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2 Samuel 8:1-14.
THE transitions of the Bible, like those of actual life, are often singularly abrupt; that which now hurries us from the scene of elevated communion with God to the confused noise and deadly struggles of the battle-field is peculiarly startling. We are called to contemplate David in a remarkable light, as a professional warrior, a man of the sword, a man of blood; wielding the weapons of destruction with all the decision and effect of the most daring commanders. That the sweet singer of Israel, from whose tender heart those blessed words poured out to which the troubled soul turns for composure and peace, should have been so familiar with the horrors of the battle-field, is indeed a surprise. We can only say that he was led to regard all this rough work as indispensable to the very existence of his kingdom, and to the fulfillment of the great ends for which Israel had been called. Painful and miserable though it was in itself, it was necessary for the accomplishment of greater good. The bloodthirsty spirit of these hostile nations would have swallowed up the kingdom of Israel, and left no trace of it remaining. The promise to Abraham, "In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed," would have ceased to have any basis for its fulfillment. Painful though it was to deal death and destruction on every side, it would have been worse to see the nation of Israel destroyed, and the foundation of the world’s greatest blessings swept for ever away.
The "rest from all his enemies round about," referred to in the first verse of the seventh chapter, seems to refer to the nearer enemies of the kingdom, while the wars mentioned in the present chapter were mostly with enemies more remote. The most important of the wars now to be considered was directed against the occupants of that large territory lying between Palestine and the Euphrates which God had promised to Abraham, although no command had been given to dispossess the inhabitants, and therefore it could be held only in tributary subjection. In some respects, David was the successor of Joshua as well as of Moses. He had to continue Joshua’s work of conquest, as well as Moses’ work of political arrangement and administration. The nations against whom he had now to go forth were most of them warlike and powerful; some of them were banded together in leagues against him, rendering his enterprise very perilous, and such as could have been undertaken by no one who had not an immovable trust in God. The twentieth Psalm seems to express the feelings with which the godly part of the nation would regard him as he went forth to these distant and perilous enterprises:
The Lord answer thee in the day of trouble;
The name of the God of Jacob set thee up on high;
Send thee help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen thee out of Zion;
Remember all thy offerings,
And accept thy burnt-sacrifice; [Selah]
Grant thee thy heart’s desire,
And fulfill all thy counsel.
We will triumph in thy salvation,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners;
The Lord fulfill all thy petitions.
Now know I that the Lord saveth His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses,
But we will make mention of the name of the Lord our God.
They are bowed down and fallen;
But we are risen, and stand upright.
Let the King answer us when we call.
It is an instructive fact that the history of these wars is given so shortly. A single verse is all that is given to most of the campaigns. This brevity shows very clearly that another spirit than that which moulded ordinary histories guided the composition of this book. It would be beyond human nature to resist the temptation to describe great battles, the story of which is usually read with such breathless interest, and which gratify the pride of the people and reflect glory on the nation. It is not the object of Divine revelation to furnish either brief annals or full details of wars and other national events, except in so far as they have a spiritual bearing - a bearing on the relation between God and the people. From first to last the purpose of the Bible is simply to unfold the dispensation of grace, - God’s progress in revelation of His method of making an end of sin, and bringing in everlasting righteousness.
We shall briefly notice what is said regarding the different undertakings.
1. The first campaign was against the Philistines. Not even their disastrous discomfiture near the plain of Rephaim had taught submission to that restless people. On this occasion David carried the war into their own country, and took some of their towns, establishing garrisons there, as the Philistines had done formerly in the land of Israel. There is some obscurity in the words which describe one of his conquests. According to the Authorized Version, "He took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines." The Revised Version renders, "He took the bridle of the mother city out of the hand of the Philistines." The parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:1 has it, "He took Gath and her towns out of the hand of the Philistines." This last rendering is quite plain; the other passage must be explained in its light. Gath, the city of King Achish, to which David had fled twice for refuge, now fell into his hands. The loss of Gath must have been a great humiliation to the Philistines; not even Samson had ever inflicted on them such a blow. And the policy that led David (it could hardly have been without painful feelings) to possess himself of Gath turned out successful; the aggressive spirit of the Philistines was now fairly subdued, and Israel finally delivered from the attacks of a neighbour that had kept them for many generations in constant discomfort.
