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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
1 Chronicles 20

 

 

Verses 1-8

1 Chronicles 20

1. And it came to pass, that after the year was expired, at the time that kings go out to battle, Joab led forth the power of the army, and wasted the country of the children of Ammon, and came and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem. And Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it. [We learn from 2 Samuel 12:27-29, that before the actual fall of the Ammonite capital, Joab sent for David, that the honour of the capture might be his; and that David took the command before the final assault was made. But, as the real merit of the success was Joab"s ( 2 Samuel 12:26-27), the writer of Chronicles, studying brevity, speaks of Joab as the captor.]

2. And David took the crown of their king [or, according to some, "of Malcam," i.e, Moloch, their god. Here David"s presence at the time of the fall of the city is assumed as known from Samuel, though the writer of Chronicles has not mentioned it (comp. the last clause of 1 Chronicles 20:3)] from off his head, and found it to weigh a talent of gold, and there were precious stones in it; and it was set upon David"s head: and he brought also exceeding much spoil out of the city.

3. And he brought out the people that were in it, and cut them with saws, and with harrows of iron, and with axes. Even so dealt David with all the cities of the children of Ammon. And David and all the people returned to Jerusalem.

4. And it came to pass after this, that there arose war at Gezer with the Philistines; at which time Sibbechai the Hushathite slew Sippai, that was of the children of the giant: and they were subdued.

5. And there was war again with the Philistines; and Elhanan the son of Jair slew Lahmi the brother of Goliath the Gittite, whose spear staff was like a weaver"s beam.

6. And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature [Heb. a man of measure], whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant.

7. But when he defied [or, reproached] Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea David"s brother slew him.

8. These were born unto the giant in Gath; and they fell by the hand of David, and by the hand of his servants.

Subduing Giants

HERE is a custom referred to as if it were quite a commonplace, yet it is associated with all that is devastating and tragical. Without any apology or explanation a time is indicated for conflict, murder, the overturning of one nation by another; the whole narration proceeds as if it were recording a very commonplace transaction. There is something pathetic in the time that is indicated, "At the time that kings go out to battle,"—the usual time, the well-known period, the occasion that needs no further indication, because it is so well known. What time was it that kings went out to battle? It was the springtime, which surely God never meant to have associated with blood and sorrow, loss and pain. Is there not an intolerable irony here? The winter has been passed in reflection, regarding the best means of assailing enemies, and no sooner does the sun return and the days brighten than the hearts of kings are stirred towards battle. This is wrong; this is a discord in the process and issue of things; this is rough reading. There comes into the mind at a certain time of education a sense of the fitness of things. Sometimes we get round our difficulties rather than go straight through them; we have a way of twisting language to suit our purpose, and to take away some, of the more ghastly and revolting features of our policy. What cunning there is in the use of terms in this statement, "At the time that kings go out to battle"! Who could have sat down and plainly written in visible ink, "In the springtime, which is dedicated to the cause of war"? But by referring to the time anonymously we seem to be landed in the battle before we have opened the gate of the occasion. Since these lines were written, has the world advanced in civilisation? Are the seasons now married to appropriate duties and services? Has the springtime entered into living-association with better policies, healthier ideas, constructive arrangements, beneficent discipline and endeavour? Do men now long for the spring as they would long for a friend? Do we say, In the spring things will be better, brighter, cheerier for everybody; no sooner will the days lengthen than our hope will brighten, and all our attempts will become inspirations and successes? There should be a time when men go out to sing. Who can help singing in the vernal days, when all nature seems to be struggling into the utterance of praise? There should be a time when men go forth to holy war, to battle with all evil because it is evil, not to win a momentary or personal victory, but to rid the land of some giant enemy. There is a holy war, there is a sacred battle, there is a fighting on which God looks with approval: wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, and, clothed in that burning invincible panoply, go on to the victorious end. War can never be put an end to by argument. The case of war is now given up by all kings and statesmen so far as argument is concerned; they admit that little or nothing can be said in its favour. How, then, is war to be ended? By itself. All wickedness is suicidal. Whenever war goes forth it carries with it the weapon with which it will stab itself. The ages, guided by the benign spirit of peace and righteousness and harmony, will put an end to war: war will so swell with the vanity and idolatry of its own power as to burst and dissolve and pass away. All this is involved in the providence of God. Do not suppose that there is a single invention in the arsenal that is not adjusted by God. Do not imagine that wickedness has in any way got in advance of the divine kingdom, and is giving God more work to do than his omnipotence can undertake. Everything is under God"s control, and in his own time and in his own way he will cleanse the earth, and leave it without one corner in which putrescence can rot or evil can repeat its machinations. This seems to be a long way off, simply because our vision is dull. We cannot see far, and because we cannot see clearly we blame distance: there is no distance with God; with God there is no time. "O rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for him." Meanwhile, it is interesting and instructive to observe what men did in the olden days.

