2 Samuel 20
Pulpit Commentary
And there happened to be there a man of Belial, whose name was Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite: and he blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel.
Verse 1. - There happened to be there a man of Belial. The fierce words of the men of Judah led to evil results. It was a time when all wise and thoughtful persons would have laboured for peace, and tried to soothe and appease the angry passions fomented by the late war. Instead of this, the men of Judah irritated the Israelites with insult and contumely, and the day, intended as one of rejoicing and of the restoration of David to his throne by common consent, saw the rebellion break forth afresh. Among those who had taken part in the discussion with Judah was Sheba, a man of Belial, that is, a worthless fellow, but possibly possessed of rank and influence; for, according to many commentators, ben-Bichri does not mean the son of Bichri, but "a descendant of Becher," the second son of Benjamin (Genesis 46:21), and possibly the representative of the mishpachah descended from him. But it is remarkable that this son of Benjamin disappears from the genealogies, and that no mishpachah of Bichrites is mentioned either in Numbers 26:38 or in 1 Chronicles 8:1. In both places Ashbel, who is enumerated as the third son in Genesis 46:21, takes the second place. We must be content, therefore, to leave this matter in uncertainty; but evidently Sheba had come with Shimei and Ziba to welcome David back, and, with the rest of the thousand Benjamites, had rushed with loud cries of welcome across the Jordan, and, but for this altercation, would have remained faithful. But tribal jealousies were always ready to break forth, and were a permanent source of weakness; and now, stung by some jibe at Benjamin, Sheba gave orders to a trumpeter to give the signal for the breaking up of the meeting, and, as is commonly the case in large and excited gatherings, the crowd obeyed the unauthorized dictation of one man. His words are contemptuous enough. David is no king, but a private person, and the son, not of a great chief, but of Jesse merely, a yeoman of Bethlehem. Every man to his tents. "To his tent" meant "to his home" (see 2 Samuel 18:17). But this withdrawal home signified the rejection of David's government. Almost the same words are used in 1 Kings 12:16.
So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem.
Verse 2. - So every man of Israel, etc.; literally, so all the men of Israel went up from after David after Sheba. They had come down to Jordan to bring the king back in triumph, but, on finding that the men of Judah had forestalled them, they had a quarrel, and as no one endeavoured to allay it and mediate between them, it ended in open revolt, and they transferred their allegiance to the worthless Sheba. Nothing could more clearly prove the want of cohesion among the tribes, and how little Saul and David had done to knit them together. We need not, therefore, seek for any deep reasons of state, or for proofs of failure in David's government, to account for the rapid success of Absalom's rebellion. Israel was a confused mass of discordant elements, kept in a state of repulsion by the sturdy independence of the tribes and their jealousy one of another. Even David's victories had failed to infuse into them any feeling of national unity, nor did the long glory of Solomon's reign and the magnificence of the temple succeed better. The kings were not as yet much more than the judges had been - leaders in war, but with little authority in times of peace. What is so extraordinary is that David had lost the allegiance of his own tribe; and it now, on returning to its duty, spoiled by its violence the whole matter. The day must have been a great disappointment to David. He was to have gone back conducted gloriously by all the tribes of Israel; but he had fancied that Judah was holding back, and grieving over Absalom. He had secret dealing therefore with it, in order that the day might not be marred by its absence. It came, but only to do mischief; and David went home with only its escort, and with all the rest in open rebellion.
And David came to his house at Jerusalem; and the king took the ten women his concubines, whom he had left to keep the house, and put them in ward, and fed them, but went not in unto them. So they were shut up unto the day of their death, living in widowhood.
Verse 3. - They were shut up. We are not to conclude that all widows had to live in seclusion, but only that those women who belonged to the royal harem, but had been taken by another, were not allowed to return to it, but condemned to a sort of imprisonment. Living in widowhood. This is explained by the Chaldee as lasting only during David's life, its rendering being, "in widowhood while their husband was alive."
Then said the king to Amasa, Assemble me the men of Judah within three days, and be thou here present.
