Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
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Life is a dynamic experience for most people. There may be a few who go through their days and never experience times of great stress and difficulty, and others seem to move from one calamity to another. Most of us probably sit somewhere in the middle, living lives that are characterized by moments of peace that are interspersed between occasional moments of gentle turmoil and stress. Then, amongst this dynamic an occasional crisis takes place, one that tries our patience, our trust, or our faith. We could take a few moments and think back to the days of our own experience and identify some of the great stressors we have experienced. For most of us, it is the loss of a close loved one, an experience that can be particularly difficult when that loss is sudden and unexpected. It is at times like these that our own faith in God can be tested as we are more likely to experience doubts, and may tend to place blame on ourselves, others, or even on God, Himself.
The life of Israelís second king, King David is probably filled with more of these moments than most, and maybe more than many could bear. Davidís cat-and-mouse game with King Saul certainly had its dynamic and dangerous moments. David grieved the death of King Saul, and even more the death of his son, Jonathan who had become Davidís best friend. At one point David lost the throne to his second son, Absalom, regained only through battle and this second sonís death. Following his sin with Bathsheba, the consequences of his choices resulted in the death of three other sons, one at a time. His grief for each was deep and genuine.
2 Samuel 22:1.
And David spake unto the LORD the words of this song in the day that the LORD had delivered him out of the hand of all his enemies, and out of the hand of Saul:
We might expect someone like David to respond to each of these calamities with anger, and even violence. However, without exception, Davidís response to each calamity was a dramatic and deep grief that was comforted by his faith in God. We can learn much from Davidís response, a response that is described in many of his writings and songs that are recorded in the Old Testament, found mostly in 2 Samuel, 2 Chronicles, and in the Psalms.
2 Samuel 22:2.
And he said, The LORD is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer;
One of our greatest needs in our lives is stability, a strong foundation upon which to stand. In many ways our lives are like the edifice of a great building. We build this edifice each day of our lives as we learn and experience more and more. Just like a building, our endurance in times of storms and stress depends largely upon the foundation upon which the building rests. A building that is built upon a shifting foundation is more likely to fall in times of the storms.
I recall the sight of buildings that were constructed upon the permafrost of north-central Alaska. As long as the ground remained frozen, the foundation stood strong. However, unanticipated thaws reached down to the frozen ground and turned it into mud, a material that could not hold up the heavy foundation, and gradually the building would tip. In this case, the builders thought the foundation was solid, and their error was in this assumption. It is common for us to put our trust in things (or people) who we truly think are strong and reliable, able to hold us during times of trial, only to find out that we overestimated their ability to support us.
Many of us have witnessed the devastation to American and Caribbean coastal communities from powerful hurricanes. Often we see images of entire regions of buildings completely wiped out, yet one or two stand relatively untouched. Those that still stand were constructed with extra foundation support, often driving piles to the bedrock, and using materials like concrete and steel for the superstructure. Others simply built their houses using foundations that were poured in the sand, only to be swept away when the water undermines the foundation. Those who build on the sand know that there will be a storm some day that can wipe out their investment, yet they choose a weak foundation with little concern. Likewise we can choose the foundations of our own lives from sources that we are clearly aware are not strong enough to sustain us in the storms of life.
David reminds us that there is only one sure foundation in this life, and that foundation is found in a committed and sure faith in God, because that foundation is God. In this passage we find David using a list of eight metaphors that describe the ways that God defended him, and consequently are relevant descriptions of how God defends all people who have placed their faith and trust in Him.
David refers to God as his Rock. The ancients built their structures from cloth, wood, clay, and rock. Cloth was used for tent structures that could be moved as their nomadic owners followed the grazing needs of their animals. Wood was relatively rare, and was generally reserved for use as lintels to span distances over doors and windows. Unfired clay mixed with straw was often used as a quick and easy building material, one that was easily compromised by moisture. They also used fired clay to build bricks, and hewn stone. The buildings that still remain, two-thousand years later, are those built from hewn stone. A life that is built on such a strong foundation is given strength to withstand the storm.
