13. The Legacy of David (2 Samuel 21-1 Kings 2)

Audio (1:18:39)

James J. Tissot, 'David Singing and Playing the Harp' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, 'David Singing and Playing the Harp' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York. Larger image.

The final four chapters of 2 Samuel form a kind of appendix to Samuel -- but since 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings probably once formed a single work, they are more likely an "aside" or "excursus" within the flow of the narrative..

2 Samuel 21-24 includes six elements, none of which can be easily dated within David's story. That's why they're probably grouped together here towards the end of David's life.

  1. Exploits of David's Mighty Men against the Philistines (21:15-22)

  2. David's Song of Praise (chapter 22 = Psalm 18)

  3. The Last Words of David (23:1-7)
  4. David's Mighty Men (23:8-39, already treated in Lesson 4)

  5. David's Census of Israel (2 Samuel 24:1-9)

We conclude with David's death and Solomon's accession to the throne in 1 Kings 1-2.

Note: This is a long lesson. If your group or class are short on time, you might want to treat David's Song of Praise (2 Samuel 22 = Psalm 18) as a separate lesson.

Vengeance for the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1-14)

The first of these elements, bringing justice for the Gibeonites, probably occurred between the time David had brought Mephibosheth to his table (9:1-3) and Absalom's rebellion, since that's the point when Shimei accuses David of the blood of Saul's household (16:7-8).

What precipitates the crisis is a prolonged drought. The greatest rainfall in Israel typically occurs between November and March, with a long dry summer. Fall rains were referred to as the "early or former rain"; spring rains were referred to as the "latter rain."[275] The Israelites were used to erratic rainfall, often with a year or two of drought. But when the crops failed for three years in a row, the people were desperate.

The narrator tells us that in the third year of famine, "David sought the face of the Lord" (21:1a). God spoke to him either through his own prophetic gift, or through his court prophet (Gad or Nathan), or through the Urim and Thummim cast by the high priest. In any case, the word of the Lord was clear concerning the cause of the drought:

"It is on account of Saul and his blood-stained house; it is because he put the Gibeonites to death." (21:1b)

Gibeon is a city about five miles northwest of Jerusalem , identified as the present-day el-Jîb.[276] "You may recall that during the Conquest centuries earlier, the Gibeonites had tricked Joshua into thinking that they were from far away.

"Then Joshua made a treaty of peace with them to let them live, and the leaders of the assembly ratified it by oath." (Joshua 9:15)

Throughout the intervening years, the Gibeonites had continued as an ethnic enclave within Israel. By now they seem to be worshippers of Yahweh with the rest of Israel.

We aren't told elsewhere of the incident where Saul, "in his zeal for Israel and Judah had tried to annihilate[277] them." Verse 5 indicates that this is a deliberate plan to exterminate the entire people group.[278] Hundreds of Gibeonites have been killed despite promised protection under the ancient treaty. Because of this broken covenant, God has withheld the rain. He expects Israel to take seriously what they have pledged.

So David asks the Gibeonites how Israel might make amends and treats them with great deference. Since Saul is dead and cannot be judged for his bloodguilt, they tell David:

"Let seven of his male descendants be given to us to be killed and exposed before the LORD at Gibeah of Saul -- the Lord's chosen one." (21:6)

Their request seems just as a retribution-in-kind according to the Torah (Exodus 21:23; Leviticus 24:21; Deuteronomy 19:21).

"You must purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you." (Deuteronomy 19:13b)

"Atonement cannot be made for the land on which blood has been shed, except by the blood of the one who shed it." (Numbers 35:33)

True, the Torah specifies that the children should not be punished for the deeds of their fathers (Deuteronomy 24:16; Ezekiel 18:4, 20), but in a kind of corporate identity sense, Saul's descendants bare his guilt (Exodus 34:7; Numbers 14:18). This is a difficult case, but David is eager to remove the curse of famine from upon his people (Leviticus 26:20; Deuteronomy 28:18). Saul's seven male descendants are symbolic, seven representing the totality,[279] though hundreds of Gibeonites had actually been slaughtered.[280]

As chief judge in Israel, David has to walk carefully because of other covenants and oaths. David's covenant with Jonathan precludes any of his descendants being given over (1 Samuel 18:3; 20:42; 23:18). David had also made a pledge to Saul. Saul had asked David:

"'Now swear to me by the LORD that you will not cut off my descendants or wipe out my name from my father's family.' So David gave his oath to Saul." (1 Samuel 24:21-22a)

The operative verbs are "cut off" (kārat, figuratively, "root out, eliminate, remove, excommunicate, or destroy by a violent act"[281]) and "wipe out" (NIV, NRSV), "destroy" (KJV, shāmad, "destroy, annihilate"[282]).

The seven descendants that the Gibeonites ask for aren't an exact retribution, and David decides to spare Mephibosheth and his descendants -- thus keeping his covenant to Jonathan and his oath to Saul, since by sparing Mephibosheth, he maintains Saul's line from being completely eliminated. However, David designates two sons of Rizpah, Saul's concubine, and five of Saul's grandsons and turns them over to the Gibeonites to expiate for Saul's attempted genocide that breached the covenant.

The form of execution is not specified.[283] Whatever the method, afterward their bodies are left exposed on the hillside rather than buried as a sign of dishonor and punishment (1 Samuel 17:44; Psalm 79:2; Jeremiah 16:4). But to prevent jackals and vultures from tearing their corpses, Rizpah, mother of two of the men, protects them day and night until the longed-for rain finally comes down. When David hears of Rizpah's valiant act, he takes their bones and buries them with the bones of Saul and Jonathan, which were reburied with honor at this time.[284]

"After that," the narrator records, "God answered prayer in behalf of the land." (21:14b).

David Is Too Weak to Go to War (2 Samuel 21:15-17)

Now we come to the second element in this "aside" or "appendix." Though this incident is not set chronologically, I imagine that David is in his mid-60s by now (though some see this taking place earlier).[285] All his life, the Philistines have been a threat, except for a period when David's forces had utterly subdued them. Now they are probably beginning to raid the cities of Judah in the Shepelah or low hills to the west.

During Absalom's ascension to the throne and civil war, it is likely that vassals on the edges of the empire took advantage of Israel preoccupation with civil war. "The natives are restless." To maintain an empire of this type takes constant diplomacy as well as military vigilance.

Once David is firmly in control of Jerusalem again, his army is called out to meet them. Joab is commander, but David, who has been a warrior from his youth, doesn't want to miss the excitement of battle.

The forces come together in close combat. David's opponent is Ishbi-Benob, apparently a huge warrior descended from Rapha, part of a family of giants mentioned in 21:18-22, perhaps the Rephaim that had lived east of the Jordan (Deuteronomy 2:10, 20-21; 3:11).[286] Ishbi-Benob's bronze spearhead is massive -- 7½ pounds! -- but only half the weight of Goliath's iron spearhead (1 Samuel 17:7). David thinks he can defeat him, but he becomes exhausted during combat at close quarters with this formidable foe. The fatal blow is near. Just then, Abishai, Joab's brother, sees what is going on, steps in, and strikes down the giant. David is shaken, but untouched.

It is a wake-up call for both David and his men. After that, David's men swear a binding oath[287] to David:

"Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished." (21:17c)

David is more valuable to them as a living king, than as an aged but decapitated warrior. Emotionally, this is like forced retirement, like a person's children taking away their father's car because he can't drive safely any longer. Elderly people all over the world face this time of their lives. David was no exception.

The image of the "lamp of Israel" perhaps draws on the lampstand in the tabernacle (Exodus 27:20-21). We see the image later in the Bible with regard to David's descen­dants (1 Kings 11:36; 15:4; Psalm 132:17). The burning lamp also may be an image of life (Job 21:17; Proverbs 13:19; 20:20; 24:20).

Victories Over Renowned Philistine Warriors (2 Samuel 21:18-22)

The narrator takes this opportunity to recount other exploits of David's men over Philistine giants.