Verse 4. - Then said the king to Amasa. David thus takes the first step towards depriving Joab of the command (see 2 Samuel 19:13). This was a most unwise step, however guilty Joab may have been in slaying Absalom. With all his faults, Joab had always been faithful to David, and it was chiefly his skill in war and statesmanlike qualities which had raised the kingdom to a position of great power. Just now, too, he had crushed with smaller forces a rebellion in which Amasa had taken the lead. To cast him off and put Amasa in his place might please conspirators, and reconcile them to their defeat, but it would certainly offend all those who had been faithful to David in his troubles. Throughout David acts as one whose affections were stronger than his sense of duty, and his conduct goes far to justify Joab's complaint, "This day I perceive, that if Absalom had lived, and all we had died this day, then it had pleased thee well" (2 Samuel 19:6). If David, in the administration of his kingdom, acted with as little forethought as in the slight he cast-upon the ten tribes in negotiating with Judah to be the first to restore him, as it had been the first tribe to rebel, instead of waiting for the rest, and doing his best to make the day of his return one of general concord and good will; or with as little justice as in the matter of Ziba and Mephibosheth; or with as little tact and good sense as in substituting at the end of a revolt the rebel general for the brave soldier who had "saved his life, and the lives of his sons and of his daughters, and the lives of his wives and of his concubines" (2 Samuel 19:5); we cannot wonder that he had failed to secure the allegiance of a race so self-willed and stubborn as the Israelites. One cannot help half suspecting that Joab had used the power he had gained over the king by the part he had taken in the murder of Uriah tyrannically, and for cruel purposes, and that David groaned under the burden. But if so, it was his own sin that was finding him out.
So Amasa went to assemble the men of Judah: but he tarried longer than the set time which he had appointed him.
Verse 5. - He tarried longer than the set time. But not longer than was to be expected. For the appointment was so surprising that everybody must have been agape with astonishment. They would naturally have expected that Amasa would he punished. Instead of this, he is commissioned to gather the militia in David's name. And men would hesitate about joining such a leader. Was he really loyal? or would he embark them in a new rebellion? And what would Joab do? He was not a man likely to bear such a slight tamely, and David ought to have foreseen that he was sowing for himself a crop of discord and enmity.
And David said to Abishai, Now shall Sheba the son of Bichri do us more harm than did Absalom: take thou thy lord's servants, and pursue after him, lest he get him fenced cities, and escape us.
Verse 6. - David said to Abishai. David thus gives the command to the younger brother, and we find in ver. 7 that even "Joab's men," his own special troop, were placed under Abishai's command. There seems always to have been a firm friendship between the brothers, and at first Joab acquiesces. The king was, in fact, in so grim a humour that he probably felt that he had better keep with his men, who would protect him, instead of remaining at Jerusalem, where he would be in David's power. When Amasa joined them, Abishai would have to resign to him the command; and David probably expected that, after a successful campaign, and with the aid of the men of Judah, who were rebels like himself, Amasa would be able to crush Joab. But Joab did not intend to wait for this; and immediately on meeting his rival he murders him, and assumes the command. Thy lord's servants. These are the men enumerated in ver. 7, and formed David's usual military attendants. When war broke out, they were reinforced by a levy of the people. And escape us. The meaning of the Hebrew is uncertain. It may signify, "and withdraw himself from our eyes," which gives the sense of the Authorized Version, and is supported by the Vulgate. The Septuagint renders, "and overshadow our eyes," which might have the same meaning, but, as others think, may signify, "and cause us anxiety." Many modern commentators render, "and pluck out our eye;" that is, do us painful damage. Either this or the Authorized Version gives a good sense, and, anyhow, rapid action was necessary, or Sheba's revolt might become dangerous.
And there went out after him Joab's men, and the Cherethites, and the Pelethites, and all the mighty men: and they went out of Jerusalem, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
Verse 7. - There went out after him - that is, under Abishai's command (comp. ver. 2) - Joab's men. The men who formed his regular attendants, and to whose number belonged the ten armour bearers who slew Absalom (2 Samuel 18:15). Joab retained their command, and probably they would not have served under any other person. It is evident from the enumeration in this verse that the "men of Judah," after escorting David to Jerusalem, had all dispersed to their own homes.
