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the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 23

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


2 Samuel 23:1. Words, rather, Divine sayings, i.e., prophetic utterances. Keil thus translates the verse:

“Divine saying of David the son of Jesse,
Divine saying of the man, the highly exalted
Of the anointed of the God of Jacob,” etc.

“The following words of David are thereby announced to be a peculiarly prophetic declaration which rests on an inspeaking of God by His Spirit to His soul.” (Erdmann). This introduction to the prophetic announcement rests, both as to form and substance, upon the last sayings of Balaam concerning the future history of Israel. (Numbers 24:3-15). This not only shows to what extent David had occupied himself with the utterances of the earlier men of God concerning Israel’s future, but indicates, at the same time, that his own prophetic utterance was intended to be a further expansion of Balaam’s prophecy concerning the star out of Jacob and the sceptre of Israel. Like Balaam, he calls his prophecy a Divine saying, or oracle, as a revelation which he had received direct from God. (Numbers 24:3). But the recipient of this revelation was not, like Balaam the son of Beor, a man with closed eye, whose eyes had been opened by a vision of the Almighty, but “the man who was raised up on high,” i.e., whom God had lifted up out of humiliation to be the ruler of His people, yea, even to be the head of the nations. 2 Samuel 22:44). (Kiel), “A statement of the grounds on which it was to be expected that he would be employed as an agent of God in the utterance of this important prophecy.”—(Jamieson).

2 Samuel 23:2. “Spake,” Rather, speaketh, i.e., in the following revelation. “On my tongue.” The parallelism here employed is obviously gradational, in which the idea introduced in the former member is continued, but amplified in the latter. (Henderson.) “While in 2 Samuel 23:1 the prophetic organ of the Divine saying is doubly characterised, 2 Samuel 23:2 sets forth in two-fold expression the two-fold Divine medium of the inspired prophetic word.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 23:3. “God … Rock.” “To indicate that the contents of His prophecy relate to the salvation of the people of Israel, and are guaranteed by the faithfulness of God.” (Keil.) “SaidSpeaks.” Rather, “Saith … Speaketh.” “He that ruleth.” This should be—“A ruler over men—just—A ruler in the fear of God.” It evidently refers exclusively to the Messiah, as in Isaiah 11:2-3. and is a sentence abrupt and isolated; not, as Erdmann remarks syntactically connected either with 2 Samuel 23:2 or 2 Samuel 23:4.

2 Samuel 23:4. All the figures in this verse express the blessings of the Messiah’s rain. He is not personally, as the English version makes it appear, the subject of the verse.

2 Samuel 23:5. “Although.… yet.” Here, again, the English version must be rejected. The verse read correctly is—“For is not my house so with God.” For He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, provided with all, and attested. For all my salvation and all good pleasure should He not make it to grow? The covenant referred to is the promise made in 2 Samuel 7:12, which is said to be guarded or provided with all that can secure its fulfilment. “My salvation, i.e., the salvation promised, assured to me and my seed. The pleasure must be taken (as the salvation is from God) as—what is well-pleasing to God, not—what is well-pleasing to me.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 23:6-7. “As thorns are extirpated out of a land that is about to be brought under culture, so wicked men will disappear from the kingdom of the Messiah—the wicked enemies and persecutors of this kingdom of righteousness. They resemble those prickly thorny plants which are twisted together, whose spires point in every direction, and are so sharp and strong that they cannot be approached without danger; but bard instruments and violent means must be taken to destroy or uproot them. (Jamieson.) “In the same place.”Where they dwell, or, on the spot. (Kimchi and Kiel.) Erdmann and others read, “so that there should be an end of them.”



