Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 12:23

But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me."
New American Standard Version

Bible Study Resources

Nave's Topical Bible - Afflictions and Adversities;   Bereavement;   David;   Death;   Immortality;   Parents;   Prayer;   Resignation;   Thompson Chain Reference - Afflictions;   David;   Resignation;   Surrendered Life, Characteristics of;   Torrey's Topical Textbook - Afflicted Saints;   Children;   Resignation;  
American Tract Society Bible Dictionary - Nathan;   Parable;   Soul;   Bridgeway Bible Dictionary - Ancestors;   Bathsheba;   Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology - Death, Mortality;   Easton Bible Dictionary - David;   Holman Bible Dictionary - Samuel, Books of;   Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible - Ammon, Ammonites;   Samuel, Books of;   Morrish Bible Dictionary - Nathan ;   The Hawker's Poor Man's Concordance And Dictionary - Nathan;   People's Dictionary of the Bible - David;  
Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia - Hebrew Monarchy, the;   International Standard Bible Encyclopedia - Fast;   Nathan (1);   Samuel, Books of;   The Jewish Encyclopedia - Sheol;   Solomon;  

Adam Clarke Commentary

I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me - It is not clear whether David by this expressed his faith in the immortality of the soul; going to him may only mean, I also shall die, and be gathered to my fathers, as he is. But whether David expressed this or not, we know that the thing is true; and it is one of the most solid grounds of consolation to surviving friends that they shall by and by be joined to them in a state of conscious existence. This doctrine has a very powerful tendency to alleviate the miseries of human life and reconcile us to the death of most beloved friends. And were we to admit the contrary, grief, in many cases, would wear out its subject before it wore out itself. Even the heathens derived consolation from the reflection that they should meet their friends in a state of conscious existence. And a saying in Cicero De Senectute, which he puts in the mouth of Cato of Utica, has been often quoted, and is universally admired: -

O praelarum diem, cum ad illud divinum animorum concilium coetumque proficiscar, cumque ex hac turba et colluvione discedam! Proficiscar enim non ad eos solum viros de quibus ante dixi; sed etiam ad Catonem meum quo nemo vir melior natus est, nemo pietate praestantior: cujus a me corpus crematum est; quod contra decuit ab illo meum. Animus vero non me deserens, sed respectans, in ea profecto loca discessit, quo mihi ipsi cernebat esse veniendum: quem ego meum catum fortiter ferre visus sum: non quod aequo animo ferrem: sed me ipse consolabar, existimans, non longinquum inter nos digressum et discessum fore. Cato Major, De Senectute, in fin.

"O happy day, (says he), when I shall quit this impure and corrupt multitude, and join myself to that divine company and council of souls who have quitted the earth before me! There I shall find, not only those illustrious personages to whom I have spoken, but also my Cato, who I can say was one of the best men ever born, and whom none ever excelled in virtue and piety. I have placed his body on that funeral pyre whereon he ought to have laid mine. But his soul has not left me; and, without losing sight of me, he has only gone before into a country where he saw I should soon rejoin him. This my lot I seem to bear courageously; not indeed that I do bear it with resignation, but I shall comfort myself with the persuasion that the interval between his departure and mine will not be long."

And we well know who has taught us not to sorrow as those without hope for departed friends.

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Bibliographical Information
Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