  1. Abishai kills Ishbi-Benob (21:17), recounted above.
  2. Sibbecai the Hushathite kills Saph (21:18).

  3. Elhanan [perhaps a personal name for David] son of Jaare-Oregim the Bethlehemite kills Goliath the Gittite (21:19; cf. 1 Samuel 17).[288]
  4. Jonathan son of Shimeah, David's brother, kills "a huge man with six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot." R.K. Harrison notes:

"People who exhibit gigantic stature usually have either genetic abnormalities or some disease. That 2 Samuel 21:20 mentions a giant who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot seems to indicate that the individual concerned was the product of genetic mutation."[289]

We're not sure about the location of Gob, since there is an uncertainty concerning the original text.

David's Song of Praise (2 Samuel 22 = Psalm 18)

Next in our "appendix" or "aside" is a representative psalm from David, the premier songwriter of all time. The psalm is a relatively long song, nearly identical with Psalm 18 in the Psalter. Note the ascription:

"David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul." (22:1)

David writes this psalm to commemorate the end of the constant stress and conflict that characterize his life for the five or six years he is a fugitive from Saul. Before you read it, let me explain a bit about Hebrew poetry. In English, we expect both rhyme and rhythm in song lyrics and poems -- or did before the days of free verse. But Hebrew poetry is different; it has several distinctive features:

  1. Imagery. Hebrew poetry often uses vivid images. In this psalm we see rock, fortress, stronghold, "waves of death" swirling, "cords of the grave" entangling one's feet, and so on. Don't expect to take this imagery literally. These images are figurative, used to bring thoughts and feelings to the fore. Psalms are designed to be read aloud and experienced, not just studied and analyzed.
  2. Parallelism. We normally see two types of parallelism. Occasionally, we'll see antithetic parallelism, where the first line says the positive, while the second line says the same thing in a negative way (e.g. Psalm 1:6; 34:10; Proverbs 3:33). But much more common is so-called synonymous or synthetic parallelism, where the first line says it one way, and the second (and occasionally third line) says the same thing with a bit of variation, moving the idea forward slightly.
  3. Beat. There are many theories about how the beat of a line worked, but Hebrew scholars don't really understand it very well.
  4. Acrostic. Nine psalms in the Psalter (but neither of the two we examine in this lesson) are acrostic in nature, that is, each verse or section begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet (Psalms 9, 10, 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145).

Notice that in the psalm in our passage, "LORD" is prominent (16 times), rather than the generic word "God" (el, 10 times), usually as "my God" -- the God he relates to personally. "LORD" (often expressed in small caps in our English Bibles) represents the Hebrew word Adonai that was substituted for the divine name when pious Jews read the Hebrew Scriptures, to keep them from breaking the Third Commandment and misusing God's revealed name: Yahweh (Exodus 20:7).

As you examine the following psalm, look for both the imagery and parallelism that are characteristic of Hebrew poetry. I've included some section titles to help you see the flow of David's thought. Now read it aloud, section by section. Hear your own voice say these mighty words of faith!

Praise to Yahweh My Rock (22:2-4)

David uses the language of natural rocky fastnesses, like those he inhabited in the Judean wilderness when Saul was chasing him.

"2 The LORD is my rock,
my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior --
from violent men you save me.
4 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies." (22:2-4)

My Desperate Need (22:5-6)

"5 The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
6 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me." (22:5-6)

What a wonderful description of the terrors of death! David uses the imagery of waves and waterfalls, of ropes and snares like those you'd use to trap a bird or animal.

My Prayer to Yahweh (22:7)

In his terror, David calls upon Yahweh, and from his Holy Place God hears.

"In my distress I called to the LORD;
I called out to my God.
From his temple he heard my voice;
my cry came to his ears." (22:7)

Yahweh's Awesome Response to My Prayer (22:8-12)

David's description of Yahweh's response to his prayer is graphic and filled with power. Whoever his opponents were, they didn't plan on confronting the Almighty God himself!

"8 The earth trembled and quaked,
the foundations of the heavens shook;
they trembled because he was angry.
9 Smoke rose from his nostrils;
consuming fire came from his mountain,
burning coals blazed out of it.
10 He parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under his feet.
11 He mounted the cherubim and flew;
he soared on the wings of the wind.
12 He made darkness his canopy around him --
the dark rain clouds of the sky." (22:8-12)

Yahweh Confronts my Enemies (22:13-16)

Now these enemies are directly attacked by Yahweh's weapons -- bolts of lightning, deafening thunder, and mighty wind.

"13 Out of the brightness of his presence bolts of lightning blazed forth.
14 The LORD thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.
15 He shot arrows and scattered [the enemies],
bolts of lightning and routed them.
16 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
 at the rebuke of the LORD,
at the blast of breath from his nostrils." (22:13-16)

Yahweh Rescues Me (22:17-20)

Now David moves from the dramatic and poetic to the personal and intimate. He knows what it is to be rescued by Yahweh. He has faced Saul's 3,000-man army. He says that God personally reached down, took hold of him, and set him down in a "spacious place" that is free of danger. The reason? God's pure grace: "He delighted[290] in me." David is a man after God's own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). David has seen the awesome deliverance of Almighty God.

"17 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
18 He rescued[291] me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
19 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the LORD was my support.
20 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued[292] me because he delighted in me." (22:17-20)

My Righteous Path before Yahweh (22:21-25)

This psalm is written before David's grievous sin in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah. At this point, David understands that Yahweh has delivered him because of his care to live a righteous life. But, later, when David is blood-guilty, it is different. Then he had to rely solely on the mercy of God, jast as we trust in the grace of God in the cross of Christ.[293] In Psalm 32 he understands this better:

"Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him
and in whose spirit is no deceit." (Psalm 32:1-2)

Our psalm -- written before David's great sin -- continues:

"21 The LORD has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
22 For I have kept the ways of the LORD;
I have not done evil by turning from my God.
23 All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
24 I have been blameless before him
and have kept myself from sin.
25 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
according to my cleanness in his sight." (22:21-25)

Yahweh's Salvation for Those Who Trust Him (22:26-28)

 "26 To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
27 to the pure you show yourself pure,
but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
28 You save the humble,
but your eyes are on the haughty to bring them low." (22:26-28)

To David's credit, when he does confess his sins, he seeks God from a "broken and contrite heart" (Psalm 51:17). His heart, once crooked, has been cleansed. He humbles himself, and so is saved.

With Yahweh I Can Do Anything (22:29-37)

Because David has experienced the God of miracle deliverance, he realizes that through Yahweh he can do anything. His trust in the Lord soars. His confidence isn't in himself, but in the Lord.

"29 You are my lamp, O LORD;
the LORD turns my darkness into light.
30 With your help I can advance against a troop;
with my God I can scale a wall.
31 As for God, his way is perfect;
the word of the LORD is flawless.
He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
32 For who is God besides the LORD?
And who is the Rock except our God?
33 It is God who arms me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
34 He makes my feet like the feet of a deer;
he enables me to stand on the heights.
35 He trains my hands for battle;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
36 You give me your shield of victory;
you stoop down to make me great.
37 You broaden the path beneath me,
so that my ankles do not turn." (22:29-37)

I Have Vanquished My Enemies (22:38-43)

After he praises the God who enables him, David explains how thoroughly he has vanquished his enemies. He probably isn't thinking of Saul here, but of the Amalekites and perhaps the Philistines.

"38 I pursued my enemies and crushed them;
I did not turn back till they were destroyed.
39 I crushed them completely,
and they could not rise;
they fell beneath my feet.
40 You armed me with strength for battle;
you made my adversaries bow at my feet.
41 You made my enemies turn their backs in flight,
and I destroyed my foes.
42 They cried for help, but there was no one to save them --
to the LORD, but he did not answer.
43 I beat them as fine as the dust of the earth;
I pounded and trampled them like mud in the streets. " (22:38-43)

Now I Rule over Nations (22:44-46)

David, who began as a humble shepherd, has become -- through Yahweh's working -- an emperor and "head of nations," with vassals subject to him, obeying his commands. He marvels at God's amazing power.