I. That God has spoken to man is a fact of human history. Reflection upon the aspect of things around us, and especially upon the nature and needs of man, would lead us to expect that God would break the silence of eternity and let His voice be heard by the children of time. When a vessel is built to sail upon unknown seas, the builder and owner of the ship does not consider her complete without the compass, by means of which she can make her way safely to distant ports and so fulfil the end for which she came into existence. A good human father, knowing the moral perils to which his children are exposed, will not leave them without the benefits of such moral instruction as he is able to impart to them. He would be a cruel man indeed if he permitted his children to grow up without giving them the benefits of his own larger experience and superior knowledge—without furnishing them with the best rules for the guidance of their lives which he was able to frame. Men find themselves strangers on the earth—compelled, whether they will or no, to cross the stormy and mysterious sea of life, and they naturally look to Him to whom they owe their being for some guidance to a haven of rest and satisfaction at the close of the voyage. They know how carefully a good earthly father provides, so far as he is able, for all the needs of his children; and reasoning from the creature-to the Creator, they conclude that God must have so provided for their spiritual needs, especially as He so bountifully and constantly supplies their bodily wants. Thoughtful men in past ages were driven to the conclusion that God would thus speak to men; and we, who possess the book which claims to be the revelation of His mind and will, accept it because reason and analogy lead us to feel that such a revelation must be, and that the Bible records an undoubted fact when it declares that it has taken place.

II. That God should speak by one man to many, and by some for all, is in accordance with the social constitution of all things around us. In all departments of life we find that blessings come to man through man—that the gifts of God as a rule do not come to us direct from heaven, but through the medium and ministration of those who are bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Not only so, but the most precious and valued benefits do not come through every man or any man, but through men who seem to be specially gifted and elected to be the channels of such good things. One great scientific discoverer is the means of bringing enlightenment and elevation to many generations, another unfolds a secret by which the pain and suffering of thousands is lessened or done away with. A great statesman brings peace and prosperity to the homes of hundreds of his countrymen, and a philanthrophist lifts up a generation of down-trodden men and women, and causes them to sing for joy. When God gave to man that greatest of His gifts—a knowledge of Himself—He did but work in harmony with His own constituted methods when He made known His will first to prophets and apostles, that through human hearts and by human lips the goodwill of God to the race might be made known.

III. What God has spoken reveals His desire that the rule of heaven should become the rule of earth. One reason why the rule of heaven is the rule of justice is because its King can make no mistake as to what justice really is. Human creatures in power are sometimes unjust through ignorance of the merits of the case. They cannot be so perfectly acquainted with all the circumstances of those under their authority as to act at all times with strict impartiality. But blessed be God, it is not so with Him. He who made man knows what is in him and around him, and cannot therefore err in His judgment. And all that He has said and done shows Him to be no less desirous than capable of thus dealing righteously with the children of men. He has found the Ruler who alone is able to bring about this reign of righteousness upon the earth. His beloved Son can misjudge none through ignorance, and His perfect holiness makes it certain He will not abuse the power which He holds in His hand. In His life and death we read the desires and purposes of God concerning us, and when He speaks we hear the voice of Him who sits upon the throne of the universe, saying, “A just God and a Saviour, there is none beside Me” (Isaiah 45:21). In proportion as men listen to Him, and follow His guidance, will heaven be begun upon earth, and the darkness of sin and sorrow be dispersed by the rise of this Sun of Righteousness. It is to this end that “God spake in times past by the prophets,” and has “in these last days spoken by His Son.” (Hebrews 1:1.)


2 Samuel 23:1. Religion, it has been contended, is not the proper theme of poetry.… But if poetry be adapted to body forth the noblest conceptions, and to breathe the language of stirring emotion, where is the theme that presents a field so sublime as religion, or awakens emotions so fervent?.… The most daring flights fall far short of the elevation which such themes will justify; the most glowing language cannot exaggerate such emotion. Must the noblest forms of language be restricted to embattled fields of earth and to the petty strifes and achievements of men?… No, let poetry rise amid the roll of cherubic wheels and the rushing of cherubic wings; let her glow with seraphic ardour and learn seraphic strains; let her celebrate the redeeming work, and put hymns into the lips of those who, struggling with emotions which they have no language to utter, find in the bold and tender stanzas which consecrated talent has put forth, the impassioned strains that both express and excite their piety. Were examples asked it might be shown that poetry is the selected form in which prophets embodied their inspired vaticinations, and the Psalms might be adduced as so many lyrical compositions exclusively dedicated to devotion.—John Ely.