When they were at the great stone which is in Gibeon, Amasa went before them. And Joab's garment that he had put on was girded unto him, and upon it a girdle with a sword fastened upon his loins in the sheath thereof; and as he went forth it fell out.
Verse 8. - The great stone which is in Gibeon. Gibeon is situated in the mountains of Ephraim, in the tribe of Benjamin, northwest of Jerusalem. The great stone was probably some isolated rock well known in the neighbourhood. Amasa went before them; Hebrew, Amasa came before them; that is, came in view with the levy of men he had raised in Judah. And Joab's garment, etc.; more correctly, and Joab was girded with his military coat as his garment, and over it was the strap of his sword in its sheath, and it (masculine, equivalent to "the sheath") came out, and it (feminine, equivalent to "the sword") fell. This change of gender is very harsh, and has caused the Authorized Version to apply the masculine verb to Joab, and translate, and as he went forth it fell; but a very slight change, supported by the Septuagint, gives us a more satisfactory sense, namely, and it (the sword) came out and fell. It is generally assumed that all this was arranged beforehand on Joab's part, who had so placed his sword that he could shake it out of the sheath. More probably it was an accident, of which he took instant advantage. He had felt that his position was insecure, and that if David had the support of Amasa, and a powerful band of the men of Judah at Jerusalem, he would probably order his execution for slaying Absalom; and Amasa would carry out the command willingly enough, as he thereby would secure the high position offered him. We know David's feelings towards Joab from his dying command to Solomon (1 Kings 2:5), and probably he had given various indications of his deep seated resentment. Joab, therefore, determined to stop Amasa's growth in power, and also to give David a rough lesson. And this accident gave him an early opportunity, which he used with ruthless energy.
And Joab said to Amasa, Art thou in health, my brother? And Joab took Amasa by the beard with the right hand to kiss him.
But Amasa took no heed to the sword that was in Joab's hand: so he smote him therewith in the fifth rib, and shed out his bowels to the ground, and struck him not again; and he died. So Joab and Abishai his brother pursued after Sheba the son of Bichri.
Verse 10. - In the fifth fib; in the abdomen (see note on 2 Samuel 2:23). He struck him not again. When his sword fell out of its sheath, Joab picked it up with his left hand, which was not the hand for action, and as he could not put it into its place without taking it into his right hand, his continuing to hold it while he took his cousin's beard in his fight hand and kissed him, was too natural to awaken any suspicion. But holding down Amasa's head, he struck him with his left hand so fiercely that no second blow was necessary; and then continued his march forward as if what had occurred was a matter of little importance.
And one of Joab's men stood by him, and said, He that favoureth Joab, and he that is for David, let him go after Joab.
Verse 11. - One of Joab's men. Joab left one of his personal followers to prevent any halt of the people round Amasa's body, and to suggest that he was a traitor. For he was to say to them as they came up, not only that "whosoever had pleasure in Joab," but also that "all who were for David, were to go after Joab." All loyal men were to regard him as captain of the host, and to disobey him would be rebellion. Naturally they would conclude from this that Amasa had not really been true to David, and that his death was the punishment inflicted on him for his past guilt.
And Amasa wallowed in blood in the midst of the highway. And when the man saw that all the people stood still, he removed Amasa out of the highway into the field, and cast a cloth upon him, when he saw that every one that came by him stood still.
Verse 12. - He removed Amasa. The admonition to move on failed; for the sight was terrible and tragic, and all as they came along stopped to see what had happened, and inquire the cause (comp. 2 Samuel 2:23). The man, therefore, had the corpse carried out of the way, and threw over it a cloth, really a coat - the loose upper mantle worn over the tunic (see note on beged, 1 Samuel 19:13). Whereupon the people renewed their march, most of them not knowing what had occurred, and the rest urged to it by the warning voice of Joab's servitor.
When he was removed out of the highway, all the people went on after Joab, to pursue after Sheba the son of Bichri.
And he went through all the tribes of Israel unto Abel, and to Bethmaachah, and all the Berites: and they were gathered together, and went also after him.
