Monday, October 31, 2011

Good Government

Reflections on 2 Samuel 8:15-18
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

"The single most exciting thing you encounter in government is competence, because it's so rare."
-- Daniel P. Moynihan

David was not only a great military leader, he was also a good ruler. A single, often overlooked verse (2 Samuel 8:15) notes his greatness as a ruler, yet his reign set the standard by which all later reign were judged and most often found deficient.

ACTIONS. During David's reign, he did what was just and right (administered justice and equity - ESV). Doing what was "just" meant not only that he and all the courts throughout the land made correct judgments (see Deuteronomy 16:18-20; 17:8-13; and 19:15-21), but also that all in his administration thought and acted accordance to right judgments (see BDB, #6666). Doing what was "right" meant that all those in authority acted in accordance with an ethical or moral standard (TWOT, 1999, #1879). Hence, every function of government was carried out according to Mosaic Law. Later, God calls David "my servant" because he "kept my commandments and my statutes" (1 Kings 11:34).

ADVOCACY. A part of the Mosaic Law which David carried out was advocacy for the poor. Even before he was king, the distressed, the debtors, and the discontented found refuge with him (1 Samuel 22:2). When he became king, he continued to do what was just and right "for all his people," for the poor, the weak, and the alien, as well as the rich. David was bound to defend the poor by the Law. He did this not through government programs but through judicial regulation and priestly instruction. Accordingly, he did not allow anyone to oppress the alien (Exodus 23:9) or take advantage of the widow and orphan (Exodus 22:22-24); instead, he made sure generosity was shown to the poor (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). He provided for safety by requiring parapets around rooftops (Deuteronomy 22:8) and he required that runaway slaves be given refuge (Deuteronomy 23:15-16). He did not allow the people to charge their fellow Israelites interest (Exodus 22:25; Deuteronomy 23:19-20), nor to take a person's means of livelihood as a pledge for a loan (Deuteronomy 24:6). nor to keep a cloak as pledge overnight, nor to enter a house to obtain a pledge (Exodus 22:26-27; Deuteronomy 24:10-13). He required that wages be given to a laborer at the end of each day (Deuteronomy 24:14-15) and that corners of fields and fallen grain be left for the poor (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). He prevented cheating in the market by requiring merchants to keep but one scale and to use it for both buying and selling (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

APPOINTMENTS. Part of the reason that David succeeded in promoting justice and righteousness is because he gave priests and Levites prominent positions in his government. The priests and Levites had been appointed by God to teach the people all that God commanded in the Law (Leviticus 10:11; Deuteronomy 17:8-13; Malachi 2:7). Three of the men mentioned as a part of David's government were Zadok and Ahimelech, who served as priests, and Benaiah, a Levite (see 1 Chronicles 27:5) who promoted what was just and right in the military. Thus, justice and righteousness were promoted in all institutions by priests and Levites, whom Saul had alienated along with God's prophets.

ASPIRATION. The kings who came after David often did not follow his example of doing what was just and right. Isaiah 5:7 notes the failure of later kings:

The vineyard of the LORD Almighty
   is the house of Israel,
and the men of Judah
   are the garden of his delight.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
   for righteousness, but heard cries of distress.

Because their ways were evil, God admonished them in Isaiah 1:16-17 to return to the just and right ways practiced by David:

Take your evil deeds
   out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,
   learn to do right!
Seek justice,
   encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
   plead the case of the widow.

Few kings lived up to the ideal established by David. Accordingly, the prophets and the righteous who listened to them looked for a king, the Messiah, who would again aspire to justice and righteousness. Isaiah 9:6-7 foresaw that king:

For to us a child is born,
   to us a son is given,
   and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
   Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
   Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
   there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
   and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
   with justice and righteousness
   from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
   will accomplish this.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

God's Grace

Reflections on 2 Samuel 7:18-29
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David dreamed of building a house for God, but God promised to make a lasting house for David. He promised to make his seed king and establish his throne forever. The promise had certain similarities with the promise God made to Abraham about his seed, and David responded by addressing God as Sovereign Lord, the same name used by Abraham to address God when he reaffirmed the covenant in Genesis 15. Not once in his prayer did David express any disappointment with not being allowed to fulfill his dream.