2 Samuel 23:4. The chief idea of the emblem—the grass shining clearly after rain—is that of growth—fresh, healthy, beautiful development and progress—steady, silent advance in holiness. In individuals under his precious influence the graces of the new creation are seen ripening, the understanding becoming more clear, the will more firm, the conscience more vigorous, the habits more holy, the temper more serene, the affections more pure, the desires more heavenly. In communities conversions are multiplied, and souls advance steadily in holy beauties; intelligence spreads, love triumphs over selfishness, and the expansive, genial spirit of Christ drives out the bitter spirit of strife and the dry spirit of mammon.—Blaikie.

Like the spring, so is also the reign of grace, a joyous, busy time, wherein Messiah makes us righteous and God-fearing, so that we become green, blooming, fragrant, and grow and become fruitful. And now go so; Who lives in spring he dies no more; who dies in winter he lives no more, for the sun goes away from the latter; but to the former the sun rises up of which David prophesies. Where the sun, Christ, does not shine clear, the spring also is not pleasant; but Moses with the law’s thunder makes everything dreadful and quite deadly. But here, in Messiah’s time, says David, when He shall reign over Israel itself, with grace to make us righteous and save us, it will be as delightful as the best time in spring, when before day there has been a delightful warm rain, that is, the consoling gospel has been preached, and quickly thereupon the sun, Christ, comes up in our heart through right faith without Moses’ clouds and thunder and lightning. Then all proceeds to grow, to be green and blooming, and the day is rich in joy and peace.—Luther.

2 Samuel 23:6-7. Some regard Christ’s sceptre as one of mercy only, but the uniform representation of the Bible is different. There is an ominous combination of mercy and judgment in this, as in most predictions of Christ’s kingly glory. In the bosom of one of Isaiah’s sweetest promises, the Messiah declares that He was anointed to proclaim “the day of vengeance of our God.”.… It could not be otherwise. The union of mercy and judgment is the inevitable result of that righteousness which is the foundation of His government. Sin is the abominable thing which He hates. To separate men from sin is the grand object of His rule. For this end, He draws His people into union with Himself;.… but as for those who refuse to part with their sin, … the sin that is within them cannot abide in His holy kingdom, and as they refuse to let their sin be destroyed and their persons saved, nothing remains but that they and their sins perish together.—Blaikie.

2 Samuel 23:1-7. True preaching is always a prophetic testimony. I. As to its origin: the spirit of the Lord speaks through it. II. As to its contents: the word of the Lord is upon its tongue. III. As to its subjects: the mysteries of God’s saving purpose, which only God’s Spirit can explain; the great deeds of God’s grace, which can be proclaimed only on the ground of personal, inner experience, and of one’s own seeing and hearing; and the future affairs of God’s kingdom, in the manifestation of Divine salvation and Divine judgment, which only the eye illuminated by the light and of the Spirit can behold.—Erdmann.

The prophetic photograph of the future ruler in the prophecy of David answers in its outlines to the counterpart of the fulfilment in Christ, and this:—I. In respect to His personal appearing, perfect righteousness, and holiness in complete fear of God (religious ethical perfection). II. In respect to the extent of His royal dominion, He is ruler over men, universality of world dominion. III. In respect to the foundations of His kingdom, the promises of God. IV. In respect to the activity and effects of his royal rule, on the one hand in the enlightening, warming, animating, and fructifying light of his manifestations of grace and blessings of salvation; on the other hand, in the fire of His judgment consuming all ungodliness.—Erdmann.

The prophetic element, which appears in David’s Messianic psalms, comes out most strongly here. In Nathan’s promise and prophecy David is merely passively receptive, and his prayer is only the echo of the Divine word he has received, but here he rises to the highest prophetic action, which pre-supposes indeed a passive bearing towards the Divine saying (the Neum), by which he receives an immediate revelation in plastic form of what he had previously received as a promise through Nathan.—Erdmann.