David refers to God as his Fortress, a house built from hewn stone. Just as a house built from stone can deliver its owner from the ravages of the storm, God delivers the individual of faith from the ravages of the storms of this life. Note that the stone house still experiences the storm. God does not necessarily divert the storm from our experience. However, when one has a committed and deep faith in God, He can deliver us from the ravages of that storm as His hand protects that which is important in our lives: peace, joy, love, and faith.
David refers to God as his Deliverer, the name given to one who intervenes in our lives to save us from calamity. Time after time David experienced Godís hand of protection against the threats of his enemies, and on more than one occasion witnessed his deliverance by Godís hand. Many of us today may not recognize Godís hand of deliverance, perhaps when we may even be unaware of the danger from which we have been saved. When one places their trust in God, God is able to work His plan through that person, and His plan is not subject to the whims and plans of man. Consequently, God works in the lives of those who love Him, preserving His plan. Certainly, that plan includes his bringing us home to Him someday, one part of that plan that brings grief to those left behind. Consequently, when a person of faith dies, we can be certain that Godís plan was not thwarted, but rather, His plan has been completed. His plan is ultimately completed because those of faith have been delivered from the final consequence of sin: eternal death. God has promised those of faith that they will never be separated from Him again for all of eternity.
2 Samuel 22:3.
The God of my rock; in him will I trust: he is my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my high tower, and my refuge, my Saviour; thou savest me from violence.
How would we respond to One who is a perfect Rock, Fortress, and Deliverer? Would we cast Him aside thinking that we can go along on our own, providing those own resources ourselves? David reminds us that it is in Him that we can place our trust. Even with the calamities that David experienced, his trust in God was not shaken.
David refers to God as his Shield, a tool of defense that is moveable, allowing it to be responsive to different situations. Like a shield, God is responsive to the needs of our lives and can and does provide protection on a situation-by-situation basis. Paul refers to the ďshield of faith,Ē that protects us from the ďfiery dartsĒ that are hurled at us from every direction. Certainly David has experienced that shield as he saw himself spared from the many events that would have brought him down.
David refers to God as his Horn of Salvation. The horn to which David refers is the horn that would be sounded in battle. The horn would be used to signal the entire army to advance or retreat. One can imagine being caught in the throes of a hopeless battle and then hearing the sound of the horn of an advancing army of reinforcements. That sound, as it brings reassurance, also brings terror to your enemy as they run for cover from the new defenders. This is how David sees God working in his own life. When things seem to be overwhelming, Davidís faith is like a horn that alerts him to Godís coming salvation. There is no enemy who can stand against God, so Davidís salvation is sure.
David refer to God as his High Tower. Up to this point, the metaphors that David uses for God all refer to the power of God to defend him while he remains passive. Anyone who is familiar with military strategy, at least prior to the 20th century, is aware of the value of holding the high ground in battle. It is far more difficult to fight against a defense that is entrenched above you. It is even more difficult if that defense is in a tower that is free at will to fire down upon an advancing threat, a threat that has little or no power to return fire because of the tower. David sees God as that same High Tower that lifts him up above the difficulties of this life, giving him the high ground and a defensible position. People of faith find that high ground in His Word and in His Wisdom. They find it though prayer and circumstances. His high tower is found as we seek His will in our lives rather than depending upon our own.
David refers to God as his Refuge. David often found refuge in the many caves of the region while he was running from King Saul. While housed in the refuge, David was safe from harm. He was protected from the elements and dangers of the open field. David can easily remember the quiet times he spent in such security and safety when he would have otherwise been subject to great danger. David understood how God provides that same refuge against the dangers of life. He provides a refuge for all who place their faith and trust in Him.