"44 You have delivered me from the attacks of my people;
you have preserved me as the head of nations.
People I did not know are subject to me,
45 and foreigners come cringing to me;
as soon as they hear me, they obey me.
46 They all lose heart;
they come trembling from their strongholds." (22:44-46)

Praise Be to Yahweh Who Lives! (22:47-51)

David concludes the psalm with a personal note, with thanks to the God who has anointed him king and bestowed upon him an eternal dynasty, which, we know, culminates in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

"47 The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!
Exalted be God, the Rock, my Savior!
48 He is the God who avenges me,
who puts the nations under me,
49 who sets me free from my enemies.
You exalted me above my foes;
from violent men you rescued me.
50 Therefore I will praise you,
O LORD, among the nations;
I will sing praises to your name.
51 He gives his king great victories;
he shows unfailing kindness to his anointed,
to David and his descendants forever." (22:47-51)

The psalm ends with praise for Yahweh who lives! I think of the gospel chorus that goes:

"He lives, he lives!
Christ Jesus lives today!"[294]

The Prophet Jeremiah writes,

"The LORD is the true God;
he is the living God,
the eternal King." (Jeremiah 10:10)

Jesus said:

"I am the Living One;
I was dead,
and behold I am alive for ever and ever!" (Revelation 1:18)


Q1. (2 Samuel 22 = Psalm 18) What do you find the most inspiring in the language of this psalm? What encourages you the most? Write down all the various titles and metaphors used of God in this psalm.

Last Words of David -- a Psalm (2 Samuel 23:1-7)

The narrator and editor decides to place a short prophetic psalm here to sum up David's life and his role as the ideal king that successive kings should follow. It begins with a statement of the different roles God has assigned to David:

"These are the last words of David:
The oracle of David son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
Israel's singer of songs." (23:1)

David is represented here as:

  1. Prophet. "Oracle," which appears twice in verse 1, is neʾum, "utterance, oracle," a root that is used exclusively of divine speaking.[295] He is also recognized elsewhere in the Bible as a prophet (1 Chronicles 28:19; Matthew 22:43; Acts 2:30; 4:25).
  2. Israelite. He is the "son of Jesse." As a true Israelite, he is qualified to be king (Deuteronomy 17:15).
  3. Appointed. He is a humble shepherd who has been "raised up" or "appointed" to this role[296] by God himself. David is "the king the LORD your God chooses" (Deuteronomy 17:15).
  4. Anointed. He was anointed by Samuel, of course, but at the direction of "the God of Jacob." The Holy Spirit who comes upon him at his anointing is to change the course of his life. He is the ancestor of the Anointed One, the Messiah (Hebrew māshîaḥ).
  5. Sweet Psalmist (KJV). This phrase is made up of two words in Hebrew: zāmîr, "song"[297] and nāʿîm, "pleasant, sweet, lovely, agreeable."[298] I prefer "Israel's beloved singer" (NIV margin) or "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (KJV).[299]

Now David almost marvels at the prophetic gift he has been given:

"2 The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
3 The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me...." (23:2-3a)

To be used by the Great God of the Universe to fulfill His purposes is such a great and undeserved honor!

Now David comes to the main message of this prophetic word: the importance of ruling righteously, with respect to God and his will:

"3b When one rules over men in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.'" (23:3b-4)

The leader who rules righteously and fears God will be like:

  1. Light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning.

  2. Brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.

The psalmist uses imagery and parallelism to paint a picture of the brightness and refreshing glory for a people that righteous government brings.

The center of this short psalm shows David's wonder at God's grace towards him and his descendants. God has justified David and made with him and his offspring a secure and everlasting covenant. God's promises are great! David is assured of God's blessing to fulfill those promises:

"Will he not bring to fruition my salvation
and grant me my every desire?" (23:5d)

In verses 6-7 he contrasts the righteous with evil men and unrighteous rulers, who, like thorns, are gathered and burned.

"6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
which are not gathered with the hand.
7 Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron
or the shaft of a spear;
they are burned up where they lie." (23:6-7)

In this short psalm, we see in David a faith and wonder that characterizes his reign as well as his body of work in the Psalter. He praises God for His gracious prophetic Spirit, Yahweh's choice and anointing of him as king, for God's own righteousness, the God-given Davidic Covenant, and all that this Covenant will mean over the centuries to David and his descendants, and ultimately to the Son of David -- and all whose lives the Messiah touches.

Q2. (2 Samuel 23:1-7) How does David describe himself in verse 1? In what sense was David a prophet? What is the main message of verses 3-7? How can this psalm guide government officials and elected leaders in our day?

Exploits of David's Mighty Men (2 Samuel 23:8-39)

We looked at some of David's mighty men in Lesson 4 above, in the context of him gathering his army of 600 men.

David's Census of Israel (2 Samuel 24:1-9)

The final element in this "appendix" or set of "asides" concerns an incident that probably took place during the mid-portion of David's reign, perhaps in the phase when David is sending troops to conquer enemies and put down threats to Israel's security by its neighbors. Ultimately, as we saw in Lesson 10, David's troops subdue a huge empire at the east end of the Mediterranean. But not without cost.

Notice how this account begins: with God's anger against Israel, and desire to punish them for their sins. Specifically what these sins these are, we aren't told.

"The anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.'" (24:1)

Curiously, the Chronicler attributes this provocation to Satan, not Yahweh (1 Chronicles 21:1). Perhaps these two authors are looking at two sides of the same coin, where God uses Satan's temptations to work his will.[300] Just as earlier, where "an evil spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Samuel 16:14-16), we know that sometimes God uses evil and evil people to bring about his own righteous ends -- even if we can't understand it (e.g., 2 Corinthians 12:7; Isaiah 10:5). After all, we see this principle in the Davidic Covenant itself:

"I will be his father,
and he will be my son.
When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men,
with floggings inflicted by men." (7:14)

The purpose of the census, David says, is to "enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are" (24:2b). It seems to be a survey of potential military manpower available prior to a draft or conscription. Israel is expanding. It needs troops. What's wrong with that?

Strangely, impetuous Joab, who never lets rules get in his way when he wants to do something, is the one who warns the king against such an action:

"May the LORD your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?" (24:4)[301]

Joab knows the reason for the enrollment, but he is concerned about the result if they go through with it. However, David overrules Joab as well as his other generals, and orders the census.

The census took nearly ten months to complete. The result is 800,000 potential soldiers among the ten tribes of Israel, and an additional 500,000 in the tribe of Judah.[302]

What's Wrong with a Census?

We wonder what is wrong with taking this census. There are three basic explanations of what was sinful about conducting such a census. These are fairly complex, so bear with me.

1. Failure to collect the half-shekel tax. The traditional interpretation, beginning with Josephus,[303] is that the plague is a direct result of David's neglect to collect the appropriate half-shekel tax prescribed in the Torah, just as he had neglected to find out how the ark should be carried (6:7-8).[304] We read in Exodus:

"Then the LORD said to Moses, 'When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom[305] for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.'" (Exodus 30:11-12)

Then in Numbers 1:2-3, God tells Moses to undertake just such a permitted census for military purposes, with no adverse effect.

The idea behind the half-shekel ransom is redemption.[306] To use or possess something or someone that belongs to God, you must pay a redemption fee. We see this in the redemption of the firstborn son who belongs to the Lord (Exodus 13:2; 18:15-16). Some persons cannot be redeemed from their punishment at any price, such as a manslayer (Numbers 35:31-32).

Here, I think the sense is that every Israelite belongs to God. For the leader to number them in order to use them for the leader's purpose -- especially to put their lives in possible jeopardy in military service -- requires a redemption-fee from the owner.[307]

This redemption fee theory explains why David sins in not conducting the census properly (24:10) and why the punishment falls upon the people, who fail (unwittingly) to render the half-shekel when they are listed in the census (24:17).

What it doesn't explain is Joab's strong opposition to the census. If he had opposed it because he knew from the Torah it would bring a plague, certainly David would have listened to him and collected the half-shekel during the census. But Joab isn't the spiritual man vs. David the practical man. It's the other way around.[308] Something else is involved as well.