A blessed end, when, in looking back upon the path of life that lies behind, one has nothing to utter but gratitude and praise; when, in looking around upon his own life’s acquisitions and his possession of salvation, all self-glorying is silent, and only the testimony to God’s grace and mercy, that has done all and given all, comes upon the lips. When, in looking forward into the future of God’s kingdom upon earth, on the ground of the grace experienced in life, one’s faith becomes a prophet, beholding the ways along which the Lord brought His Kingdom through darkness to light; through conflict to victory.—Erdmann.

Verses 8-39


2 Samuel 23:8. “Tachmonite” Rather, Ben Hachmoni, of the family of Hachmon, not as in 1 Chronicles 27:32, a son, because in 2 Samuel 23:2 of that chapter, Zabdiel is mentioned as his father. “Chief,” “not leader, but most distinguished.” (Erdmann.) “Captains,” or knights. (Erdmann.) “Eight hundred.” “This is not to be understood as signifying that he killed eight hundred men at one blow, but that in a battle he threw his spear again and again at the foe, until eight hundred men had been slain. The Chronicles gives three hundred instead of eight hundred; and as that number occurs again in 2 Samuel 23:18, it probably found its way from that verse into this in the book of Chronicles.

2 Samuel 23:9-11. There are some variations between the reading here and in the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 11:0, but many of the apparent discrepancies are easily accounted for when we remember that they may be independent records, and are not necessarily copied one from the other. “Only to spoil,” i.e., they had nothing to do but enter in and enjoy the fruits of the victory. Hararite, “perhaps the mountaineer.” (Wordsworth). A troop. Erdmann, Ewald, and Thenius translate this word as the name of the place, viz., Lehi. (See Judges 15:9). Lentiles. “In the Chronicles it is added there was barley there. Doubtless the field (or large plain) was sown with both; the independence of the two writers is thus shown.” (Wordsworth).

2 Samuel 23:13. Three of the thirty chiefs; or, the three chiefs of the thirty. The thirty are those enumerated at the end of the chapter. Thirty-one (or thirty-two) are there mentioned, and more in Chronicles, but this was evidently a name for a certain corps of men, which, as Kiel suggests, possibly at first numbered exactly thirty, but which would at times receive additions in the different wars in which David was engaged. Adullam. “According to the situation here described, this exploit occurred in the Philistine war, narrated in 2 Samuel 5:17, sq.” (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 23:15. Well of Bethlehem. “An ancient cistern, with four or five holes in the solid rock, at about ten minutes’ distance to the north of the eastern corner of the hill of Bethlehem, is pointed out by the natives as Bir-Daoud—David’s well. Dr. Robinson doubts the identity of the well; but others think that there are no good grounds for doing so. Certainly, considering this to be the ancient well, Bethlehem must have once extended ten minutes further to the north, and must have lain, in times of old, not as now on the summit, but on the northern rise of the hill; for the well is by, or (1 Chronicles 11:7) at the gate. (Jamieson). “I find in the descriptions of travellers that the common opinion is, that David’s captains had come from the south-east, in order to obtain, at the risk of their lives, the so much longed for water; while it is supposed that David was then himself in the great cave that is not far from the south-east of Bethlehem; which cave is generally held to have been that of Adullam. But (Joshua 15:35). Adullam lay in the valley”—that is, in the undulating plain at the western base of the mountains of Judea, and consequently to the south-west of Jerusalem. Be this as it may, David’s three men had, in any case, to break through the host of the Philistines in order to reach the well; and the position of Bir-Daoud agrees well with this. (Van de Velde). Dr. Thomson (Land and the Book) says that Bethlehem is now poorly supplied with water.

