Wednesday, May 31st, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
The Pulpit Commentaries The Pulpit Commentaries
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ 2-samuel-2.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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2 Samuel 2:1
Unto Hebron. As soon as David had assuaged his grief, his thoughts would naturally turn towards his country. Fuller news would reach him every day respecting the movements of the Philistines, who, after so decisive a victory, would quickly overrun all the central districts of Palestine, where the battle had been fought. And very bitter must David's feelings have been. Had he continued in Israel, he and his six hundred men would now have hastened to the rescue, and all the braver warriors of the land would have gathered round them. As it was, he was too entangled with the Philistines, and too much distrusted by the northern tribes, to be of much use. Still, we learn from 1 Chronicles 12:1-40; that brave men did continually swell the number of his followers. Detachments of the tribes of Gad and Manasseh, instead of joining Saul at Gilboa, went to David as he withdrew to Ziklag. And while he remained there a considerable body of men from Benjamin and Judah came to him under the command of Amasa, David's nephew. So numerous were they as to alarm David, who went out to meet them, fearing lest they had come to betray him; and glad was he to hear their answer, "Thine are we, David, and on thy side, thou son of Jesse." Thus even as it was, his forces daily grew more numerous; for "from day today there came to David to help him, until it was a great host, like the host of God" (l Chronicles 12:22). But there was no national acknowledgment. With his numbers thus continually increasing, David was encouraged to make some attempt for the deliverance of Israel; but his position was one of serious danger. Great was the risk, but he knew where to go for guidance, and determines, therefore, to put the matter into God's hand. He summons Abiathar with the ephod, and, in the presence of his captains, asks for permission to go up to some city of his own tribe. The answer is favourable, and Hebron is the city selected. It was a place of ancient sanctity, was well situated in the mountains of Judah for defence, and as the Philistines bad not yet invaded that region, but probably would soon try to ravage it, the people would be sure to welcome the presence of one who brought with him a powerful body of trained men.
2 Samuel 2:3
They dwelt in the cities of Hebron. Not only had David wives, whom he took with him to Hebron, but many of his warriors were married, and thus they and their households formed a numerous body of people, for whom Hebron could scarcely find accommodation. Moreover they had flocks and herds captured from the Amalekites, for which they needed pasturage. And therefore David dispersed them in the towns and villages of which Hebron was the capital, posting them in such a manner as to render it easy for him to summon them together, while taking care that they did not injure his tribesmen, or dispossess them of their lauds. We may feel sure that he consulted the chief men of Hebron as to these arrangements, and obtained their approval.
2 Samuel 2:4
They anointed David. Samuel's anointing (1 Samuel 16:13) had been private, and, if we may judge by the manner in which Eliab treated David (1 Samuel 17:28), even his own family had not attached much importance to it. It was nevertheless the indication of Jehovah's purpose, and now the anointing of David by the elders of Judah was the first step towards its accomplishment. And this was an independent act, though the knowledge of Samuel's anointing had prepared the way for it; and David thus acquired a legal right and authority by the nation's will, which Samuel could not have given him. So Saul's anointing by Samuel, and his election to be king at Gilgal, were independent acts; and while the former gave the king his sacredness, the latter conferred upon him jurisdiction and power. King over the house of Judah. How came the Philistines to allow this? When subsequently he was again anointed, and became King of all Israel, the Philistines gathered their hosts at once; not because he captured Jerusalem, which was then a mere hill fort belonging to the Jebusites, but evidently because they thought him dangerous. But why did they not crush him now? One reason, probably, was that Judaea was a difficult country for military operations. The tribe, too, had stood aloof from Saul, and its strength was unbroken. But the chief reason apparently was that David maintained friendly relations with Achish, and paid him tribute. This explains the curious fact that Ziklag continued to be the private property of the house of David (1 Samuel 27:6). The doings of a vassal of the King of Gath were regarded as of little importance. Had he not even marched with them to Aphek, as one of the servants of Achish? But when he endeavoured to restore the kingdom of Saul, they first made a hasty rush upon him, and, when repelled, they gathered their forces for as formidable an invasion as that which had ended in their victory at Gilboa.
2 Samuel 2:5
David sent messengers unto the men of Jabesh-Gilead. This was David's first act as king, and it was worthy of him. Some suppose that when David was told of their deed, it was with a view of prejudicing him against them. But this is not credible. By this time all men knew how loyal and affectionate were David's feelings towards his former king; and moreover the men of Jabesh were bound to Saul by no ordinary ties of gratitude (1 Samuel 11:1-15.). Nor could David wish that Saul's remains, and those of Jonathan, should be subject to indignity. We may well feel sure that information respecting Saul was eagerly welcomed at Hebron, and the valiant men there would all rejoice at finding that the high spirit of the nation was not quenched. But in sending to thank them, in premising to requite them, and in bidding them persevere in similar conduct, David was acting as the head of the nation; and, to justify his action, he informs them that the men of Judah had made him their king.
2 Samuel 2:8
Abner. This hero had been present at the battle of Gilboa, and probably had rallied many of the defeated Israelites, and made as much resistance as was possible to the onward march of the Philistines. And as soon as he had effected his retreat into the region beyond the Jordan, his power would be supreme. There was no one there to oppose the commander-in-chief of what remained of Saul's army. Certainly all that remained of Saul's body guard of three thousand men would gather round Abner, and as the Philistines did not push their pursuit further than the Jordan, he was free to do as he chose. Nor would there be any opposition. Abner was bound to do his best for Saul's family, and the people would feel this, and approve of his conduct in standing up for the children of their king. Moreover, David by his conduct had made himself an object of suspicion to all the valiant men who had formed Saul's army, and these would be the more embittered against him by their defeat. Ishbosheth. This name signifies "man of shame," that is, "man of the shameful thing," the idol. Originally he was named Eshbaal (1 Chronicles 8:33; 1 Chronicles 9:39), that is "man of Baal," the word esh being merely a dialectic variation for ish, equivalent to "man." At this early date Baal was not the specific name of any idol, but simply meant "lord," "master," "husband." In the earlier books of the Bible we find the word used of many local deities, who were lords of this or that, but had nothing in common with the Phoenician Baal, whose worship Ahab attempted to introduce into Israel. From that time Baal became a term of reproach, and Bosheth, "the shame," was substituted for it in the old names of which it had formed part. Thus Gideon is still called Jerubbaal in 1 Samuel 12:11, but the title is transformed into Jerubbesheth, or more correctly, Jerubbosheth, "let the shame plead," in 2 Samuel 11:21. Originally, therefore, the name Ishbaal had no discreditable meaning, but signified, "man of the Lord," or, as Ewald supposes, "lordly man." It was not till long afterwards, when Israel had been horrified by Jezebel's doings, that Baal, except in the sense of "husband," became an ill-omened word. Jonathan, whose own name, "Jehovah's gift," in Greek Theodore, is proof sufficient that Saul's family were worshippers of the true God, called his son's name Meribbaal, "the Lord's strife" (1 Chronicles 8:34). In some strange way this was altered into Mephibosheth, that is, "from the face of the shameful thing" (2 Samuel 4:4. etc.). Possibly it is a corruption of Meribbosheth, but it is remarkable that a son of Saul by his concubine Rizpah also bore the name (2 Samuel 21:8). Among the ancestors of Saul, the simple name Baal, "Lord," occurs (1 Chronicles 8:30). Mahanaim. Abner chose this town because it was on the eastern side of the Jordan, and so beyond the range of the Philistines, who never seem to have crossed the river. It was situated on the borders of the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh, from both of which valiant warriors had joined David; hut the people generally were not ill affected to the house of Saul. As having been assigned to the Levites (Joshua 21:38), it had a quasi-religious character, inherited from the vision of angels seen there by Jacob (Genesis 32:2). As a safe, out of the way place, David subsequently took refuge there (2 Samuel 17:24).
2 Samuel 2:9
Make him king over. A different preposition is used with the first three names from that employed afterwards, as though Ishbosheth's reign over Gilead and Jezreel was a reality, but that he had only a shadowy claim to dominion over Ephraim, Benjamin, and all Israel. Gilead. As Mahanaim lay upon the borders of Gad and Manasseh, Abner would easily control these two tribes, and Reuben, which was never an active or enterprising tribe, would follow their lead. Of the Ashurites nothing is known, and the reading is uncertain, as the LXX. has "Thasir," and the Vulgate and Syriac "Geshur." The Chaldee paraphrase boldly gives "the house of Asher;" but this tribe lay close to Phoenicia, on the extreme northwest. There are two places called Geshur (see on 2 Samuel 3:3), but neither of them seems meant, and more probably it was some place the name of which was uncommon, and so was wrongly copied by scribes until the present confusion arose. Jezreel. The name of this place, as specially subject to Ishbosheth, is surprising; for the town, at this time of no importance, lay in the wide plain between the mountains of Gilboa and the little Hermon. But this district was the prize won by the Philistines, and was a region where their cavalry and chariots gave them a great advantage. For Ishbosheth to have had even a nominal dominion over Jezreel, he must either have become a tributary, or Abner must have maintained a not unsuccessful struggle there after the battle of Gilboa. The latter is the more probable. In safe possession of all the country east of the Jordan, Abner was not likely to consent to anything so humiliating as submission to the Philistines; while David's connection with Achish made it neither so galling to him nor so disadvantageous. As the Transjordanic tribes assembled at Hebron to make David king to the number of one hundred and twenty thousand men (1 Chronicles 12:37), Abner plainly had large resources at his command, and, though the people were not very earnest in the cause of Saul's house, yet they would probably assemble in considerable numbers after the battle of Gilboa, to prevent any irruption of the victors into their country. At their head Abner probably gained some advantages over the Philistines, and thus became powerful enough to proclaim Ishbosheth king, and as Ephraim and Benjamin acquiesced, he became nominally ruler over all Israel.
2 Samuel 2:10, 2 Samuel 2:11
Ishbosheth …two years … David … seven years and six months. Where are we to place the five years and a half of difference? The usual assumption is that David was made King of Israel immediately upon Ishbosheth's murder; but this is wrong. We cannot believe that Abner would allow so long a period as five years to elapse before asserting the claims of Saul's family, especially as David was already made King of Judah at Hebron. Still, as the war with the Philistines was the first object of his care, and as some form of popular ratification was necessary, some months may have passed before Ishbosheth was publicly installed as king, though Abner must have acted in his name from the first. The main interval of five years before David's accession must have been after Ishbosheth's death. That murder, and still more so the murder of Abner, must have made David an object of great suspicion to all Israel. Shimei, when he called him "a bloody man" (2 Samuel 16:8), was but uttering a slander commonly current among the people. Gradually most of them would become convinced of his innocence; and all, as they contrasted the anarchy which prevailed in their country with the peace and security won by David for Judah, would regard his election as the best course under the circumstances. As the Philistines immediately resented their action, and endeavoured to crush the king before he could concentrate his power, it is probable that during these five years they had again obtained practical command of the more fertile districts of Palestine. Ishbosheth … was forty years old. In the previous narrative Jonathan always appears as the most important of Saul's sons, and naturally it is assumed that he was the firstborn; yet his child was but five years old at his father's death, while Ishbosheth, his uncle, a younger brother of Jonathan, is described as a man of forty. Some think that Ishbosheth was the eldest son, but in 1 Chronicles 8:33 he is placed last, and, though a weak man, was not so feeble as to have been set aside from the succession. But confessedly the chronology of Saul's reign is so full of difficulties, that it is impossible altogether to explain it (see note on 1 Samuel 13:1).
2 Samuel 2:12
Abner … went out. This is a further proof of considerable success on Abner's side. Encouraged by the result of numerous skirmishes with the Philistines, and the gradual restoration of the king's authority in Ephraim and Benjamin, Abner determined to make the attempt to win back Judah also. There David had been content with protecting Judah, and establishing good order; and, following his constant custom, had taken no steps to obtain for himself the kingdom "over all Israel." The war was of Abner's choosing, and shows him to us in the character of an able but ambitious and restless man.
2 Samuel 2:13
The pool of Gibson. As Gibeon, which lay about six miles northwest from Jerusalem, was twenty-six miles distant from Hebron, and about the same distance from Mahauaim, it is plain that David knew of Abner's march. Possibly he had been summoned to yield his kingdom up to Ishbosheth as the rightful lord, but, while taking no measures to extend his rule, he felt himself justified in defending his election to be king ever Judah. The pool of Gibeon is described by Robinson ('Researches,' 2.136) as "an open tank about a hundred and twenty feet in length and a hundred in breadth, surrounded by a grove of olive trees. Above it, excavated in the rock, is a subterranean reservoir, to receive the water from a copious spring, from which the overflow descends into the tank below." As neither party was willing to shed the first blood in a civil war, of which the Philistines would reap the benefit, they both halted in sight of one another on opposite sides of the hill, with the tank below them in the middle.
2 Samuel 2:14
Let the young men now arise. "Now" is not an adverb of time, but is hortative, and therefore rightly translated in the Revised Version, "I pray thee." It is by no means certain that Abner meant that this single combat should decide the war; for similar preludes before a battle are not uncommon among the Arabians, and serve, as this did, to put an end to the mutual unwillingness to begin the onslaught. So, too, games often preceded outbreaks of Scandinavian blood feuds. And this was probably Abner's object. He was the assailant, but now found that his men shrank from mortal combat with their brethren. There is thus no comparison between this combat and that of the Curiatii and Horatii described in Livy, 1. 10.25. Let them play. The word is grim enough, though intended to gloss over the cruel reality. On each side twelve of the most skilful champions were to be selected, who were to fight in stern earnest with one another, while the rest gazed upon the fierce spectacle. The sight of the conflict would whet their appetite for blood, and their reluctance would give place to thirst for revenge. The request was too thoroughly in accordance with Joab's temper for him to refuse, and his immediate answer was, Let them arise.
