2 Samuel 24 has God angry with David and the people. He tells David to count the people, which is no small task. So he calls Joab and his commanders together to give them the assignment. They are not all that interested. “Joab said to the king, May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing”. Joab doesn’t really want to do this work. But it isn’t optional and David sends them out.
This was a huge task – it took them “nine months and twenty days” to complete. And they came back with a total of “in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000”. That is a lot of counting. And this was just the men. But they got a number and brought it back to David. When David sees the enormity of the people, he is struck with guilt and confesses his sin. “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly”.
David was right – he had sinned and there was punishment coming. God sends His prophet Gad to David with this: “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you”. And the choices were:
- “three years of famine
- flee three months before your foes while they pursue you
- three days’ pestilence in your land”
There are no good answers there, so David let’s God make the choice and the pestilence begins.
It’s a bloody mess. God takes the life of 70,000 men. And as the “angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity”. He called of the angel of death and stopped the killing. David recognizes that this is God’s grace. And he confesses again: “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house”. It reminds me of the intercession Moses did for the people much earlier. A strong leader stands in the gap for his people. David buys the threshing floor and sacrifices in praise to God for his grace and mercy. But not before a lot of blood had been shed.
2 Samuel 23 contains the last words that David said. And he ends his leadership by thinking back over the accomplishments of his career as king. He shares a little wisdom on leadership: “When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, he dawns on them like the morning light, like the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth”. Leadership matters, not only for the leader, but for those who follow too. David was a great leader – not without some mistakes and faults – but still a great leader.
But the rest of his last words were focused on his men – and particularly the mighty men. He begins by talking about the three:
- “Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time.
- Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword.
- Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. He took his stand in the midst of the plot and defended it and struck down the Philistines, and the Lord worked a great victory”
These were the three mighty men. But they were surrounded by 34 others who are also called out and mentioned by name.
Next David calls out “Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, who was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and killed them and won a name beside the three. He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three”. Abishi was obviously one of the key leaders for David, but not quite up to the ranks of the three mighty men. But obviously important, as he was the commander of this elite force.
David also calls out “Benaiah the son of Jehoiada….a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds”. David goes on to tell us he “won a name beside the three mighty men. He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three”. There was obviously something different about the three mighty men, as well as Abishai and Benaiah. The other thirty two are listed by name and lineage, but there are no details for them like there are for these five. David assembled an amazing fighting team. They were almost always successful in their pursuit of the enemy.
2 Samuel 22 has David pouring out his heart about God. We know he and God have a special relationship. But here, we see the foundation of that. “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies”. God is everything to David. He depends on Him completely and knows where his success comes from.
He goes on to describe some of the things God has done. “He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters. He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me. They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the Lord was my support. He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. The Lord dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he rewarded me”. It is a very personal relationship. David and God both value it highly.
But it doesn’t happen by accident. David describes in detail what he has done to make it so special. “I have kept the ways of the Lord and have not wickedly departed from my God. For all his rules were before me, and from his statutes I did not turn aside. I was blameless before him, and I kept myself from guilt. And the Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness, according to my cleanness in his sight”. It’s about obedience. It’s about knowing that God is God and keeping Him on the throne of your life.
He goes on to describe even more of God’s touch on his life. “He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights. He trains my hands for war, so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You have given me the shield of your salvation, and your gentleness made me great. You gave a wide place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip”. David makes it clear that God is not part of his success – He is all of it. And he wraps up his dissertation on the faithfulness of God this way: “the Lord lives, and blessed be my rock, and exalted be my God, the rock of my salvation”. Sounds like the lyrics to a powerful praise song, eh?
2 Samuel 21 has a new threat against David’s kingdom. “There was a famine in the days of David for three years”. Things were tough and David seeks God to find out what is going on. So he “sought the face of the Lord”. And God made it clear that the famine had a root cause – it was how Saul had put the Gibeonites to death. David knows what he has to do. He needs to find a way to make things right. So he goes to the Gibeonites and asks “What shall I do for you? And how shall I make atonement, that you may bless the heritage of the Lord”?
They have one request: ” The man who consumed us and planned to destroy us, so that we should have no place in all the territory of Israel, let seven of his sons be given to us, so that we may hang them before the Lord”. They want to hang seven sons of Saul’s heritage as a public showing of the wrong that was committed against them. David agrees, saving Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth from death because of his oath to Jonathan, but he gives over seven others and they are hanged.
David puts this all to rest by getting the bones of Saul and Jonathan as well as these seven sons and burying them in the tomb of Kish, his father. And this sets things straight and “after that God responded to the plea for the land”. Scripture is clear that the sins of the father can impact people for generations and this is certainly an example of that. Saul violated God’s instruction and there was a price to pay down the road a ways. But David walks the path of correcting that and God responds.