UNWORTHY. David expressed no disappointment because he was overwhelmed with the magnitude of God's undeserved gifts (vv. 18-19). His family was insignificant, yet God had made him king of Israel. David's sins were great, yet God made promises concerning the future of his family. Such unmerited favor was beyond comprehension. In wonder he asked, "Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?" All Scripture demonstrates God's answer, "Grace is my usual way of dealing with men who seek me."

REDEEMED. David expressed no disappointment because he, like Israel, had been redeemed (vv. 22-24). David had not been bigger or stronger than his brothers, and he not been more righteous than others. At the very moment God was giving him victory over his enemies, David had broken the 6th and 7th commands. Still, God had chosen him. Similarly, Israel had not been stronger than other nations, but slaves in Egypt, when God chose them. Neither had Israel been more righteous than other nations. Israel had broken the 1st and 2nd commands just weeks after God had led them out of Egypt. Nevertheless, God had redeemed Israel and David. For both, God had performed great and awesome wonders in driving out the nations before them. David marveled that the Great and Sovereign Lord had become their God forever.

LONGING. David confessed that what God promised him, and Israel with him, fulfilled the deepest longings of his heart (vv. 26-25). He urged God to do as he promised, not because he was afraid God would fail to keep his word, but because he so earnestly desired for all to know that "The Lord Almighty is God over Israel!"

COURAGE. Because God had revealed his compassion and mercy through this covenant, David found courage to pray to God, not only to thank him, but to ask him for greater and more precious promises than he could have imagined on his own (vv. 27-29). Without such promises, he might have been satisfied with asking for much less!

My chronology of David's reign appears on an extra page. You can find a link to that page in the "Pages" section below and left.

Monday, October 24, 2011

David's Dream

Reflections on 2 Samuel 7:1-17
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David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem despite an initial setback, he brought it into the city with celebrations and thanksgiving, and he placed it in a tent he prepared for it. But David's dream was bigger. He eventually wanted to reunite the altar in Gibeon with the ark in Jerusalem so that all Israel could worship God in the place God had chosen.

DAVID'S OATH. Sometime later, David compared the tent where the ark was with his own palace and was perhaps embarrassed. He dreamed of something grander for God. He dreamed of building a "house for the Name of the Lord my God" (1 Chronicles 22:7). Psalm 132:1-5 reveals the intensity of his dream when it says that David had made an oath that he would not rest until he had found a dwelling for the Lord:

O LORD, remember David
and all the hardships he endured.
He swore an oath to the LORD
and made a vow to the Mighty One of Jacob:
"I will not enter my house
or go to my bed-
I will allow no sleep to my eyes,
no slumber to my eyelids,
till I find a place for the LORD,
a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob."

GOD'S DENIAL. Nathan's initial response to David's dream was favorable, but Nathan had not consulted God on this matter. He was merely expressing his own private opinion. God had different plans. God told Nathan that night that he had never asked anyone before David to build him a house, and that he was not asking David either. God did not require a majestic temple as a dwelling place. What God really wanted was to dwell in David's heart and in the hearts of every Israelite.

For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
"I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite." (Isaiah 57:15)

GOD'S PROMISES. After God refused to allow David to accomplish his dream, God set about reviving his heart. First, he enumerated what he had already done for David (vv. 8-11a). He had taken him from the pasture and made him ruler. He had cut off his enemies and made his name great. He had given Israel a secure homeland free from oppressors, and given them rest. (The NIV puts many of these statements in the future tense, but notice that v. 1 says that "the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him." Hence, all the verbs up through 11a should be understood as past as in Young's Literal Translation. In Hebrew, the perfect is used not only for past actions, but also for future actions in prophecies and promises. This double use of the perfect is what creates the confusion in this passage.) These promises are ones basically given to all Israel and had been fulfilled through David's military conquests recorded in chapters 8 and 10.

GOD'S COVENANT. Second, God declared what he would do for David in the future (11b-17). He said he would build a house, or dynasty, for David by causing his seed to succeed him. Three promises are made concerning this seed. He would build a house for God. He would be treated as a son; when he sinned God would not reject him but would discipline him. Finally, his kingdom would be established forever. Each promise has reference to both Solomon (the first of his seed to reign) and to the Messiah (the last of his seed to reign). Solomon would build the temple in Jerusalem, and the Messiah would build a spiritual temple of lowly and contrite people in whom God dwells (Matthew 16:18; 1 Peter 2:4-6; 1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21). When Solomon and his descendants departed from following God, God often disciplined them as sons removing the peace and security he had given them through David and causing them to be oppressed by their enemies. The Messiah too was God's Son (Luke 1:35), and though he did not sin, he still learned obedience by the things that he suffered (Hebrews 5:8). And finally, when Judah was carried into Babylon captivity, it was not clear how David's kingdom would be eternal until the Messiah took his seat upon the throne at the right hand of God (Luke 1:32-33; Acts 2:32-36; Ephesians 1:20-21).