2 Samuel 2:16
His sword in his fellow's side. The absence of the verb in the original sets powerfully before us the rapidity of the whole action. But what an action! Twenty-four experienced men each take the other by the head, and, without any attempt at self-defence, thrust their swords into their opponents' side, and leave their own sides exposed to a similar thrust. Were they, then, unskilful in the use of weapons? Impossible. Were they blinded by hatred of one another? But no rancour would make a man forget his skill in defence. Here there is no variety, no checkered fortune of the combatants, but all twenty-four do and suffer just the same; and it is remarkable that they had swords only, and no shields. With shields on their arms, they could not have seized one another by the hair. It seems certain, therefore, that this mutual butchery was the "play;" nor can we conceive of a more murderous and savage proceeding. Abner, at the head of his fierce Benjamites, thought, perhaps, that Joab had no men among his followers willing to throw life away in so senseless a manner. But Joab was as ready as Abner, and possibly some code of false honour, such as used to make men practise duelling, required the acceptance of the challenge. And so, with their appetite for blood whetted by the sight of twenty-four murders, they hastened to begin the fight. Helkath-hazzurim. Literally this means "the field of flints;" but as the flint is constantly used for any hard rock (Psalms 78:20), the Authorized Version has admitted into the margin a paraphrase taken from the Vulgate, which supposes that by flints are meant "strong men," and renders, "the field of strong men." So in Isaiah 26:4 "the flint," or rock, "of ages," is even translated "everlasting strength." Flints, however, were constantly used by the Israelites for knives whenever extreme sharpness was required. Thus for the circumcising of Israel, Jehovah commanded Joshua to prepare knives of flint (Joshua 5:2); and in course of time the sharp or whetted edge of a weapon was called its flint. Thus in Psalms 89:43 we read, "Thou hast turned back the flint of his sword." The name therefore probably means "the field of the sharp knives", and refers to the short swords with which they murdered one another.
2 Samuel 2:17
A very sore battle. The purpose of Abner was thus gained. Excited by the spectacle of merciless slaughter, the armies manoeuvred no longer, but rushed fiercely to the attack, and fought with fury. But the mighty men of David were irresistible. Only nineteen of his warriors fell, while Abner lost three hundred and sixty, and was forced to flee.
2 Samuel 2:19
Asahel pursued after Abner. This episode is fully narrated, both because of Asahel's rank as David's nephew, and also because of its tragical consequences to Abner himself. Asahel was a son of Zeruiah, David's sister, and, while his own brothers were of little use to him, his nephews, Joab, Abishai, and Asahel, were the mainstays of David's throne. As their father's name is never mentioned, but only the mother's, Zeruiah was probably a woman of great ability, and her sons inherited it from her. Possibly she had married beneath her station, or her husband had died early; but certainly her sons, thinking more of her than of their father, had soon thrown in their lot with David her brother (but see note on 2 Samuel 2:32). The youngest of the three, Asahel, was remarkable for his personal accomplishments, and especially for swiftness of foot, for which he was compared to the Zebi, the camp name of Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19). It now caused his death. For conscious that Abner was the sole support of Ishbosheth's party, and indignant at his challenge to useless slaughter, he pursued after him, allowing nothing to divert him from his object, and hoping to end the war by slaying the veteran commander. But though he had the fleetness of an Achilles, he had not his robust strength, and Abner, knowing that the combat was unequal, remonstrated with him, and bade him turn aside, and be content with winning the spoils of some meaner warrior. It is evident from this that Abner saw in this defeat in a battle of his own choosing, the certainty of the near downfall of the house of Saul, and, as he would then be in Joab's power, he was unwilling to have a blood feud with a man of such determined character. "How," he asks, "should I hold up my face to Joab thy brother?" It would be his duty, as the avenger of blood, to slay me. Apparently, during this conference, he was standing with the butt end of his lance held towards Asahel, to ward off his blows, but, as the spearhead was turned the other way, Asahel forgot that even so it might be used for offence. For it was pointed, that it might be stuck in the ground at night (1 Samuel 26:7), and possibly shod with iron, though it is more likely that it was only hardened by being thrust into the fire. So when he saw that his words had no avail, and that Asahel was not on his guard, he suddenly struck him with it so violent a blow that it pierced his body right through, and Asahel fell down dead. It is probable, from the merciless force used, that there was a sudden outburst of anger on Abner's part.
2 Samuel 2:23
The fifth rib. This rendering here and in other places arises from the derivation of the word from the numeral five, but this notion has long been abandoned, and the word is now known to be formed from a verb signifying "to be fat or stout." Really it means the abdomen, and is so translated in the LXX. and Vulgate, while the Syriac gives only the general sense, and renders "the breast." In the same place; Hebrew, under him; that is, immediately. So violent was the blow that Asahel dropped down dead without a struggle. So tragic was his fate, and so great the affection of David's men for the young warrior, that the pursuit ceased, and all, as they came up, remained standing by the side of the corpse.
2 Samuel 2:24
Josh also and Abishai pursued after Abner; really, but Joab and Abishai pursued, and so the Revised Version. The sight of their slaughtered brother made them only the more determined in the pursuit, and doubtless, at their command, the soldiers would leave Asahel and follow their commanders. Of the "hill of Ammah" and Giah we know nothing; but it is evident that no halt was made until sunset.
2 Samuel 2:25
The children of Benjamin … became one troop. Benjamin was probably the only tribe that entered keenly into Ishbosheth's cause; for the maintenance of the kingdom in the family of Saul meant the continuance of that favouritism which had enriched them at the expense of the community (1 Samuel 22:7). They were, too, a very warlike tribe, and Abner was one of themselves, and probably, therefore, the main body of his army, and certainly his most trustworthy men, were Benjamites. Profiting by the delay caused by the halting of David's soldiers round tile body of the fallen Asahel, Abner had rallied his men, and posted them on the top of the hill, where they were prepared now to fight on more equal terms.
2 Samuel 2:26
Knowest thou not that it will be bitterness in the latter end! The Vulgate renders this, "Art thou not aware that desperation is dangerous?" This is a very obvious truth, but probably Abner had in his mind something more statesmanlike. The struggle was for the empire over all Israel, and whoever won would be king over both sides. But every man slain meant a blood feud, which would continue even after the kingdom was united; and Abner probably felt that his own slaughter of Asahel that day would render his position in David's realm difficult and dangerous. Among the Arab tribes quarrels are very common, but bloodshed rare, because of the blood feud which follows. Moderation was thus necessary on both sides, while cruelty and the immoderate use of victory would sow the seeds of future trouble.
2 Samuel 2:27
Unless thou hadst spoken, surely then in the morning the people had gone up; or as the Revised Version renders, had gone away, nor followed every man his brother. The Revised Version makes the sense more plain. Joab throws the whole blame, and rightly so, on Abner. David would under no circumstances have attacked Ishbosheth, and Joab with his men had marched to the tank of Gibeon simply to repel an invading force. When there, Joab, doubtless by David's orders, had remained strictly on the defensive, and so unwilling were both armies to fight, that Abner had to resort to a most cruel scene of butchery in order to inflame their passions and force them to begin a conflict of brother against brother. But for Abner's challenge, both armies would have separated as friends. And Joab still acts upon the same principle of forbearance, and gives the signal for stopping the pursuit. He was not a man of a tender heart, but he was wise and sensible, and fully aware that the slaughter of Abner and his men, even if he could have destroyed them all, would only have rankled in the minds of all Israel, and set them against David and his rule.
2 Samuel 2:29
And Abner and his men walked all that night. At the end of the chapter we learn that Joab did the same. Each army had about twenty-six miles to march, and the night was less exhausting for a long walk than the day. As soon, then, as Abner saw Joab and his men occupied with the removal of Asahel's body, he withdrew from the hill of Ammah, and, passing through the Arabah, or plain of Jordan, crossed the river by the same ford which he had used when starting on his unfortunate errand, and so returned home. The phrase, all Bithron, shows that this was a district, but nothing more of it is known.
2 Samuel 2:30, 2 Samuel 2:31
Nineteen men … three hundred and three score men. Though David's "mighties," as they were called, excelled in the use of arms, yet the disparity of numbers is remarkable; for the Benjamites were also famous warriors. We can only account for it by the superiority of the tactics of Joab, who was a man of consummate military skill, and who knew both how to gain a victory and how to use the advantage which the pursuers have over the pursued to the full. If we sometimes wonder that David endured Joab so long, we ought to remember how much he owed to his nephew's genius, and that Joab was always faithful to himself.
2 Samuel 2:32
The sepulchre of his father, which was in Bethlehem. The Name of Zeruiah's husband is never mentioned, but he was evidently of the same town as his wife, and at his death, when probably still young, he had received honourable sepulture. As Bethlehem is about eleven miles distant from Gideon, Joab probably marched thither straight from the battlefield, anti spent the next day in paying the last tribute of respect to his brother, and in refreshing his men. At nightfall he resumed his march to Hebron, which was fifteen miles further to the south, and where he would arrive on the morning following that on which Abner reached Mahanaim.
2 Samuel 2:1-7
The facts are:
1. David, knowing that time was come for action, and being in doubt as to what movement would further the end in view, seeks guidance of God.
2. Not only does he obtain sanction to enter Judah, but is even instructed to make Hebron his headquarters.
3. Entering the district around Hebron with his family and attendants, he is anointed by the men of Judah over the tribe of Judah.
4. Being informed of the kind and valiant act of the men of Jabesh-Gilead (1 Samuel 31:11-13), David sends them a message of thanks, and assures them of the Divine blessing and of his own grateful remembrance.
5. He also reminds them that the crisis in the affairs of the nation, in the death of Saul on the one hand, and his own elevation by the men of Judah on the other, required of them to be true to their reputation as men of courage. There are several themes suggested by these facts. Among them, consider—
The beginnings of prosperity.
As the Second Book of Samuel introduces a turn of affairs in the national experience, so this second chapter introduces a turn n the personal experience of David. He passes from the bitter trials of the past, through the anguish depicted in the first chapter, into the more prosperous and easy circumstances of free public activity. Undoubtedly he was conscious of a sense of relief from burdens almost more than he could bear (1 Samuel 27:1); and being naturally buoyant and hopeful in spirit, the hitherto restrained powers of his nature were now eager to manifest their energy. His day had come after a long night of waiting. The promises of the past were about to be fulfilled. Jonathan's dream of his beloved friend being a more worthy successor than himself was coming true. In one sense David had always, even during his exile and sufferings, been a prosperous man, for he was God s chosen servant, blessed with a good conscience and the favour of the Eternal; but now he was all that with the additional circumstance of being about to enter on a position of commanding influence among the people of God. We have a counterpart to David's position at this juncture in some of the circumstances of our life; for in youth, in business, in Church work, and in national affairs we sometimes meet with a similar beginning of prosperity. In so far as the passage before us affords teaching on this subject, observe—
I. E BEGINNING OF PROSPERITY IS A TIME OF PECULIAR DANGER. In reading the narrative of David's trials on the one side, and of his prosperous circumstances on the other, we feel at once that in so far as his religious life is concerned there was far more hope of him under the former. The spiritual uses of adversity are very valuable, while on the other hand the spiritual dangers of prosperity are subtile and manifold. And likewise the transition from the one to the other is a time of peculiar danger. For David the occasion for dependence on God was not so obvious; and the demand for action would lay him open to mistakes and sacrifices of principle new in his experience. The dangers of such a time may perhaps be summarized thus. There arises a new and fascinating diversion of thought and feeling from God; a corresponding absorption of mental energy in the externals of life. The self-culture which consists in the watchful and constrained subordination of every feeling and motive to the will of God becomes somewhat relaxed. The free play of a much greater variety of feeling, passing out toward the attractive objects present in an opening success, lays us open to the insinuating flatteries of events, and the consequent encouragement to substitute expediency for stern principle. The presence or the prospect of a more abundant supply of material comforts cannot but give vitality to whatever of latent power there may be in the lusts of the flesh. The conscious elevation which awaits us is sure to appeal to that deeply seated human pride which, when developed, looks on others with more or less of disdain, and in proportion as the human lot is now or prospectively free from care does the heart care less for the blessings of a future life. The youth passing from the restraints and discipline of years into the wider sphere of life, and so enjoying the first taste of freedom and of manly dignity, stands in a slippery place. Churches passing from the trials of persecution into the ease of toleration cannot be sure of the old fidelity. Nations springing into prominence may contract habits of indulgence and arrogance in strange contrast with their former self-control and devotion to duty. Private Christians when emerging from the struggles of their early convictions may cease to watch and pray as heretofore, and soon lose the vigour of their former faith.
II. THE MORAL STRENGTH ACQUIRED DURING SEASONS OF PREPARATION WILL SHOW ITSELF IN CONTINUED DEPENDENCE ON THE GUIDANCE AND BLESSING OF GOD. Unquestionably David was a much stronger man, as a consequence of the protracted trials of past years, than he would have been had there been no waiting for the realization of hopes enkindled by the promise of God (1 Samuel 16:13). In the spiritual sphere, as in the material, reserves of force are gathered, by the action of special laws, in view of a demand to be made at a later stage of development. David in the wilderness and caves, Paul in the retirement of Arabia (Galatians 1:17, Galatians 1:18), other good men during seasons of discipline and culture, fulfilled the Divine law of acquisition of moral power prior to expenditure. And the reality of this acquisition in the case of David appeared at once in the promptitude with which, under all the distracting and diverting influence of a sudden elevation to importance, he acknowledges his need of the guidance and blessing of God. There is a natural necessity, not identical with true godliness, which causes men to turn to God in their troubles. It is the instinct of a genuine piety alone which prompts towards God when troubles cease and success begins. It is a blessed omen when men, on the dawning of their prosperity, and when flushed with the prospect of realizing long-cherished hopes, go straight to God, and in prayer both acknowledge his goodness and seek his special help for the occasion. Thus the subtile temptations and perils of the new circumstances are met by a wise use of that spiritual strength which bad been stored amidst the trying influences of adversity or deferred hope. No doubt the apostles during their early ministry, on and after the Day of Pentecost, were giving out some of the spiritual power gathered into their nature during the three years of discipline and restraint under their visible Lord; in like manner men who go forth to successful encounter with evil owe much to the spirit trained to honour God in all things.