Verse 14. - And he went through, etc. It was not Joab, but Sheba, who, by David's prompt action, was compelled to make a rapid retreat, seeking help in vain from tribe after tribe, but rejected of all, and unable to make any defence until he had reached the extreme north of the land of Israel. Unto Abel, and to Beth-Maachah. The conjunction probably ought to be omitted, as the proper name of the place, is Abel-beth-Maachah, and it is so given in ver. 15 (see below), and in 1 Kings 15:20; 2 Kings 15:29. It is the place called Abel-Maim, the "water meadow," in 2 Chronicles 16:4 - an abel being a place where the grass grows rankly from the abundance of springs. It thus forms part of the name of various places, as Abel-Mizraim (Genesis 1:11), Abel-Meholah (1 Kings 4:12), etc. Abel-beth-Maachah was a fortress in the most northerly part of the tribe of Naphtali, and is identified with the modern village of Abel, a few miles above Lake Huleh, the ancient "Waters of Merom." And all the Berites. No place or people of this name can be found, but Jerome, when translating the Vulgate, had before him a different reading, which seems clearly right, "And all the chosen men of war were gathered together, and went after him."
And they came and besieged him in Abel of Bethmaachah, and they cast up a bank against the city, and it stood in the trench: and all the people that were with Joab battered the wall, to throw it down.
Verse 15. - It stood in the trench. This is a literal translation, and yet gives a wrong sense. The Hebrew "stood" means "rose up to," "stood level with;" and the "trench" is what in modern fortifications is called "the glacis," and includes the outer wall of defence. The Revised Version renders, "it stood against the rampart." The usual way of capturing cities in ancient times was to cast up a bank or mound of earth against them (Isaiah 29:3; Isaiah 37:33; Jeremiah 6:6); and Joab's work had advanced so far as to be level with the outer line of defence. The name of the city in the Hebrew is not Abel of Beth-Maachah, but Abel-beth-Maachah. Battered. This is a word taken from Roman warfare. The Hebrew says, "And all the people that were with Joab were destroying the wall to make it fall," most probably by undermining it. Ewald even asserts that this is the meaning of the verb, and translates, "were digging pits under the wall." The Revised Version adopts this for the margin, where it gives "undermined." The Septuagint and Chaldee have a different and probable reading, "And all Joab's people were devising (contriving) means to throw down the wall." This would be the next operation after the mound had been carried up to a level with it.
Then cried a wise woman out of the city, Hear, hear; say, I pray you, unto Joab, Come near hither, that I may speak with thee.
And when he was come near unto her, the woman said, Art thou Joab? And he answered, I am he. Then she said unto him, Hear the words of thine handmaid. And he answered, I do hear.
Then she spake, saying, They were wont to speak in old time, saying, They shall surely ask counsel at Abel: and so they ended the matter.
Verse 18. - They were wont to speak, etc. The Hebrew literally is, they used to say in old time, They shall surely ask at Abel; and so they finished (the matter). But of these words two completely distinct interpretations are given. The Jewish Targum records the one: "Remember now that which is written in the book of the Law, to ask a city concerning peace at the first. Hast thou done so, to ask of Abel if they will make peace?" The woman, that is, was referring to the command in Deuteronomy 20:10, not to besiege a city until peace had been offered to the inhabitants on condition of their paying tribute. When a city was captured the lot of the inhabitants, as the woman declares in ver. 19, was utter destruction; and the Law mercifully gave them the chance of escaping such a fate. Joab had not complied with this enactment, but had assumed that the people would support Sheba, and was proceeding to the last extremity without consulting them. This interpretation gives an excellent sense, but cannot be wrung out of the present Hebrew text without violence. The other interpretation is that of the Authorized Version, that the woman was commending her words to Joab, by reminding him that Abel had been famed in early times for its wisdom, and had probably been the seat of an oracle in the old Canaanite times. When, therefore, people had carried their dispute to Abel, both sides were content to abide by the answer given them, and so the controversy was ended. Literally, these words mean, "they shall surely inquire at Abel," the verb being that specially used of inquiring of God.