2. His next campaign was against Moab. As David himself had at one time taken refuge in Gath, so he had committed his father and mother to the custody of the king of Moab (1 Samuel 12:3-4). Jewish writers have a tradition that after a time the king put his parents to death, and that this was the origin of the war which he carried on against them. That David had received from them some strong provocation, and deemed it necessary to inflict a crushing blow for the security of that part of his kingdom, it seems hardly possible to doubt. Ingratitude was none of his failings, nor would he who was so grateful to the men of Jabesh-gilead for burying Saul and his sons have been severe on Moab if Moab had acted the part of a true friend in caring for his father and mother. When we read of the severity practiced on the army of Moab, we are shocked. And yet it is recorded rather as a token of forbearance than a mark of severity. How came it that the Moabite army was so completely in David’s power? Usually, as we have seen, when an army was defeated it was pursued by the victors, and in the course of the flight a terrible slaughter ensued. But the Moabite army had come into David’s power comparatively whole. This could only have been through some successful piece of generalship, by which David had shut them up in a position where resistance was impossible. Many an Eastern conqueror would have put the whole army to the sword; David with a measuring line measured two-thirds for destruction and a full third for preservation. Thus the Moabites in the south-east were subdued as thoroughly as the Philistines in the south-west, and brought tribute to the conqueror, in token of their subjection. The explanation of some commentators that it was not the army, but the fortresses, of Moab that David dealt with is too strained to be for a moment entertained. It proceeds on a desire to make David superior to his age, on unwillingness to believe, what, however, lies on the very surface of the story, that in the main features of his warlike policy he fell in with the maxims and spirit of the time.
3. The third of his campaigns was against Hadadezer, the son of Rehob, king of Zobah. It is said in the chapter before us that the encounter with this prince took place ’’as he went to recover his border at the river Euphrates;" in the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles it is "as he went to establish his dominion by the river Euphrates." The natural interpretation is, that David was on his way to establish his dominion by the river Euphrates, when this Hadadezer came out to oppose him. The terms of the covenant of God with Abraham assigned to him the land "from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates" (Genesis 15:18), and when the territory was again defined to Joshua, its boundary was "from the wilderness and this Lebanon even unto the great river, the river Euphrates." Under the provisions of this covenant, as made by Him whose is the earth and the fullness thereof, David held himself entitled to fix the boundary of his dominion by the banks of the river. In what particular form he designed to do this, we are not informed; but whatever may have been his purpose, Hadadezer set himself to defeat it. The encounter with Hadadezer could not but have been serious to David, for his enemy had a great force of military chariots and horsemen against whom he could oppose no force of the same kind. Nevertheless, David’s victory was complete; and in dealing with that very force in which he himself was utterly deficient, he was quite triumphant; for he took from his opponent a thousand and seven hundred horsemen, as well as twenty thousand footmen. There must have been some remarkable stroke of genius in this achievement, for nothing is more apt to embarrass and baffle a commonplace general than the presence of an opposing force to which his army affords no counterpart.
4. But though David had defeated Hadadezer, not far, as we suppose, from the base of Mount Hermon, his path to the Euphrates was by no means clear. Another body of Syrians, the Syrians of Damascus, having come from that city to help Hadadezer, seem to have been too late for this purpose, and to have encountered David alone. This, too, was a very serious enterprise for David; for though we are not informed whether, like Hadadezer, they had arms which the king of Israel could not match, it is certain that the army of so rich and civilized a state as Syria of Damascus would possess all the advantages that wealth and experience could bestow. But in his battle with them, David was again completely victorious. The slaughter was very great - two-and-twenty thousand men. This immense figure illustrates our remark a little while ago: that the slaughter of defeated and retreating armies was usually prodigious. So entire was the humiliation of this proud and ancient kingdom, that "the Syrians became servants to David, and brought presents," thus acknowledging his suzerainty over them. Between the precious things that were thus offered to King David and the spoil which he took from captured cities, he brought to Jerusalem an untold mass of wealth, which he afterwards dedicated for the building of the Temple.