2. Placing excessive burdens on the people.  Some wonder whether the sin is that David is over-expanding the tribal militia in order to gain greater territory, and in the process, placing excessive burdens upon the people. We know that this was an unpopular practice of Solomon's, continued by his son Rehoboam with disastrous results (1 Kings 12:4, 10-11).

You'd think that Joab would be in favor of increasing the military, since it would increase his power. Perhaps "Joab and the army commanders" (24:4) oppose increasing the size of the tribal militia of volunteers at the expense of paying for regular troops. We don't know. However, Joab is a better judge of popular sentiment than David. He has saved David more than once (2 Samuel 19:7). The Chronicler includes one interesting detail that isn't found in 2 Samuel:

"But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him." (1 Chronicles 21:6)

It makes sense for the tribe of Levi to be excluded from combat because of their religious separation to Yahweh (Numbers 1:49; 2:33). But I expect that Joab is sensitive to Benjamin's simmering tribal resentments against David, because David had displaced Saul, the Benjamite king (2:15; 6:21; 16:5-11; 20:1; 21:1-14). That is why he disobeys David's orders and doesn't do the census in Benjamin. If people believe the king has placed excessive burdens on them, it will weaken David's hold on the kingdom.

This reason, however, doesn't explain why the plague comes upon Israel.

3. An attitude of pride and lack of trust. A final explanation -- not found in the text -- is that David's true sin is pride and lack of trust in Yahweh. Anderson comments:

"The military nature of the census may, perhaps, imply that the reason for Yahweh's anger was David's lack of trust. The king and the people should not rely on their own strength, but they should depend upon Yahweh (1 Samuel 14:6; Isaiah 31:1). Yahweh can deliver his people and give them victory 'by many or by few' (1 Samuel 14:6)."[309]

This makes sense. We get the feeling that David has been corrupted by his power and luxury, and is increasingly out-of-touch with the common people. This leads to the arrogance of his seduction of Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah (11:1-27), and to Absalom being able to drive a wedge between him and his people (15:2-6).

The problem is that the text doesn't blame David for pride or lack of trust. This may be true, but it is our speculation. Nor does it explain why the plague fell on the people.

When it comes down to it, we in the twenty-first century have trouble making sense of this incident that took place 3,000 years ago. My own conclusion is:

  1. The sin is taking the census without collecting the tax required by Torah. David's pride may have contributed to his blindness.

  2. Joab resists the command to take the military census for military and political reasons, not because the plan doesn't conform to the Torah.
  3. The bottom line is that Yahweh was angry with Israel's sins and seeks this cause to punish them.

Punishment for David's Sin (2 Samuel 24:10-15)

Whatever the reasons for the sin, after the census is complete, David realizes his sin. Perhaps the Lord speaks to him directly or through one of his court prophets.

"David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, 'I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.'" (24:10)

David may have been blinded by his pride, but when God speaks to him he has a tender and repentant heart before the Lord.

Gad the prophet, David's seer, brings David a three-way choice from Yahweh concerning Israel's (not David's) punishment for this sin:

  1. Three years of famine.
  2. Three months of being pursued by their enemies.

  3. Three days of plague.

David is ambivalent about the decision, but he chooses the third choice ultimately because he believes strongly in the mercy of his God.

"'14 Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.' 15 So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died." (24:14-15)

David Builds an Altar at the Threshing Floor of Araunah (2 Samuel 24:16-25)

Map: The Threshing Floor of Ahrunah and later site of Solomon's Temple.
Map: The Threshing Floor of Ahrunah and later site of Solomon's Temple. Larger map.

Sometimes parents grieve over the punishment they must give to discipline their children. The plague ravages the entire land of Israel. Now it comes to the City of David itself.

"When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, 'Enough! Withdraw your hand.' The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." (24:16)

David, too, is in deep grief over the suffering and death. He holds himself personally responsible!

"When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, 'I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.'" (24:17)

One of the struggles of leadership is the knowledge that your decisions affect the destinies of all those under your care. And one of the facts of life is that leaders make mistakes and sin. Fallibility goes hand-in-hand with responsibility. There is no way out; being leaderless is usually worse!

God answers David's anguished prayer. He sends Gad and tells him:

"Go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." (24:18)

Threshing was the process of removing the chaff and straw from the kernels of grain. The sheaves of grain would be brought to the threshing floor -- a round, flat, hard-packed place where there were prevailing breezes. It was usually bordered by stones to keep in the grain. A heavy, animal-drawn sledge would be dragged round and round over the sheaves to physically separate the grain kernels from the husks that surround them. Then this mixture of wheat, chaff, and straw is winnowed, tossed in the air with a kind of pitchfork or winnowing fork, and later with a shovel.[310] Patch explains:

"The light husks from the wheat and fine particles of straw are dispersed by the wind in the form of a fine dust; the heavier straw, which has been broken into short pieces by the threshing process, falls near at hand on the edge of the threshing floor, while the grain falls back upon the pile."[311]

Araunah is a Jebusite[312] farmer whose threshing floor is outside the walls of Jerusalem (at least at that point in history), on high ground where there would be a breeze. The Chronicler refers to this hill as Mount Moriah (2 Chronicles 3:1), apparently identifying it with the "the land of Moriah," where centuries before, Abraham had built an altar to sacrifice Isaac and Yahweh had provided a substitute (Genesis 22:2).

"So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide [Jehovah-Jireh or Yahweh Yireh]. And to this day it is said, 'On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.'" (Genesis 22:14)

(Interestingly, Yahweh provides a sacrifice again on Mount Moriah in the form of Araunah's oxen—though this time David pays for it.) We're also told that this is the location where Solomon's temple was later built (2 Chronicles 3:1).

When David climbs the hill, he sees Araunah there, who prostrates himself before the king. Then David explains his errand:

"'21b To buy your threshing floor,' David answered, 'so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped.'22 Araunah said to David, 'Let my lord the king take whatever pleases him and offer it up. Here are oxen for the burnt offering, and here are threshing sledges and ox yokes for the wood. 23a O king, Araunah gives all this to the king.'" (24:21b-23)

When the king who has conquered your city asks for something, you give it to him without question, if you want to stay alive -- or so Araunah probably thinks. Araunah voices his own desire that David's sacrifice will be successful in stopping the plague: "May the LORD your God accept you" (24:23b). The wording suggests that Yahweh is David's God, but perhaps not yet Araunah's.

 David explains that he didn't come to take the site by royal edit or eminent domain.

"'24 No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.' So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped."(2 Samuel 24:24-25)

I've often reflected on David's reason for paying for the sacrifice -- even though it was offered free.

"I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (24:24a)

When we give our tithes and offerings to the Lord, do we bring just a pittance. Or do we bring enough to actually cost us something? Is our tithe a mere token or a true piece of us?

It's interesting to see David here not only as king but as priest. It's possible, of course, that the priests actually offered the sacrifices at David's command, but they're not mentioned. Rather, like his ancestor Abraham on Mount Moriah, it's possible that David personally builds the altar, prepares the sacrifice, and intercedes for his nation.

"David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped." (24:25)

In 2 Samuel, David is seen as prophet (23:1-2), a priest,[313] and a king -- roles which the Son of David will bring to glorious completion in the cross and at his coming!

This incident teaches us several things about God and about David. God must punish his people when they sin, but desires to show mercy. Anderson says,

"David is portrayed as a man who is capable of making mistakes and who sins greatly, yet, at the same time, he is concerned for the welfare of his people and knows how to repent."[314]

This is how 2 Samuel concludes, with David the repentant king offering sacrifices to the Lord on what will become the temple mount.

Q3. (2 Samuel 24:14-25) Why does David choose the punishment of a plague on the people rather than his other choices? David insists on paying Araunah for the threshing floor and the sacrifices. What principle drives this decision? How should this principle guide our own giving to God?