God vetoed David's dream, but he replaced it with an even grander dream. David would not be allowed to build God a house, but God would build a house for David which would last forever.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Michal's Folly

Reflections on 2 Samuel 6:16, 20-23
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When the Ark of God entered Jerusalem, the whole city turned out just as it would have if David were returning victorious from battle. At such times, even the women rushed out, mingled with the festive crowd, and participated in the celebration. Normally, the king and army officers would have had the place of honor, but when the Ark entered the city, God had the place of honor, and King David celebrated with the citizens, leaping and dancing with them in the presence of the Lord.

CELEBRATION DESPISED. Michal did not get excited about the arrival of the Ark as she would have at an earlier time when David had returned from a successful campaign. She did not rush to the street in excitement, but remained haughty and aloof at her window. Just as her father had neglected the Ark during his reign, so she failed to celebrate its arrival in Jerusalem. In fact, when she saw David celebrating with the crowds, she despised him.

HUMILITY MOCKED. Later, David entered his house to bless it, but Michal interrupted the blessing with sarcasm. "Today," she said, "the King of Israel has distinguished (honored - ESV) himself by disrobing himself in front of servant girls!" No, David had not disrobed in public, but he had discarded his royal apparel and replaced it with priestly garments, which were, by the way, quite modest. Michal's problem was not that David was naked, but that his dress lacked royal dignity. She wanted a king for a husband, not a man who looked like a mere priest and acted like an ordinary citizen.

HUMILITY DEFENDED. David reminded Michal that God had rejected her father, who was not humble before God, and chosen him instead. No matter how undignified it appeared to Michal, David would celebrate before the Lord. David would humble himself not only before others, but also in his own eyes. David understood that "A man's pride brings him low (as Saul's pride had), but a man of lowly spirit gains honor" (Proverbs 29:23). Michal did not understand. As a young woman, she had fallen in love with a brave warrior, but now she was married a man who gladly humbled himself in order to exalt God.

BLESSING LOST. Michal refused to celebrate the arrival of the Ark and interrupted David's blessing with sarcasm. Consequently, she herself missed out on God's blessing. Michal died childless.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Neglected No Longer

Reflections on 1 Chronicles 16:4-43
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The Ark of the Covenant of the Lord had been neglected while in Kirjath Jearim during the reign of Saul (1 Chronicles 13:3), and David did not want the Lord to be neglected any longer. The zeal of the Lord that came on him when the Spirit rushed upon him at his anointing and that burned within him when he heard Goliath blaspheming the Lord still burned within him. He wanted Israel not merely to turn to the Lord, but to follow the Lord. Accordingly, he made plans for the continued worship of God by the people of Israel.

THE ARK OF THE COVENANT. David wanted the worship to continue in Jerusalem where God had directed him to place the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:4-6, 37-38). He appointed Asaph to make regular thanksgiving and praise to God with singing and music. He also appointed Obed-Edom and his family as gatekeepers.

THE ALTAR. Although the ark was in Jerusalem, the tabernacle and altar remained in Gibeon. David was diligent to make sure sacrifices and worship continued there also (1 Chronicles 16:39-42). He appointed Zadok and his priestly family to present offerings regularly as required by the Law of Moses. He also appointed the Levites Heman and Jeduthun to be in charge of the music there. The sons of Jeduthun were gatekeepers there