III. THE HOPE OF COMING PROSPERITY, WHEN MODERATED BY PIETY, INDUCES CAUTION AND CONSIDERATION FOR OTHERS. Not only is continuous prosperity very perilous to man's higher life, but the prospect of it, after a season of trial, is likely to be charged with elements of danger which only a well-nourished piety can neutralize. David could not but think much of himself now as a free man, an object of public interest, on the high road to affluence, and about to enter on activities that would render him the chief object of interest. There would thus arise a new and perilous self-consciousness. The sobrieties, caution, and self-restraint acquired in adversity might now seem to be virtues suited to a bygone time. A profound knowledge of the world and of self would correct this judgment; but still the risk would be considerable, for man at his best estate is morally weak. It is just here that a sincere, well-cultured godliness comes in as a support to the dictates of a purely moral judgment and the suggestions of expediency. The man after God's own heart, because of being such a man, looks out on his opening prospects with a careful eye, and moves with as much caution and deference to a higher will as in the former days of trouble; and the comfort of his household, as well as the advancement to comparative ease and plenty of the men who had shared his sufferings, engage his thought, and they become the first partakers of the fruits of his improving fortunes (2 Samuel 2:2, 2 Samuel 2:3). The same moderating influence of piety is seen in the life of Joseph. The principle involved is taught by our Lord in his perfect freedom, even amidst growing honours, from self-absorption. With the measured step of sobriety he marches on to full dominion, and with tender regard for the welfare of all who have known the "fellowship of his sufferings." The same mind in us will tone down the dangerous excitement of successes, and induce a broad and generous consideration of the claims and requirements of others.
The following GENERAL LESSONS naturally flow from this subject as exhibited in the life of David:
1. The consciousness of our being God's servants, living supremely to effect his purpose in the world, gives great moral power to our conduct. David lived and moved as a "man of God." Blessed is he who can go forth daily with that conviction!
2. The assurance that God has a definite will in reference to our daily movements is warranted, not only by philosophic considerations, but also by the record of his actual dealings with his servants. David, the "sparrow," and the "hairs" of our head are means of illustrating that nothing in our life is too insignificant for Divine care, and therefore for matter of supplication (Matthew 10:29-31).
3. The true policy of man is another name for what is the will of God. No doubt in this case it was humanly expedient to go first up to Hebron; and because God knew it was best under the circumstances, he willed David to go. In the higher moral sphere, God's will is not a judgment based on knowledge of circumstances; but, though absolute, yet it always coincides with true policy.
4. The means of ascertaining the main lines of right action are within reach of a good man. God speaks in providence, conscience, and his Word.
5. There is immense moral support to our action when we have deliberately sought and have learnt the will of God. Firm is the step of such men, steady is their eye.
The uses of partial success.
David's advancement to the throne of Judah was a great step towards the realization of the ideal which, ever since the day of his anointing, had drawn him on in the path of patient endurance; but it was far from being all that he wished. As compared with the understanding arrived at, and encouraged by all that God had said and done during the past years of exile, it fell below what he had a right to expect, for he was chosen of God to be ruler over the whole of the people; but, at the same time, it so far was satisfying that it became a pledge of still further advances till the original promise should be literally and in its entirety fulfilled. There is no indication here or elsewhere in the Psalms that David was vexed and fretful because he did not all at once succeed Saul as king of the entire nation. There were doubtless in the circumstances of the case sufficient pleas for an unfilial spirit to indulge in the language of disappointment; but the past discipline of this true child of God had manifestly wrought in him such confidence in the order of Providence, and such breadth of view with respect to Divine methods, as to render him deaf and indifferent to unhallowed suggestions. His cheerful acceptance of an instalment of fulfilled promise is in keeping with his former patient endurance of deferred hope.
I. THERE ARE MANY CONVERGING LINES INVOLVED IN OUR SUCCESS IN THE SERVICE OF GOD. The true final success of David's career lay in his becoming the beloved and honoured ruler of the entire chosen race. But a fact of this kind means the adjustment, over a considerable period, of countless subtile human relationships, the kindling of apparently divergent interests, and the physical removal of barriers by the action of natural causes directed by a controlling mind towards a single issue. Not only must Saul be put aside and Jonathan be rendered willing to give place to another, but the mass of the nation must be won. The hand that had won over Jonathan and removed Saul now operates silently on the hearts of the men of Judah—David's own kindred; and their recognition of him as king at Hebron was preliminary, in the order of Providence, to the acquisition on the part of David of the experience that would qualify for sovereignty over the entire nation, and to the gradual creation in the various tribes of confidence in his character and abilities, as also the gradual annihilation by a natural process of the interest which men very properly felt in surviving members of the family of Saul. As many lines converted on his reaching the throne of Judah, so this elevation was the opening up of new lines that would ultimately converge on the complete realization of the Divine purpose in his life. While absorbed in our own individual experience, we do not see how the line we have to follow is what it is because of being one of many terminating in a common issue. Later on we are able to take the position of a geographer, who surveying the watershed of a region, sees the convergence, after all the circuitous windings round rugged mountains and through wild gorges, of various watercourses into one calm and majestic stream. Thus we now interpret the lives of Jacob and Joseph, and, above all, the varied earthly experiences of our Saviour. We thus have warrant for believing that there are more forces working toward the goal of our life of godliness than we can at present trace. We ought to cherish faith in God's silent action on the spirits of men for the furtherance of the ends for which we, as his servants, live and strive. David could obey, be patient and step forward when occasion offered; but meanwhile God could dispose the minds of Judah towards him, and educate the rest to recognize in due time his fitness to be their king also. The courses of nature are on the side of good men. The social world is not a chaos; there is a Power which subdues all things unto itself. This should comfort and strengthen us in all our efforts to see Christ recognized as King of kings.
II. SUCCESS PARTIALLY ATTAINED IS BOTH A PLEDGE OF DIVINE FAITHFULNESS AND A CALL TO HIGHER AND MORE DIFFICULT SERVICE. The elevation to the throne at Hebron was certainly a great success in the long and weary, and, so far as David was concerned with Saul, bloodless conflict. It must have given to the act of anointing by Samuel a fulness of meaning hitherto not realized. The venerable records of God's faithfulness to Abraham and Jacob after many a severe trial, which doubtless he was accustomed, at this period of his history, to read and meditate upon (Psalms 1:2; cf. Psalms 119:97, Psalms 119:99), were seen to be but counterparts of what he now could write. He had waited long; he had abstained from violent means and forced providences, and so could take heart and believe that the Lord forsaketh not his saints, but bringeth to pass that for which they wait (Psalms 38:1-4). And yet this partial success was to him the starting point from which he was to advance still further in the fulfilment of life's purpose; it demanded of him more skill, more watchfulness, more caution, than ever. A new set of qualities would find scope for development; different and more subtile temptations would arise; the final triumph would depend on present use of partial success. Now, the case of David reigning at Hebron over part of the nation is the case of all who, like him, are engaged in maintaining the honour of God in a sinful world. What they have attained to, either in personal self-conquest or in subduing men to the obedience of faith, may be taken as pledge of the faithfulness that remains yet to be proved, while it opens up wider reaches of exertion and exposes to new and very dangerous forms of temptation. The history of the Church up to the fourth century, and its subsequent career till it recovered its tone in the time of the Reformation, furnishes abundant illustration of this double aspect of partial success. Our modern missionary achievements furnish distinct pledges of God's faithfulness, but they impose further and very serious obligations with a view to consolidation, and at the same time expose us to peculiar temptations which find no room in the season of early enthusiasm and sturdy endurance, The same applies to our own personal religion and the bringing of our entire nature into subjection to Christ (Luke 10:17-20; 1 Corinthians 10:11, 1 Corinthians 10:12).
III. SUCCESS PARTIALLY ATTAINED FURNISHES FACILITIES FOR GREATER ACHIEVEMENTS. The acquisition of Hebron as the seat of government, some twenty miles south, of Jerusalem, and situated among hills that rendered both defence and administration. more feasible, furnished solid ground for the expectation that some day the morn important city would become the centre of a greater kingdom. The memorable historic associations of the place (Genesis 23:2-20; Joshua 10:36; Joshua 14:6-15; Joshua 15:13, Joshua 15:14; Joshua 21:11-13) could not but create in the mind of David the feeling that he was succeeding men who were substantially engaged in the same cause as himself, and who prospered therein. The natural position of the city, and the wise measures which thence would go forth for the government of a compact tribe, would naturally consolidate his power, and, in due course, issue in a contrast between his judicious rule and that of rivals in Israel, which would tend to break down prejudices against him, and give force to his claim when an opening occurred for his assumption of sovereignty over the twelve tribes. Using well his moderate gains, he would convert them into agencies for complete triumph. Herein is the law of solid advance. In the organic world higher and more beautiful forms are built up by means of the powers latent in the lower forms already in being. Mental life becomes wide in range and profound in thought by conversion of partial knowledge acquired into means of further development. Social weal may proceed by stages, in which for a time progress may seem to be checked; but the institutions and habits consolidated soon become points from which other, and better, are formed. The growth of the spiritual life of the Christian means the successive attainment of points of advantage, which, though far from satisfying the earnest soul who seeks to subdue all to Christ, yet render the subjugation of the entire man to the Law of Christ more easy and certain. Christian enterprise often lays hold of some Hebron, in the heathen world, or in the midst of our non-Christian civilization, and working thence, with memories of past success to cheer and encourage, gets nearer to the goal of all prayer and effort—the bringing of the entire race into cheerful submission to Christ, the true King in Zion. Therefore, like David in Hebron, we all should gratefully accept what is vouchsafed as the reward of effort and patience, and apply our new resources and acquired position to higher issues.
An instructive episode.
The sacred narrative is in the main concerned with the great national events which point on to the coming of the permanent King in Zion; but here and there it introduces a personal incident, which forms a pleasing and instructive episode amidst the public transactions which are the staple of the history. So here, while describing the important facts connected with David's elevation to the throne, and the consequent advance in the unfolding of the process by which at last the Christ should appear, the writer relates a circumstance of a more private character, and that both reveals noble qualities in David and sets forth truths of general interest. Observe, then—
I. THAT, IN A TRUE MAN, AFFAIRS OF STATE DO NOT EXTINGUISH THE MORE TENDER AND REFINED SENTIMENTS OF LIFE. TO become monarch by a people's choice and in accordance with Divine purpose involves the pressure of heavy responsibilities, the absorption of energy in onerous duties, and the exposure of the spirit to manifold temptations to selfish aggrandizement. It is to the honour of David that he retained, amidst all these new and perilous conditions, his old tenderness of feeling and noble generosity. He found time and faculty for thinking lovingly of his once relentless but now buried foe, and for cherishing gratitude and respect for the men who had, at much personal risk, striven to pay honour to the dishonoured corpse (verses 5, 6). He was not spoiled as a man of generous sentiments by becoming a king. He nourished private feelings amidst public cares. He would have the men of Jabesh-Gilead know how fondly he cherished the remembrance of their kindness to one now no more. How unlike many who have gained a throne through the disasters brought on rivals! How free, natural, and simple the expression of feeling as compared with the formal courtesies which sometimes society requires toward even the detested dead! In these respects David is a type of the greater One, who, amidst all the cares of life, cherished in his heart only pure, kindly, generous feelings towards even those who by others would have been forgotten. In like manner it is well that we strive to keep the heart fresh and warm when promotion comes, or public affairs absorb, or temptations arise to be indifferent to the minor claims of life.
II. THAT A TRUE MAN WILL EXHIBIT IN HIS CONDUCT THE SUPREMACY OF HIS LIFE'S SPIRITUAL PURPOSE. There is an obscurity in the exhortation sent to the men of Jabesh-Gilead arising from its laconic character (verse 7). But, read in the light of what we know to have been David's faith in the coming kingdom of God ever since the anointing by Samuel, it means this: "You are perplexed and anxious about the interests of the people of God and their future. Do not yield to that state of mind. Be true men; do your part as patriots in this time of change; for Saul, your master, is dead, and every man, therefore, should do his best for the common weal. I have been made king over one section of the people of God, and I, therefore, am in a position to do my part. Let us, then, work as brave men for the bringing on of the better time." Thus, in the but partial fulfilment of the prediction by Samuel, and amidst the private affairs of life, David cherishes clear and full faith in the onworking of the Divine purpose towards final realization. His destiny as king over all the chosen race, in God's Name, was still the predominant thought. All along during those bitter days of exile and persecution the thought was uppermost, and nerved him with patient courage; and even now, when more than half the people did not want him to be king, he keeps the thought clearly in view. So was it with our Saviour. He came knowing he was to be Lord of all—Head of a united people. "For the joy that was set before him"—in prospect of this—"he endured the cross, and despised the shame;" and when only partially recognized as Lord by a few, he still had faith in the outworking of Divine purposes, and believed that to him "the gathering of the people" would be, and that there would be "one flock and one Shepherd." Those, also, who enter into the Saviour's Passion likewise keep the spiritual purpose of life clear above all earthly things, and adjust the partial successes, the deferred hopes, and even the private intercourse of life to the one absorbing ideal. Blessed men, who thus see Christ's final triumph before it is realized! What tone, elevation, and patience does it give to life!
III. THAT TRUE MEN IN EXALTED POSITIONS GIVE TONE TO SOCIETY. During exile, David was at the head of a band of men, and now he became the ruler of a people with title of king. As leader and chief his spirit had influenced his followers. Now that he is king, the people told him of the men of Jabesh-Gilead burying Saul. Why? Was it that he might be revenged on men who had done honour to a persecuting enemy? Not thus had they learnt of their leader. They knew him of old as generous to Saul (1 Samuel 26:9-12); they had heard his pathetic lament over Saul (Psa 1:1-6 :17-27), and they were sure that he would be comforted in knowing how poor Saul's corpse had been cared for. Obviously, the leader had given a nobler, more generous tone to men beneath him. In ordinary life, such men would have rejoiced in the death of a foe. It is doubtless true that the lone of society proceeds largely from the higher to the lower in position. A good monarch affects the peasant and the peer. The lower grades of society get their tone very much from what prevails in ranks above them. If our rulers and persons of position display kindliness, temperance, and piety, they do much. thereby to fashion the character of others. The same principle applies to thought. Ideas are wrought out by the highest minds, and gradually permeate the thinking of the undisciplined and uncultured. Hence the serious responsibilities of station!