5. In one case, the campaign was a peaceful one. "When Toi, king of Hamath, heard that David had smitten all the host of Hadadezer, then Toi sent Joram his son unto King David to salute him and to bless him, because he had fought against Hadadezer and had smitten him, for Hadadezer had wars with Toi." The kingdom of Toi lay in the valley between the two parallel ranges of Lebanon and anti-Lebanon, and it too was within the promised boundary, which extended to "the entering in of Hamath." Accordingly, the son of Toi brought with him vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass; these also did King David dedicate to the Lord. The fame of David as a warrior was now such, at least in these northern regions, that further resistance seemed out of the question. Submission was the only course when the conqueror was evidently supported by the might of Heaven.
6. In the south, however, there seems to have been more of a spirit of opposition. No particulars of the campaign against the Edomites are given; but it is stated that David put garrisons in Edom;" throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all the Edomites became servants to David." The placing of garrisons through all their country shows how obstinate these Edomites were, and how certain to have returned to fresh acts of hostility had they not been held in restraint by these garrisons. From the introduction to Psalms 60:1-12, it would appear that the insurrection of Edom took place while David was in the north contending with the two bodies of Syrians that opposed him - the Syrians of Zobah and those of Damascus. It would appear that Joab was detached from the army in Syria in order that he might deal with the Edomites. In the introduction to the Psalm, twelve thousand of the Edomites are said to have fallen in the Valley of Salt. In the passage now before us, it is said that eighteen thousand Syrians fell in that valley. The Valley of Salt is in the territory of Edom. It may be that a detachment of Syrian troops was sent to aid the Edomites, and that both sustained a terrible slaughter. Or it may be that, as in Hebrew the words for Syria and Edom are very similar (
7. Mention is also made of the Ammonites, the Amalekites, and the Philistines as having been subdued by David. Probably in the case of the Philistines and the Amalekites the reference is to the previous campaign already recorded, while the Ammonite campaign may be the one of which we have the record afterwards. But the reference to these campaigns is accompanied with no particulars.
Twice in the course of this chapter we read that ’’the Lord gave David victory whithersoever he went." It does not appear, however, that the victory was always purchased with ease, or the situation of David and his armies free from serious dangers. The sixtieth Psalm, the title of which ascribes it to this period, makes very plain allusion to a time of extraordinary trouble and disaster in connection with one of these campaigns. "O God, Thou hast cast us off; Thou hast scattered us; Thou hast been displeased: oh turn Thyself to us again." It is probable that when David first encountered the Syrians he was put to great straits, his difficulty being aggravated by his distance from home and the want of suitable supplies. If the Edomites, taking advantage of his difficulty, chose the time to make an attack on the southern border of the kingdom, and if the king was obliged to diminish his own force by sending Joab against Edom, with part of his men, his position must have been trying indeed. But David did not let go his trust in God; courage and confidence came to him by prayer, and he was able to say, ’’Through God we shall do valiantly; for He it is that shall tread down all our enemies."
The effect of these victories must have been very striking. In the Song of the Bow, David had celebrated the public services of Saul, who had "clothed the daughters of Israel in scarlet, with other delights, who had put on ornaments of gold on their apparel"; but all that Saul had done for the kingdom was now thrown into the shade by the achievements of David. With all his bravery, Saul had never been able to subdue his enemies, far less to extend the limits of the kingdom. David accomplished both; and it is the secret of the difference that is expressed in the words, "The Lord gave victory to David whithersoever he went." It is one of the great lessons of the Old Testament that the godly man can and does perform his duty better than any other man, because the Lord is with him: that whether he be steward of a house, or keeper of a prison, or ruler of a kingdom, like Joseph; or a judge and lawgiver, like Moses; or a warrior, like Samson, or Gideon, or Jephthah; or a king, like David, or Jehoshaphat, or Josiah; or a prime minister, like Daniel, his godliness helps him to do his duty as no other man can do his. This is especially a prominent lesson in the book of Psalms; it is inscribed on its very portals; for the godly man, as the very first Psalm tells us, "shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."