I am one of them that are peaceable and faithful in Israel: thou seekest to destroy a city and a mother in Israel: why wilt thou swallow up the inheritance of the LORD?
Verse 19. - I am one of them that are, etc. The Authorized Version translates in this way, because, while "I" is singular, "peaceable" and "faithful" are plural. Really this construction shows that the woman speaks in the name of the city, and consequently the Authorized Version, while preserving the grammar, loses the sense. It should be translated, we are peaceable, faithful people in Israel. A city and a mother; that is, a mother city, a metropolis, the chief town of that district.
And Joab answered and said, Far be it, far be it from me, that I should swallow up or destroy.
The matter is not so: but a man of mount Ephraim, Sheba the son of Bichri by name, hath lifted up his hand against the king, even against David: deliver him only, and I will depart from the city. And the woman said unto Joab, Behold, his head shall be thrown to thee over the wall.
Verse 21. - The matter is not so. It seems from this verse that the citizens did not quite understand why Joab attacked them. Sheba had thrown himself into the city. and Joab, in hot pursuit, finding the gate closed - a measure of ordinary precaution upon the approach of a body of men - at once blockaded the town, and began to cast up the mount. At all events, they were ready to come to terms now, and would probably have given up Sheba at first, if Joab had demanded his surrender. A man of Mount Ephraim. Sheba was a Benjamite, but the hills of Ephraim extended into the territory of Benjamin, and retained their name (see 1 Samuel 1:1). Over the wall; Hebrew, through the wall, being the word rendered "at" a window in Genesis 26:8. It probably means through one of the apertures made for the archers.
Then the woman went unto all the people in her wisdom. And they cut off the head of Sheba the son of Bichri, and cast it out to Joab. And he blew a trumpet, and they retired from the city, every man to his tent. And Joab returned to Jerusalem unto the king.
Verse 22. - In her wisdom; that is, with her wise counsel. The story in Ecclesiastes 9:13-15 probably refers to this narrative. They retired; Hebrew, they dispersed themselves each to his tent; that is, his home. This refers to Amasa's levies, who were glad to depart, and whom Joab did not want at Jerusalem. He took thither with him all those mentioned in ver. 7. Incensed as David must have been at the murder of Amasa following so quickly upon that of Absalom, yet that very act proved Joab's determination, and left the king powerless. He must have felt, too, that Joab was indispensable for the maintenance of peace and order in his dominions, and that he was at the least faithful to himself.
Now Joab was over all the host of Israel: and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and over the Pelethites:
Verse 23. - Now Josh, etc. With this list of his chief officers, the narrator closes the history of David's reign; for the remaining four chapters form a kind of appendix. A similar list closes ch. 8, where, too, there is a break in the history, the previous narra-tire having been a summary of the rapid rise of David's empire. In this section, ch. 9-20, we have a more full and detailed account of David's wars, leading on to his crime and its punishment. The rest of David's life we may trust was calm and uneventful, but it was the life of a sorrow stricken man; and the sword again woke up against his family when his end was approaching, and filled his dying hours with grief and trouble. This list is much later in date than that previously given, though most of the officers are the same. Cherethites. This is a correction of the Massorites to make the passage agree with 2 Samuel 8:18. The K'tib has cari, a word which occurs in 2 Kings 11:4, 19, where in the Authorized Version it is translated "captains," but in the Revised Version Carites, which here appears only in the margin. But there is no reason why the place of the Cherethites should not have been taken by Carian mercenaries later on in David's reign, though really we know too little about such matters to be able to form a judgment. Some commentators translate cari "digger," and suppose that it means executioner; but why a digger should have such a meaning is inexplicable. It may be interesting to add that the Caftans were famous in old times as mercenaries. During the reign of Manasseh, Psammetichus won the throne of all Egypt by the aid of Caftans, and from that period they took a leading part in all Egyptian wars. The age of David is much more antique, but as there was constant communication between Phoenicia and Asia Minor and Greece, there is nothing improbable in David taking Caftans into his service in place of the Philistine Cherethites. His connection with them would soon cease after he left Ziklag.