2 Samuel 23:17. “In jeopardy,” etc., for the price of their souls, i.e., at the risk of their lives. “The water drawn and fetched at the risk of their lives is compared to the soul itself, and the soul is in the blood. (Leviticus 17:11.) Drinking this water, therefore, would be nothing else than drinking their blood.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 23:19. Chief among three. As the historian says further on that, neither Abishai nor Benniah attained unto the three (so the Heb.); it seems better to read here chief among thirty, i.e., they distinguished themselves among those heroes, but were not so renowned as those mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:8-12.

2 Samuel 23:20. “Lion-like men.” Literally, Ariels, or Lions of God. The Arabs and Persians so designate every remarkably brave men, and these were doubtless two celebrated Moabitish warriors. “Pit,” or Cistern. “The lion had been driven into the neighbourhood of human habitations by a heavy fall of snow, and had taken refuge in a cistern.” (Keil and others.)

2 Samuel 23:21. “An Egyptian.” Better The Egyptian, some well-known man, celebrated for his strength and stature. “A goodly man,” lit. a man of appearances or (as in Chronicles) a man of measure.

2 Samuel 23:22. “Three mighty.” Here also it seems necessary to read Thirty instead of Three. (See on 2 Samuel 23:19.)

2 Samuel 23:24-39. Most of these names are not further known. “Shammah.” Must not be confounded with the Shammahs mentioned in 2 Samuel 23:11; 2 Samuel 23:33. (Keil.) “Ittai.” “Must be distinguished from the Gathite.” (Keil.) “Eliphelet,” etc. Many Hebrew scholars consider that there is here a slight error, as there is no reason why the grandfather’s name should be given in addition to that of the father, and it better suits the grammatical form of some of the words to read—Eliphelet the son of Ur; Hepher the Maachathite, thus adding one to the list.

2 Samuel 23:39. “Thirty-seven.” “This number is correct, as there were three in the first class (2 Samuel 23:8-12), two in the second (2 Samuel 23:18-23), and thirty-two in the third (2 Samuel 23:24-39), since 2 Samuel 23:34 contains three names according to the amended text.” (Kiel.) (See above on Eliphelet).



I. There is a loyalty in noble natures which seeks occasions of self-sacrifice. Satan very greatly belied even our fallen human nature when he said, “Skin for skin, yea, all that a man hath will he give for his life” (Job 2:4). Here he shows either his ignorance or his malice, for millions of men and women have proved its falsity. No generation has ever lived upon the earth in which some have not been found willing to risk their lives, not merely in obedience to the voice of conscience, or out of gratitude to Christ and for the sake of spreading His gospel, but as David’s mighty men did here, with a devotion which seemed on the watch for an opportunity to manifest its depth. We should have good reason to admire these warriors if they had fought their way to Bethlehem’s gate to rescue their master from the hands of the Philistines, or to procure for him some necessary food or drink. Such a deed would have entitled them to receive the well-done of faithful servants and would have established their claim to David’s grateful love. But in braving death to gratify a passing wish of their king they went far beyond the strictest requirements of duty, and their conduct is a striking proof of the fact that the noblest natures find their purest gratification in self-sacrifice—in laying all that they have and are at the feet of another.

II. Those who are the objects of deep affection should be watchful of the claims they make upon it. David’s desire was perfectly natural and lawful, and it was not wrong to express it. But it was certainly somewhat inconsiderate, seeing that he must have known the kind of men who surrounded him. Probably, however, he did not dream that the utterance of his wish would have such a result, and we may well believe that his experience now made him more careful in the future when such brave and loving friends were near. It behoves all who are deeply and tenderly loved to be very mindful how strong such love is and how much it will do and bear for the object of its love. True it is that self-devotion raises and gladdens the soul that exercises it, but none but the utterly mean man could use this truth to excuse his own selfishness. Let such an one remember that he loses in proportion as the other gains, and let all be so anxious to find out and gratify the desires of those who love them as to have no room to express their own.

III. Heroic deeds have a tendency to beget others after their kind. It is quite possible that David’s mighty men became what they were through association with him. He had set them many noble examples of bravery and self-forgetfulness, and they had been apt pupils of a worthy master. And now their deed of loyal daring begets in him one of the same kind. When men thus seek to equal and out-do each other in bringing their lower nature into subjection to the higher, and in seeking who shall be the greater in acts of loving service, then, indeed, is a warfare carried on which is all gain and no loss, and where both sides gain a victory worth having.