In these warlike expeditions. King David fore-shadowed the spiritual conquests of the Son of David, who went forth "conquering and to conquer," staggered for a moment, as in Gethsemane, by the rude shock of confederate enemies, but through prayer regaining his confidence in God, and triumphing in the hour and powder of darkness. That noble effusion of fire and feeling, the sixty-eighth Psalm, seems to have been written in connection with these wars. The soul of the Psalmist is stirred to its depths; the majestic goings of Jehovah, recently witnessed by the nation, have roused his most earnest feelings, and he strains every nerve to produce a like feeling in the people. The recent exploits of the king are ranked with His doings when He marched before His people through the wilderness, and Mount Sinai shook before Him. Great delight is expressed in God’s having taken up His abode on His holy hill, in the exaltation of His people in connection with that step, and likewise in looking forward to the future and anticipating the peaceful triumphs when "princes should come out of Egypt, and Ethiopia stretch forth her aims to God." Benevolent and missionary longings mingle with the emotions of the conqueror and the feelings of the patriot.
"Sing unto the Lord, ye kingdoms of the earth;
Oh, sing praises unto the Lord,
To Him that rideth upon the heaven of heavens that are of old.
Lo, He uttereth His voice, and that a mighty voice."
Alas, the era of wars has not yet passed away. Even Christian nations have been woefully slow to apply the Christian precept, "Inasmuch as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men." But let us at least make an earnest endeavour that if there must be war, its course may be followed up by the heralds of mercy, and that wherever there may occur "the battle of the warrior, and garments rolled in blood," there also it may speedily be proclaimed, "Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government is on His shoulders: and His name is called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).
ADMINISTRATION OF THE KINGDOM.
2 Samuel 8:15-18.
IF the records of David’s warlike expeditions are brief, still more so are the notices of his work of peace. How he fulfilled his royal functions when there was no war to draw him from home, and to engross the attention both of the king and his officers of state, is told us here in the very briefest terms, barely affording even the outline of a picture. Yet it is certain that the activity of David’s character, his profound interest in the welfare of his people, and his remarkable talent for administration, led in this department to very conspicuous and remarkable results. Some of the Psalms afford glimpses both of the principles on which he acted, and the results at which he aimed, that are fitted to be of much use in filling up the bare skeleton now before us. In this point of view, the subject may become interesting and instructive, as undoubtedly it is highly important. For we must remember that it was with reference to the spirit in which he was to rule that David was called the man after God’s heart, and that he formed such a contrast to his predecessor. And further we are to bear in mind that in respect of the moral and spiritual qualities of his reign David had for his Successor the Lord Jesus Christ. ’’The Lord God will give unto Him the throne of His servant David," said the angel Gabriel to Mary, ’’and He shall reign over the house of Judah forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end." It becomes us to make the most of what is told us of the peaceful administration of David’s kingdom, in order to understand the grounds on which our Lord is said to have occupied His throne.
The first statement in the verses before us is comprehensive and suggestive: "And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people." The first thing pointed out to us here is the catholicity of his kingly government, embracing all Israel, all people. He did not bestow his attention on one favoured section of the people, to the neglect or careless oversight of the rest. He did not, for example, seek the prosperity of his own tribe, Judah, to the neglect of the other eleven. In a word, there was no favoritism in his reign. This is not to say that he did not like some of his subjects better than the rest. There is every reason to believe that he liked the tribe of Judah best. But whatever preferences of this kind he may have had - and he would not have been man if he had had none - they did not limit or restrict his royal interest; they did not prevent him from seeking the welfare of every portion of the land, of every section of the people. Just as, in the days when he was a shepherd, there were probably some of his sheep and lambs for which he had a special affection, yet that did not prevent him from studying the welfare of the whole flock and of every animal in it with most conscientious care; so was it with his people. The least interesting of them were sacred in his eyes. They were part of his charge, and they were to be studied and cared for in the same manner as the rest. In this he reflected that universality of God’s care on which we find the Psalmist dwelling with such complacency: "The Lord is good to all; and His tender mercies are over all His works. The eyes of all wait upon Thee; and Thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest Thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing." And may we not add that this quality of David’s rule fore- shadowed the catholicity of Christ’s kingdom and His glorious readiness to bestow blessing on every side? "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." "On the last, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, If any man thirst, let him come unto Me and drink." "Where there is neither Jew nor Greek, circumcision nor un-circumcision, bond nor free; but Christ is all and in all." "Ye are all one in Christ Jesus."