2 Samuel 2:8-17
The facts are:
1. By degrees, and with the aid of Abner, those parts of the country not subject to David, and which, during the decay of Saul's power, had come under the control of the Philistines, now became consolidated under the rule of Ishbosheth.
2. The jealousy between Israel and Judah, owing mostly to the hostility of Ishbosheth's adherents to David, assumes threatening form, and the leaders on each side, attended by a small army, come together face to face, probably to consider the points in dispute.
3. The political questions not being solved by discussion, Abner proposes (2 Samuel 2:13, 2 Samuel 2:14; cf. 2 Samuel 2:27) as alternative a settlement by a combat of twelve select men from each side.
4. The combat issuing in mutual destruction, the main forces come into conflict, and Abner suffers defeat. The men who entered into the strife here recorded doubtless prided themselves on the zeal they felt for their country, and were ready to justify in words the deeds of the sword. It is customary to credit people with patriotism, and to that extent condone their savage passions. But too often the plea of patriotism is only a cover for a lack of reason and a domination of inferior impulses.
I. ATTACHMENT TO KING AND COUNTRY IS SUBORDINATE TO A HIGHER LAW. Considered in the abstract, such attachment is worthy only of admiration, and it forms an element in a people's well being. But human feelings, with their corresponding acts, are parts of a great complex whole and their worth in any particular concrete instance depends on antecedent and concomitant facts. There is a gradation of obligations, and virtues in name cease to be virtues in reality when they appear in isolation, or consequent on a disregard of a higher law. The men of Israel were bound to love their country, and to show love to it by asserting the rights of their ruler. But at the same time they were bound to follow the guidance of God; to submit to his supreme will; and, making this the standard of feeling and action, to modify the form of expressing love to country and ruler accordingly. Now, the men of Israel, especially the leaders, ought to have known, from the events and words of Samuel's life, and, indeed, from the manifest interposition in favour of David and against Saul, that it was the Divine will that they should not oppose David; that, in fact, love of country was to show itself in accepting whom God had chosen. Any personal interest, therefore, which they may have felt in a son of Saul, and any regard top what they deemed the good of their native land, should have shaped its form of expression in harmony with their primary and higher obligation. The principle is of wide range. Any passion for our country and sovereign must be exercised within the limits of a higher love. If so-called patriotism involves hatred of men as men, or injustice to them, or national selfishness, then it is a violation of the second great commandment. If upholding a ruler and seeking to subdue a neighbouring ruler involves a contravention of God's will, revealed in the order of manifest Providence or Scripture, then it is a spurious patriotism. Human feelings are not the tests of truth.
II. BLENDED IGNORANCE AND PASSION ENTAIL SUFFERING AND SLOW PROGRESS IN NATIONAL LIFE. Had Israel been alive to the lessons which God was teaching them all through the life of Saul, by means of Samuel and David and Jonathan, they would never have allowed the sentiment of interest in a monarch's son to have developed into a strong aversion to David and a passionate effort to expel him from Judah. Considering all the facts of the case, there is no valid excuse for their ignorance, and, therefore, none for their feelings, even though patriotism be pleaded. Thus we see how neglect to gather up and use the lessons of Providence, slight an evil as it may seem to be at the time, really is the seed sowing of the innumerable miseries of a civil war. If, during those painful years of contention, the energies of men are diverted from industrial channels into the wasting channels of war, and if, consequently, national progress is retarded, the cause is to be found in the domination of ignorance and passion. So has it been again and again. That vox populi has always been vox Dei is little less than blasphemy. Generations looking back on their ancestors see how wars and strifes took their rise in stupidity; and yet, too often, there is an unwillingness to pause lest the same evil be repeated. The woes that have come upon nations in consequence of war are a dark foil, setting forth in wondrous light the wisdom and sweet reasonableness of the gospel of Christ. If peoples would find the clue to progressive national development, let them accept and put into practice the sober, generous precepts and principles of the New Testament. This harmony of Christ's religion with economic law is no feeble strand in the evidence of its Divine origin.
III. THE GREAT ERROR OF LEADERS TOO OFTEN LIES IN THEIR INDISPOSITION TO TRACE OUT THE LEADINGS OF THE HIGHER LAW. Abner's suggestion that the dispute should be settled by combat of twelve on each side was an appearance of humanity and sobriety as compared with the indiscriminate use of force. But in the light of reason it is absurd; for right cannot be constituted by chance superiority of might. The complication in which he found himself was simply the result of previous indisposition to find out the Divine meaning of Samuel's dealings with Saul and of Jonathan's compact with David (1 Samuel 13:11-16; 1 Samuel 15:24-31; 1Sa 16:6-13; 1 Samuel 20:12-17; cf. 16:57; 1 Samuel 26:3-16). It had been easier to follow the family feeling and official impulse (1 Samuel 14:50; 2 Samuel 2:8, 2 Samuel 2:9) than to look at private and public interests in the light of such revelations of God's will as were then available. It is a good maxim in moral questions that first promptings are best. The voice of conscience is quick to speak, even though in low tone, Most probably Abner recognized that voice telling of God's will in David. But where there is an unwillingness, because of personal or other interests, to give heed to that voice, it soon becomes easier to follow the lower impulses; and when once on the slippery incline of lower impulse, every movement adds to the momentum downwards. Herein lies the danger of our public men. They especially need the "light of the Lord." Expediency and wrong principles gain on them unconsciously in so far as they lose the primary sensitiveness of conscience. The contagion of their spirit and conduct affects the lower orders. They will have no difficulty in finding men willing, under the cover of patriotic sentiment, to enter the "field of sharp edges," and kill and be killed. Hence, it behoves preachers and all good men to bring the light of the higher law of life to bear with all its clearness and directness on the minds of those in authority.
2 Samuel 2:18-32
The facts are:
1. Asahel, a younger brother of Joab, taking part in the pursuit, fixes his eye on Abner, and keeps on his track, and, being swift of foot, soon overtakes him.
2. Abner, conscious of superiority in arms, and remembering the high family connections of the rash youth, chivalrously urges Asahel to try his prowess on some one else.
3. The counsel being proudly disdained, Asahel falls under the spear of Abner.
4. At the close of the day the scattered men of Israel concentrate on one spot, and pause, while Abner, perceiving the folly and misery of the civil war, appeals to Joab for a cessation of hostilities.
5. Joab, reproaching Abner for his having brought on the conflict by his own acts and words in the morning, sounds the recall to his men, and henceforth they cease to fight their brethren.
6. Abner and his men retire to the east of Jordan, while Joab and his men bury Asahel, and proceed to David's seat of government.
Instructive youthful imprudence.
The historian here gives considerable prominence to the rash conduct of Asahel and its sad consequences. Without at all straining the narrative, or indulging in fantastic methods of interpretation, we may call attention to the following considerations naturally suggested by the narrative.
I. THE PRINCIPLE ON WHICH THE MATERIALS ENTERING INTO THE SACRED HISTORY WERE SELECTED. The Bible is a history formed by a selection of a few materials out of many. The unwritten history of a people is more ample than the written. The question naturally arises—On what principle did the sacred historians proceed in accepting some items of fact, and rejecting others equally true? Many a noble youth besides Asahel must have fallen in the course of the ages traversed by the biblical story, but their name and deeds are unrecorded. The theory that the different writers of the historic fragments which from time to time appeared in Jewish life, and now make up the whole Bible, were literary artists or philosophical historians, is not tenable. There is in the narratives an entire absence of the art and the philosophy which may be traced in such writers as Thucydides, Niebuhr, Macaulay, and Froude; while, running through these fragments, there is a unity equal to anything found elsewhere. The case of Asahel is an illustration of the whole. The somewhat detailed reference to the occasion of his death is obviously connected with the subsequent reference to the occasion of the death of Abner, and the death of Abner is closely connected with the removal of the most influential barrier to David's consolidation of the entire kingdom, and David's life and reign are, we know, important in Hebrew history, because of their bearing on the line of providence by which "David's greater Son" at last came to reign in the true Zion. Here, then, we get a clue to the principle on which, by the unconscious guidance of the Spirit of God, facts were culled from Hebrew annals and incorporated in the sacred history. Direct or indirect beating on the redemptive purpose in Christ was the criterion of incorporation. Not that everything related to that purpose is incorporated, but only such as is. The same doubtless applies to the principle on which the evangelists were, unconsciously perhaps, guided to select out of the mass of fact connected with the life of Christ such items as we have in the four Gospels.
II. THE WASTE INVOLVED IN THE USE OF VALUABLE POWERS TO UNSUITABLE ENDS. Asahel, the Hebrew Achilles without his skill in arms, was swift of foot—a valuable quality, and, in certain uses, likely to render great service to the state; but, as employed against the superior prowess of Abner in personal conflict, it only proved the occasion of premature unavoidable death. All the latent capacity for service in years to come, all the joys of domestic life, were thrown away by this rash encounter of the fleet-footed youth with a man of war. Looking at his conduct from a distance, we can see its essential folly, Physical and mental qualities, like limbs, are adapted to specific uses, and when applied to cases in which their excellence can turn the scale of advantage, then the utmost zeal may be displayed; but apart from this they may involve us in great trouble. Judgment in the use of small gifts will often achieve better results than can be secured by an indiscreet use of greater gifts. Possibly Asahel remembered the youthful David, skilled with the sling, going forth to fight Goliath; and it may be, also, that he was fully conscious of being on the side of the Lord's anointed. But the case of David was not parallel. Then there was an imminent peril for all Israel, and no other means available for warding it off; while here, whatever peril had existed was gone. No conviction of being on the side of God is a justification for rashness. The fall of Abner as a foe of David was in wiser hands than those of the fleet-footed youth. We have all to learn the lesson of adaptation. The student of purely physical science renders great service where physical facts and conclusions embodying them are alone concerned; but, like Asahel, he applies his powers in a dangerous direction when he presumes to be an authority on super-physical questions. Much of the waste of Christian energy arises from individuals attempting to rid the world of evil by working along lines unsuited to their capacities; and we see daily instances of men and women wasting their mental and physical substance in occupations in which their specialities find no suitable objects. A little wisdom goes a long way in human affairs.
III. THE ENFORCED SUBJUGATION OF POWERFUL SENTIMENTS. With all his faults of lurking ambition and infidelity to conscience, Abner was not destitute of chivalrous qualities. Possibly the conviction that his ill-espoused cause was on the wane may have awakened the prudential desire to obviate as far as possible personal offence to Joab, the rising general; but with this there was evident pity for the rash youth, and a chivalrous wish to take no undue advantage over a noble though impetuous foe. His position was one of extreme difficulty. His own death, or that of his pursuer, seemed to him to be the only alternatives. The thought of surrender, or of simply disabling his foe, appears not to have occurred; and in the choice of death to Asahel there was consequently involved a subjugation of the kindly, generous sentiments, and also of minor expediencies, to the love of self-preservation. Junctures of a similar kind occur in the lives of most men. Contending considerations distress the spirit. Deeds have to be done which any way entail misfortune. Abraham had to part company with his kinsman Lot, or perpetuate painful strifes. Moscow was burnt by the hands of its inhabitants to save themselves from possible subjugation. Commercial men can point to instances in which they have had to subordinate strong impulses to one commanding call to safety and honour.
IV. PUBLIC HOMAGE TO ILL-FATED RANK. The general honours paid to Asahel were in accordance with the custom of the age, which made persons of superior birth the objects of unusual attention. In this case there was conjoined the sentiment of admiration for enthusiasm, rash but real. In so far as man can find a reward for self-sacrifice in the sorrowful attentions to mortal remains of survivors, this young man did not die in vain. The instinct of men which leads them to regard with tender sympathy the death of a young hero in a public cause is very sound; for it means a discernment of noble qualities, a charity toward weaknesses, an unspoken lament over promising gifts prematurely lost to the world, and sympathy with aspirations not realized. The addition of social rank intensifies these feelings, and at the same time infuses over them all the superiority derivable from rank being regarded as the symbol of an ideal life toward which human nature constantly aspires. The hard utilitarianism that would banish sentiment as a mystical superstitious nuisance, and the impossible democracy that would annihilate social differences, will ever find human nature too strong for them. It is a fair subject for study—What are the functions in life of the instincts which find an outlet in acts of homage? How much does society owe to their binding power? In what degrees do they tend to tone down the asperities of the struggle to live? How may they be made subservient to the cultivation of religious feeling?
1. We should endeavour carefully to trace analogies between the structure of the Word of God and the structure of the other works of his hand.
2. It is important to watch against the temptations arising from the possession of qualities developed in a high degree.
3. The more prominent our gifts are in a particular direction, the more need is there for the cultivation of a calm judgment, if we would give the world the full benefit of their exercise.
4. In a choice of what seem to be opposing evils, we should endeavour to be guided by some clear and broad principle irrespective of consequences.
The alternations of passion and reason.
The battle between the forces of Abner and Joab was a small affair as compared with many of the conflicts recorded in Jewish history; and this is probably to be ascribed to the conviction which both leaders entertained of the weakness of the cause of Ishbosheth. Abner evidently had not made preparations commensurate with an unchangeable determination to see right done to his nominal master. The gathering of his few broken forces on the brow of a hill, and his appeal in their presence to Joab, were the outward signs of his virtual surrender. In his plea of humanity, "Shall the sword devour forever?" and in Joab's prompt answer, we get revelations of human character common to every age.