The Biblical Illustrator

2 Samuel 12:23

I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

Recognition of friends in heaven

The doctrine of our future meeting and recognition is intimated in the earlier records of Scripture. We are told that Abraham was gathered to his people, that Jacob was gathered to his people, that Moses was commanded to go up to Mount Pisgah and be gathered to his people, as Aaron had died on Mount Hot and was gathered to his people. It may be said that this was simply a peculiar idiom of language signifying that they died. This, however, cannot be the case, inasmuch as in some instances it is expressly said they died, and then it is added, were “gathered to their fathers.” Nor does it mean that they were buried with their fathers; for in several instances the phrase is employed when they were interred at a distance Of hundreds of miles. Abraham was not buried with his fathers. Moses was not buried with his fathers. Aaron was not buried with his fathers. There would seem to be in the very heart of the expression some recognition that the fathers were still in existence in some state or other. As we advance to the New Testament we find that the twilight is broadening into the perfect day. It is not merely that we are told this in so many words. But it is that so many things are said which would not have been said, unless the doctrine had been true. It forms so much of the very warp of the teaching of our Saviour and His apostles. Like so many other doctrines, it is implied where it is not expressed; and is all the more significantly taught because it appears in this indirect manner. It is taught, for example, that in eternity and in Heaven we shall retain our personal identity. Death does not make us new men. It effects no change of personalities. By the aid of memory we can realise the fact that we are the same we have ever been. The subtle, solemn thread of consciousness binds together all the moments of our past life. We must also remember another fact, and that is that the departed just are not diffused through the universe, but are gathered in one place. It is where Christ is. They are with the Lord. They see His face; they are like Him. And they are not only with the Lord, but they are there in a family relation. We read of the whole family in earth and Heaven. It is a general assembly and church of the first-born; it is a well-ordered household. The saints are brethren, with one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Their Father is One. Now it is only needful to appreciate fully this fact in order to see that recognition, mutual recognition, is indispensable and inevitable. The saints will know at least that they are the redeemed from among men. They will be distinguished from angels who never fell. We do not dream that the spirits of the “just made perfect,” dwelling in our Father’s house, will sit in silent reserve side by side; and as little do we dream that their speech will never be concerned with the way by which the Lord has led them. They will inspire each other with a more glowing fervour of gratitude as they recount the history of their lives. Given--an eternity which we are to spend in Heaven, a memory which recalls the past with minute and infallible faithfulness, a gratitude quick and never-ending for all the mercies which have followed us all the days of our life; given--too, the love of saint for saint, a social fellowship closer and less reserved than even the most intimate fellowships of earth, and even though at the beginning of our celestial existence we knew not one of the innumerable throng, we should, with the flowing ages, grow into each other’s knowledge; friend would find out friend; parents would some day have the ecstasy of embracing their children, partakers with them of a common salvation. You may be perplexed to know in what manner those who will be so changed by the very fact of their not dwelling in houses of clay will be able to recognise each other. Our whole earthly, human life is the learning at one stage the how of what was a mystery to us at an earlier stage. Who knows but that within the tenement of clay there are folded up powers and capacities winch death is needed to release? The dull, creeping chrysalis which you are in danger of treading beneath your feet contains secret wings which one day will soar up into the heavens beyond your reach or sight; and so we may have within us powers which are now imprisoned, and which will be emancipated in the hour of death. And among these may be the power of seeing spirits as well, or even better, than we can now see the bodies. There are, moreover, passages in the New Testament which seem incapable of explanation, except on the supposition of mutual recognition in Heaven. What, for example, shall we make of the language of our Lord, “Many, I say unto you, shall come from the east and the west, the north and the south, and shall sit down with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of Heaven?” If we sit down at the same banquet of love with them, and yet know them not, why the distinct specification which is here given of their names? Would our Saviour mock us with the promise of giving us admission into an unknown company? His promises are not mockeries, but assurances that shalt be verified to the full. When our Saviour was on the Mount of Transfiguration there appeared unto Him Moses and Elias. What were the circumstances which enabled the three apostles to identify these glorified companions of our Lord we are not informed, but in some way or other they knew them. And if there were mutual recognition between these prophets of God there can surely be no reason for supposing that the same recognition may not subsist among other spirits of the just made perfect. The apostle tells us that he preaches Christ, “Warning every man, and teaching every man that he may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus.” Again he says, “What is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing, are not even ye in the presence of the Lord Jesus at His coming? for ye are our glory and joy.” Now, it would be impossible to find any meaning in these words, except on the supposition that he would see and know his converts at the last great day. And what meaning other than this of mutual recognition can we extract from the words in which St. Paul pours the balm of consolation into the souls of the Thessalonians who had lost their Christian friends? “Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then shall we be for ever with the Lord; wherefore, comfort one another with these words.” You cannot for moment imagine that we shall be in ignorance of each other in Heaven without turning these words into mockery. (E: Mellor, D. D.)

The recognition of departed friends

If we part on earth shall we meet in Heaven? Two men are going to London or New York, and, not having appointed a special moment and a special place of meeting, they might wander about for months and years and never find each other; and how is it possible that we are going to find our departed friends in heaven when that city is larger than all the Londons and New Yorks and Cantons on earth put together? St. John went up on a mount of inspiration, and he, looked off upon that city, and he said, “Thousands and thousands.” Then he went up on a higher altitude of inspiration, and he looked off again, and he said, “Ten thousand times ten thousand.” Then he came on a greater height of inspiration and he looked off and said, “A hundred and forty-four thousand and thousands of thousands.” And then coming to a still greater height of inspiration, he looked off again and he said, “a great multitude that no man can number.” Now, how are we going to find our departed loved ones in such a city as that, so vast, so infinite? Is this hope of meeting our departed friends in heaven a whim, a guess, a falsity, or is it a granitic foundation on which the soul may come and build a glorious hope? Now, when you are going to build a ship, you want the best timber, you want good stanchions, and planks and timber counter-knee, all of solid oak. You may build a ship out of lighter material, and may get along very well while the sea is smooth; but when the cyclone comes the ship will founder. And we may build a great many ideas of heaven out of our own fancy, and they will do very well while everything is smooth in life; but when the disasters of death come, and the hurricanes of the last hour, then we shall want a theory of future recognition built out of the solid oak of God’s Word.

1. Now this theory of future recognition is not so positively asserted as it is implied; and you know that is the strongest kind of affirmation. Your friends come from travel in foreign parts; they tell you there is such a place as St. Petersburg, or Madras, or New York, or San Francisco. They do not begin by telling you of the existence of these cities; but all their conversation implies the existence of these cities. And so the doctrine of future recognition in the Bible is not so positively asserted as it is implied. What did David mean when he said in my text. “I shall go to him?” What was the use of going to his child if he would not know him?

2. In addition to the Bible argument, there are other reasons. I admit this theory of future acquaintanceship in heaven, because the rejection of it implies the entire obliteration of our memory. John Evans, the quaint Scotch minister, was seated in his study one day, and his wife came and said, “My dear, do you think we shall know each other in heaven? “Why, yes,” said he. “Do you think we shall be greater fools there than we are here?”

3. Again, I admit this doctrine of future recognition, because we don’t in this world have sufficient opportunity of telling to those to whom we are indebted how much we owe them. You who have prayed for the salvation of souls, you who have contributed to the great charities of the day, will never know in this world the full result of your work; there must be some place where you will find it out. Years ago there was a minister by the name of John Brattenberg, who preached the Gospel in Somerville, New Jersey. He was a faithful, godly man, but a characteristic of his ministry was no conversions, and when he came to die he died in despondency, because, though he had tried to serve the Lord, he had seen hardly any brought into the kingdom. But scarcely had the grass begun to grow on John Brattenberg’s grave than the windows of heaven opened, and there came a great revival of religion, so that one day in the village church two hundred souls stood up and took the vows of the Christian--among them my own father and my own mother--and the peculiarity about it was that nearly all those souls dated their religious impressions back to the ministry of John Brattenberg. And shall he never know them?