David's Longing to Build the Temple

It seems, however, that following David's purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah, his passion to build the temple begins to increase. The Chronicler tells us that at this time David announces:

"The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel." (1 Chronicles 22:1)

Even though David knows that God doesn't want him to build the temple, he starts making preparations. It is also at this time that David begins to focus on his son Solomon to succeed him as king, even though Adonijah is the next oldest son (after the death of Absalom) in line to be king. Apparently, David makes no secret of which son he desires to succeed him. He announces:

"Of all my sons -- and the LORD has given me many -- he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the LORD over Israel." (1 Chronicles 28:5)

Chronicles records a conversation David had with his son Solomon regarding the temple:

"7 My son, I had it in my heart to build a house for the Name of the LORD my God. 8 But this word of the LORD came to me: 'You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight. 9 But you will have a son who will be a man of peace and rest, and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side. His name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign. 10 He is the one who will build a house for my Name....'

11 Now, my son, the LORD be with you, and may you have success and build the house of the LORD your God, as he said you would.... 14 I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the LORD a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone....

19 Now devote your heart and soul to seeking the LORD your God. Begin to build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that you may bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the sacred articles belonging to God into the temple that will be built for the Name of the LORD." (1 Chronicles 22:7-10, 11, 14, 19)

David also conducts a fundraising program among the leaders. First, he sets the example by generous giving. Then he calls on leaders of families, officers of the tribes, military commanders, and members of his court to give. He asks,

"Now, who is willing to consecrate himself today to the LORD?" (1 Chronicles 29:5b)

The Chronicler records that they give huge amounts of gold, silver, bronze, and iron for the project, as well as precious stones. The generous example of the leaders, in turn, encourages the people of Israel.

"The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly." (1 Chronicles 29: 9)

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, David also prepares architectural drawings for the entire temple complex.

"11 Then David gave his son Solomon the plans for the portico of the temple, its buildings, its storerooms, its upper parts, its inner rooms and the place of atonement. 12 He gave him the plans of all that the Spirit had put in his mind for the courts of the temple of the LORD and all the surrounding rooms, for the treasuries of the temple of God and for the treasuries for the dedicated things."

19 "All this," David said, "I have in writing from the hand of the LORD upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan." 1 Chronicles 28:11-12, 19)

David purchased the temple site (2 Chronicles 22:1) and stockpiled a huge supply of expensive raw materials -- as well as cut and dressed stones (1 Chronicles 22:2) -- so that Solomon would have it when he began to build, rather than have to take the time and money to assemble all this later.

In addition, David develops the "order of worship" for the temple. In the Torah, the Levites' main duties were for setting up, taking down, and moving the tabernacle. But with a sedentary tabernacle or temple, they didn't have much to do. David reorganized the Levites to supervise the construction of the temple, to be officials and judges in the kingdom, gatekeepers, temple treasurers, singers, and musicians (2 Chronicles 23:2-5 and chapters 24-26).

In addition, he writes psalms that make up much of the music that is sung and played during worship, first in the tent he pitched for the ark, and later for use in the temple itself.

All this probably took place while David is strong and healthy enough to get around and supervise the preparations.

We call the resulting structure "Solomon's Temple," but in large part it is David's pet project that Solomon constructed after David's death. It could well be called "David's Temple."

Q4. (1 Chronicles 22-29) Why do you think David prepares for the temple, even after the Lord refuses to let him build it? How did David cooperate with the Holy Spirit in designing the temple and its worship? How did David's example in giving motivate others to give?

Abishag the Shunammite (1 Kings 1:1-4)

We turn now to the first two chapters of 1 Kings to complete David's story. In the original Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Samuel were considered to be a part of 1 and 2 Kings, so our continuation of David's story is appropriate here.

The narrator moves from a series of appendices or asides that aren't dated back to a chronological account. We fast forward to David's last year or two of life. The picture that emerges from 1 Kings 1 is of a feeble king who has largely retreated from the power of the palace.

 "1 When King David was old and well advanced in years, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. 2 So his servants said to him, 'Let us look for a young virgin to attend the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.'

3 Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful girl and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. 4 The girl was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no intimate relations with her." (1 Kings 1:1-4)

To us it seems pretty bizarre to find a young teenage girl to sleep with an old king to keep him warm. We're far removed from the world of wealthy kings and their harems; we use electric blankets! There are various speculations about the reason that a beautiful virgin is sought for David. Was this planned as a way to revive his sexual desire as well as provide a warm body next to him?[315] We don't know. However, the narrator is seeking to make the reader aware of David's declining health, as well as introduce Abishag, who plays a role early in Solomon's reign (2:13-25).

David is now old and isolated from everyday court life. The result is a power vacuum and the question of "Who will succeed David?" is on everyone's mind. They know David's preference, but he is weak and out-of-touch.

The Problem of Succession

Like many surrounding nations, Israel seemed to view the kingship as the right of the oldest son of the current king. By this time, David's oldest sons are dead. Here are David's sons:






Ahinoam of Jezreel


Murdered by Absalom.

Kileab / Chileab

Abigail, widow of Nabal


No further mention, probably died young.


Machaah of Geshur


Rebels against David, killed in battle.




Seeks to be crowned king, executed by Solomon for treason.




No further mention in Old Testament.




No further mention.




Succeeds David as king




No further mention.




No further mention.




No further mention.

Ibhar, Elishua, Elpelet, Nogah, Nepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada and Eliphelet[319]



No further mention.

We aren't told a great deal about David's relationship with his sons -- except for Solomon. Apparently, Bathsheba becomes David's favorite wife -- at least his most fertile wife; she bears him four or five sons. The narrator seems to indicate that Solomon is born to Bathsheba next after her firstborn who died (12:24).

From Solomon's birth, it was obvious that he was a special child. The narrator tells us:

"The LORD loved him; and because the LORD loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet to name him Jedidiah." (2 Samuel 12:24b-25)

This doesn't mean that Yahweh didn't love David's other sons, but that Solomon was the special recipient of Yahweh's favor. Solomon must have been a precocious child, as later he is known far and wide for his wisdom (1 Kings 3:7-15; 4:29-34). He is probably quite mature for his age. He also loves literature -- proverbs and songs -- and has a deep understanding of natural history.

As Solomon grows, David clearly views him as his successor. Though he isn't as old as David's sons born to him in Hebron, he has publicly selected Solomon (1 Chronicles 28:5) and he had sworn to Bathsheba an oath:

"Surely Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne." (1 Kings 1:13).

Adonijah Sets Himself Up as King (2 Kings 1:5-10)

David's selection of Solomon, however, must have rankled Adonijah, David's oldest living son -- and he has some powerful supporters. By the last year of David's life, Adonijah is in the prime of his life at about 35 years of age, while Solomon is an inexperienced young man of 21 or 22.

David is near death. Though his succession plans are widely known, he has neglected to take any steps for Solomon's coronation as co-regent.

Adonijah sees David's isolation and Solomon's youth as his advantage. He makes up his mind that he will become king no matter what his father's intentions are. So he adopts some of the same pomp and glory that had helped his brother Absalom become king. He gets a chariot and horses to carry him, with a 50-man bodyguard to run ahead of him as he travels through the city.

Next, Adonijah lines up some of the most powerful people in his kingdom to support him.

Adonijah's Supporters

Solomon's Supporters

Joab, David's overall military commander, over the national militia drawn from the 12 tribes.

Benaiah, over the David's professional mercenaries, the Gittites, Pelethites, and Kerethites.[320]

Abiathar the high priest

Zadok the high priest


Nathan the prophet


Shimei[321] and Rei, royal officers otherwise unknown to us.

Just as Absalom had begun his reign by inviting leading men and the royal family to a sacrifice and feast, so does Adonijah. Though instead of travelling to Hebron like Absalom, he goes only a bit outside the city to En Rogel.

En Rogel ("spring of Rogel") is a natural spring, probably near the present-day Bîr Ayyûb ("Job's Well"), where Jerusalem's two deep valleys, the Kidron and the Hinnom come together.[322] It is outside the walls of Zion, down in the valley a few hundred feet south of the fortress, within earshot of the city.