I. The three warriors must be surveyed as servants of David, men engaged to obey his commands and execute his will to the utmost of their power. And their conduct then appears very admirable, as far removed as can well be imagined from that calculating and niggardly obedience which betrays a disposition to do the least possible, to render as little to a master as that master can be prevailed on to accept.… David might have summoned the bravest of his battalions and bidden them attempt the forcing a passage to the well, but he simply uttered a wish, … and it was sufficient for the bold and true-hearted men.… There is an example set to every man who is called upon for obedience, which fits the history before us to be inscribed on our kitchens, our shops, and our churches. The example lies in their not having waited for a command, but acted on a wish, and there is no man to whom the term servant applies—and it applies to every man, at least with reference to God—who would not do well to ponder the example.… Consider men generally as the servants of God.… He dealeth with us as with children, rather not laying down an express precept for every possible case, but supposing in us a principle which will always lead to our considering what will be pleasing to Himself, and to our taking His pleasure as our rule.
… And the Christian should search for the least indication of God’s will, and give it all the form of a positive statute.… II. Then what care should there be that nothing may be said in joke which may be taken in earnest, nothing even hinted at as our belief or desire which we would not have acted upon by those who hear our words. It is specially to children that this remark applies; for they may be supposed to have all that submissiveness to authority and that willingness to oblige which distinguished David’s warriors, as well as the inability of discriminating a casual expression from an actual direction.… There may occur precisely what occurred with David’s servants. It is not that the monarch has commanded his warriors to dare death … or even wished them to undertake the rash and perilous enterprise. It is only that, without reflection or thought, he gave utterance to something that was passing in his mind, and that those about him overheard the inconsiderate expression. And do you mark that young person, who is devoting himself with uncalculating eagerness to some worldly pursuit.… The parent never wished him thus to squander his powers; the parent never thought that he would.… but was apt to give words to feelings which he would never have breathed, had he remembered the possibility of their being received as genuine, or interpreted as laudable.… III. But the genuineness of the repentance of David … is proved by his refusal to derive benefit from his sin … And we are now concerned with the question as to what is binding on a man, if, with the advantages, procured by a fault, lying at his disposal, the water from the well of Bethlehem sparkling before him, he become convinced of his fault?… Is he to drink of the water, to enjoy the advantages? It may often be a hard question, but we do not see how there can be any true penitence, where what has been wrongfully obtained is kept and used.… Let the case be that which is not unlikely to occur amid the complicated interests of a great mercantile community.… We cannot think it enough to give large sums in charity as an atonement or reparation.… Zaccheus made an accurate distinction between restitution and almsgiving; he would give alms of that only which had been honourably obtained; the rest he returned, with large interest, to those from whom it had been unfairly procured. And though it might be impossible for the trader to make restitution precisely to the parties who have been injured, we do not see how, with his conscience accusing him of having done wrong, he can lawfully appropriate any share of the profits any more than David could have lawfully drunk of the water procured at his ill-advised wish.—Canon Melville.

A knightly deed this! But was it not rather foolhardiness, if not downright servility, and was not this expending courage recklessly, and dealing wastefully with human life? This question resembles that with which Judas Iscariot presumed to censure the anointing of Mary at Bethany. True love has its measure in itself, and in its modes of manifestation puts itself beyond all criticism.—Krummacher.

In David’s conduct to the heroes that bring him water from Bethlehem at the risk of their lives are set forth these three things:—I. Noble modesty, which regards the love-offering of one’s neighbour as too dear and valuable for one’s self and declines to receive it. II. Sincere humility before the Lord, which lays the honour at His feet as He to whom alone it belongs. III. A clear view and tender estimation of the infinite moral worth of human life in men’s relations towards one another and towards God.—Erdmann.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 23". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/2-samuel-23.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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