4. Again, I accept this doctrine of future recognition, because there are so many who, in their last moments, have seen their departed friends. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Divine consolation

Whenever it pleases God to take away front us one whom we love there are several sources of consolation open to us.

1. First of all, there is the thought which is expressed in the words of Eli: “It is the Lord; let Him do what seemeth Him good.” It is the will of God which is done, that will which has been for many a long year the subject of daily prayer whenever prayer has been offered, “Thy will be done.”

2. But another topic of comfort is opened in such words as were borne from heaven to the listening ears of St. John the Divine: “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, even so saith the Spirit, for they rest from their labours.” Here the prominent thought is not the will of God, but the blessed state of the departed, not God wills, but “they rest.” In the former case the mourner is exhorted to resignation by the thought, “it is the will of God;” in the latter he is comforted by the assurance of the rest and peace which is the portion of his beloved.

3. It was, however, to yet another source of comfort that David betook himself in his bereavement when he gave utterance to the words of the text--“I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” But it was not only submission to an inexorable law which made him yield to his lot. He was buoyed up by the thought of a blessed future. The words, however, appear to contain far more than a mere assurance of a future meeting of parted friends. The human heart, with its strong affections, craves for something more definite. The parting is so real, the void is so real, that it longs to know of a surety that the reunion will in like manner be a reality. There has been such a close, intimate knowledge of each other, such interchange, of thought, such an intense love, that nothing short of a renewal of these happy relations can satisfy the yearning of the soul. It is not enough to say, “You shall meet again.” Still less bearable is that uncertain word of comfort which says, “It is possible we may know each other in heaven, but so little is known about that unseen world that none can say for certain that it will be so.” One step further, and you hear it asserted as a fact that we shall not recognise each other in the future state. Christ, it is said, will be all in all, and we shall be as the angels in heaven, where they neither marry nor are given in marriage. But I often think that any uncertainty about this matter, and still more any such sad certainty as that to which I have referred, would add very greatly to the bitterness of parting from those we loved. True, Christ will be all in all to those who shall be counted worthy to enter into that kingdom, but surely it is because they are in Christ that these relationships are so true, and deep, and sacred. In Christ hearts are bound together; in Christ the members of His mystical body are joined not only to Him but to each other, so that when one member suffers or rejoices all the members suffer or rejoice with it. Living in Christ, they live one with another; parents are bound up in their children, and children in their parents; brethren and sisters love each other with a pure heart fervently, and when they fall asleep in Christ there is nothing to cause a severance in their love, but everything to intensify and deepen it. In Christ shall all be made alive, and who can for a moment imagine that love of the brethren, love of parents and children, of husband and wife, shall ever die out in those living ones? Death would indeed be a terrible thing if it had the power to put asunder and estrange from each other those who have been made one in Christ. True, “they shall be as the angels in heaven,” but I have yet to learn that those holy beings who do the will of God are unconnected and unknown to each other, each one in his own separate isolated individuality doing his appointed service.

(J. J. Blunt.)

Individual Recognition in Eternity

The question very often rises to the mind, whether the intercourse of Christian friends separated by death, shall be renewed in heaven--whether there will be any recollection of past attachments, and of their attendant circumstances. This is an enquiry which flows from the warmest feelings of the heart, and frequently presents itself at seasons when the individual is iii fitted to answer it for himself. You know it has always been held that the concurrence of general opinion among mankind is entitled to considerable weight. If Socrates delighted himself in the prospect of conversation with Hesiod and Homer; if Cicero anticipated an interview with Cato amid the assembly of the gods; if the Greeks and Romans peopled their Tartarus and Elysium with spirits retaining all their ancient remembrances; if untutored heathens entertain sentiments in unison with this at the present day (and does not the mother in the Islands of the Pacific, mourning over her child, comfort herself with the belief that after her own death she shall rejoin it?--why does the Gentoo widow burn upon the funeral pile, but that she may be replaced with her husband?--why does the Indian of North America stretch his hands with joy towards the world beyond the summits of the blue mountains; is it not because he is confident that he shall renew his present existence in the society of cotemporary and kindred chieftains, and in conjunction with the spirits of his fathers?) may we not then suppose that one of the earliest presumptions of reason respecting futurity, would be, that Christian friendship should be revived beyond the grave, and with the endearing consciousness that the attachment had commenced on earth? But I will dismiss the considerations arising from reason; because it must be admitted that the suggestions of reason, well founded as they may appear, are not enough of themselves, to satisfy the mind of the believer in the revealed will of God, upon this momentous subject.

I. The declaration of Scripture:--

1. Now, may we not consider this an averment of David’s conviction that he should regain, and recognize his child in a future world?

2. The next passage to which I shall refer you, is in the fifteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first Epistle to the Corinthians, and the fifty-fourth verse: “So when this corruptible,” etc. Now mark it is here declared that the consequences of sin, constitute the sting of death, one of these consequences is the separation of relative from relative, and friend from friend. Now, if the victory of our Redeemer is to be complete, as undoubtedly it will be, must not all the consequences of sin be terminated and annihilated? Must not the associations of human friendship, with all their endearing consciousness and recollection, be replaced on that basis on which they would have rested for ever, if the ruin of man by the fall had not taken place?