THE MUSICIANS. The leading musicians appointed by David were godly men. 1) Asaph was a Levite (1 Chronicles 6:39-43) and a seer (2 Chronicles 29:30). Several psalms are attributed to him or a descendant with the same name (Psalms 50, 73-83). 2) Heman, who served in Gibeon, was a Levite (2 Chronicles 5:12) and the grandson of the prophet Samuel (1 Chronicles 6:33-34). Like his more famous grandfather, Heman was a seer (1 Chronicles 25:5). From the time of Samuel, there had been a close connection between the prophesying and musical accompaniment (1 Samuel 10:5-6; 1 Chronicles 25:1). 3) Jeduthun was also a Levite and a seer (2 Chronicles 35:15). He is to be distinguished from the father of Obed-Edom. His six sons are listed in 1 Chronicles 25:3. Psalm 39, by David, is dedicated to Jeduthun. Psalm 62 and 77 are "after the manner of Jeduthan." These three seers did not act presumptuously when they accompanied worship with instrumental music (1 Chronicles 25:1-5). This music accompanied by musical instruments was prescribed by the Lord through David and the prophets Gad and Nathan. When Hezekiah restored temple worship years later, the Scripture (2 Chronicles 29:25) says that

He stationed the Levites in the temple of the LORD with cymbals, harps and lyres in the way prescribed by David and Gad the king’s seer and Nathan the prophet; this was commanded by the LORD through his prophets.

THE GATEKEEPERS. The gatekeepers, both Obed-Edom in Jerusalem, and Jeduthun in Gibeon, were Levites (1 Chronicles 26:1-4). David did not pick their names out of a hat, but before he was king and even before the death of Samuel, he had discussed these appointments with Samuel the prophet (1 Chronicles 9:22-23). All of David's steps with regard to worship at Gibeon and Jerusalem were directed by the Lord.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Good Intentions Not Optional

Reflections on 2 Samuel 6:12-19
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Good intentions are not sufficient, as David learned when he tried to bring the ark of the Lord to Jerusalem the first time. Neither are good intentions optional. Thus, David put his good intentions to work again when he saw that God blessed the house of Obed-Edom where David had left the ark after Uzzah died. He was assured that God would bless all Israel as he had Obed-Edom, if the ark was brought to Jerusalem, so David resolved to bring it to Jerusalem in accordance with the instructions God had given Moses. This time, David would be well informed in addition to being well intentioned.

AN HONOR GUARD. Again, an honor guard accompanied the ark. This time it included priests, Levites (1 Chronicles 15:14), and the elders of Israel as well as the commanders of the army (1 Chronicles 15:25). Thus, the procession resembled the procession of the Israelites as they traveled from one place to another in the wilderness (Numbers 10:17-28). This would be the ark's final journey.

CONSECRATED LEVITES. This time, David did not transport the ark of the Lord on a new cart. Instead, David consecrated Levites to carry the ark (v. 13). Neither the oxen nor the cart were Levites. Uzzah and Ahio may not have been a Levites either. Levites alone were to carry the ark (1 Chronicles 15:2, 12-13), and they "carried the ark of God with the poles on their shoulders, as Moses had commanded in accordance with the word of the Lord" (1 Chronicles 15:15; Numbers 4:15; 7:9; Exodus 25:13-14). The priests, who had also consecrated themselves, offered sacrifices after the Levites had carried the ark six steps.

WHOLEHEARTED CELEBRATION. In his enthusiasm for the Lord, David appointed some Levites to sing, and others to play musical instruments (1 Chronicles 15:16, 19) so that the procession was accompanied "with rejoicing" (v. 12), with dancing (v. 14), and "with shouts and the sound of trumpets" (v. 15). The people's hearts overflowed with heartfelt joy and thanksgiving.

A PREPARED TENT. In addition to discovering that the ark was to be carried by Levites, David also learned that the ark was kept in a tent. Accordingly, he pitched a tent for it in Jerusalem before it arrived (v. 17; see also 1 Chronicles 15:1). The tent that originally housed the ark had for years been in Shiloh, but Shiloh was apparently destroyed by the Philistines (Jeremiah 7:12-14) after they captured the ark. The tent and its furnishings that survived the destruction at Shiloh were transferred to Gibeon, and David assigned Zadok to serve as priest there (see 1 Chronicles 16:39-40; 21:29). Sacrifices continued to be offered on the altar at Gibeon until an altar was built in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the ark of the Lord had traveled to Philistia and then back to Kirjath-jearim, where it had been neglected for years. David prepared a new tent for the ark in Jerusalem because God had told David that he had chosen Jerusalem as the place for his Name (Deuteronomy 12:1-7; 2 Kings 21:7-8). In all David did, he showed great respect for the will of God.