The pesky Philistines are still hanging around and they attack David and his men. David went to battle with his army but grew weary – he is getting old and ran out of steam and had to be saved by Abishai. After that they had to have the difficult discussion that “You shall no longer go out with us to battle, lest you quench the lamp of Israel”. David was a liability in battle. So he moves to the sidelines and lets much younger men take the charge. The Philistines came back again and again four different times trying to defeat David’s men. But they failed each time. Each of the attacks was led by one of the Philistine giants. “These four were descended from the giants in Gath, and they fell by the hand of David and by the hand of his servants”. God continues to bless David and his men.
2 Samuel 20 has a new threat for David. “Now there happened to be there a worthless man, whose name was Sheba”. Quite a description in scripture, isn’t it? To be called a worthless man. He was a trouble causer or rabble rouser and was out to disrupt David’s life as king. He was focused on leading the people of Israel away from David as he waid “we have no portion in David, and we have no inheritance in the son of Jesse”. Basically a challenge to David’s claim to the throne, and he was getting some traction.
David has to be getting tired of all this nonsense. So he calls the men of Judah together and asks them to take care of things. “Now Sheba the son of Bichri will do us more harm than Absalom. Take your lord’s servants and pursue him, lest he get himself to fortified cities and escape from us”. David wants him dead and the disruption and lies to stop. So Joab and Abishi take off with the army and pursue him. They catch up to him and lay siege to the city Abel where he was hiding.
As the army is battering the wall to knock it down, “a wise woman called from the city” asking Joab for a conference. She was part of the group of wise people that were “peaceable and faithful in Israel” and had offered counsel and resolved issues previously. So Joab comes and listens to her plea not to destroy the city. He agrees as all he really is after is Sheba. So they cut off Sheba’s head and throw it over the wall and end the siege. He blows the trumpet and calls off the chase sending everyone home.
David returns to rule and puts his leadership team in place:
- “Joab was in command of all the army of Israel
- Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was in command of the Cherethites and the Pelethites
- Adoram was in charge of the forced labor
- Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was the recorder
- Sheva was secretary
- Zadok and Abiathar were priests
- Ira the Jairite was also David’s priest”
He has assembled a team to help with leading the people. Some familiar names, some new faces, but a team rather than one man only leading the way.
2 Samuel 19 has David in mourning after defeating Absalom and the enemy. “The king is weeping and mourning for Absalom”. He has lost another son and so while he had won the battle, “the victory that day was turned into mourning for all the people”. Things went quickly from joy to sorrow as David learned of Absaloms death. Word got around and all the people knew that David was mourning. In their eyes, he was morning for an enemy and it made no sense, but they too began to mourn with the king.
Joab, one of the key military leaders, comes to David and rebukes him. “You have today covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who have this day saved your life and the lives of your sons and your daughters and the lives of your wives and your concubines, because you love those who hate you and hate those who love you. For you have made it clear today that commanders and servants are nothing to you, for today I know that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased”.
Joab is in the king’s face about the message he is sending to his people and particularly his troops. They had just risked their lives and put everything on the line to fight for the king, and now that they have had victory, the focus is on the death of the enemy commander. Joab doesn’t sugar coat his words. He challenges David to take this situation and turn it around. “Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go, not a man will stay with you this night, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now”.
David is personally mourning but the people need to see his resolve as king. Joab identified the issue around leadership. David steps up and begins to communicate with the people. But things quickly become territorial and self-centered as the tribes begin to position to get David’s attention. The Israelites, who just were defeated, now want to lay claim to him as king. “We have ten shares in the king, and in David also we have more than you”. Time to clarify the king’s role and whom he serves. The soap opera called David’s life continues…..
2 Samuel 18 has the showdown between father and son. Absalom has pursued David and now the two armies will collide. “David sent out the army, one third under the command of Joab, one third under the command of Abishai the son of Zeruiah, Joab’s brother, and one third under the command of Ittai the Gittite”. David is a master in battle, and gets his army ready for the fight. He wants to go along and be part of leading them into battle, but is convinced that would be a bad plan.
“You shall not go out. For if we flee, they will not care about us. If half of us die, they will not care about us. But you are worth ten thousand of us. Therefore it is better that you send us help from the city”. David does request that his three generals go easy on Absalom. He is the enemy, but he also is the king’s son and David doesn’t want him killed. The battle rages and David’s army destroys the army of Absalom. It was a bloody day and tens of thousands of men lost their lives.
Absalom meets fate in a different way. “Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great terebinth, and his head caught fast in the oak, and he was suspended between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on”. He didn’t die on the battlefield, but was stuck in a tree and David’s men found him and killed him there. They buried him in a deep hole in the forest and covered him with a large pile of stones. Even though David had asked them not to kill him, they couldn’t resist and did.
Joab sends runners to deliver the good news of their victory to David. And as they reach the city and come before David, the first tells of the victory on the battlefield over the enemy. The second brings news that Absalom was dead. David’s been fleeing this son for some time. He’s been a real thorn in his side. But when he gets the news “the king was deeply moved and went up to the chamber over the gate and wept”. He loses another son and his legacy is ripped apart yet again.