3. Let me next point you to a few passages illustrative of the great interest which the holy angels have ever taken, and will continue to take in the welfare of man, and the permanent and blessed association which is to subsist in heaven between the angels and the righteous. “We are made,” says the apostle, “a spectacle to angels.” “I say unto you that in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” “There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God.” “Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels.” “Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.” Is it not, then, in the highest degree probable that in heaven there shall be intercourse between particular angels, and those to whom they have ministered: that the righteous shall be able to know, that those angels have been their unseen guardians and protectors through all the trials and dangers of mortality; that the gratitude on the one side, and increased attachment on both sides, shall thus be an augmentation of bliss throughout eternity?

4. Our next quotations shall be from the gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke. First, from the eighth chapter of St. Matthew: “And I say unto you that many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven.” And in the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke, “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” Now, is it compatible with the lowest degree of probability to suppose that when Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, are sitting together in the kingdom of heaven, Abraham shall have no conscious recollection that he is actually beholding his beloved Isaac, the child of promise, the ancestor of the Messiah in whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed;--that Isaac shall have no consciousness that he is dwelling in glory with his, revered earthly father;--that Jacob shall have no knowledge of his own parent, nor of “the father of the faithful,” but that the three patriarchs shall be each to the other, as three individuals accidentally brought together from different countries, or from different planets?

5. The next passage bearing on this subject is connected with the transfiguration of our Lord: “And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias; who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.” The discourse of our Lord indicated to the three apostles, who the gracious visitants were whom they beheld; and it tends, I think, to show, not merely that at the resurrection mutual recollection and consciousness will be revived, but that they experience no interruption from death; that memory suffers no fall.

6. Turn to the fourth chapter of St. Paul’s first epistle to the Thessalonians, from the thirteenth to the eighteenth verse: “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope; for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” Why were the Thessalonians not to sorrow as those who had no hope? Because they were fully warranted in having hope--but hope, not merely that their departed friends would rise again, or that holy men whom they had lost would be happy in a future existence--for on these points neither instruction nor consolation was required; but this was the question which depressed their hearts, whether at the resurrection they should regain their lost relations, whether friend should be restored to friend with retained remembrance and conscious affection.

II. And if we carry forward our thoughts to the day of judgment, we shall find a very strong argument arising out of the details of that great day--an argument of immense importance in our present investigation.

1. “We must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, to give an account of the things done in the body.” Now can it be supposed that we shall not at the time of judgment, possess a clear and comprehensive recollection of the actions, the motives, and the principles, of which an account is then to be rendered, and upon which the sentence is then to be pronounced? And must not the recollection of our personal deeds and desires necessarily involve a recollection of other individuals? It is incontestably true that the recollection will be perfect, and the recognition complete, before the throne of judgment; and I come to this conclusion, that if they are not to be prolonged into eternity, they must be extinguished subsequently to the day of judgment by a special act of Omnipotence, that when a man remembers on that day he shall forget immediately after. And where is our warrant for expecting, that all which is in our remembrance at the final day of judgment, shall be forgotten in the day that succeeds it--in that eternal day?

2. There remains only one more passage illustrative of the interesting point now under consideration, and it shall be from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.--(R. C. Dillon, M. A.)

Meeting in Heaven

There is also a great deal of comfort in the fact that there will be a family reconstruction in a better place. From Scotland, or England, or Ireland, a child emigrates to America. It is very hard parting, but he comes, after awhile writing home as to what a good land it is. Another brother comes, a sister comes, and another, and after a while the mother comes, and after a while the father comes, and now they are all here, and they have a time of great congratulation and a very pleasant reunion. Well, it is just so with our families: they are emigrating towards a better land. Now, one goes out. Oh, how hard it is to part with him! Another goes. Oh, how hard it is to part with her! And another, and another, and we ourselves will, after a while, go over, and then we will be together. Oh, what a reunion! Do you believe that? “Yes,” you say. Oh! you do not. You do not believe it as you believe other things. If you do, and with the same emphasis, why it would’ take nine-tenths of your trouble off your heart. The fact is, heaven to many of us in a great fog. It is away off somewhere, filled with an uncertain and indefinite population. That is the kind of heaven that many of us dream about; but it is the most tremendous fact in all the universe--this heaven of the Gospel. Our departed friends are not afloat. The residence in which you live is not so real as the residence in which they stay. (T. De Witt Talmage, D. D.)

A father’s thought over his child’s grave

The context shows David in two aspects. First: Suffering as a sinner. He had committed a great sin, and the loss of his child was a retribution. Secondly: Reasoning as a saint, “And he said, While the child was yet alive.” The text implies David’s belief in three things. I the unreturnableness of the dead. The dead return not again. “I shall behold man no more in the land of the living,” said Hezekiah.

1. There is no returning to discharge neglected duties.

2. There is no returning to recover lost opportunities. If there is no return to the earth--

II. In the certainty of his own dissolution. “I shall go to him.”

1. The certainty of death is universally admitted with the understanding. There is no room left for questioning it.

2. The certainty of death is universally denied by the life. All men live as if they were immortal. How morally infatuated is our race!

III. In the re-union after death. “I shall go to him.”

1. The re-union he believed in was spiritual.

2. The re-union he believed in was conscious.

3. The re-union he believed in was happy.

Let these thoughts of death aid us to fulfil the mission of life. (Homilist.)

On the due improvement of domestic bereavements

I. Remarks deducible from the narrative:--

1. That it is not sinful in any ease (with a reserve of the divine sovereignty, which is always implied or expressed) to deprecate the death of dear friends and beloved children.

