’s mighty men. It appears that, in the beginning, the elite group consisted of a round thirty men, but in time it was enlarged to include other outstanding warriors. The Samuel account states there were thirty-seven in all at the time of that writing, though all the thirty-seven are not named. On the other hand the Chronicles account lists about fifty names. It is likely that these contain names of notable persons who had died before they were recorded (e.g., Asahel, the brother of Joab, who was slain by Abner).

When the Chronicles account was compiled by the scribes after the Babylonian captivity the group had long since ceased to exist.

Each list contains names not found in the other, which should not be surprising. Also the differences in spelling of names of persons and of places can be attributed to linguistic and orthographical changes during the centuries separating the compilation of the two books. Other differences occur where one account names the father, or town, of the man, whereas the other does not.

It is clear that the majority of the mighty men came from David’s own tribe of Judah. Near half of them can be directly traced to a famous father or town in Judah. This is also not surprising. The tribe of Judah was sympathetic to their fugitive son even before the death of Saul. It is to be remembered, too, that for seven and a half years David reigned over Judah before becoming king of all the tribes. The famous group was certainly organized by that time, as witness again the example of Asahel, who was killed in the civil war between the men of David and Abner the captain of the host of Israel (2 Samuel 2:18-23).

Many of the other tribes were represented among the mighty men, however. Several came from Benjamin (Saul’s own tribe) and the proud tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh. Brave men from the tribes east of Jordan were among the mighty men, and there was at least one from the tribe of Da Men also from the surrounding Gentile nations made the honored roster, the most notable of whom was Uriah, the Hittite, who was, however, probably a proselyte to the religion of Israel. Others came from Maachah, Zobah, Ammon, and Moab.

Of the three called `The first three" (verse 25) and "the mightiest" (verse 19) Jashobeam is not listed again, though he was surely in the number. Eleazar (called Elhanan here) and Shammah are listed. Other notable include Asahel and Uriah (already mentioned); Eliam, the son of Ahithophel, and father of Bathsheba. Of the twelve divisions of David, who went in and out in his service month by month, all seem to have been commanded by one of the mighty men (1 Chronicles 27:1-15).

Some lessons: 1) Several passages in the Old Testament claim inspiration for it; 2) rulers are directly accountable to God for their manner of ruling; 3) the Lord will enable His people to withstand their spiritual enemies; 4) devotion to the Lord’s service should be so complete as to disregard physical desire in order to serve Him; 5) God keeps a record of those who are heroes of faith, and it cannot be expunged (Lu 10:20; cf. Revelation 20:15).

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/2-samuel-23.html. 1985.
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