We read, "And Joab smote Rabbah, and destroyed it" in the springtime. Here is a specimen of what we know as condensation. The statement occupies but a line: but we should look into all these condensed statements with some idea of grasping the detail which is involved or hinted at. We are too off-handed in some of our summaries. A railway collision occurs, and fifty lives are sacrificed: so we speak hurriedly, with a cruel condensation. The fifty lives were but a small number in relation to the population of the country, but in relation to their own households, their own particular circles, to the hearts that looked to them for daily joy, to the mouths that turned to them for daily sustenance, how cruel, how irreparable the loss! How easy to say "And Joab destroyed it"! Thus it is but the end of an anecdote, an allusion, and on the story goes into broader paragraphs, or into fuller eloquence, dwelling upon more fascinating and entertaining themes. Do not overleap the tragedies of the world, and say there are none. Stop at this grave, and read the history that is there represented. The gravestone is always brief. We should write more on the gravestone; we should not crush our eloquence or our sympathy into terse epitaphs. Pause before that gravestone, and read, "Born...;" "died...." That is all. Yes, that is all that the stone knows, that the stone represents: but what lies between that "born" and that "died"? We should be more learned if we paid more attention to the opening out of terse and crude summaries, and went into the detail of human education and development. How easy to say the man "failed "! Who would not stop before that expression, and begin to wonder about the inner family suffering? How did the man fail? What suffering preceded his collapse, what stinging reproaches took away his sleep, what noble endeavours perished in abortion and futility, the world does not care to inquire; the world condenses the occurrence into a brief sentence, and passes on, merely saying the man "failed." How easy to say a man is "poor"; but who knows the meaning of the word "poor"? How easily it is said! Is there one man in ten thousand who knows the meaning of the word "poverty"? It may be questioned whether that proportion does exist. Most men know comparative poverty, the want of luxuries, and even the abridgment of necessaries: but that is not poverty. Nor is poverty mere destitution; a breadless cupboard, a fireless grate, a naked body, these are not the whole of poverty: there is the disabled influence, the infinite discouragement, the black despair, the awful shape that things take, and the awful voice that the shape assumes when it tells a man to give up and die. The man himself is lessened in force and quality, and the last flickering spark dies: that is poverty. There is a point at which we can turn our hunger to advantage; there are circumstances under which destitution becomes a kind of blessed inspiration: but after that there comes a time when man"s poor frail strength turns into positive weakness, and the man himself crouches down by the wayside and says he must die unseen and unknown. We should look into this matter of poverty; it would be a blessed religious exercise to take that word to pieces and follow it in all its significations. When we have seen the destitution of other men, probably once as happily circumstanced as ourselves, with what gratitude should we contemplate our surroundings, and with what thankfulness eat our bread! We have been too crude in our summaries; we have passed on to better themes; we have said, after hearing some gloomy narration of poverty and sorrow and pain, "Change the subject, if you please." Who said so? No philanthropist, no hero, no saint. Philanthropist, hero, saint, would often say, "Change the subject," but that would be when the subject was one of frivolity, superficiality, a subject which ignores the poverty that gnaws and never dies, the tragedy that is never satisfied till the life it smites is out of sight. It should be the business of the Church to expand the summaries of a rude insensibility.