OFFERING AND BLESSING. David purchased burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. The people shared in the feasting and fellowship. David blessed the people in the name of the Lord and provided a generous gift of food to each one attending the celebration. This time the journey of the ark was not aborted by a tragic death. Rather, the journey was completed, and the lives of the people were blessed by God's bountiful favor.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Insufficiency of Good Intentions

Reflections on 2 Samuel 6:1-11
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Good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.
-- Albert Camus

Since the days of Samuel, the ark had been in Baalah of Judah (Kirjath-Jearim). The Philistines had taken the ark to Philistia after capturing it in battle, but they set it on a cart after experiencing God's wrath, and the milk cows had taken the cart to Beth Shemesh in Israel. From there, the ark was taken to Baalah (Kirjath-jearim) seven or eight miles west of Jerusalem, where it had been neglected for about two generations. David did not think it should be neglected any longer, and after consulting with the leaders of Israel, decided to bring the ark to Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 13:1-4). David showed the sincerity of his intentions in four ways.

AN HONOR GUARD. David took thirty thousand "chosen" soldiers to accompany the ark of God to Jerusalem. The best in all Israel gave honor to the God of their fathers.

A NEW CART. David did not use some farmer's old cart that would have defiled the holy ark set upon it. Rather, out of sincere respect, he prepared a "new cart" for this sacred chest with the wings of the cherubim spreading over the mercy seat.

WHOLEHEARTED CELEBRATION. Rejoicing with thanksgiving, David and the people of Israel celebrated "with all their might" as is appropriate for worshiping God.

CONSCIENTIOUS CARE. When the oxen stumbled on a threshing floor, Uzzah conscientiously reached out to steady the ark lest it fall and be damaged.

Uzzah had good intentions, as did David and all Israel, yet the Lord's anger burned against Uzzah for what he did, and the Lord struck him down so that he died there beside the ark. At first, David was angry. What happened seemed a harsh penalty for a person seeking to protect the ark of God. It also seemed an insult to David's intentions. But then David was overcome with reverent fear. Because of his fear, he left the ark of God in the care of Obed-Edom, a Levite living nearby, and returned home to seek the heart of the Lord. There in the presence of God and his word, David learned how to bring his intentions into conformity with the will of God.

Friday, October 14, 2011

God's Favor

Reflections on 2 Samuel 5:11-12
Use the frame on the left to read these Scriptures.

We have followed David’s wars against the enemies of Israel to their conclusion about half way through his 40-year reign.  Now we will return to the time shortly after David made Jerusalem his capital and his fame was beginning to grow beyond the borders of Israel.  We will now follow domestic affairs until the end of his reign.     

TYRE.  Tyre, a city on the Mediterranean Sea about 100 miles north of Jerusalem, was the principle seaport on the Phoenician coast.  Its ships carried products from the east all across the Mediterranean Sea, and the Phoenicians established colonies as far away as Carthage in northern Africa.  The lands belonging to Tyre bordered the territory allotted to the tribe of Asher.  

HIRAM.  Hiram, the king of Tyre, was favorably disposed toward David and helped him build a palace of stone and cedar wood.  What David provided to Hiram in exchange for the cedar wood and craftsmen is not stated.  Perhaps, as in Solomon’s time, Hiram received agricultural products which his lands were incapable of producing in sufficient amounts (1 Kings 5:10, 18), or he wanted access to the trade routes through Israel.   Regardless, Hiram found it to his benefit to be on friendly terms with David.  (Archaeologists tell us that Hiram I did not become king until late in David’s reign, so this king may have been a predecessor.  Regardless, David had a palace of cedar before the events recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1-2, which were in the first half of David’s reign.) 

GOD’S FAVOR. When Hiram recognized David as ruler of Israel, David understood that 1) God had established him as king, and 2) God had exalted his kingdom.  That knowledge, however did not make him arrogant for he also understood that, ultimately, God did it all “for the sake of his people Israel.”    

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Fall of the Proud

Reflections on 2 Samuel 12:26-31

When Hanun, king of Ammon, insulted David's messengers, he knew he would make David his enemy, but he may also have felt confident that he could defend himself against any resulting aggression. Historians tell us that during six centuries of Ammonite rule in Rabbah, its defenses were breached only once, and that by David's army (George M. Landes, "The Material Civilization of the Ammonites," The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2, p. 76). David's accomplishment followed a thorough, if slow, preparation. David defeated Ammon's allies to the north and south, took control of the King's Highway from Aram to Edom, and isolated Rabbah behind its city walls. After two or three years of preparation, David sent Joab out to besiege Rabbah in the spring of the year (1 Chronicles 20:1).