2. God is pleased, in the course of his adorable providence, sometimes to visit the iniquity of fathers upon their children, of progenitors upon their posterity. You see a striking instance of this in the case before us.

3. Prayer is the proper exercise of the soul, amid afflictions and bereavements, felt or feared. “Is any man,” saith James, “afflicted, let him pray.” And to prayer David betook himself, on this very trying occasion.

4. Humiliation and fasting are exercises specially befitting times of trouble. To these also the afflicted monarch had recourse, at this time.

5. Submission to the will of God, under the loss of children or other bereavements, is the duty of all; and, when spiritual strength is ministered from on high, will be the attainment of the good.

6. The sanctuary of God is that place to which the bereaved mother may, most aptly, resort.

7. We should not only feel and cherish, but also exemplify submission to the divine dispensations. So did the son of Jesse; for when apprized that his son was dead; he rose from the earth, anointed himself, changed his apparel, and went into the house of God to worship.

8. The conduct of the children of God under painful bereavements, may often appear strange to others, though it be founded upon the best principles, and be capable of being justified by the best arguments.

II. The views contained in the text itself, “I shall go to him; but he shall not return to me.”

1. It is the sorrowful declaration of one who had just been bereft of a beloved son the only son of his mother.

2. The statement before us presents to our view a person, amid his sorrows, meditating solemnly upon eternity, and solacing his soul with this contemplation. This was the state into which the son of David had just entered.

3. The intimation of the text is the utterance of one who is anticipating the hour of his own departure. “I shall go to him.” There is but one way, as there is only one event, for all mankind. “It is appointed to all men to die.”

4. The bereaved mourner is here contemplating death as an irrevocable step in existence: “I shall go to him, but he cannot return to me.”

5. David is here anticipating a happy re-union with his beloved child, in a better world. Nothing loss, doubtless, could have either satisfied his faith, or soothed his spirit.

III. From this subject we may learn what we have all to expect, in such a world as this.

1. It is, that death will, sooner or later, invade our families, and snatch from us the dearest objects of our affection.

2. The views that we have been taking also admonish us that parents must do much good, or much ill, of the most influential kind, to their children.

3. We are taught, again, what reflection the disappearance of others from this earthly scene should suggest most naturally to our minds. It is the thought of our own departure. Finally. Amid dissolving assemblies, and the disruption of the dearest connections on earth, let us think upon that period and that state, when all the family of God shall meet, not one lacking, and the congregation of the redeemed shall be convened never to be broken up.

The living go to the dead

I. the dead will not return to the living. God has placed a barrier between this and the other world; but what that barrier is we know not: we only know that it is completely sufficient to prevent all intercourse between the living and the dead. He says the dead shall not return, and he does not allow them to return. They have gone to their long home, where they must abide for ever; and where the living can never see them without going to them. And this,

II. They must all sooner or later do. And it is said, “There is no man that hath power over-the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death: and there is no discharge in that war.” It does not depend upon the choice of the living whether they shall die and go to the dead. They are under a natural necessity of dying, either by disease, accident, violence, or the infirmities of old age, which none can escape who escape all other causes of death. And when the dust returns to the dust, the spirit must go to God who gave it. Though we cannot say anything upon this question to gratify curiosity; yet we may say some things which we all ought to know and realize. Here then it may be observed,

1. That for the living to go to the dead implies their passing through the change of death.

2. For the living to go to the dead, implies their committing their bodies to the dust from which they were taken. Whether their bodies are emaciated or full of vigour and activity When they leave them, they must see corruption, which is the natural and unavoidable effect of death.

3. For the living to go to the dead implies that they must follow them not only into the grave, but into eternity. The Bible gives abundant evidence of the existence and activity of the soul after it leaves the body.

4. The living must go to the dead, not merely to see where they are and what they are, but to dwell with them for ever.


1. If the living must go to the dead, then their separation from one another will not be of long duration.

2. If the living must go to the dead, it cannot be a matter of great importance whether the time be longer or shorter, before they go into the world where their departed friends have gone.

3. If those who die go immediately to the dead,-then every instance of mortality may be as affecting to the inhabitants of the other world as to those in this.

4. If the living will go to the dead in the manner that has been described, then we may see one reason why good men have often been willing to die. Job said, “I would not live alway; all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.” Good old Simeon said, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word.” Paul said in the name of Christians, “We are confident, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”

5. If the living must go to the dead, then we may learn one reason why mankind in general are so loath to die. It is not always owing to men’s reluctance to leaving this world, but their dread of going into another.

6. If the living must go to the dead, then a realising sense of this solemn truth would have a happy tendency to qualify the grief of mourners, and turn their thoughts into a proper channel. Finally, it is the immediate and indispensable duty of every person of every character, age and condition, to prepare to go to those who have gone from them and will never return. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

Consolations under Bereavement

The text presents us with a noble model of what should be a Christian’s conduct under bereavement.

I. the consolations which should animate a christian under bereavement.

1. And foremost among these is the recollection, that death is not the end of existence.

2. Remember, as a second consolation, that death is the commencement of an existence far more glorious than the present.

3. Further: as our consolation we have the assurance that death neither dissolves nor weakens the ties of relation or of love.

4. Further: we remark that, after a brief separation, we shall be re-united.

5. Once more: once re-united, we shall part no more.

II. The lessons which these bereaving providences should teach us. (F. Greeves.)

The believer’s comfort under bereavement

I. That survivors may derive comfort from the reflection that their departed Christian friends shall no more return to them. “He shall not return to me.” When men close their eyes in death, their connection with earth and the things of earth is dissolved for them. They go to the place “from whose bourn no traveller returns.” We may be comforted by the truth, they “shall not return to us,” when we are reminded:--

1. That at the gate of death the righteous bid adieu to sorrow. There is much in the present, world that harasses the children of God, and on account of which “rivers of waters run down their eyes.”