In the process of events we read, "And David took the crown of their king from off his head." The loss of a crown is much or nothing. The crown itself is a mere bauble, but it is full of significance as a token; we must look at the ideality and the sign of things. Every office points in the direction of supremacy. The doorkeeper is on the road to the highest seat; the man who sets himself in his little cottage in the obscure country village to master letters, has begun what may end in the British Museum. Look at idealised action. Let a man lie down in slothfulness, and give up the whole battle of life, and we know what his end will be; but no sooner does a young life resolutely take to letters and figures, and history and philosophy, and like it all, and long for the morning to come to resume the sacred pursuit, than there opens a vista, bright, charming, fascinating, through which the youth follows to the crown. Do not have a crown that anybody can take from you; men may steal your clothes, but they cannot steal your character. He is poor who has nothing but what he can handle. Sometimes a man can be inventoried all through and through, and there can be nothing belonging to him that is not in the inventory, either on the first page or the last, or somewhere between. Do not be one of such paupers. "A man"s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth." Let no man take thy crown. Start your son with fifty thousand golden pounds, and he may lose it all, and want fifty thousand more: start him with a fine sense of honour, with a sound practical education, with a love of Wisdom of Solomon , with a knowledge of things real, simple, practical, and of daily occurrence; start him as a practical man of sense, and not as a decorated Proverbs -nouncer of things that are useless; and he will be rich all the time: no man can rob his memory, no thief can break through and steal his beautiful simplicity, his sterling honour, his real determination to walk worthy of the influences which shaped and inspired him; alas, he himself may give way, but no thief can break through and steal. If any bankruptcy take place in that instance it takes place within, not without. Let no man take thy crown. When Carlyle was so poor as hardly to have a loaf, he was walking by the popular side of Hyde Park, and looking upon all that gay tumult, he said to himself, with what in another man might have been conceit, but what in him was heroic audacity, "I am doing what none of you could do;" that is to say, he was writing one of his profoundest and most useful books: there he was rich; in original conception, in powerful expression, in daring valour of mind, he was wealthy beyond all the banks in all their uncounted bullion. Let no man take thy crown. Have ideas, convictions, resolutions, ideals, and be faithful as a steward ought to be faithful, and it will never be written of thee that any man took thy crown. A man may throw away such a crown, a man may play the fool even in old age: call no man happy until he is dead. But the truth now to be inculcated is this, that no Prayer of Manasseh , or combination of men, can take away the moral crown, the spiritual diadem, the educational supremacy, without the man"s own consent.