I. IT IS THE LOWER PASSIONS OF MEN THAT LEAD THEM TO SEEK TO ESTABLISH WHAT THEY CALL THE RIGHT BY VIOLENT MEANS. Ostensibly Abner was engaged in establishing the right of Ishbosheth to the rulership over the entire nation. As Joab reminds him, it was his will that led to war that day. In the eye of ordinary men, and judged by the customs of both ancient and modern peoples, Abner was justified in seeking to establish his right by force. But in his case, at least, the use of force was not the result of calm reason and conscience applied to the solution of a question of right. His past acquaintance with all the incidents connected with Samuel's recognition of David, and with the general evidence of the Divine rejection of the house of Saul, must have made him feel that however much personal ambition may have. inclined him to identify himself with Ishbosheth, reason and conscience pointed the other way. In the depths of his heart, therefore, he knew that his was not the right side. The same may be said of most of the wars into which men have entered. However much they may have talked about their right, it has been passion—love of domination, selfishness, greed, jealousy, family feuds, or some other low-born feeling—that has darkened the eye of reason and drowned the voice of conscience. Let any one study the words and read the feelings of a people at war, and he will soon see how low and base are the passions that sway their conduct. As when an arm is stretched out to smite an individual, there is a flow of passion that dethrones reason for a while, so is it with communities when they enter into strife. As to the abstract question of right being enforced by might, it may suffice to say that while an orderly government is a terror to evil doers (Romans 13:2, Romans 13:3), in the disputes of nations no might can make a right, and if rulers and people will but suppress passion of every kind, and give sole heed to the guidance of a calm reason and to the subtle dictates of conscience, they will not be long in doubt as to what the right is; and seeing it, they will not be able to do in the name of reason and conscience what can only come from the domination of low passions. The fact is Christianity is consistent. In so far as men are Christian they will not bring on war. The war spirit is a disgrace to a people calling themselves Christian, and must be shocking to the Blessed One, whose acts were the outcome of light and love.
II. A DEFEAT OF PLANS AND PURPOSES AFFORDS A NEW CHANCE FOR THE DICTATES OF REASON. The inflaming of some of the worst of passions, which necessarily takes place in carrying on war, is a sad detriment to the finer susceptibilities of human nature. Abner was deaf to reason before and during the turmoil of conflict, when the lust of power anti the passion of self-defence were at work within him. The frustration of his schemes by the defeat he encountered toned down these strong feelings, and gave some room for higher influence to come into action. The animal had spent its powers, and reason remained. On the brow of the hill, among his exhausted men, he thinks of peace, and recognizes the barbarity and folly of human slaughter. How truly is he a type of others! How often have nations slain and inflicted miseries, and when the fierce passion has spent itself have begun to speak of peace, and the need of staying the devouring sword! That the defeated are the first to do this makes no difference to the bearing of the fact on the moral question, since before defeat they were as much the slaves of passion as the victors. It is sad to think how little human life is governed by high and holy principle. A similar reassertion of the authority of reason and conscience on the occasion of defeat of purpose is seen in individuals who, having followed in their private life the heat of passion, are at last brought low by disaster or sickness, and constrained, as the fires of passion become slack, to give heed to the higher authority within. Though life may have been wasted, and, as in Abner's case, may have caused much misery, there is hope of a better end. The prodigal son is an extreme case of the kind.
III. IN SEASONS OF FAILURE MEN ARE GLAD TO AVAIL THEMSELVES OF THE HIGHER CONSIDERATIONS THEY ONCE SET ASIDE. Both fools and every man of sense must have admitted the force of Abner's appeal (2 Samuel 2:26). Now in his defeat he pleaded considerations of humanity, of common tribal interests, and of general expediency. One might have thought that the possibility of the death of three hundred and seventy men and the general miseries of a battle would have been of force with Abner in the morning of the day; but it is only when failure had come that be can use the higher reasons for saving himself and followers from still greater calamities. So is it that men can use moral reasons when it answers their purpose. They pay homage to the superiority of moral reasons by pleading them with emphasis when they have anything to gain thereby. France could appeal to Europe against what were termed bard and ruthless conditions when in defeat, but no question of humanity or common European interests was raised when she entered on the war against Germany. Many an evil doer, overtaken with the consequences of his deeds, speaks of the desirability of mitigating suffering and remembering the innocent that share the consequences of his actions, who, while in the path of his wrong doing, was heedless of the pleadings of humanity. In these facts have we not an intimation of the more comprehensive truth that the day will come, the day of the defeat of all the enemies of Zion's King, when every soul shall recognize the righteousness and expediency of the great principles which once they rejected as the spring of conduct and which enter into the essence of Christ's government?
IV. AMIDST THE DIN OF LIFE MEN SOMETIMES OBTAIN A GLIMPSE OF A BETTER ORDER OF THINGS THAN THAT THEY ARE IN. Abner was painfully impressed with the miseries consequent on that day's conflict, and by a stretch of imagination he pictured to himself what would be the issue to his nation if the spirit of war which then prevailed in men's hearts were to move on unrestrained. He saw only "bitterness in the latter end." Then, by a reversion of the picture, he could not but think of the comparative blessedness that would ensue should the sword not continue to devour. Human life as we see it is a spoiled thing. Nationally and personally it is often laid waste. Neither individuals nor communities have attained to the development, physical, intellectual, and moral, which is the ideal of life, and which may, if men will, become real. Artists sometimes have depicted in contrast "War" and "Peace," and so have given form to the ideal, which often steals before the imagination, of a more blessed state of things than that familiar to us. The representations of the Bible encourage us to dwell on the beautiful image of a time when the sword shall no more devour—when men shall learn the art of war no more. Also, out of the dull and beclouded life of many a poor victim of sin there arises, consequent on the revived teaching of early years, a lovely and apparently unattainable image of a pure and blessed life, strangely in contrast with the defiled and restless past. Such a "heavenly vision" has a message to which it behoves us not to be disobedient.
V. A CONVICTION OF BEING ENGAGED IS A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE ENABLES MEN TO ABSTAIN FROM STRIFE. Joab did not seek to carry on the conflict. He contented himself with reminding Abner that had he been wiser in the morning he would not have had occasion to lament the evils of the evening. Most probably he knew the aversion of David to a civil war, and was simply carrying out the wishes of his king when he ordered his men back to Hebron. Moreover, his presence with David during the exile gave him abundant opportunities of knowing the validity of his claim. Subsequent facts show that Joab was not of the highest type of character, but he was sagacious, and could, as a Hebrew, recognize the force of the supernatural claims of David. It was doubtless the assurance that he was on the right side, which so often bad been vindicated by God's providence, that induced him to cease from war and abide the issue of events. History proves that too often it is the men who are least conscious of rectitude of motive and justice of claim that press on with the sword, as though time, the healer of strifes, would be sure to work against them. David's calm waiting during. all the years of provocation, when Saul was eager for conflict, was here showing itself again in the moderate conduct of his general. In the highest sphere, that of Christ's life and kingdom, we see how assurance of right was conjoined with a spirit, that would not strive. It is along the same line that the Church should move to moral conquests, and kings and private persons may also do well to act in the same spirit.
HOMILIES BY B. DALE
2 Samuel 2:1-4
"David inquired of the Lord" (2 Samuel 2:1). A new chapter in the life of David now opens. By the death of Saul and Jonathan the obstacles to his accession were, in part, removed. The time of patient waiting was gone, and the time for decisive action come. As he had not run before he was sent, so he did not expect, without running, to attain. But he would not take a step without the approval and direction of God. His inquiry pertained to the Divine purpose he was chosen to fulfil, and the Divine guidance he needed for its accomplishment. In this inquiry, as in his subsequent conduct and experience, he was a pattern to us; since there is forevery man a Divine plan and purpose of life, which he should seek to ascertain and strive to realize. Consider Divine guidance (in the way to a crown) as—
I. URGENTLY NEEDED. We are liable (like travellers in a strange country) to go astray from the right path and fall into danger.
1. This liability arises from many erroneous paths presented to our view; their attractive appearance and strong temptations. "There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12).
2. And from the imperfection of our own nature; our ignorance, and our disposition to please ourselves rather than deny ourselves and please God. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself," etc. (Jeremiah 10:23).
3. It is evident from experience of past failures. David had taken many false steps. And there is no man but has reason to feel, in looking back over departed years, that his greatest folly has been to walk in the light of his own wisdom, and his greatest wisdom to depend upon the wisdom of God.
4. The need of it is specially felt by us when about to enter upon a new enterprise, or a course of action to which we are impelled by outward circumstances or inward conviction, but the exact nature of which is uncertain, or which is dependent for its success upon the disposition and cooperation of other persons.
II. DILIGENTLY SOUGHT. Although the Urim and Thummim are gone (see 1 Samuel 14:16-23; 1 Samuel 23:1-12), yet:
1. There are certain means which must be employed for a similar purpose—such as considering our own capacities and condition; listening to the voice of conscience; seeking the advice of good men; observing the ways of Providence; studying "the Scriptures of truth;" and, above all, offering prayer to the Father "in the Name" of Christ.
2. And to their proper employment a right spirit is essential; viz. sincerity, docility, trustfulness, perseverance. Such was the spirit of David, as it appears in his psalms; and therefore, while Saul exclaimed, "God answereth me no more" (1 Samuel 28:15), he could say, "I sought the Lord, and he heard me" (Psalms 34:4).
III. GRACIOUSLY AFFORDED.
1. In various ways, in accordance with the means just mentioned, and especially by the Holy Spirit, who prepares the heart, teaches the meaning and application of the written Word, and produces impressions and impulses in harmony therewith. "Ye have an unction from the Holy One, and know all things" (lJn 2 Samuel 2:20; John 16:13).
2. Individually, and in a measure fully adequate to the requirements of the case and the capacity of profiting by it.
3. Certainly. As of old, so now. God is as desirous as he is able to lead us in the way wherein we should go, and he has given many faithful promises to this effect. "I will guide thee with mine eye" (Psalms 32:8; Psalms 37:23; Psalms 48:14). "Thine ears shall hear a voice behind thee," etc. (Isaiah 30:21; Isaiah 42:16; Proverbs 3:6).
IV. FAITHFULLY FOLLOWED. "And David went up thither" (2 Samuel 2:2).
1. With humble obedience and entire dependence, as a child relying on the superior wisdom of his father.
2. Without hesitation, questioning, or delay.
3. With cheerfulness, zeal, and energy. It is always given with a practical end in view.
V. GRADUALLY CONFIRMED in the experience of him who obeys. "And his men … and they dwelt in the cities of Hebron" (2 Samuel 2:3). God went before them and prepared their way, so that they met with a peaceable reception and found "a city of habitation."
1. The operations of Providence concur with the teachings of the Word and the Spirit.
2. A stronger assurance of the Divine leading is possessed. "If any man willeth to do his will," etc. (John 7:17).
3. More light is given for further advancement. "Then shall we know, shall follow on to know the Lord. His going forth is fixed like the morning dawn" (Hosea 6:3); and it will brighten on our path into the radiance of perfect day.
VI. WIDELY BENEFICIAL. More especially it contributes to the good of those who are associated with him, and who, having shared his perplexity and distress, now share his prosperity. Those who are guided by God are thereby enabled and disposed to guide and bless others (Num 10:1-36 :39).
VII. GLORIOUSLY TERMINATING. "They anointed David king" (2 Samuel 2:4). And all who truly fulfil the Divine plan and purpose as David did (Acts 13:22) are made "kings unto God," and receive exalted honour among men, increased power over them, and at length a crown of life, of righteousness, and of glory. But, alas! how many go stumbling through life without an aim, or only with one which is unworthy, and contrary to the will of God, and then sink into "the blackness of darkness forever"! "The wise shall inherit glory; but shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Proverbs 3:35).—D.
2 Samuel 2:4
David anointed King of Judah.
Course of events:
1. David's message to the men of Jabesh (2 Samuel 2:5-7).
2. Ishbosheth made King of Israel by Abner (2 Samuel 2:8-11).
3. Civil war, and the death of Asahel (2 Samuel 2:12-32).
4. Increasing strength of the house of David (2 Samuel 3:1-5).
5. Dissension between Ishbosheth and Abner.
6. Abner's negotiations with David, restoration of Michal, communication with the tribes, and formal league (2 Samuel 3:12-21).
7. Abner slain by Joab (2 Samuel 3:22-28).
8. Lamented by David (2 Samuel 3:31-39).
9. Ishbosheth murdered (2 Samuel 4:1-8)
10. His assassins executed (2 Samuel 4:9-12).
It was a great day in Hebron. The ancient city among the hills of Judah (where the remains of the patriarchs had slumbered for centuries) was stirred by the assembling of the elders for the coronation of David. His presence among them, at the head of his six hundred heroes, had been virtually a "public assertion of his claims to sovereignty" on the ground of his Divine consecration by Samuel. His first anointing was essentially of a private nature. "This second one, performed by the elders of Judah, was his public solemn installation (based on that anointment) into the royal office." Then followed the acclamation of the people (1 Samuel 10:24; 1 Samuel 11:15). "Now doth David find the comfort that his extremity sought in the Lord his God; now are the clouds for a time passed over, and the sun breaks forth; David shall reign after his sufferings" (Hall). It has been supposed that he wrote about this time Psalms 27:1-14. (inscription, "Before the anointing," LXX.).
"Jehovah is my Light and my Salvation;
Whom shall I fear?
Jehovah is the Strength of my life;
Of whom shall I be afraid?"