2. That by death the righteous are taken away from approaching danger. “The righteous is taken away from the evil to come.” What this “evil” may be, in any particular case, it is not for us to determine. It is their heavenly Father’s account of the matter, and’ therewith let us be content.

3. That by death God does not only take His children from evils to come, but He brings them also to their promised rest. It is thus He answers the Redeemer’s prayer. “Father, I will that they also whom Thou hast given Me, be with Me where I am, that, they may behold My glory.”

II. That amidst our sorrows on account of departed Christian friends, we may be edified and comforted by the solemn, yet cheering truth, that we must soon follow them.

1. We shall go to them in death. We also are mortal, and we too must die.

2. We must go to them in their state of separate existence. Here we learn that though death shall decompose and separate every particle of the body, yet it shall leave the soul unscathed, in a state of conscious existence, capable of exercising its high and immortal faculties on the objects which shall then be spread before it, and susceptible of those exhaustless pleasures, or those never-ending pains, into the enjoyment or endurance of which it is immediately introduced. Admitting that while the body of the believer slumbers in the dust, his soul is in a state of active being, we must remember that when we die we too shall enter instantaneously on a new and untried state.

3. That if we die in the faith of Christ Jesus, we shall go to the sainted dead, and be enshrined with them in all the blessedness of the world of glory.


1. Are we mourners? then let the subject teach us piously to acquiesce in the dispensation with which we have been visited.

2. Are we mourners? then let us be deeply impressed with the nature of that moral and spiritual change which must have passed over us, before we can adopt the language of the text, and rejoice in the prospect of following departed friends. “We shall go to them.”

3. Are we mourners? let the subject teach us to moderate our grief for those who have been removed by death. (J. Gaskin, M. A.)

Deceased children not lost

Years before Robert Leighton retired to Broadhurst, death had entered the mansion in spite of the struggles of love to keep him out, and had carried away a child altogether dear. Nothing could be tenderer than his words of solace to his brother-in-law, words which uttered the home sickness in his own breast. “Indeed it was a sharp stroke of the pen that told me your little Johnny was dead . . . Tell my dear sister she is now so much more akin to the other world, and this will quickly be past to us all. John is but gone an hour or two sooner to bed as children used to do, and we are undressing to follow.” There, and not here, Leighton confessed, is the morning without clouds, and the perfect day, and the life which is life indeed; and our Father unclothes us that he may deck body and brain with the better garment of everlastingness. (Alexander Smellie.)

Reunion beyond the grave a comfort to the bereaved

God will give me back my friends who have reached the shore in advance of me. By His guiding hand I shall come, as Henry Montague, the Earl of Manchester, wrote, “into my own country, into paradise, where I shall meet, not as in the Elysium of the poets, Cato, Scipio and Scaevola, but Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the patriarchs my fathers, the saints my brothers, the angels my friends: my wife, children and kinsfolk that are gone before me, and do attend me, looking and longing for my arrival there.” Thus the dews of sorrow are lustred by His love. (Alexander Smellie.)

Associations with the land beyond

On a narrow, rugged ledge of rock, called Chicken Rock, a lighthouse has been built. But in consequence of the lack of space there is no accommodation for other than the actual keepers themselves. Their wives and families have therefore to live in cottages on the mainland, separated from the lighthouse. But these people have a pretty custom by which the fathers and children keep in touch with one another. On Sunday mornings, after they have dressed the little ones all in their best, the mothers take them down to the edge of the sea, and they all stand there, looking and waving towards the lighthouse out on the rock. And there high up in the lighthouse stand the fathers, and through their telescopes they look down to the little bay oil those whom they love dearest in all the world. And as I read this story, I thought how it was a picture of those who, doing their duty from day to day, look through the telescope of faith to that pleasant shore where their loved ones have gone before, and go bravely on with their work till the time when they not only see them, but will be with them. (Alexander Smellie.)

“All is well now”

Those who have lost a loved child, perhaps an only one, cannot but, derive some comfort from words which Luther spoke just after his daughter Madeleine’s death. When she was placed in the coffin he gazed long at her and said, “Dear little Madeleine, all is well with thee now.” And to his wife, “Think where she is gone. She has certainly made a happy journey. With children everything is simple. They die without anguish, without disputes, without bodily grief, without the temptations of death, as if they were falling asleep.” (Quiver.)

Divine revelation alone gives certainty of an after life

Cicero’s letter to his friend Atticus, on informing him of the death of his darling little son, is one of the saddest memorials of family grief in the whole range of literature. The great orator and philosopher wails, without a note of consolation, over his woe. He will never see his dear little boy again. They have parted for all eternity. In the view of such sorrow, unmitigated by a single ray of comfort, how great is the contrast afforded by the light of the Gospel! (Christian Commonwealth.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "2 Samuel 12:23". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast?.... And pray; it is to no purpose, no end can be thought to be answered by it:

can I bring him back again? from the state of the dead, bring him to life by fasting, and praying, and weeping; that is not to e expected:

I shall go to him; to the state of the dead, to the grave, where his body was, or would be; to heaven and eternal happiness, where his soul was, as he comfortably hoped and believed: from whence it appears, that the Old Testament saints did not suppose an annihilation at death; but believed the immortality of the soul, a future state after death of eternal life and bliss:

but he shall not return to me; in the present mortal state, though at the resurrection they should meet again.