In the next place, we have much to learn from the statement that the most prominent thing that David did was to "execute judgment and justice to the people." That was the solid foundation on which all his benefits rested. And these words are not words of form or words of course. For it is never said that Saul did anything of the kind. There is nothing to show that Saul was really interested in the welfare of the people, or that he took any pains to secure that just and orderly administration on which the prosperity of his kingdom depended. And most certainly they are not words that could have been used of the ordinary government of Oriental kings. Tyranny, injustice, oppression, robbery of the poor by the rich, government by favorites more cruel and unprincipled than their masters, imprisonments, fines, conspiracies, and assassinations, were the usual features of Eastern government. And to a great extent they are features of the government of Syria and other Eastern countries even at the present day. It is in vivid contrast to all these things that it is said, "David executed judgment and justice." Perhaps there is no need for assigning a separate meaning to each of these words; they may be regarded as just a forcible combination to denote the all-pervading justice which was the foundation of the whole government. He was just in the laws which he laid down, and just in the decisions which he gave. He was inaccessible to bribes, proof against the influence of the rich and powerful, and deaf in such matters to every plea of expediency; he regarded nothing but the scales of justice. What confidence and comfort an administration of this kind brought may in some measure be inferred from the extraordinary satisfaction of many an Eastern people at this day when the administration of justice is committed even to foreigners, if their one aim will be to deal justly with all. On this foundation, as on solid rock, a ruler may go on to devise many things for the welfare of his people. But apart from this any scheme of general improvement which may be devised is sure to be a failure, and all the money and wisdom and practical ability that may be expended upon it will only share the fate of the numberless cart-loads of solid material in the "Pilgrim’s Progress" that were cast into the Slough of Despond.
This idea of equal justice to all, and especially to those who had no helper, was a very beautiful one in David’s eyes. It gathered round it those bright and happy features which in the seventy-second Psalm are associated with the administration of another King. "Give the king Thy judgments, O God, and Thy righteousness to the king’s son. He shall judge Thy people with righteousness, and Thy poor with judgment," The beauty of a just government is seen most clearly in its treatment of the poor. It is the poor who suffer most from unrighteous rulers. Their feebleness makes them easier victims. Their poverty prevents them from dealing in golden bribes. If they have little individually wherewith to enrich the oppressor, their numbers make up for the small share of each. Very beautiful, therefore, is the government of the king who "shall judge the poor of the people, who shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor." The thought is one on which the Psalmist dwells with great delight. "He shall deliver the needy when he crieth, the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight." So far from need and poverty repelling him, they rather attract him. His interest and his sympathy are moved by the cry of the destitute. He would fain lighten the burdens that weigh them down so heavily, and give them a better chance in the struggle of life. He would do something to elevate their life above the level of mere hewers of wood and drawers of water. He recognizes fully the brotherhood of man.
And in all this we find the features of that higher government of David’s Son which shows so richly His most gracious nature. The cry of sorrow and need, as it rose from this dark world, did not repel, but rather attracted. Him. Though the woes of man sprang from his own misdeeds. He gave Himself to bear them and carry their guilt away. All were in the lowest depths of spiritual poverty, but for that reason His hand was the more freely offered for their help. The one condition on which that help was given was, that they should own their poverty, and acknowledge Him as their Benefactor, and accept all as a free gift at His hands.
But more than that, the condition of the poor in the natural sense was very interesting to Jesus. It was with that class He threw in His lot. It was among them He lived; it was their sorrows and trials He knew by personal experience; it was their welfare for which He laboured most. Always accessible to every class, most respectful to the rich, and ever ready to bestow His blessings wherever they were prized, yet it was true of Christ that "He spared the poor and needy and saved the souls of the needy." And in a temporal point of view, one of the most striking effects of Christ’s religion is, that it has so benefited, and tends still more to benefit, the poor. Slavery and tyranny are among its most detested things. Regard for man as man is one of its highest principles. It detects the spark of Divinity in every human soul, grievously overlaid with the scum and filth of the world; and it seeks to cleanse and brighten it, till it shine forth in clear and heavenly lustre. It is a most Christian thought that the gems in the kingdom of God are not to be found merely where respectability and culture disguise the true spiritual condition of humanity, but even among those who outwardly are lost and disreputable. Not the least honourable of the reproachful terms applied to Jesus was - "the Friend of publicans and sinners."