"It is not likely that David's muse went to sleep when the death of Saul at Gilboa opened his way to the throne, or that it produced nothing but such comparatively secular songs as the lament for Saul and Jonathan. It is rather remarkable, however, that there is not a single psalm of which one can affirm with confidence that it was written during the seven years and a half that David reigned at Hebron over the tribe of Judah" (Binnie). Those who took part in his inauguration acted in fulfilment, not only of the Divine purpose concerning him, but also of the Divine predictions concerning themselves; for the pre-eminence of Judah had been long foretold (Genesis 49:8). "In all great questions the men of Judah are the foremost and the strongest. From the time of David's establishment on the throne, the greatness of the tribe follows in some measure that of his family (1 Chronicles 5:2; 38:4)" (Davison). "And as they had the right to choose their own prince, they might reasonably have expected that the other tribes would have followed their example, and, by uniting in David, have quietly submitted to the appointment of God, as they themselves had done" (Chandler). In their conduct we see—
I. AN EXALTED ESTIMATE OF HIS PERSONAL WORTH. One of themselves (Deuteronomy 17:15), "chosen out of the people" (Psalms 89:19), he could understand and sympathize with them. He possessed eminent military abilities and noble moral qualities; and he had rendered invaluable services to his country, and shown special kindness to the elders of his own tribe (1 Samuel 30:26). His previous career was well known to them, and had won their confidence and affection. The character of a people is commonly manifested in that of its chosen ruler. As Saul embodied and reflected the prevailing spirit of Benjamin and Ephraim, so David embodied and reflected what was best in Judah; its independent spirit, lion-like courage, and religious devotion.
II. LOYAL ACCEPTANCE OF HIS DIVINE APPOINTMENT. With that appointment they were familiar. They recognized Jehovah as their King; the Source of authority and of the endowments which were needful for the kingly office. Their condition isolated them in feeling, to some extent, from the other tribes (as afterwards more fully appears); but in acting independently of them they rebelled against no existing and legitimate authority, and they neither aimed at dominion over them nor separation from them. They displayed a truly theocratic spirit. And, in the election of a ruler, a people should always recognize the authority and obey the will of God. "Kings derive their kingly majesty immediately from God, but also mediately from their subjects" (J. Lange).
III. VOLUNTARY SUBMISSION TO HIS ROYAL AUTHORITY. He was to them "a minister of God." Their obedience to God required their submission to the king of his choice; whose authority, however, great as it was, was not absolute. It is not said, as on a subsequent occasion (Psalms 5:3), that "he made a league with them;" but they doubtless submitted to him on the understanding that he would rule according to the Divine will. The efficiency of a ruler depends upon the free submission of his people; and there is not a nobler exercise of freedom than submission to the highest order.
IV. UNBOUNDED CONFIDENCE IN HIS BENEFICENT RULE. They expected, under the government of "the man worthy of the sceptre," deliverance from their enemies, by whom they were now threatened; the establishment of justice, from the want of which they had long suffered; and the attainment of power and prosperity. Nor were they disappointed. The pre-eminence of this tribe was ordained with reference to the advent and exaltation of Christ, the promised Shiloh, "the Lion of the tribe of Judah" (Revelation 5:5); and the conduct of the men of Judah may be taken as illustrating the free acceptance of "him whom God hath anointed with his Holy Spirit" on the part of his people; their humble obedience to his rule, and their fervent desire for his universal reign. "Thou art worthy."
"Come, then, and, added to thy many crowns,
Receive yet one, the crown of all the earth,
Thou who alone art worthy! It was thine
By ancient covenant, ere Nature's birth;
And thou hast made it thine by purchase since,
And overpaid its value with thy blood.
Thy saints proclaim thee King; and in their hearts
Thy title is engraven with a pen
Dipped in the fountain of eternal love."
2 Samuel 2:4-7
The first recorded act of David after he became king was of a kingly character. It is not improbable that the persons who informed him of what the men of Jabesh had done supposed that he had little love for the memory of Saul, and was apprehensive of Opposition from his "house" (2 Samuel 2:8), and wished to excite his jealousy against them; seeking to insinuate themselves into his confidence by detraction from the good name of others. But, instead of yielding to suspicion, he sent a message of peace and good will. His commendation was—
I. WELL DESERVED by men who had performed a noble deed (see 1 Samuel 31:11-13). Their conduct displayed:
1. Gratitude toward their benefactor, whose kindness they returned with kindness.
2. Fidelity toward their king, whose faithfulness they repaid with faithfulness.
3. Reverence toward their God. "To bury the dead with the Jews was always reckoned an instance of humanity and kindness, and, indeed, of piety; an act done in imitation of God, who buried Moses; and so it might be expected the Divine blessing would attend it" (Gill).
II. WORTHILY BESTOWED by a king of royal disposition.
1. Unsuspecting. Others might find reason for suspecting their intentions, but he could see only what was deserving of praise.
2. Generous, with respect to Saul; appreciating and sympathizing with their kindness to their master, even though he had been his enemy. "Use the memory of thy predecessor fairly and tenderly; for if thou dost not, it is a debt will sure be paid when thou art gone" (Bacon).
3. Practical. "David sent messengers," etc.
4. Devout. "Blessed be ye of Jehovah," etc. Recognizing God as the Observer and Rewarder of men, he invoked for them his commendation and blessing—kindness for kindness, faithfulness for faithfulness—as the highest good (Psalms 40:11; Psalms 86:15; Matthew 5:7; Hebrews 6:10).
5. Becoming. "And I also"—as one whose office it becomes to observe and recompense good as well as evil—"requite you this kindness" (send you this message), "because," etc.
6. Encouraging and stimulating. "And now," as heretofore, "let your hands be strong, and be ye valiant" in the new circumstances which have arisen through the death of your master.
7. Candid, considerate, and dignified. "For me have the house of Judah anointed king over them." He indicated delicately, but not obscurely, his claims to their allegiance, and assured them of his protection and help. "To act nobly is always the best policy."
"Where'er a noble deed is wrought,
Where'er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts in glad surprise
To higher levels rise.
The tidal wave of deeper souls
Into our inmost being rolls,
And lifts us unawares
Out of all meaner cares.
Honour to those whose words or deeds
Thus help us in our daily needs;
And by their overflow
Raise us from what is low!"
III. WISELY ADAPTED to effect a laudable end.
1. To confirm good men in a virtuous and praiseworthy course.
2. To win the confidence and support of such men.
3. To secure the benefit of their services to the nation and the kingdom of God.
4. To manifest to all the spirit of a just and generous rule.
1. One good action tends to produce another; in performing it one knows not how far its influence may reach, or what blessings it may bring upon himself.
2. Although we ought not to do good simply for the sake of reward, yet the desire of the approval of the good is a proper motive of action.
3. We should be as ready to give commendation as to receive it.
4. We should desire, above all things, the approbation of God.—D.
2 Samuel 2:8-12
Opposition to the Divine purpose.
The purpose of God, to make David king over his people, was as yet only in part accomplished; and its fulfilment was opposed by Abner (1 Samuel 14:50; 1 Samuel 17:55; 1 Samuel 20:25; 1 Samuel 26:5) on behalf of "the house of Saul." Having escaped from the battle of Gilboa, he "took Ishbosheth, the son of Saul" (a man of feeble character, and fitted to become a tool in his hands), "and brought him over to Mahanaim, and made him king over Gilead," etc. After five years of great exertions (while David reigned peacefully at Hebron) he drove the Philistines out of the country, openly proclaimed Ishbosheth (now forty years old) "king over all Israel," and "went out from Mahanaim to Gibeon" with the view of subjecting Judah to his sway. His principal motive was the desire of maintaining and increasing his own power. "He was angry that this tribe had set up David for their king" (Josephus). His conduct was "not only a continuation of the hostility of Saul towards David, but also an open act of rebellion against Jehovah" (Keil), whose purpose, as well as the wish of the elders of Israel, he well knew, as he afterwards acknowledged (2 Samuel 3:17, 2 Samuel 3:18). His opposition represents and illustrates that of men to the purposes of God generally, and more especially to his purpose, that Christ shall reign over them and all mankind; of which observe that—
I. IT IS PLAINLY REVEALED. By the testimony of:
1. The Divine Word (1 Samuel 16:1). "To him give all the prophets witness," etc. (Acts 10:43; 1 Peter 1:11).
2. Significant events, in confirmation of the Word; the overthrow of adversaries, the exaltation of "his Chosen," the growth of his power (Acts 2:22-24).
3. The irresistible convictions of reason and conscience, and the confessions which even opponents have been constrained to make. Abner was present when Saul said, "Thou shalt both do great things and shalt also still prevail" (1 Samuel 26:25). His opposition was therefore inexcusable. "While men go on in their sins, apparently without concern, they are often conscious that they are fighting against God" (Scott).
II. IT MAY BE WICKEDLY OPPOSED (in virtue of the freedom which, within certain limits, men possess) because of:
1. The delusions of unbelief. The tempter whispers as of old, "Yea, hath God said?" (Genesis 3:1); they "wilfully forget" what has taken place (2 Peter 3:5); "neither will they be persuaded" of the truth and obligation of the Word of God (Luke 16:31).
2. The plea of present expediency, and the expectation that, if they must submit, there will come a "more convenient season" for doing so. Abner thought "that he might be able, upon better terms, to make his peace with David when the time should come that the Lord was to advance him to be ruler over all Israel" (Chandler).
3. Selfishness, pride, and ambition; the love of pleasure and power, the habit of self-will, the self-confidence engendered by success, "the mind of the flesh," which "is enmity against God. Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost" (Acts 7:51).
III. IT CANNOT BE EFFECTUALLY DEFEATED. "He must reign," in fulfilment of the Divine decree (Psalms 2:7; Psalms 110:1), which:
1. Changes not. "The Strength of Israel will not lie, nor repent" (1 Samuel 15:29).
2. Is effected by infinite wisdom and might, against which the skill and strength of men contend in vain.
3. Comes to pass either with or without their will, in mercy or in judgment, in the salvation of the penitent or the destruction of the persistently rebellious "These mine enemies which would not that I should reign over them bring hither and slay them before me" (Luke 19:27).—D.
2 Samuel 2:13-17
"And that place was called Helkath-Hazzurim" (2 Samuel 2:16). The hostile attitude assumed by Abner appeared to David to render necessary active measures in self-defence. It is not said that he inquired of the Lord. If he had done so the conflict which ensued between brethren might possibly have been averted. As it was, he sent an army of observation under the command of Joab, who (although not mentioned before) had doubtless accompanied him in his exile (1 Samuel 22:1), and was now general of his forces. And Joab and "the servants of David" marched to Gibeon and encamped opposite Abner "and the servants of Ishbosheth" (2 Samuel 2:13). At length Abner, impatient of delay, challenged a conflict between certain picked men on each side, not merely "to see which were best" (Josephus), but either to decide the day by the issue or to draw on a general engagement. Joab readily accepted the challenge, and the conflict commenced. It was—
I. BEGUN RECKLESSLY. "Let the young men arise and play [fight] before us." "Let them arise" (2 Samuel 2:14).
1. Self-interest, ambition, and envy often quench the love of brethren (2 Samuel 2:26, 2 Samuel 2:27), and indispose them to seek reconciliation with each other.
2. The indulgence of evil passion blinds men to the consequences of their words and actions.
3. Familiarity with scenes of strife and war tends to produce insensibility to human suffering and slaughter. That a deadly struggle could be spoken of as a pastime shows how lightly life was estimated and how heartlessly it was sacrificed. "Ambitious and bloody men often consider the dire trade of war and the slaughter of their fellow creatures as a mere diversion" (Scott).
"Some seek diversion in the tented field,
And make the sorrows of mankind their sport.
But war's a game which, were their subjects wise,
Kings should not play at."
II. WAGED FEROCIOUSLY. "And they caught each other by the head," etc. (2 Samuel 2:16).
1. When the love which should prevail among brethren gives place to wrath, that wrath is generally most intense and cruel. Civil wars are proverbially more bitter than any other.
2. Men are sometimes so intent upon injuring their opponents as to forget to defend themselves, and rush upon their own destruction.
3. The attempt to end strife by means of strife is commonly vain; "it is rather a spur to further effusion of blood than a bridle to hinder the same." "What can war but endless war still breed?"
4. The issue of the conflict does not necessarily prove the justice of the cause.
5. Mutual strife tends to mutual extermination. "All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52). The "field of sharp blades" was a lasting memorial of destructiveness rather than of courage; a warning rather than a pattern.
III. EXTENDED RAPIDLY. "And there was a very sore battle that day," etc. (2 Samuel 2:17).
1. The strife of a few excites the wrathful passions of many, by whom it is witnessed.
2. Every injurious word and act furnishes an additional impulse to wrath and retaliation; and the conflict goes on increasing.
3. That which at first may be easily checked passes entirely beyond control. "The beginning of strife is as when one letteth out water," etc. (Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 26:21).
IV. ENDED LAMENTABLY. "Abner was beaten," and three hundred and sixty of his men died; Joab's brother Asahel was slain, with nineteen of David's servants. "In war God punishes the sins of both parties."
1. He who gave the challenge and commenced the conflict was the first to complain of the result (2 Samuel 2:26), and was bitterly reproached as the cause thereof (2 Samuel 2:27).
2. He who accepted the challenge was filled with grief and revenge.
3. Both sides experienced heavy loss and sorrow.
4. Even David could not but regret the weakening of the nation in presence of the common foe; or fail to see in the strife of brethren the consequences of his own faithlessness (1 Samuel 27:1, 1 Samuel 27:10, 1 Samuel 27:11). If he had not taken up his abode with the Philistines the conflict would probably never have occurred.
1. When men commence a quarrel they little know where it will end.
2. Strife should be diligently checked at the beginning.
3. "Let us fight that good fight only whereof the apostle speaks, which is between the flesh and the spirit, which only hath the profitable end, the glorious theatre, the godly armour, and the blessed reward of assured triumph" (Guild)—D.
2 Samuel 2:18-23
The untimely fate of Asohel: to young men.