Finally, David refers to God as his Savior, one who saves from calamity. There is a subtle distinction between a deliverer and a savior. The deliverer provides safety from the sequence of events as they transpire. We might see a deliver as one who is continually ďon-duty.Ē The Savior, however, provides the ultimate and singular gift of salvation, a one-time gift that forever protects one from calamity. David knows well the depths of his own sin and unrighteousness, as do we all. David knows that the appropriate reward for our sin is death: separation from God for eternity, as do we all. None of us deserves a place at ďGodís sideĒ when this life is over. The only remedy for the consequence of our sin is Godís act of grace as He chose to forgive those who place their faith and trust in Him. It is through that faith that God ultimately saves us all from the ravaging consequence of our own sin.
2 Samuel 22:4-8.
I will call on the LORD, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies. 5When the waves of death compassed me, the floods of ungodly men made me afraid; 6The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me; 7In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God: and he did hear my voice out of his temple, and my cry did enter into his ears.
As David pens this poetic passage, he is reminded of the many times that He has seen evidence of Godís working in his life, as He served to be a rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn of salvation, high tower, refuge, and Savior. When David found himself in the throes of calamity, it was in his nature to call our to God for help. However, we also understand that it did not require David to call to God only when calamity struck. We knew David as a ďman after Godís own heart,Ē one who danced before the LORD in praises, one who wrote many songs of praise. Davidís entire life was characterized by faith, though like all people, it was also characterized by sinful acts. Godís love for David, and his continued protection of David can serve as a reminder that Godís deliverance is simply a fruit of His own nature that is given to all who trust in Him.
As a person of faith can you, like David, look back at the many experiences of your life and see how your life of faith was punctuated with times when God came to your rescue? Or, have you placed God in an out-of-the-way place in your heart, the One to be called upon only when calamity strikes? Many people think of God as some form of spiritual credit card that can be swiped across the reader when we need to purchase some needed grace, but left in our wallet at all other times. Just as Davidís life was characterized by a twenty-four hour-per-day faith, one who has truly placed their faith in God should be characterized with that same open communication with Him. If this does characterize your life, like David, as you look back at the experiences of your life you can see the hand of Godís protection if you will look with spiritual eyes. God promises that it is His purposes that all of your critical experiences serve to increase your spiritual maturity and strength as you become more and more conformed to the image of what He wants you to be.
2 Samuel 23:1.
Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,
It is a popular hobby of some to search out and collect the words that were stated by famous people immediately before their death. We do this because we consider that those words, inspired by the knowledge of oneís imminent demise, may contain a greater wisdom or purpose. Many websites are dedicated to such collections. However, 2 Samuel 23 is no such epitaph. This passage, often referred to as the ďLast Words of David,Ē is a poem that David wrote late in his life, and serves to punctuate the sequence of testimonies of faith that were attributed to David.
David is described (or self-described) as:
Son of Jesse; the youngest, one of ignoble birth, a shepherd boy with no future
Raised up on High; one who the people lifted from his base beginnings to the highest and most venerated position in the land
Anointed of the God of Jacob; one who God Himself chose to serve Him
The Sweet Psalmist; the Israelite author of poems of faith, many of which we find in Old Testament scripture, with the largest collection found in the Psalms.
2 Samuel 23:2
The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.
Up to this point we might think of David as a king and priest. These words declare Davidís status also as a prophet. This triad assignment, prophet, priest, and king completes David as the first in the messianic line of kings that would ultimately terminate with Jesus Christ, the one Prophet, Priest and King over all, the one of the seed of Abraham who would be the LORD over all.
David declares that the understanding that has been given to him by the LORD he gives to others through the metaphor of his tongue. That is, David repeats with his words, both spoken and written, what God reveals to Him. People of faith today do not typically consider themselves to be prophets of God, and we tend to declare anyone who professes to be a prophet to be mistaken. However, when we consider the service of the ancient prophet, the calling of all people of faith is not that different. God has revealed. though the Holy Spirit, His word to those of faith, and He has also commanded those of faith to share it with others. In this manner, all people of faith are prophets, and are obedient to His call when they are engaged in sharing His love and His word with others. David continues by sharing some words of godly wisdom, words that are intended to instruct those who follow him.