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The New John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible Modernised and adapted for the computer by Larry Pierce of Online Bible. All Rights Reserved, Larry Pierce, Winterbourne, Ontario.
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Gill, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? n can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

(n) By this consideration he appeased his sorrow.
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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

I fast — Seeing fasting and prayer cannot now prevail with God for his life.

I shall go to him — Into the state of the dead in which he is, and into heaven, where I doubt not I shall find him.

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

James Nisbet's Church Pulpit Commentary


‘I shall go to him.’

2 Samuel 12:23

Few, but big with meaning, are these words of the inspired prophet. No less than four scriptural and heart-cheering doctrines are contained in and taught by them.

I. Infant salvation.—‘I shall go to him.’ Whoever may doubt or call in question infant salvation, David believed it, and comforted himself by the faith of it. ‘I shall go to him.’ Whither? To the grave to him? No, no! What communion is there there? Where, then? to purgatory, as some teach? David knew not of such a place. Whither, then, was he to go to him, but to where he was, in heaven? How strange that any, with the Bible in their hand, should be found calling in question what the Holy Spirit so plainly teaches in the above Scripture. David, the inspired prophet of God, and speaking by the Spirit of God, says, ‘I shall go to him.’ Besides, special promises are made to children. No threatenings of eternal misery are found in the Word of God against them. Nineveh was spared for their sake. They are not subjects of a judgment to come. They have done no ‘deeds in the body.’ The Apostle speaks of a generation (infants) who have not sinned after the similitude of Adam’s first transgression. Christ says—and will not that satisfy every one?—‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ Observe, He does not say that such will make a part of the kingdom, but that the kingdom mainly consists of such. ‘Of such is the kingdom of heaven.’

II. Recognition in the future state.—‘I shall go to him.’ But if recognition were not a fact, what better had David been in heaven than he was on earth? But David believed in it, and comforted his stricken spirit by it. And did not Christ teach it in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus; and did not the disciples know at sight Moses and Elias on the mount? And the wicked (we are taught) shall look into the kingdom and see friends and parents there. And shall we know less in heaven than we do on earth?

III. Personal assurance.—‘I shall go to him.’ Not a single doubt does he entertain of it. ‘I shall go to him.’ And is not this assurance the privilege (purchased by the blood of Christ) of every Christian believer? Adam in innocency enjoyed it, and do the blood-bought sons of God enjoy less blessing? Nay, says Christ, ‘I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.’ And, says the Apostle, ‘We have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear; but we have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ And ‘the Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits that we are the children of God.’ Besides, their faith, their repentance, their love of God, say it; and the Holy Spirit both in the Scriptures and in their hearts say it. ‘I shall go to him.’

III. Final salvation of saints.—‘I shall go to him.’ Some call this in question, but David did not. ‘I shall go to him.’ Were our salvation of ourselves, we might call in question the doctrine; but as it is wholly of God, He will perfect His own work. Hear Him Who cannot lie: ‘I give to My sheep eternal life. They shall never perish,’ etc. How can God condemn those He has pardoned and justified, or how cast off those He has adopted as His own? Hence, says the Apostle, ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ ‘There is, therefore, now no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.’ Well, then, might David say, and every Christian parent, mourning his or her infant dead—‘I shall go to him.’


(1) ‘It is certain by God’s Word, that children which are baptized, dying before they commit mortal sin, are undoubtedly saved.’—Rubric, Public Baptism of Infants.

(2) ‘The following well-known epitaph was placed on the tombstone of four infants:—

“Blind infidelity, turn pale and die:

Beneath this stone four infant children lie,

Say, are they lost, or saved?

If death’s by sin, they sinned, for they are here;

If heaven’s by works, in heaven they can’t appear:

O reason! how depraved.

Revere the sacred page, the knot’s untied;

They died ’cause Adam sinned;

They live ’cause Jesus died.”

That is, imputation of Adam’s guilt slew them,—imputation of the righteousness of Christ saved them.’

(3) ‘“I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” The glimpse of the future expressed in these words is touching and beautiful. The relation between David and that little child is not ended. Though the mortal remains shall soon crumble, father and child are not yet done with one another. But their meeting is not to be in this world. Meet again they certainly shall, for “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.” And this glimpse of the future relation of parent and child, separated here by the hand of death, has ever proved most comforting to bereaved Christian hearts. Very touching and very comforting it is to light on this bright view of the future at so early a period of Old Testament history. Words cannot express the desolation of heart which such bereavements cause. When Rachel is weeping for her children she cannot be comforted if she thinks they are not. But a new light breaks on her desolate heart when she is assured that she may go to them, though they shall not return to her.’

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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". Church Pulpit Commentary. 1876.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

2 Samuel 12:23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

Ver. 23. I shall go to him,] viz, With my body I shall go to him into the grave, with my soul into heaven. For in answer to his prayers for the child’s life, David had a secret consideration dropped into his soul, that the child was saved.

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 12:23.

The doctrine of our future meeting and recognition is intimated in the earlier records of Scripture. We are told of Abraham, Jacob, Aaron, and Moses that each was gathered to his people. This cannot be merely a peculiar idiom of language signifying that they died. In some instances it is expressly said they died, and then it is added, "were gathered to their fathers." There would seem to be in the very heart of the expression a recognition that their fathers were still in existence in some state or other. As we advance to the New Testament we find that the twilight is broadening into the perfect day. This doctrine forms much of the very warp of the teaching of our Saviour and His Apostles.