Asahel was the youngest of three brothers; the others being Joab and Abishai. They were the sons of Zeruiah (half-sister of David) and a Bethlehemite (2 Samuel 2:32) whose name has not been recorded; and they had much in common. When Asahel fled to David at the cave of Adullam (some ten or twelve years before the events here mentioned) he was probably a mere lad; he shared his uncle's hardships and participated in his exaltation. He was one of the famous thirty (2 Samuel 23:24), "valiant men of the armies" (1 Chronicles 11:26); accompanied Joab and Abishai in their march to Gibeon, and took part in the battle with Abner and "the servants [soldiers] of Ishbosheth." He was:
1. Possessed of eminent gifts. "Asahel was as light of foot as a gazelle" (2 Samuel 2:18); like "swift-footed Achilles," and like Harold I. (son of Canute), surnamed Hare-foot, "because he was light and swift of foot (Rapin). He was also distinguished by enterprise, courage, perseverance, and other admirable qualities. Mental endowments are incomparably superior to physical; but both are gifts of God, and should be recognized as such; they enable those who possess them to render valuable service to his people; and they should be employed in humble obedience to his will. Yet not unfrequently they become an occasion of vain glory, and are perverted from their proper exercise and end.
2. Actuated by an unwise ambition. "And Asahel pursued after Abner," etc. (2 Samuel 2:19). He sought to take him prisoner or put him to death, and so end the conflict; and doubtless, also, to display his own superior speed and strength, and obtain the glory of the achievement. He was on the right side, and, considering the circumstances of the case, there was something laudable in his attempt. But it is possible, even in connection with the kingdom of God, to entertain an improper desire of worldly honour and power (Matthew 20:20-23). Those who do so generally set an inordinate value upon the object at which they aim, exhibit an undue confidence in their own abilities, depreciate the difficulties of its attainment, and expose themselves to great risk and peril (Titus 2:6; 1 Timothy 6:9).
"Ah! who can tell how hard it is to climb
The steep where Fame's proud temple shines afar?"
3. Heedless of salutary warning. "And Abner looked behind him, and said" etc. (2 Samuel 2:20-23). "Turn thee aside," etc. "Slay one of the common soldiers and take his accoutrements as booty, if thou art seeking for that kind of fame" (Keil). He eared little about the safety of his men, and was chiefly concerned about his own; but his advice was considerate, wise, and once and again repeated. Asahel, though swifter of foot, was not his equal in experience and skill; and (like many other young men) he despised the warning of the old warrior, was headstrong and over confident of success, and rushed rashly and blindly upon his fate. "Heat of zeal sometimes, in the indiscreet pursuit of a just adversary, proves mortal to the agent, prejudicial to the service" (Hall).
4. Struck down in youthful prime. "And Abner with the hinder end of the spear smote him," etc.; suddenly, unexpectedly, and when he seemed on the point of accomplishing his purpose. With one blow his life was cut short, his hope disappointed, his promise of a brilliant future extinguished. "Often do men fancy themselves about to seize upon happiness, when death stops their career and lays them in the dust. And if they will rush forward in the road to destruction, though plainly warned of their danger, they can blame none but themselves" (Scott).
"Fame is the spur that the clear spirit cloth raise
(That last infirmity of noble mind)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days;
But the fair guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears,
And slits the thin-spun life."
5. Regarded with mournful pity. "As many as came to the place where Asahel fell down and died stood still" (see 2 Samuel 20:12), overcome with surprise, compassion, and grief; "and they took up Asahel, and buried him," etc. (2 Samuel 2:32).
6. Remembered with mischievous resentment. (2 Samuel 3:30.) He left behind him a legacy, not of peace and good will, but of wrath and revenge. Pause at his tomb in Bethlehem, and lay to heart the lessons taught by his untimely, fate (Jeremiah 9:23). Let your ambition be different from his; to overcome carnal and selfish ambition in your own heart, to save life rather than to destroy it, to follow in the steps of him who was servant of all (Matthew 20:28). Here is scope for your noblest aspirations and most strenuous efforts. And your hope wilt not be destroyed, but crowned by death.
"Fool not; for all may have,
If they dare try, a glorious life, or grave."
2 Samuel 2:24-29
"Shall the sword devour forever?" (2 Samuel 2:26; 2 Samuel 11:25). The sword is more destructive than ravenous beasts, famine, pestilence (2 Samuel 24:13; Leviticus 26:26), earthquake, tempest, or fire. The history of its ravages constitutes a considerable portion of the history of mankind. Of these we have here a slight but noteworthy instance. Twenty-four brave men of the same nation (half of them chosen from each of the opposing forces) fell, pierced by each other's weapons. In the succeeding battle and flight several hundreds were slain (2 Samuel 2:31). At sunset the defeated general rallied his scattered troops on the hill of Ammah, and appealed to the commander of the pursuing forces to withdraw them and avert the bitter consequences that would otherwise ensue. "Now the battle is going against him he complains of the devouring sword; and, though it had been employed but a few hours, it seemed long to him—a sort of eternity" (Gill). Joab answered that but for his challenge in the morning there would have been no conflict at all; but (probably as yet unacquainted with the death of his brother Asahel) he sounded a retreat (2 Samuel 2:28); and Abner and his men forthwith departed, not to Gibeon, but across the Jordan to Mahanaim (2 Samuel 2:29). Regarding the question not merely as the utterance of Abner, nor from an Old Testament point of view, we may take it as expressive of ―
I. A CONVICTION OF THE EVILS OF WAR. "Shall the sword devour forever?" By it:
1. Numberless lives are consumed. The immediate and avowed object of war is the destruction of men's lives; and its most effective instruments (to the Construction of which the utmost ingenuity is devoted) are those that destroy the greatest number in the shortest possible time. "War is the work, the element, or rather the sport and triumph of death, who glories not only in the extent of his conquest, but in the richness of his spoil" (R. Hall, 'Reflections on War'). Since its ravages began many times more than the whole number of the present population of the globe have probably been its victims.
2. Incalculable snfferings are inflicted; on those who are left to die on the field, or are borne to hospitals and linger out a miserable existence; on the non-combatant population among whom the devourer pursues his way; on whole nations and multitudes of desolate and sorrowing homes far distant from the scene of strife.
3. Enormous cost is incurred; in the maintenance of armies and the provision of materiel, besides the withdrawal of great numbers from the operations of productive industry and serious interference with commerce; immense national debts are accumulated and burdensome taxes imposed on present and succeeding generations. There are nearly thirteen millions of men in Europe who have been trained for arms, and between four and five millions actually under arms, costing in all ways about five hundred millions sterling a year. The sum total of the national debts of the European nations amounts to nearly five thousand millions of pounds ('Statesman's Year-Book').
4. A pernicious influence is exerted, with respect to morality and religion. "War does more harm to the morals of men than even their property and their persons" (Erasmus). It has its origin in unregulated desire (James 4:1; 1 John 2:16), which it excites, manifests, and intensifies. "The causes of all wars may be reduced to five heads: ambition, avarice, revenge, providence (precaution), and defence" (Owen Feltham, 'Resolves'). "If the existence of war always implies injustice in one at least of the parties concerned, it is also the fruitful parent of crimes. It reverses, with respect to its objects, all the rules of morality. It is nothing less than a temporary repeal of the principles of virtue. It is a system out of which almost all the virtues are excluded and on which nearly all the vices are incorporated" (R. Hall). What angry feelings does it stir up between nations whom "God hath made of one blood"! What infuriated passions does it arouse in contending armies! What cruel deeds does it commend! What iniquitous courses of conduct does it induce! What false views of glory does it inculcate! What bitter and lasting enmities does it leave behind!
"One murder makes a villain,
Millions a hero! Princes were privileged to kill,
And numbers sanctified the crime!
Ah! why will kings forget that they are men,
And men that they are brethren? Why delight;
In human sacrifice? Why burst the ties
Of nature, that should knit their souls together
In one soft bond of amity and love?"
Is war, then, under all circumstances, inexpedient and wrong? It is maintained that:
(1) The state, like the individual, has a natural right of self-defence, and is bound (in fulfilment of the purpose for which it exists) to protect its citizens by repelling external invasion as well as repressing internal violence (Whewell, 'Elements of Morality;' Paley; Gisborne; Mozley, 'University Sermons').
(2) By means of war national subjection is sometimes prevented, national grievances are redressed, national honour is upheld, aggression checked, pride abased, liberty, peace, and prosperity secured, patriotism kindled, powerful energies and heroic virtues developed.
(3) It has often received the Divine sanction (Exodus 17:14; Joshua 8:1; 1 Samuel 11:6). "Perpetual peace is a dream, and it is not even a beautiful dream. War is an element in the order of the world ordained by God. In it the noblest virtues of mankind are developed—courage and the abnegation of self, faithfulness to duty, and the spirit of sacrifice; the soldier gives his life. Without war the world would stagnate and lose itself in materialism" (Von Moltke). But this is the view of one who has been "a man of war from his youth" and "shed much blood" (1 Chronicles 22:8).
And it may be said that:
(1) War is not ordained by God like tempests and earthquakes or even pestilence, but is directly due to the wickedness of men. That which is in itself evil, however, often becomes an occasion of good.
(2) "There is at least equal scope for courage and magnanimity in blessing as in destroying mankind. The condition of the human race offers inexhaustible objects for enterprise and fortitude and magnanimity. In relieving the countless wants and sorrows of the world, in exploring unknown regions, in carrying the arts and virtues of civilization to unimproved communities, in extending the bounds of knowledge, in diffusing the spirit of freedom, and especially in spreading the light and influence of Christianity, how much may be dared, how much endured!" (Channing).
(3) The right of resistance to evil is limited, and does not justify the taking away of life (Wayland, 'Elements of Moral Science;' Dymond, 'Essays').
(4) No advantages gained by war are an adequate compensation for the miseries inflicted by it; less suffering is experienced and higher honour acquired by enduring wrong than avenging it; the exercise of justice, forbearance, and active benevolence is the most effectual means of averting injury and securing safety and happiness.
(5) The Divine sanction given to specific wars in the Old Testament was not given to war in general, and it does not justify the wars which are waged, without the like authority, at the present time.
(6) War is virtually forbidden by numerous precepts and the whole spirit of the New Testament (Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:39, Matthew 5:44; Matthew 26:52; Romans 12:18-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 2:23; 1 Peter 3:9-13). The most that can be said is that "any principles upon which the Christian casuist would justify war in certain circumstances would not justify perhaps one in ten of the wars that have been waged" (J. Foster, 'Lectures,' vol. 2.).
II. AN APPEAL FOB THE CESSATION OF STRIPE. "Shall the sword devour forever?" Its ravages may be stayed; and means must be employed for that end, such as:
1. The consideration of the real nature and terrible consequences of war; and the education of the people, especially the young, so that they may cease to admire military glory and to be beguiled by "the pomp and circumstance of war"—may feel an intense aversion to it, and seek in other ways their common interest and true elevation.
2. The adoption of political measures for the settlement of international disputes and the removal of causes of strife; viE. arbitration by friendly powers, the reduction and disbandment of standing armies, etc.
3. The repression of evil passions in ourselves and others.
4. The practice and diffusion of Christian principles; which indispose all in whom they dwell to break the peace themselves, and dispose them to make peace among others. "The sons of peace are the sons of God."
III. AN ANTICIPATION OF TEE PREVALENCE or PEACE, "Shall the sword devour forever?" Surely not. The hope of universal peace is warranted from:
1. The advancing intelligence of men, the growth of popular government (making war less dependent than heretofore on the arbitrary will of rulers), the possession of "nobler modes of life, with sweeter manners, purer laws."
2. The better understanding and more perfect realization of the spirit of Christianity.
3. The overruling Providence and quickening Spirit of "the God of peace."
4. The express predictions of his Word concerning the effects of the reign of "the Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:7; Micah 4:3; Micah 5:2, Micah 5:5; Psalms 72:7). "It is in war that the power of the beast culminates in the history of the world. This beast will then be destroyed. The true humanity which sin has choked up will gain the mastery, and the world's history will keep sabbath. What the prophetic words affirm is a moral postulate, the goal of sacred history, the predicted counsel of God" (Delitzsch, on Isaiah 2:4).
"O scenes surpassing fable and yet true;
Scenes of accomplished bliss; which who can see
(Though but in distant prospect) and not feel
His soul refreshed with foretaste and with joy?"
2 Samuel 2:30-32
(GIBEON, BETHLEHEM, HEBRON.)
The sorrows of victory.
"What a glorious thing must be a victory, sir!" it was remarked to the Duke of Wellington. "The greatest tragedy in the world," he replied, "except a defeat" ('Recollections,' by S. Rogers). The rejoicing by which it is attended, is usually mingled with weeping and sometimes swallowed up of grief. Various persons are thus affected for various reasons. Think of the sorrows endured:
1. At the fall of fellow soldiers. "Nineteen men and Asahel" (2 Samuel 2:23, 2 Samuel 2:30) who come not to the muster after sunset (2 Samuel 2:24, 2 Samuel 2:30), nor answer to the roll call, but lie in the chill embrace of death. "Alas! fallen are the heroes."
2. In the burial of the dead. (2 Samuel 2:32.) No opportunity is afforded for seeking out and burying all the slain; but the remains of Asahel are carried across the hills by night (2 Samuel 2:29) and laid in the tomb of his father in Bethlehem, where the sorrow of the preceding day is renewed. It reminds us of a pathetic scene of recent times described in the familiar lines --
"We buried him darkly at dead of night,
The sod with our bayonets turning;
By the struggling moonbeam's misty light,
And our lanterns dimly burning."
3. When the news is conveyed to their homes. "They came to Hebron at break of day;" a day of bitter grief to many bereaved hearts. "By the slaughter of a war there are thousands who weep in unpitied and unnoticed secrecy whom the world does not see; and thousands who retire in silence to hopeless poverty for whom the world does not care" (Dymond).
4. For the miseries of fellow sufferers; the enemy—defeated, bereaved, and mourning—for they too are "brethren," and cannot but be remembered with sympathy and pity.
5. Concerning the state of the departed. A soldier's life is not favourable to piety and preparation for heaven, and the passions by which he is commonly swayed when his earthly probation is suddenly terminated are such that we can seldom contemplate his entrance into the eternal world with feelings of cheerfulness and hope. "After death the judgment."
6. On account of the animosities of the living, which are increased by conflict and victory, and are certain to be a source of future trouble (2Sa 3:1, 2 Samuel 3:30, 2 Samuel 3:33).