Now we come to the subduing of giants —"And it came to pass after this, that there arose war at Gezer with the Philistines.... And there was war again with the Philistines.... And yet again there was war at Gath, where was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were four and twenty, six on each hand, and six on each foot: and he also was the son of the giant. But when he defied Israel, Jonathan the son of Shimea David"s brother slew him"—crushed him as if he had been a fly. An easy accommodation of the text, and an allowable one, will permit us to see several practical lessons here. Do not under-estimate the powers that are opposed to you; count their fingers, count their toes, measure their stature, take their weight, calculate them to a nicety as to what they can possibly do. He is a fool who calls a giant a dwarf. The powers of this world are not to be sneered at. When young men imagine that by a wave of the hand they can brush away all difficulties, they are in the state of intoxication which is worse than positive drunkenness. Be sober, be vigilant; for your adversary the devil goeth about—like a cripple? like a weakling? like a thing that may be despised? No—like a roaring lion; and no man has ever sneered at a lion. Men have been in awe of the beast, they have called him king of beasts, they have written respectfully about him; it is not on record that any man ever sneered at a lion as a thing that he could handle easily, and dispose of with a thought,—your adversary goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. It will be a great omission if you fail to add up the forces that are against you: sometimes they are blatant, sometimes they are undemonstrative; sometimes they give you warning, sometimes the net is spread in the sight of the bird, and the bird is treated with contempt; sometimes they are subtle, insidious, so that the wise man becomes a fool under the plying temptation; he walks forward, a singular feeling, as of the operation of a magical opiate overcomes him; he sees rainbows in the darkness, he beholds opening heavens at midnight, he calls the earth a paradise, and he walks on, not knowing whither, until he takes the last step and no more is heard of him. Understand that the world is full of pitfalls, snares, and Prayer of Manasseh -traps: that the devil never allows any man to get through his life easily if he can help it. Life is a battle, life is a daily conflict, life with the most of us is a tremendous struggle; if we get into heaven at all, it will be, as it were, by the merest hair"s-breadth, the door will just close upon us, there will be no margin within which we can take liberties as if heaven had been easily won. It is hard for some men to pray; it is all but impossible for others to believe; and there are men who would tell us, in a condensed expression that they would not willingly amplify, that life is a terrible unendurable conflict, and that oftentimes it seems as if this day would be the last, for their poor strength is dying out, and the enemy seems to grow by what he feeds on. The power is not in you, but it is in God. If we had to fight the enemy, a very short account might be made out, for our fight would end in defeat: but God is our inspiration and strength and confidence. They that be with us are more than they that can be against us; we are crucified with Christ; nevertheless, we live; yet not we, but Christ liveth in us; and the life which we now live in the flesh we live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved us, and gave himself for us. Take unto you the whole armour of God, the sword, and the shield, and the breast-plate, and the girdle, and be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The panoply is provided: do not attempt to amend it. God"s grace is sufficient for us: do not attempt to add to it. The spiritual will eventually prove itself to be the omnipotent. Meanwhile, it cuts but a poor figure at certain stages in the development of human history. What is argument against a sword? The fool would say nothing; the wise man will tell you that an argument will by-and-by put an end to all swords, turning them into ploughshares. What is an argument against a vested interest? Why talk against institutions that have millions at their disposal? Why come with your puling Christian sentimental eloquence to plead against men who are entrenched behind countless gold? The argument will win, the prayer will succeed; the time will come when all that countless gold will change hands, and the men who trusted to it will be left without one refuge; yea, so destitute will they be as to ask those who were their enemies in name, but their real friends, for quarter and asylum. What is an argument against a custom? The custom is centuries old; men have become used to it, they expect its recurrence, it is second nature, they have done this, and their families have done it for generations past. The argument will uproot the custom, will take every fibre out of the ground, and when the ground is cleansed of the upas root the argument will sow the ground with the seed of the kingdom, and even in that spot shall grow flowers beautiful in the sight of heaven. Have faith in spirituality, in conviction, in moral persuasion, in ideas. For a time we shall be called fanatics, enthusiasts. So Christ was called, so Paul was denominated. But it lies within the power of reason to comprehend the proposition that mind must be mightier than matter, and that conviction is a greater force in history than is mere prejudice, and that enthusiasm is but logic on fire, and that passion is the least sacrifice we can render to him whose symbol is the Cross.

Prayer

We bless thee, thou Son of God, that thou art also Son of man. Thou lovest all mankind; we have heard of thee that thou didst taste death for every man; O wondrous miracle of love! This is none other than the work of God, the counsel of the Most High, made perfect before our eyes. What love thou hast expended upon man! The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. Thou didst not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. They that be whole, thou dost say, need not a physician, but they that are sick. Lord, thou art our physician, thou art our healer; other redeemer have we none, and we are not ashamed to worship thee, and to call upon thy name in the public assembly, asking for a renewal of thy grace, and for every encouragement we need in the pursuits of this life. We bless thee for all thy care and tenderness; thy tears have helped to dry our tears; because thou hast felt for us we have known that our misery has been lessened, and where thou hast not taken the sorrow wholly away thou hast whispered that thy grace is sufficient for us; we have tested this, this we have known in very deed, and now we say, The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Help us to live in this faith, and in this faith to be noble, true, heroic, courageous, self-denying, self-sacrificing, always looking in the spirit of the Cross at the miseries and the necessities of mankind. Amen.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on 1 Chronicles 20:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/1-chronicles-20.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, November 14th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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