"9 Adonijah then sacrificed sheep, cattle and fattened calves at the Stone of Zoheleth[323] near En Rogel. He invited all his brothers, the king's sons, and all the men of Judah who were royal officials, 10 but he did not invite Nathan the prophet or Benaiah or the special guard or his brother Solomon." (1 Kings 1:9-10)

Adonijah's plan is to be acclaimed king so that his ascension to the throne is accepted as fact by Israel, before Solomon's supporters can stop him. There's a saying that "possession is 9/10ths of the law." If he is seen as the reigning king at the time David dies, it will be viewed as a fait accompli, an accomplished fact. He almost succeeds.

Bathsheba and Nathan Appeal to David for Solomon (1 Kings 1:11-28)

Nathan had always known of the Lord's special love for Solomon. Indeed, the message naming Solomon as "Jedidiah" ("loved of the Lord") had come through Nathan. So when he hears that Adonijah is making immediate plans to be crowned king, he takes action by notifying Solomon's mother, who is on good terms with the aged king.

He realizes that if Adonijah succeeds in being recognized king, that Adonijah will kill Solomon, Yahweh's choice. So he conspires with Bathsheba to bring this to the attention to the king in his bedroom. They're not even sure that David remembers his promises.

As I write this, I am ministering to a 90-year-old retired pastor who has become increasingly bed-ridden and weak as he succumbs to prostate cancer. Family decisions are being turned over to his daughter who is caring for him. But when he needs to, he can be firm and decisive. Often, however, it seems like too much trouble at this stage. He can barely speak loud enough to be heard. Perhaps David is something like this.

Bathsheba enters David's bedchamber, informs him of what Adonijah is doing, reminds him of his promise to place Solomon on the throne, and tells him that he must take action immediately, or at his death she and Solomon will be killed.

Now, according to plan, Nathan enters the dying king's bedchamber to reinforce Bathsheba's words. He concludes with a question designed to arouse the king to action:

"Is this something my lord the king has done without letting his servants know who should sit on the throne of my lord the king after him?" (1 Kings 1:27)

David Confirms Solomon's Succession to the Throne (1 Kings 1:28-37)

By this time, David is alert and engaged. He realizes that his plan for Solomon is about to be thwarted by Solomon's older brother Adonijah. "David the Decisive" is back! He calls Bathsheba back into his bedchamber and swears an oath.

"As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out today what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place." (1 Kings 1:29)

Then David calls for three key supporters who are still loyal: Zadok the priest, Nathan the prophet, and Benaiah, leader of the king's mercenary troops. When they arrive he gives the order to anoint Solomon as king at the other spring, closest to the city, the Gihon spring.

"Take your lord's servants with you and set Solomon my son on my own mule and take him down to Gihon. 34 There have Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anoint him king over Israel. Blow the trumpet and shout, 'Long live King Solomon!'35 Then you are to go up with him, and he is to come and sit on my throne and reign in my place. I have appointed him ruler over Israel and Judah." (1 Kings 1:34-36)

The Chronicler writes:

"When David was old and full of years, he made his son Solomon king over Israel." (1 Chronicles 23:1)

Solomon Is Anointed King (1 Kings 1:38-40)

While Adonijah's guests are finishing their feast a short distance south of the city, Solomon is being made king by Nathan the prophet, the old and honored prophet of Yahweh. Zadok is anointing him with sacred oil. The people have followed the procession down the hill from the city and, when the trumpet is sounded to herald the event, they begin to shout, "Long live King Solomon." A great rejoicing begins among the people of the city -- all while their great leaders are attending a small, elite feast nearby.

Adonijah Seeks Refuge at the Altar (1 Kings 1:41-53)

Oops. The elite gathering hears the sound and the shouting and the priest's son brings the news, "Our lord King David has made Solomon king." Solomon's public fait accompli trumps Adonijah's private one. Now Solomon is sitting on the royal throne receiving the congratulations from all. And David, on his bed, is bowing in worship before Yahweh:

"Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today." (1 Kings 1:48)

Adonijah's feast becomes a rout. "At this, all Adonijah's guests rose in alarm and dispersed." They are now in danger for their lives as supporters of the wrong king. Adonijah, in mortal fear, "went and took hold of the horns of the altar."

Altars in the ancient Near East were built with horns or projections on each corner (Exodus 27:2). Archeologists have found examples of altars constructed this way at Megiddo and Gezer. Since the blood of the sacrifice was put on these horns (Exodus 29:12; Leviticus 4:25, 30; 8:15; 9:9), they were considered most sacred of all (cf. Amos 3:14). Seeking refuge from an avenger of blood at the altar was an ancient law (Exodus 21:12-14). Seeking refuge in this way protected the alleged offender from being killed until a proper trial could be held to determine his guilt or appeal his case (1 Kings 2:28).

When Solomon is told that Adonijah has sought refuge at the altar, Solomon promises not to kill him unless he shows any further evidence of rebellion. Solomon begins his reign with grace.

David's Charge to Solomon (1 Kings 2:1-4)

David is dying. When Solomon comes to his bedside, David gives him a fatherly exhortation, calling him of observe Yahweh's law, and repeating to him the word and promises that he had received in the Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7).

"2 I am about to go the way of all the earth. So be strong, show yourself a man, 3 and observe what the LORD your God requires: Walk in his ways, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and requirements, as written in the Law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go, 4 and that the LORD may keep his promise to me: 'If your descendants watch how they live, and if they walk faithfully before me with all their heart and soul, you will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.'" (1 Kings 2:2-4)

David Instructs Solomon Regarding Joab, Barzillai, and Shimei (1 Kings 2:5-9)

Now David commands Solomon to do some unfinished business that David could not deal with himself for one reason or another.

  1. Joab is to be executed for the bloodguilt of murdering Abner (2 Samuel 3:27) and Amasa (2 Samuel 20:10).
  2. Barzillai's sons, offspring of the wealthy man who helped him during his exile in Mahanaim (2 Samuel 17:27; 19:31-39), are to be honored at Solomon's table.
  3. Shimei, the Benjamite who had cursed him as he fled from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 16:9-13), is to be executed.

I'm not sure why Joab wasn't executed for his crimes sooner. Perhaps it was because he was David's kinsman, or perhaps because he was second in the kingdom, in charge of the army. At any rate, in backing Adonijah rather than Solomon, he has lost his position and is now vulnerable.

David's had sworn an oath not to punish Shimei when David had returned from exile (2 Samuel 19:23), but Solomon is bound by no such oath.

David Dies (2 Kings 2:10-12 and 1 Chronicles 29:26-30)

Both 1 Kings and 1 Chronicles mention David's death with a kind of epitaph. The Chronicler includes a bit fuller statement:

"26 David son of Jesse was king over all Israel. 27 He ruled over Israel forty years -- seven in Hebron and thirty-three in Jerusalem. 28 He died at a good old age, having enjoyed long life, wealth and honor. His son Solomon succeeded him as king. 29 As for the events of King David's reign, from beginning to end, they are written in the records of Samuel the seer, the records of Nathan the prophet and the records of Gad the seer, 30 together with the details of his reign and power, and the circumstances that surrounded him and Israel and the kingdoms of all the other lands." (1 Chronicles 29:26-30)

The Chronicler explains that prophets who were close to David left records that detail the events of David's reign. Of course, these source documents are no longer extant.

Adonijah, Joab, and Shimei Are Executed (2 Kings 2:13-46)

The life of David has ended. Now Solomon acts to tie up the loose ends.

Adonijah makes a request through Bathsheba, Solomon's mother, to marry Abishag, David's concubine, who had served him in his last days and remains a virgin. Bathsheba agrees to relay the request to Solomon. She isn't advocating for Adonijah, her son's arch rival. She probably knows that when Solomon hears the request, Adonijah will be executed, and her and her son's place will finally be secure.

When Solomon hears the request, "Let Abishag the Shunammite be given in marriage to your brother Adonijah" (1 Kings 2:21), he is enraged.