7. Because of the dishonour done to the cause of the Lord's Anointed. Religion suffers, the progress of the kingdom is hindered, and the King himself is "grieved for the misery of Israel." "The victory that day was turned into mourning" (2 Samuel 19:2). So is every victory gained by "the devouring sword." But there are victories which are bloodless and tearless, sources of unmingled joy; spiritual victories over ignorance and sin won by and through the might of him at whose birth the angels sang upon those hills of Bethlehem, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men."—D.
HOMILIES BY G. WOOD
2 Samuel 2:1
Inquiring of God.
David had now arrived at a very important point in his career. Saul being dead, his way to the throne was cleared; but the next step to take was doubtful. Under these circumstances he adopted the course usual to him when in difficulty. He "inquired of the Lord," sought directions from him as to what he should do. The high priest, Abiathar, was with him with the ephod (1 Samuel 30:7), and by means of the Urim and Thummim could ascertain for him the Divine will. By this method, doubtless, he received directions to go into Judah and settle at Hebron; "and the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah." We cannot ask direction from God in the same manner as David, but, using the means available for us, we should imitate him in this respect.
I. UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES WE SHOULD INQUIRE OF GOD.
1. It should be a constant practice. Part of our devotions every day should consist of endeavours to ascertain more fully and accurately the will of God concerning us, seeking of him guidance in all our ways, that we may know what the general commands of God mean for us in our position, in the practical details of our individual life.
2. The practice should be made special under special doubts and difficulties.
(1) When like David we have to make a choice on which much depends, and there is difficulty in choosing. When proposing to enter on a new enterprise, to form new connections (especially a lifelong alliance), to change our place of abode, etc. There will be reasons for and against, promises of good, possibilities of evil, in each direction. What shall be done? Inquire of the Lord.
(2) When we meet with perplexities in the inquiry after truth. It is not by mere logical processes that spiritual truth can be ascertained; from first to last we need guidance from above, and should earnestly seek it,
II. How such INQUIRY SHOULD BE CONDUCTED.
1. By what methods. Where shall we find a Divine oracle to answer our inquiries?
(1) Reason and conscience will often (if we allow them free speech) give a response which at once commends itself as a Divine reply. If one course be morally right and the other morally wrong, one in manifest accordance with the laws of Christ, the other in plain opposition to them, there is no room for further question.
(2) Holy Scripture is to be consulted. Not in the way of bibliomancy, but by study of its revelations and precepts. The New Testament is especially the Christian's vade mecum, from whence he may obtain all needful instruction as to the will of God.
(3) The providence of God. Courses to which we are prompted by the best desires may be seen not to be our duty, because ability and opportunity are wanting to pursue them.
(4) The counsels of wise and good men. Consulting them, our course will often become clear. Yet we may not submit blindly and slavishly to our fellow men.
(5) The commands of superiors. For children at home the will of their parents is the will of God; for servants, the commands of their employers; always supposing in both cases that what is enjoined is not clearly sinful.
(6) Withal and always, prayer for Divine guidance should be resorted to. "Show me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths" (Psalms 25:4). By direct influence on the minds and hearts of those who seek him, God becomes their Guide. His Spirit leads those who are willing to be led by him.
2. In what spirit. A simple and sincere desire to know and do the will of God. In opposition to pride and self-will, and double-mindedness. Many seek counsel of God as the advice of men is often sought. They virtually make up their minds before they inquire, and "make it a matter of prayer" in order that they may obtain a feeling of the Divine approval of the course they have chosen. Not avowedly, not consciously, is this done. But "the heart is deceitful," and never shows its deceitfulness more than in such cases (comp. Ezekiel 14:1-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:10-14).
III. MOTIVES TO SUCH INQUIRY.
1. Our ignorance. "The way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). Human affairs are so complex, appearances so deceitful, men often so untrustworthy, our vision so limited, that we may well desire and shall wisely yield ourselves to the guidance of God.
2. The right and power of God to direct us. As supreme Ruler, as perfect in knowledge, wisdom, and goodness.
3. His promises. (See Psalms 25:12, Psalms 25:14; James 1:5.) Especially the great promise of the Holy Spirit to all who ask of God this unspeakably great and precious gift (Luke 11:13).
4. The blessedness of being divinely led. In present wisdom, holiness, and happiness, and in eternal life.
5. The certainty of fatal darkness and stumbling to those who do not inquire of God. (See Jeremiah 13:16; John 12:35.)—G.W.
2 Samuel 2:5-7
Gratitude and policy.
David was now king of the tribe of Judah by their own choice, but the rest of the tribes had not declared themselves. Amongst these the tribes beyond the Jordan were of special importance and influence; and David took an opportunity of reminding them of his position and claims. The chief city amongst those tribes was Jabesh-Gilead. Brave men from that city had rescued the bodies of Saul and his sons from the wall of Bethshan, and, after burning them, had buried their bones under the tamarisk tree (Revised Version) at Jabesh. David, being made acquainted with what they had done, sends messengers to assure them of his appreciation of their conduct, and at the same time to hint that, Saul being dead, and he having been appointed king over Judah, the way was clear for them to aid, if so disposed, in promoting his election as king by the other tribes. The message was at once a suitable expression of his gratitude and a politic endeavour to ingratiate himself with them.
I. DAVID'S GRATITUDE.
1. On what account. Their burial of Saul. He speaks of this as kindness to him. We can show kindness to the dead by suitably interring them. Other ways of doing this would be upholding their reputation, caring for those they leave behind, promoting for their sakes any cause in which they were deeply interested. David could not but highly appreciate the brave deed of these men. His own marvellous courage would impel him to admire theirs. But it was the respect they had thus shown to their departed sovereign which especially moved him to send a message to them. His gratitude for this was quite in accordance with his usual feelings towards Saul, both during his life and after his death.
2. How he expresses his gratitude.
(1) By sending the messengers and message. "I also will requite," etc; should be (according to Otto Thenius and the 'Speaker's Commentary') "I also show you this goodness," viz. sending the messengers with a kind message. They would value David's message as soldiers distinguishing themselves in the field value a message from the queen.
(2) By the terms of the message. In which he invokes upon them the blessing of God, his "kindness and truth," his true, faithful, constant kindness. A phrase common in the Old Testament (Psalms 25:10; Psalms 40:11, etc.; Genesis 24:49; Genesis 47:29, etc.), and reproduced in the New with some additional meaning (John 1:14). To pray for God's blessing on those to whom we feel grateful is always suitable. When we can do nothing else, we can do this; and when we can show gratitude in other ways, we do well to show it thus also. For God's blessing far surpasses ours, and will render ours more valuable and effectual. Only we should be careful not to substitute prayers for deeds when these are possible. But in some way or other we ought to express as well as cherish gratitude and other kindly feelings to others. It is good for ourselves and good for others. It encourages good and noble deeds. It tends to bind men together in the best bonds. It promotes happiness of a high order. We may enlarge the thought. We are required to confess God and our Saviour, as in other ways so by thanksgiving and praise. It is meet and right so to do. It promotes our own spiritual good and that of others. It glorifies God.
II. DAVID'S POLICY. He intended by this message not only to give to brave men their due, but to win their favour towards himself. He justly thought that those who had at such hazards honoured their deceased king would be fitting helpers of himself, and likely to become loyal subjects. There was nothing unworthy in the course he took, for there was no flattery in his expressed appreciation of their conduct, and his endeavour to gain their cooperation was not an act of mere selfishness or ambition, but of regard to the will of God who had chosen him to be King of Israel, and to the welfare of the people, which was bound up with his speedy and peaceful recognition as king. We have here an illustration of mixed motives; and we learn that:
1. We should not hesitate to do what is right because tee see that it will also be beneficial to ourselves. All piety, rectitude, and benevolence tend, and are usually seen to tend, to the good of those who practise them. The promises of God are promises of blessing to those who serve him and their brethren, and are to be received as encouragements in doing so.
2. We may even in some cases aim to do good to ourselves by doing what is right. Only we must place first that which is first, or our good deeds will cease to be good, and become only another form of selfishness. Where motives are mixed, we need carefully to guard our hearts lest the lower predominate.
3. We should be glad of opportunities of showing pure, disinterested kindness. We thus most closely resemble our heavenly Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, and secure the best evidence of our being the children of God (Luke 6:32-36; John 13:34, John 13:35; Ephesians 5:1, Ephesians 5:2).
4. We ought not, without clearest evidence, to suspect of selfish motives those who in doing good secure for themselves present reward. It is to be hoped that only few are like the contributor to some charity who, being asked whether he wished his gift to be published, replied, "Why do you suppose I gave it to you?" And when the motives are not clearly revealed, it is often as just as it is charitable to give credit for the best.—G.W.
2 Samuel 2:26
Longing for the cessation of wars.
"Shall the sword devour forever?" This exclamation of Abner respecting the pursuit of his discomfited troops by the conquering troops of Joab, has often been uttered in respect to war in general. As so employed it expresses horror of war, and impatient longing for its final termination.
I. THE QUESTION. The feelings which it indicates are excited in view of:
1. The nature of war. The mutual slaughter of each other by those who are "brethren." This aspect of the slaughter of one part of the chosen people by another presented itself to Abner. But in the light of Christianity all men are brothers, and war is a species of fratricide. They are all children of God, brethren of Christ, redeemed by his blood, and capable of sharing his eternal glory and blessedness. In this view of war, not only the actual conflicts, but all the elaborate preparations made for them, appear very dreadful
2. Its causes. "Whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts?" (James 4:1). The evil passions of men are their cause—lust of territory, of dominion, of glory, of money; the spirit of revenge and retaliation; even the love of excitement and adventure. Not less, but if possible more hideous, is the cool, calculating policy of rulers, which sets armies in motion with no regard to the lives which it sacrifices or the misery it occasions; or, again, the desire for active service, with its opportunities of distinction, promotion, and other rewards, which springs up amongst the officers, if not the rank and file, of standing armies, and which takes no thought of the dreadful evil which "active service" inflicts.
3. Its effects. "Shall the sword devour forever?" War is like a huge wild beast which "devours." It eats up human beings by thousands or tens of thousands at a time. It was a small consumption of men which took place in the battle and pursuit of which this question was first used. Only twenty men had fallen on the one side, and three hundred and sixty on the other. Modern wars "devour" on a far greater scale, partly in actual battle, more from wounds received in battle, and from the diseases which the hardships of war produce. War not only devours men in vast numbers, and thus occasions incalculable sorrow and misery; it consumes the substance of nations, the creation of peaceful industry; it wastes their mental and physical energies. And still more sad to contemplate are the moral effects both on the actual combatants and on those who employ them; the hateful passions excited and strengthened, the deterioration of national character produced.
4. Its universal prevalence. Among peoples in every part of the world, in every stage of civilization, and down through every age. However men differ in other respects, they are alike in this practice. Whatever changes take place, this survives. The progress of science and art, of discovery and invention, and of mechanical skill, seems to have no other effect in regard to war than to increase the power of mutual destruction. War lays them all under tribute to enlarge its ability to "devour" and destroy more easily and rapidly, and on a larger scale. In view of all these considerations good men may well sigh and cry, "Shall the sword devour forever?" There have doubtless been wars on which, in spite of all the evils they occasion, lovers of their kind could look with sympathy and satisfaction so far as one party was concerned. Such are wars of defence against unjust aggression, wars undertaken by a people to obtain liberty as against some crushing tyranny, wars against hordes of barbarians who threaten devastation and destruction to hearths and homes, and all that civilized men value. But even in such cases we may well ask—Will it ever be necessary to use so dreadful an instrument as war in the endeavour to obtain rights or abolish wrongs? Will men never be amenable to reason? Must there ever be retained the power to resort to the violent methods of war?
"The cause of truth and human weal,
O God above!
Transfer it from the sword's appeal
To peace and love."
II. THE REPLY WHICH MAY BE GIVEN TO THIS QUESTION. No. The sword shall not devour forever. Wars will at length come to a final end.
1. Divine prophecy assures us of this. (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 11:6-9; Micah 4:3, Micah 4:4; see also Psalms 72:3, Psalms 72:7; Zechariah 9:10.) Not only shall wars cease, but there shall be such a feeling of universal security that the arts of war shall cease to be learnt.
2. An adequate power for effecting this change is in the world. Christianity—the gospel of Jesus Christ, with the accompanying might of the Holy Spirit. The revelation of God in Christ, especially of the relation of God to all men and his love to all; the redemption effected for all; the precepts of the gospel, inculcating love even to enemies, and the doing good to all; the example of him who was Love Incarnate; the dignity and worth of men, and their relation to each other, as seen in the light of the gospel; the sacred brotherhood into which faith in Christ brings men of all lands; the prospect of a heaven where all Christians will be united in service and blessedness;—these truths go to the root of the evil in the hearts of men. They cannot be truly received without subduing the passions which lead to war, and implanting the affections which insure peace.
3. Experience justifies the hope that this peace-producing power will at length be triumphant. That it will be in operation everywhere, and everywhere effectual. So far as it has been experienced, it has made its subjects gentle, loving, peaceful, more willing to suffer than to inflict suffering. Multitudes exist in the world so ruled by the gospel and the Spirit of Christ, that it is simply impossible they should on any account take to killing each other. What has transformed them can transform others. Let vital Christianity become universal, and peace must be universal too. It is on the way to become universal, though its advance is slow to our view. The effect of Christianity, so far as it has prevailed, on war itself encourages hope. It has become humane in comparison with wars recorded in this Book and in the pages of general history. And amongst civilized nations there is a growing indisposition to resort to war, an increasing willingness to settle their differences by peaceful methods. This is doubtless partly the result of the tremendous costliness and destructiveness of modern warfare, but partly also of the growth of a spirit of reasonableness, equity, and humanity.
1. Cherish the spirit and principles of peace, i.e. of Christ and Christianity.
2. Endeavour to diffuse them. And do this earnestly and hopefully, with the assurance of a final success in which you will participate joyfully.
3. Use your influence as citizens to discourage war. "And the God of peace shall be with you" (2 Corinthians 13:11).—G.W.