And Adoram was over the tribute: and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder:
Verse 24. - Adoram was over the tribute. This was a new officer, and a new thing. For the Hebrew word mas does not mean "tribute," but "forced labour." This was one of the most oppressive exactions of old time, and it continued to be practised in Europe throughout the Middle Ages until it was abolished at the end of the eighteenth century by the French Revolution, except in Russia, where the serfs were freed from it by the late emperor Alexander II. Nevertheless, it was probably made almost necessary at first by the absence of money. As there was no money for the payment of taxes, the dues of the king or lord could only be rendered by personal service. Yet even so it was exceedingly liable to be abused, and the people might be taken from their own homes and fields just when their presence there was most needed. One most painful result was that the women had to endure, upon the farm and among the cattle, a drudgery to which they were unsuited. We gather from this passage that it was David who began this practice in Israel, exacting probably only from the descendants of the Canaanites (who, nevertheless, formed a considerable portion of the inhabitants of Palestine) forced labour employed in preparing for the building of the temple, and in the fortifications of his fenced cities. Under Solomon it seems to have been extended to other classes (1 Kings 5:13, 14; but see 1 Kings 9:20-22), and reduced to a system, which pressed so heavily upon the people that it was the principal cause of the revolt of the ten tribes from Rehoboam (1 Kings 12:4). Unless the Israelites had themselves suffered severely from this exaction, they would not have been driven into rebellion by sympathy with the remains of the native races. Subsequently we find Jeremiah accusing Jehoiakim of employing forced labour (Jeremiah 22:13), but the severity with which he condemned it suggests that it had then ceased to be customary. Adoram. His appointment to this office was probably at a late period in David's reign, as he continued to hold the office under Solomon (1 Kings 4:6; 1 Kings 5:14, where he is called Adoniram), and even down to the beginning of Rehoboam's reign (1 Kings 12:18). We there read that he paid the penalty of his hateful office with his life. In 2 Chronicles 10:18 he is called Hadoram.
And Sheva was scribe: and Zadok and Abiathar were the priests:
Verse 25. - Sheva. He is called Seraiah in 2 Samuel 8:17.
And Ira also the Jairite was a chief ruler about David.
Verse 26. - Ira... was a chief ruler; Hebrew, cohen, priest, minister (see on this term, 2 Samuel 8:18). We there find David's sons holding this confidential office; but the feuds which resulted from David's sin had destroyed the concord of the family, and the usefulness of David's children. In their degradation from this office we see also a preparation for their being set aside from the succession, and the throne given to Solomon. ADDITIONAL NOTE. With this chapter ends the second section of David's history; for, as we have already seen, the last four chapters are not arranged in chronological order, but form an appendix remarkable both for the singularly varied nature of its contents, and also for its omissions. The Second Book of Samuel is so thoroughly a history of David, that we should naturally have expected some account of his latter years, and of his manner of government after his return to power. But such details would have been interesting politically rather than spiritually, and the two narratives which have gone before are complete each in itself; and in each David is regarded from an entirely distinct point of view. In the first eight chapters we have the history of David as the theocratic king. As such he takes the heathen for his inheritance, and founds an empire. Even more remarkable are the alterations he makes in the worship of Jehovah. To the old Levitical sacrifices he added a far more spiritual service of psalms and minstrelsy, without which Judaism would have been unable to develop the evangelical realities which lay embedded in its ritual and legal ordinances. And it is important to notice that his service of sacred song is called "prophecy" (1 Chronicles 25:1-3), from which we learn two things. The first that David's service was essentially the same as that established by Samuel at Ramah. There, too, we read of the company of the prophets prophesying (1 Samuel 19:20), their service undoubtedly being one of minstrelsy (1 Samuel 10:5, 10, 11); and without Samuel's authority David would scarcely have ventured upon so great an innovation. Even so, this consecration of music by Samuel, and David's ordinance whereby there was established a daily service, morning and evening, of thanksgiving and praise (1 Chronicles 23.30; Nehemiah 12:24), is a most remarkable step forward; and by it the service of God ceased to be mere ritual, and became "a reasonable service" (Romans 12:1), such as was repeatedly commended by St. Paul to the members of the Christian Church (Colossians 3:16, etc.). But secondly, it drew the minds of the people to the evangelic meaning