"Why do you request Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? You might as well request the kingdom for him -- after all, he is my older brother -- yes, for him and for Abiathar the priest and Joab son of Zeruiah!" (1 Kings 2:22)

Solomon knows that such a request -- to marry the king's concubine -- is tantamount in that culture to making a new claim to the throne. Solomon recognizes this as a plot that comes from Adonijah's supporters Joab and Abiathar. Solomon executes Adonijah for treason and orders Abiathar the priest to his home, away from the power center of Jerusalem. He has yet to deal with Joab.

When Joab hears that Adonijah has been executed, he realizes his own life is in danger too, since he is a co-conspirator. He flees to the tent and takes hold of the horns of the altar. When he refuses to leave, Solomon gives orders to have him killed on the spot.

Then Solomon officially puts Benaiah over the army in Joab's place, and replaces Abiathar with Zadok as high priest.

Finally, Solomon puts Shimei under house arrest. If he leaves Jerusalem, he will be executed. When Shimei finally ventures out of the city, Solomon gives the order for his execution too.

Solomon has now fulfilled David's final instructions. The new king's enemies are gone and Solomon has developed a reputation for dealing decisively with his enemies. The narrator says:

"The kingdom was now firmly established in Solomon's hands." (1 Kings 2: 46b)

Discipleship Lessons

There are a several lessons in these last chapters describing David's life.

  1. Difficult Decisions. It's hard to know what to make of the incident where the Gibeonites demand justice. David seeks the Lord, the does his best to walk a tightrope between covenants, promises, and law. Some situations that leaders face have no great solutions at all. We can't hide from making decisions, even though the decisions may leave no one happy.
  2. Time to Step Back. David's men finally prohibited David from going out to battle with his troops, because he was too weak. Knowing when to retire or step back from active work or ministry is difficult for us. Often our friends and family know better than we. We need to listen.
  3. Praise and Faith. There are many lessons contained within 2 Samuel 22 = Psalm 18. These are lessons of praise, of faith, of God's great power, of righteous living, and of salvation to those who trust in God. We need to learn to praise God with a vision of faith no matter what we are going though.

  4. Leading Righteously. David's "Last Words" remind us of the importance of ruling righteously. You may not be a king, but you may be a boss, a supervisor, a church officer, or on a board or committee that makes decision affecting the lives of others. God expects you to lead with righteousness, rather than with self-serving or partiality.
  5. Trusting in God's Grace. In the incident of the census, David has to make a decision about which penalty God will bring on the people. Though we don't normally have a clear choice as leaders, we see that David makes his choice based on his strong trust in the mercy of God. Trusting in God's mercy when we don't deserve anything but punishment is a good example for us to follow.

  6. Sacrificial Giving. When David is offered a ready-made sacrifice for free, he refuses to take it without paying because he understands the principle of sacrificial giving: "I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." If our giving is just a token or a pittance, where we could afford more, it doesn't honor God.
  7. Preparing for the Future. David spends much of his later years in stockpiling materials for the temple that he knows won't be built in his lifetime. As Paul says,

"So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each." (1 Corinthians 3:7-8)

If we focus only on short-term goals, we short-change the future.

  1. Participants with the Sovereign God. It is God's plan to put Solomon on the throne rather than Adonijah. To accomplish His will, God uses some leaders who believe the prophetic vision concerning Solomon's reign: Nathan, Benaiah, Zadok, Shimei, and Rei. God may well be using you to accomplish His will in your community. Will you be faithful to the vision God has given, even though it is risky?

David's Place in History

David holds a unique place in Bible history. Though he isn't the first king, he is the ideal king during the golden days of Israel's history. That alone makes him memorable.

But David leaves us a vast body of poetic literature -- songs and psalms from David's heart to the heart of God -- that inspire us and lift us up. He is the singer-songwriter par excellence, the "sweet psalmist of Israel."

He is the man after God's own heart, who, though he sins greatly, never leaves the God he loves. We can identify with his struggles -- even with the depths of his depression. But we are encouraged in our faith as we see how he reaches out to God afresh.

The Apostle Paul sums up David's greatness in a single sentence (Acts 13:36a):

"David ... served God's purpose in his own generation." (NIV, NRSV)

"David ... served his own generation by the will of God." (KJV)

God calls on you and me to do the same!

No doubt, David is best known for his descendant, the Son of David, Jesus of Nazareth. David was the ideal king. Jesus is the Messiah who comes to set up the kingdom of God on earth.

Life of David, Discipleship Lessons in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

As you've studied David's life, I hope you've observed again and again his intensely personal connection to Yahweh. He takes time to pray, to get his bearings, and to seek God's guidance instead of merely reacting to circumstances. He is close to God. Dear friend, it is my prayer that, like David, you too will reach out to God through Jesus Christ. He loves you and He died for you, to forgive you where you have sinned.

May the anointing of Spirit of God, who is the secret to David's life, be powerful in your life as well!


Father, thank you for the example of David. As we've pondered his life these last thirteen weeks, we've grown to appreciate him more. Help us to learn from his strengths and his weaknesses. And draw us closer to David's God and our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. In his name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished." (2 Samuel 21:17c)

"2 The LORD is my rock,
my fortress and my deliverer;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior --
from violent men you save me.
4 I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise,
and I am saved from my enemies." (1 Samuel 22:2-4)

 "2 The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
3 The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me...." (2 Samuel 23:2-3a)

 "Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." (2 Samuel 24:14)

"When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, 'I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall upon me and my family.'" (2 Samuel 24:17)

"I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing." (2 Samuel 24:24a)

"As surely as the LORD lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, I will surely carry out today what I swore to you by the LORD, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place." (1 Kings 1:29-30)

"Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, who has allowed my eyes to see a successor on my throne today." (1 Kings 1:48)

[275] Deuteronomy 11:14; Job 29:23; Psalm 84:6; Proverbs 16:15; Jeremiah 3:3; 5:24; Hosea 6:3; Joel 2:23; Zechariah 10:1; James 5:7.

[276] Keith N. Schoville, "Gibeon," ISBE 2:462.

[277] "Annihilate" (NIV), "wipe them out" (NRSV), "slay" (KJV) is nākâ, "smite, strike, hit, beat, slay, kill." Here, since a people group is in mind, it carries the idea of "attack" and/or "destroy" (Marvin R. Wilson, nākâ, TWOT #1364).

[278] In 21:5 two words describe this well-planned campaign. "Destroyed" (NIV), "consumed" (NRSV, KJV) is kālâ, which has the basic idea, "to bring a process to completion." Here it refers to violent destruction during war, in the Piel stem, "put an end to, destroy" (cf. 1 Samuel 15:18) (TWOT #982). The second word, "decimated" (NIV), "destroyed" (NRSV, KJV) is shāmad, in the Piel stem, "to destroy" or "annihilate." (Herman J. Austel, "shāmad, TWOT #2406).

[279] Seven is the most significant symbolic number in the Bible, appearing in nearly 600 passages. Seven is especially prominent in passages dealing with ritual observance and oath taking. Indeed, the Hebrew number seven (šeḇa) and the verb "swear, take an oath" (šāḇaʿ) are etymologically related (Bruce C. Birch, "Number," ISBE 3:563). It seems to have some sense of totality or completeness.

[280] Anderson, 2 Samuel, pp. 249-250.

[281] Elmer B. Smick, kārat, TWOT #1048.

[282] Herman J. Austel, "shāmad, TWOT #2406.

[283] "Killed" (NIV), "impaled" (NRSV), "hanged" (KJV) translate a rare Hebrew word, yāqaʿ (Paul R. Gilchrist, TWOT #903).

[284] We're not sure where Zela is located. It is one of 14 cities of Benjamin listed in Joshua 18:28, probably northwest of Jerusalem, perhaps at Khirbet Salah -- we just don't know (William S. LaSor, "Zela," ISBE 4:1187).

[285] In my view, the incident of David being too weak to go to battle must have taken place after the Battle of the Forest of Ephraim when David's forces conquered Absalom's. In that case, when David wanted to go out with the men to battle, they tell him not to because he is the target of his opponents and is too vulnerable -- not that he was too old. However, some commentators see the incident in 21:15-17 coming much earlier in David's life (Bergen, 1 and 2 Samuel, pp. 448-449).