I. It is taught, for example, that in eternity and in heaven we shall retain our personal identity. What life has not been able to do in the way of destroying our identity, death will not do. The sense of I, me, myself, will be with us as before.

II. We must also remember that the departed just are not diffused through the universe, but are gathered into one place. They are with the Lord, and they are there in a family relation. It is only needful to appreciate fully this fact in order to see that mutual recognition is indispensable and inevitable.

III. We do not dream that the "spirits of the just made perfect," dwelling in our Father's house, will sit in silent reserve side by side, and as little do we dream that their speech will never be concerned with the way by which the Lord has led them. Unless the whole family in heaven is to be marked by features the very opposite of every earthly family, unless it is to be distinguished by isolation, reserve, and coldness, mutual recognition must be not only a possible thing, but an inevitable one, and we shall know as we are known.

E. Mellor, In the Footsteps of Heroes, p. 125.

References: 2 Samuel 12:23.—J. Vaughan, Sermons, 9th series, p. 205. 2 Samuel 12:24.—Congregationalist, vol. vii., p. 734. 2Sam 13—E. White, The Mystery of Growth, p. 357.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

2 Samuel 12:23. Now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? &c.— If David meant only that he should die, and go to the grave like his son, as some commentators explain this passage, the consolation which it conveys would be very poor, and we should lose one of the noblest lessons that was ever penned, upon all that is reasonable and religious in grief. There can be no doubt that David believed the immortality of the soul. His writings abundantly prove it: and in this view we may well paraphrase the words thus, "If I cannot have the consolation to partake with this infant the temporal happiness wherewith the divine goodness has blessed me, yet, I hope, to rejoin his soul one day in Heaven, and to partake with him eternal felicity." Considered in this light, the words convey the most satisfactory comfort; and, surely, it would be wrong to suppose that David was unacquainted with the felicities of that future state, and incapable of drawing the only solid consolation from that knowledge, when a heathen confessedly has done so. For who admires not those fine sentiments of Cato of Utica, who cries out with so much rapture, "O happy day! when I shall quit this impure and corrupted multitude, and join myself to that divine company of great souls, who have quitted the earth before me! There I shall find not only those illustrious personages, but also my Cato, who, I can say, was one of the best men, of the best nature, and the most faithful to his duty. I have placed his body upon that funeral pile whereon he ought to have laid mine. But his soul has not left me, and, without losing sight of me, he has only gone before into a country where he saw I should soon rejoin him!" See Cic. de Senect. ad fin.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Wherefore should I fast, seeing fasting and prayer cannot now prevail with God for his life?

I shall go to him; into the state of the dead, in which he is, and into heaven, where I doubt not I shall find him.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

23.I shall go to him — So as to rejoin him in a state of conscious existence in another world. Nothing short of this idea can well satisfy the profound faith and hope of the forgiven king. He was evidently comforted by the thought here expressed; but what comfort could it be if the place of reunion with the lost child were but the grave — the cold, dark charnel house of corruption, earth, and worms! How many are comforted by this same faith that their beloved dead “are not lost, but gone before.”

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

2 Samuel 12:23. Wherefore should I fast — Seeing fasting and prayer cannot now prevail with God for his life. I shall go to him — Into the state of the dead in which he is, and into heaven, where, I doubt not, I shall find him. Or, as Mr. Saurin paraphrases the words, “If I cannot have the consolation to partake with this infant the temporal happiness wherewith the divine goodness hath blessed me, I hope to rejoin his soul one day in heaven, and to partake with him eternal felicity.” As David undoubtedly believed in the immortality of the soul, and even in the resurrection of the body, it would be quite unreasonable to leave out this latter idea, and suppose, with some commentators, that he only meant he should die and go to the grave like his son, which would be a very poor consolation. But, considered in the light here stated, his words convey the most satisfactory comfort, and “are the noblest lesson,” says Delaney, “upon all that is reasonable and religious in grief that ever was penned.”

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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". Joseph Benson's Commentary. 1857.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

To me. No instance of any one being raised from the dead had yet occurred; though David did not disbelieve its possibility. (Menochius)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

I shall go to him = I shall die and be buried (Compare 2 Samuel 12:19): i, e. I shall go to the (not "a ") grave (Sheol). On the use of this Figure of speech Euphemy (App-6) as denoting death and burial, see Genesis 15:15 (compare Joshua 24:2, Joshua 24:14, Joshua 24:15, Abraham"s "fathers "being idolaters); 2 Samuel 25:8, 2 Samuel 25:17; 2 Samuel 35:29; 2 Samuel 49:29, 2 Samuel 49:33. Numbers 20:26; Numbers 27:13; Numbers 31:2. Deuteronomy 31:16; Deuteronomy 32:50. Judges 2:10. 1 Samuel 28:19 (note "thou and thy sons "). 2 Kings 22:20. 1 Chronicles 17:11. 2 Chronicles 34:28. Acts 13:36.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(23) I shall go to him.—As far as the mere words themselves are concerned, this might be taken as the expression of a Stoic’s comfort, “I shall go to the dead, but the dead will not come to me;” but David, in his whole nature and belief, was as far as possible from being a Stoic, and these words in his mouth can scarcely be anything else than an expression of confidence in a life of consciousness beyond the grave, and of the future recognition of those loved on earth.

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
I shall go
Genesis 37:35; Job 30:23; Luke 23:43
he shall not
Job 7:8-10
Reciprocal: 2 Samuel 13:39 - comforted;  Job 7:9 - he;  Job 10:21 - I go whence

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 12:23". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".