of the Levitical ordinances. To this day hymns form a most important part of our solemn services, and seem especially adapted to draw out the inner and deeper meaning of rites and doctrines. They did not, indeed, begin with David. There are psalms older than his reign; but this consecration of them to the public daily service of God led to an outburst of Divine psalmody which raised the minds of the people above the material and grosset elements of their worship, and taught them the true nature of God, and made them ascribe to him high and spiritual attributes in wonderful contrast with the grovelling frivolities of heathenism. The Levitical worship was necessarily typical: in the psalms the people learned that God desireth not sacrifice, but the offering of a broken and contrite heart. Even prophecy, in its sense of speaking for God, would scarcely have reached the high eminence of future days but for the psalms. For only in a nation deeply imbued with poetry and song could an Isaiah have arisen, capable of giving in so perfect an outward form the mysteries of Christ's incarnation, his vicarious sacrifice, and universal kingdom. In the second section, neither the theocratic nor the prophetic element is in the forefront. It is the history of a fearful sin, and of its stern punishment. The sinner is the theocratic king: the punishment is the pollution of his house by incest and murder; the ruin of the glory of his realm, the rending asunder of his empire, begun in his days and consummated in those of his grandson; his own disgrace and flight; and his sorrowful return to his throne, impotent to avenge either the murder of his son or that of the man whom he had chosen in the hope that he would release him from the stern grip of the ruthless Joab. The moral lessons of this sad story are beyond number. We see the saint changed into a sinner. No privileges save him from hateful crime; no repentance from draining the last dregs of the bitter cup of retribution. But never was the power of repentance in cleansing the heart and giving peace to the conscience more clearly shown; and the psalms written by David as a penitent, and during his flight from Absalom, are the most spiritual and choice and edifying of the whole Psalter. Without them the depths of self-abasement would have been left without inspired expression. The sinner in his greatest need, when crushed with the conviction of sin, when earnestly longing for forgiveness, when thirsting for the restored presence of God within his soul, and when feeling that, vile as he was, yet that he was not shut out from mercy, but that access to God's presence was still permitted him; - at all such times he would have gone to his Bible, and it would have been silent. These psalms are still the sinner's comfort, and give him the words which best express what is present in his heart. Without them the Jewish Church would never have reached that fervid purity of spiritual feeling which so animated the prophets; and even the Christian Church would possibly have stopped short of that full doctrine of repentance which she now holds. It is, indeed, the Christian's privilege to unite the doctrine of repentance with the thought of all that Christ has done and suffered for us, and so to understand why repentance avails to cleanse the heart; but even with this knowledge no Christian writer has ever reached so high a level of spirituality as David, though we may thankfully acknowledge that many of our best hymns do not fall far short of it. It is easy, then, to see that these two histories are not only of primary importance, but that no narrative after the time of the Exodus equals them in value. They form the very kernel of the Book of the Earlier Prophets, giving us, in the first, the true meaning and spiritual import of the settlement of Israel in Palestine; and setting before us, in the second, the nature of repentance, and so preparing the way for the revelation of the gospel of pardon and peace. They are followed by an appendix containing several narratives recorded apparently for their intrinsic value. Commentators have endeavoured to trace a connection between them, but their arguments are farfetched, and their conclusions unsatisfactory. It is better to regard them as separate and complete, each one in itself. They are six in number:

(1) the visitation of famine because of Saul's cruelty to the Gibeonites;

(2) some incidents in the war with the Philistines, illustrating the heroic character of David's worthies;

(3) David's psalm of deliverance;

(4) David's last words;

(5) a list of the Gibborim, with special records of acts of bravery and devotion;

(6) the visitation of pestilence because of David's numbering the people. The third and fourth sections especially are of the highest interest; while the second makes it plain that David's bravery in encountering the giant of Gath lit up an equally bright flame of patriotic heroism in the armies of Israel.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by BibleSoft, inc., Used by permission

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2 Samuel 19
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