[286] P. K. McCarter, Jr., "Rephaim," ISBE 4:137; R.K. Harrison, "Giants," ISBE 2:460.  McCarter suggests that this group could be a corp of elite warriors who are devotees of the Philistine god Rapha, or even "the corps of the scimitar" tracing its ancestry to the ancient Sea Peoples. We just don't know -- but we do know that these warriors were of immense physical stature!

[287] "Swear" is shābaʿ, "swear, adjure, (Niphal stem) bind oneself by an oath," related closely to the Hebrew word for the number seven (TWOT #2319).

[288] Anderson (2 Samuel, p. 255, citing A.M. Honeyman, "The Evidence for Regnal Names among the Hebrews," JBL 67 (1948), pp. 23-24) suggests that Elhanan may be a personal name, while David is his throne name. 1 Chronicles 20:5 names the victim as Lahmi, brother of Goliath the Gittite, perhaps harmonizing the two accounts.

[289] R.K. Harrison, "Giants," ISBE 2:460.

[290] "Delighted" is ḥāpēṣ, "take delight in, be pleased with, desire." The basic meaning is to feel great favor towards something. Its meaning differs from the parallel roots, ḥāmad, hāshaq, and rāṣâ, in that they connote less emotional involvement (Leon J. Wood, ḥāpēṣ, TWOT #712).

[291] "Rescued" (NIV), "delivered" (NRSV, KJV) in verse 18 is nāṣal, "deliver, rescue, save." An Arabic cognate confirms the judgment that its basic physical sense is one of drawing out or pulling out. The Hiphil as here has the causative idea of "make separate," a physical snatching away or separating (Milton C. Fisher, nāṣal, TWOT #1404).

[292] "Rescued" (NIV), "delivered" (NRSV, KJV) in verse 20 is ḥālaṣ, in the Piel stem, "to rescue," found only in OT poetic material in Job, Psalms (16x), and Proverbs (Elmer B. Smick, ḥālaṣ, TWOT #667).

[293] Of course, David's definition of sin isn't nearly so inward and of the heart as Jesus taught. We know better the full infection of sin.

[294] "He Lives," words by Eleanor A. Schroll (1916), music by James H. Fillmore, Sr.

[295] Leonard J. Coppes, neʾum, TWOT #1272a.

[296] The NASB is to be preferred over the NIV here: "the man who was raised on high" "Exalted" (NIV, NRSV), "raised on high" (KJV) is two words. The first is the verb qûm, a root involved with the physical action of rising up. In the Hofal stem, it has a kind of passive, causative idea, "raised up." The verb has an official usage, applying to the assumption of a particular office, e.g. religious head of a clan, prophet, judge, etc. (Leonard J. Coppes, TWOT #1999). Here it carries this sense of "be appointed" (Holladay, p. 316). The second is the adverb ʿal, "above," so that it reads, "the oracle of the young man who was raised up highly" (G. Lloyd Carr, ʿālâ, TWOT 1624p). The NIV's "the Most High" is unlikely, though possible (Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 268).

[297] Zāmîr, "song," from the verb zāmar, "sing, sing praise, make music." It is cognate to Akkadian zamāru "to sing, play an instrument." It is used only in poetry, almost exclusively in Psalms. (Herbert Wolf, zāmar, TWOT #558b).

[298] Marvin R. Wilson, nāʿîm, TWOT #1384b.

[299] The NRSV's "the favorite of the Strong One of Israel" takes zmr as "strength" or "protection" (Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 268). I think this is a stretch!

[300] Davis observes (Birth of a Kingdom, p. 164), "Satan was the immediate cause of David's action, but, theologically speaking, God was the ultimate cause in that he did not prevent the incident from occurring."

[301] The Chronicler adds a theological element to Joab's appeal: "Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" (1 Chronicles 21:3b).

[302] The Chronicler notes that Joab's men didn't number either the Levites or the Benjamites, and came up with a figure of 1.1 million total (1 Chronicles 21:5-7). Baldwin (1 and 2 Samuel, p. 296) comments, "The word 'thousand' is likely to be used here in its military sense, 'contingent' (cf. 1 Samuel 4:2). If this is so, the figure cannot be used with any accuracy as a basis for estimating Israel's population at the time of David."

[303] Josephus, Antiquities, 7.13.1.

[304] On this passage, E.A. Speiser comments: "Since nothing is said there about a kofer, one is justified in assuming that the omission of that precautionary measure was somehow linked with the subsequent plague" (E.A. Speiser, "Census and ritual expiation in Mari and Israel," BASOR 149 (1958), pp. 17-25, quote from p. 22).

[305] "Ransom" is kōper, "ransom, gift to secure favor," from kāpar, "make an atonement, make reconciliation" (R. Laird Harris, TWOT #1023a). Morris defines it as "ransom price ... the sum paid to redeem a forfeited life" (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross (Eerdmans, 1955), p. 17). Ultimately, the concept of redemption finds its fulfillment in Jesus who "gave his life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).

[306] Later this half-shekel temple tax was collected annually (Matthew 17:24).

[307] E.A. Speiser, who compared ancient cuneiform tablets from Mari with the Old Testament, observed: "Military conscription was an ominous process because it might place the life of the enrolled in jeopardy. The connection with the cosmic 'books' of life and death must have been much too close for one's peace of mind" ("Census and ritual," p. 24).

[308] On the other hand, the Chronicler tells us that Joab opposed the census on spiritual grounds: "Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" (1 Chronicles 21:3b). "Guilt" (NIV, NRSV), "cause of trespass" (KJV) is ʾashmâ, "be desolate, be guilty, to offend, to acknowledge offense, to trespass.... The primary meaning of the word ʾāsham seems to center on guilt, but moves from the act which brings guilt to the condition of guilt to the act of punishment" (G. Herbert Livingston, ʾashmâ, TWOT #180).

[309] Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 284. So Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, pp. 294-295.

[310] L.G. Herr, "Winnowing," ISBE 4:1073; L.G. Herr, "Thresh, Threshing," ISBE 4:844.

[311] James A. Patch, "Chaff," ISBE 1:629.

[312] As we discussed in Lesson 7, the Jebusites who had previously controlled Jerusalem were not destroyed, but continued to live in the area around the city.

[313] When the ark was brought to Jerusalem, David, dressed in a priest's ephod (6:14), offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and blessed the people in the name of the Lord (6:17-18). However, Saul was reprimanded for not waiting for Samuel, but going ahead and offering burnt offerings and fellowship offerings himself (1 Samuel 13:9-10).

[314] Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 287.

[315] "This is usually interpreted as a medical prescription, for contact with a young, warm, and fresh body could revive the king" ... "A reasonable explanation is that Abishag was introduced to the court, not merely for medicinal purposes, but was taken into David's harem in an attempt to rejuvenate him and to test his potency. The king's authority and the well-being of his people depended on his virility (so Gray, p. 77, with reference to Ras shamra, where a king's sickness disqualified him from reigning)....  It was therefore time to appoint a co-regent to exercise authority on his behalf; Adonijah took it as a sign to take the throne" (Jones, 1 and 2 Kings, 1:89-90).

[316] 2 Samuel 3:2-5; 1 Chronicles 3:1-3.

[317] 1 Chronicles 3:5.

[318] Mentioned in genealogy in Luke 3:31.

[319] 1 Chronicles 3:6-8; 14:4-7.

[320] 2 Samuel 20:23.

[321] Josephus (Antiquities 14.3.4) refers to him as "David's friend." Otherwise, he and Rei are unknown to us.

[322] Paul Leslie Garber, "En Rogel," ISBE 2:104.

[323] The Stone of Zoheleth or Serpent's Stone probably had some kind of sacred history that made it a suitable place for a sacrifice. This stone may be ez-Zehwêleh, a rocky outcrop in the village of Siloam (Ernest W.G. Masterman, "Serpent's Stone," ISBE 4:419).

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