THE SIEGE. Even after such thorough preparations, Rabbah did not fall immediately. It was at least a year before Joab captured the "royal citadel." When he had done so, he informed David that he had captured the water supply, which the royal citadel may have protected, so that David could come and direct the final capture of the city.

THE CAPTURE. The city fell into David's hands like a ripe plum, and he took a great quantity of plunder from the city. One of the notable items was a crown of gold weighing 75 pounds. It is hard to imagine a king lifting let alone wearing a crown weighing 75 pounds, so from ancient times it has been suggested that the crown sat on the idol of the Ammonite god Milcom or Molech (both king and Molech are spelled "mlk" in Hebrew). The crown, or a jewel from the crown, was placed briefly on David's head as a symbol of David's power over the Ammonites (Smith, 2000, p. 434).

THE PUNISHMENT. The price for insulting David's messengers was steep. David put the Ammonites of Rabbah and the surrounding towns to work with stone-cutting saws, picks, and axes and in making bricks. All of these tasks, which require heavy manual labor, are related to building walls and other large structures which David may have used to strengthen the defenses of many Israelite cities (see Bergen, 2001, p. 378). (Some translations such as the KJV and NASB suggest that David tortured and killed the Ammonites with these instruments, but the language is not clear. The ESV and NIV say that David sentenced them to hard labor with them.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Noose Tightens

Reflections on 2 Samuel 8:13-14

Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites about 40 miles east of Jerusalem, was so well defended that it was seldom besieged (George M. Landes, "The Material Civilization of the Ammonites," The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2, p. 76). Not wanting to besiege Rabbah as long as allies could come to its aid, David decided to cut the city off from the Edomites, who could assist it from the south.

THE ENEMY. The Hebrew text, followed by the KJV and NASB, says that David struck down Arameans in the Valley of Salt, but the LXX and the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 18:12, followed by the NIV, say that he struck down Edomites there. The title to Psalm 60 also mentions a slaughter of Edomites in the Valley of Salt after Joab returned from fighting in Aram-Zobah. Although the exact location of the Valley of Salt is not known, it was undoubtedly south of Jerusalem near the Edomite homelands, so David's enemy here appears to be the Edomites. The difference in writing Aram and Edom are the characters R and D, which look very much alike in Hebrew and could easily be misread by a copyist.

THE SLAUGHTER. Apparently, while Joab was fighting against Aram, Abishai went out and defeated the Edomites (1 Chronicles 18:12). When Joab returned from Aram (Psalm 60, title), he joined forces with Abishai, and stayed in Edom for about six months for clean-up operations (1 Kings 11:15-16). Although a great number of Edomites were killed at this time, Israel never occupied Edom because God had given that country to Isaac's son Esau/Edom (Deuteronomy 2:5). Nevertheless, David did place garrisons there, as he had in Damascus, and the Edomites were subject to him (see Genesis 25:23).

THE KING'S HIGHWAY. The King's Highway was a major trade route which came from Aram, passed south through Rabbah in Ammon, and continued south through Moab and Edom. The Ammonites had sought help from Aram to the north, but David defeated them and set up garrisons in Aram taking control of the King's Highway to the north. Then David's victory over Edom took control of the King's Highway to the south. (He had already defeated Moab.) Not only did David's victories in Aram and Edom strangle Ammon economically, they also cut off the routes over which military assistance might come to Ammon. An impassable desert was east of Ammon, and David's armies were to the west.

For perhaps three years after insulting David's emissaries, Ammon's capital, Rabbah, had escaped the wrath of David. However, during that time, David cut Rabbah off from all economic and military aid. Ammon was isolated, and the noose began to tighten around Ammon's neck.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lord's Victories

Reflections on 2 Samuel 8:3-12
The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.
-- 2 Samuel 8:6, 14
When a person is successful, he often takes credit for it assuming that there is something about himself that makes him superior to anyone else. Consequently, this successful person thinks that the spoils are rightfully his. He thinks that no one else deserves them. In contrast to this, David never forgot that his success was really the work of God. Consequently, he did not keep the spoils of war for himself, but dedicated them to the Lord.