We are not to think of David, however, as being satisfied if he merely secured justice to the poor and succeeded in lightening their yoke. His ulterior aim was to fill his kingdom with active, useful, honourable citizens. This is plain from the beautiful language of some of the Psalms. Both for old and young, he had a beautiful ideal. "The righteous shall flourish as the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish ill the courts of our God. They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing" (Psalms 92:12-14). And so for the young his desire was - "That our sons may be as plants, grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a palace." Moral beauty, and especially the beauty of active and useful lives, was the great object of his desire. Can anything be better or more enlightened as a royal policy than that which we thus see to have been David’s - in the first place, a policy of universal justice; in the second place, of special regard for those who on the one hand are most liable to oppression and on the other are most in need of help and encouragement; and in the third place, a policy whose aim is to promote excellence of character, and to foster in the young those graces and virtues which wear longest, which preserve the freshness and enjoyment of life to the end, and which crown their possessors, even in old age, with the respect and the affection of all?
The remaining notices of David’s administration in the passage before us are simply to the effect that the government consisted of various departments, and that each department had an officer at its head.
1. There was the military department, at the head of which was Joab, or rather he was over "the host" - the great muster of the people for military purposes. A more select body, ’’the Cherethites and the Pelethites," seems to have formed a bodyguard for the king, or a band of household troops, and was under a separate commander. The troops forming "the host" were divided into twelve courses of twenty-four thousand each, regularly officered, and for one month of the year the officers of one of the courses, and probably the people, or some of them, attended on the king at Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 27:1). Of the most distinguished of his soldiers who excelled in feats of personal valour, David seems to have formed a legion of honour, conspicuous among whom were the thirty honourable, and the three who excelled in honour (2 Samuel 23:28). It is certain that whatever extra power could be given by careful organization to the fighting force of the country, the army of Israel under David possessed it in the fullest degree.
2. There was the civil department, at the head of which were Jehoshaphat the recorder and Seraiah the scribe or secretary. While these were in attendance on David at Jerusalem, they did not supersede the ordinary home rule of the tribes of Israel. Each tribe had still its prince or ruler, and continued, under a general superintendence from the king, to conduct its local affairs (1 Chronicles 27:16-22). The supreme council of the nation continued to assemble on occasions of great national importance (1 Chronicles 28:1), and though its influence could not have been so great as it was before the institution of royalty, it continued an integral element of the constitution, and in the time of Rehoboam, through its influence and organization (1 Kings 12:3; 1 Kings 12:16), the kingdom of the ten tribes was set up, almost without a struggle (1 Chronicles 23:4). This home-rule system, besides interesting the people greatly in the prosperity of the country, was a great check against the abuse of the royal authority; and it is a proof that the confidence of Rehoboam in the Stability of his government, confirmed perhaps by a superstitious view of that promise to David, must have been an absolute infatuation, the product of utter inexperience on his part, and of the most foolish counsel ever tendered by professional advisers.
3. Ecclesiastical administration. The capture of Jerusalem and its erection into the capital of the kingdom made a great change in ecclesiastical arrangements. For some time before it would have been hard to tell where the ecclesiastical capital was to be found. Shiloh had been stripped of its glory when Ichabod received his name, and the Philistine armies destroyed the place. Nob had shared a similar fate at the hands of Saul. The old tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness was at Gibeon (1 Chronicles 21:29), and remained there even after the removal of the ark to Zion (1 Kings 3:4). At Hebron, too, there must have been a shrine while David reigned there. But from the time when David brought up the ark to Jerusalem, that city became the greatest centre of the national worship. There the services enjoined by the law of Moses were celebrated; it became the scene of the great festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles.