GOD'S PROMISE. After Hadadezer king of Zobah lost two battles while trying to give support to the Ammonites, some of the kingdoms who had been his vassals or allies gave their support to David. Other kingdoms subject to him decided to throw off his fetters and be independent. Hadadezer was compelled to try to reestablish his control over these kingdoms along the Euphrates River. David did not want Hadadezer to reestablish his power and decided to attack Zobah, about 60 miles north of Damascus. God gave David victory over the Arameans of Zobah and over the Arameans of Damascus when they tried to come to Hadadezer's rescue. Consequently, David put garrisons in Damascus, and all the Arameans became subject to David and sent him tribute. In this way, David extended Israel's control to the Euphrates River in accordance with God's promise (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31; etc.).

GOD'S PLUNDER. Moses had forbidden Israel's kings to accumulate gold and silver (Deuteronomy 17:17), so David dedicated the plunder, tribute, and gifts to God rather than amassing greater and greater wealth for himself. David recognized God's superiority over idols and expressed his gratitude to God for giving Israel victory. He wanted this immense wealth (more than 3,000 tons of gold and 30,000 tons of silver according to 1 Chronicles 22:14) to be used to build a temple for God. He proved superior to his son Solomon, who used the tribute brought to him to increase his personal wealth (1 Kings 10:14-23). Unlike Solomon, David never wavered in his faith and gratitude to God. Nevertheless, it is sobering to observe that even while he was dedicating these resources for a temple for God in Jerusalem, David committed adultery and plotted the death of Uriah. As David later recognized, God was not nearly as pleased with the gifts and sacrifices that David brought as He would have been with a humble heart and obedient life (Psalm 51:16-17).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Spilled Lemonade

Reflections on 2 Samuel 10:15-19

Someone once said that when life gives you a lemon, make lemonade.  Joab gave Hadadezer and his Aramean army a lemon at Medeba.  Hadadezer decided to make lemonade, though I am sure he had more than that in mind.  He hoped to make sure that Ammon remained his vassal and perhaps even hoped to gain control over Israel.  God dumped his pitcher of lemonade.

EMBARRASSMENT REPEATED.  After the embarrassing defeat at Medeba, Hadadezer king of Zobah (2 Samuel 8:3) sought reinforcements from his Aramean kinsmen on the other side of the Euphrates River.  Shobach, Hadadezer's commander, led this army south to aid the Ammonites a second time, but David led his army out to meet Hadadezer at Helam just east of the Sea of Galilee and well north of Ammon.  When the two armies clashed, the Arameans again fled before David.  This time David's army did not retire to Jerusalem but pressed their advantage and killed a large number of foot soldiers, horsemen, and charioteers.  (See any of the commentaries listed regarding the different numbers of the slain in Samuel and Chronicles.)  Furthermore, they killed Shobach, the commander of the combined armies.

VASSALS STATES LOST.  When the kings who were Hadadezer's vassals, saw that David had defeated Hadadezer decisively, many of them abandoned Hadadezer and made peace with David becoming subject to him.  This alliance with the kings immediately north of Israel gave David an additional source of revenue and strengthened his control "over the Via Maris and the King's Highway, the two most important international roads of that region" (Bergen, 2001, p. 361).

AMMONITE ALLIANCE CANCELLED.  Hadadezer lost a large part of his army and the allegiance of several vassals in the battle at Helam.  Consequently, Hadadezer was unwilling to come to the aid of the Ammonites any more.  The Ammonites lost the alliance they were depending on and for which they had paid about 37 tons of silver.  The next time the Ammonites faced David, they would face him alone.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Insulting an Alligator

Reflections on 2 Samuel 10:1-14 and 1 Chronicles 19:1-15
Never insult an alligator until you've crossed the river.
-- Cordell Hull
The Ammonites lived just north and east of the Dead Sea. Like the Moabites, they were descendants of Lot. The king of Ammon had been Nahash (perhaps the son of the king who had threatened the town of Jabesh in Gilead during Saul's reign - 1 Samuel 11:1 ff.). His son, Hanun, became king some time after David had established himself in Jerusalem. The two young kings were polar opposites.

FIDELITY VS SUSPICION. When King Nahash died, David sent emissaries to express kindness to his son Hanun. "Kindness" in the NIV is translated "loyalty" in the ESV, and it refers to covenant loyalty (Smith, 2000, p. 413). In other words, David wanted to maintain the same friendly relations between himself and Hanun as he had had with Nahash, his father. Hanun's advisors, however, planted suspicions in his mind. "Perhaps," they said, "David is not really honoring your father but spying out our defenses. David intends to overthrow us just as he did the Moabites." Consequently, Hanun became skeptical of David's loyalty and motives, and he refused David's offer of sympathy.

INSULT VS EMPATHY. Hanun wanted to send an emphatic "No" to David's offer of friendship, so he chose to insult David's emissaries. He cut off their beards on one side of their faces, cut their garments off short enough to expose their buttocks, and sent them away. Not only did he humiliate the emissaries, but he also forced them to be in violation of God's Law (see Leviticus 19:27 and Numbers 15:38-39). When David was told what Hanun had done, he understood that the emissaries were humiliated and gave them permission to remain in Jericho until their beards had grown back. When Hanun insulted the emissaries, David understood how they felt and allowed them to save face rather than returning home immediately.

HIRELINGS VS HOMEOWNERS. After Hanun insulted David's messengers and rejected David's offer of friendship, he realized that he was not prepared for war. He had insulted the alligator before crossing the river. Accordingly, he hired an army of 33,000 Aramean soldiers with about 37 tons of silver. These Aramean soldiers, from the area east of the Sea of Galilee and northward, went to join the Ammonite army which had occupied Medeba (see 1 Chronicles 19:7), a town belonging to Reuben (Joshua 13:15-16) on the plateau southeast of Mt. Nebo. David heard this and sent Joab with his army to Medeba. When Joab arrived, he found himself trapped between the Ammonites in front of the city gate and the Arameans behind. Joab took the best troops to fight against the Arameans, and put Abishai over the rest who were to fight the Ammonites. Before the battle began, Joab encouraged his soldiers with these words:
Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. The LORD will do what is good in his sight.
-- 2 Samuel 10:12
When David's men turned on the hireling Arameans behind them, they fled, and the Ammonites took refuge inside the city.

Joab did not pursue the battle with the Ammonites at the time. Perhaps he did not wish to besiege an occupied city such as Medeba because it contained many Reubenites. Rabbah, the capital of the Ammonites some 20 miles to the north, was so well defended that it was seldom besieged (George M. Landes, "The Material Civilization of the Ammonites," The Biblical Archaeologist Reader, 2, p. 76). Joab returned to Jerusalem while the Aramean returned home to plan their return.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blessing and Cursing

Reflections on 2 Samuel 8:2

God promised Abraham that from his descendants there would come one who would bless all nations.  In order to guarantee that promise, he resolved to bless those who blessed Abraham's descendants and curse those who cursed his descendants.  Egypt enslaved Abraham's descendants, the Israelites, and so experienced God's curse.  When Israel approached the Promised Land to enter it, the Moabites refused to give them bread or even water, and hired the prophet Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22:1 ff.).  In so doing, they brought God's curse on themselves.

REFUGE ABANDONED.  When David was running from Saul, he had taken his parents to Moab, the homeland of his great-grandmother Ruth, for safety (1 Samuel 22:3).  His parents stayed with the king of Moab "all the time that David was in the stronghold."  However, Moses had forbidden making any peace agreement with Moab (Deuteronomy 23:3-6), so the prophet Gad advised David to return to Judah, and David left his stronghold in Moab immediately.  David's parents apparently left Moab safely at the same time even though an old Jewish tradition says that the king of Moab murdered them (Kirkpatrick in Youngblood, 1992, p. 903).

VICTORY FORESEEN.  The text gives no clue about the immediate cause of David's war against Moab.  Perhaps the king of Moab had been offended when David had neither left his parents in Moab nor made a peace agreement with him.  He may have found that sufficient reason to attack David when he became king.  Whatever the cause of the conflict, the war was fought and Moab was crushed by a king from Judah just as God had foretold through Balaam, the prophet Moab had hired to curse Israel (Numbers 24:17).
SOLDIERS SPARED.  When David fought the Amalekites, he left none alive in accordance with God's command regarding the Amalekites (Deuteronomy 25:19), but when he defeated the Moabites, he spared one third of the soldiers because God had forbidden the Israelites to occupy Moab (Deuteronomy 2:9).  Killing two thirds of the soldiers probably guaranteed that Moab would not raise a formidable force against Israel in the near future, but it did not exterminate the people.  Thereafter, the Moabites became subject to David and paid tribute to Israel.