We are told that the heads of the ecclesiastical department were Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar. These represented the elder and the younger branches of the priesthood. Zadok was the lineal descendant of Eleazar, Aaron’s son (1 Chronicles 6:12), and was therefore the constitutional successor to the high-priesthood. Ahimelech the son of Abiathar represented the family of Eli, who seems to have been raised to the high-priesthood cut of order, perhaps in consequence of the illness or incompetence of the legitimate high-priest. It is of some interest to note the fact that under David two men were at the head of the priesthood, much as it was in the days of our Lord, when Annas and Caiaphas are each called the high-priest. The ordinary priests were divided into four-and-twenty courses, and each course served in its turn for a limited period, an arrangement which still prevailed in the days of Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. A systematic arrangement of the Levites was likewise made; some were allocated to the service of the Temple, some were porters, some were singers, and some were officers and judges. Of the six thousand who filled the last-named office, "chief fathers" as they were called, nearly a half were allocated among the tribes east of the Jordan, as being far from the centre, and more in need of oversight. It is probable that this large body of Levites were not limited to strictly judicial duties, but that they performed important functions in other respects, perhaps as teachers, physicians, and registrars. It is not said that Samuel’s schools of the prophets received any special attention, but the deep interest that David must have taken in Samuel’s work, and his early acquaintance with its effects, leave little room to doubt that these institutions were carefully fostered, and owed to David some share of the vitality which they continued to exhibit in the days of Elijah and Elisha. It is very probable that the prophets Gad and Nathan were connected with these institutions.
It is scarcely possible to say how far these careful ecclesiastical arrangements were instrumental in fostering the spirit of genuine piety. But there is too much reason to fear that even in David’s time that element was very deficient. The bursts of religious enthusiasm that occasionally rolled over the country were no sure indications of piety in a people easily roused to temporary gushes of feeling, but deficient in stability. There often breathes in David’s psalms a sense of loneliness, a feeling of his being a stranger on the earth, that seems to show that he wanted congenial company, that the atmosphere was not of the godly quality he must have wished. The bloody Joab was his chief general, and at a subsequent period the godless Ahithophel was his chief counselor. It is even probable that the intense piety of David brought him many secret enemies. The world has no favour for men, be they kings or priests, that repudiate all compromise in religion, and insist on God being regarded with supreme and absolute honour. Where religion interferes with their natural inclinations and lays them under inviolable obligations to have regard to the will of God, they rebel in their hearts against it, and they hate those who consistently uphold its claims. The nation of Israel appears to have been pervaded by an undercurrent of dislike to the eminent holiness of David, which, though kept in check by his distinguished services and successes, at last burst out with terrific violence in the rebellion of Absalom. That villainous movement would not have had the vast support it received, especially in Jerusalem, if even the people of Judah had been saturated with the spirit of genuine piety. We cannot think much of the piety of a people that rose up against the sweet singer of Israel and the great benefactor of the nation, and that seemed to anticipate the cry, "Not this man, but Barabbas."
The systematic administration of his kingdom by King David was the fruit of a remarkable faculty of orderly arrangement that belonged to most of the great men of Israel. We see it in Abraham, in his prompt and successful marshalling of his servants to pursue and attack the kings of the East when they carried off Lot; we see it in Joseph, first collecting and then distributing the stores of food in Egypt; in Moses, conducting that marvelous host in order and safety through the wilderness; and, in later times, in Ezra and Nehemiah, reducing the chaos which they found at Jerusalem to a state of order and prosperity which seemed to verify the vision of the dry bones. We see it in the Son of David, in the orderly way in which all His arrangements were made: the sending forth of the twelve Apostles and the seventy disciples, the arranging of the multitude when He fed the five thousand, and the careful gathering up of the fragments "that nothing be lost." In the spiritual kingdom, a corresponding order is demanded, and times of peace and rest in the Church are times when this development is specially to be studied. Spiritual order, spiritual harmony: God in His own place, and self, with all its powers and interests, as well as our brethren, our neighbours, and the world, all in their’s - this is the great requisite in the individual heart. The development of this holy order in the individual soul; the development of family graces, the due Christian ordering of homes; the development of public graces - patriotism, freedom, godliness, in the State, and in the Church of the spirit that seeks the instruction of the ignorant, the recovery of the erring, the comforting of the wretched, and the advancement everywhere of the cause of Christ - in a word, the increase of spiritual wealth - these very specially are objects to which in all times, but especially in quiet times, all hearts and energies should be turned. What can be more honourable, what can be more blessed, than to help in advancing these? More life, more grace, more prayer, more progress, more missionary ardour, more self-denying love, more spiritual beauty - what higher objects can the Christian minister aim at? And how better can the Christian king or the Christian statesman fulfill and honour his office than by using his influence, so far as he legitimately may, in furthering the virtues and habits characteristic of men that fear God while they honour the king?
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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 8". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34