2 Samuel 23:3.
The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God.
David knows what it is like to be responsible for leading others. Speaking as a king, David understands the need for the ruler over all the people to be one who is completely submitted to the LORD, leading others in a manner that is characterized by godly integrity and justice. Few of us will probably be handed the responsibility of leading a nation, but most of us are certainly handed the responsibility to lead others in some capacity. Society is a network of leaders and followers. All of us who are given the responsibility of another are also the responsibility of someone else. Davidís advice is appropriate for leadership at all levels, and if all levels were to exercise godly integrity and justice, it would be an amazingly different world. All of us are called to lead others with godly integrity and justice. Such a demand is particularly appropriate for those who are called to serve as pastors, elders, bishops, deacons, and etc.
2 Samuel 23:4.
And he shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain.
The ďheĒ of this verse still refers to godly characteristics of those who are responsible for others. The image that David presents may not be descriptive of your boss, but it should be of you. When those to whom you are responsible think of you, do they come up with a description like that of Davidís oracle? The image presented is like the clear, sun-lit morning that comes after a stormy night. The tender grass is free to grow after being watered and is now drawn to grow by the sunlight. We might expect our pastors and bishops, the shepherds of our church congregations, to be so characterized. However, again the metaphor applies to all who have responsibility for others. If our fellowship is so-characterized, we all have friends, supporters, and mentors who provide encouragement and strength during the tough times. Rather than point accusing fingers and condemnation, they offer an embrace and words of encouragement. All people of faith should be known for the ease of their embrace and the consistency of their encouragement of others.
2 Samuel 23:5.
Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.
David knows the limits of his own obedience and the nature of Godís grace. Some teach that Godís grace is withdrawn when we sin, and if this were so, we would have no hope, since our own sin is always with us. David understands the concept of Godís forgiveness. People of faith are not able to somehow stop sinning at the moment they turn their heart and life over to God. However, their relationship to sin changes. Prior to salvation, people take a stand with sin and take a stand against God. After salvation people take a stand with God and take a stand against sin. A profession of faith includes a promise to live for God, to seek to be obedient to His calling, and to seek to live a life that is free from sin. However, we cannot live a sinless life, and find ourselves breaking any such covenant. However, Godís covenant is everlasting. Even though we cannot live a sinless life, God still forgives our sin because of our faith. The penalty for that sin was paid for by Jesus Christ when He hung on the cross of Calvary, an atonement for the sins of all who place their faith and trust in God, both before the night of Crucifixion and after. This includes King David. He understands that, despite his sin, Godís offer of salvation is true, sure, and everlasting.
2 Samuel 23:6-7.
But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands: 7But the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.
Up to this point David has been describing the blessing that God brings in the life of those who love Him. David also stated that those who carry responsibility should do so with godly integrity and justice. Those of faith cannot accept as normative and appropriate behavior that which is ungodly. The forces of this secular world press heavily on the people of faith to accept their ungodly mores. Christians are criticized heavily and referred to as intolerant and bigoted when they call to light the ungodly acts of our pagan society.
ďSons of BelialĒ is a metaphor for sons of evil, or sons of the devil. The name Belial is a derivative of the name of Baal that encompasses the entire spectrum of pagan gods, gods that are not gods at all but myths that serve only to promote the purposes of satan as they keep people from faith in the one true God. David is responsible over the nation to dispense godly justice and makes a promise before God and before men that he will be obedient to this task and will not allow brazen ungodly acts to go unanswered in his kingdom. The appropriate response to such crimes in ancient Israel is imprisonment and punishment. Few Christians have been given the authority to execute judgment upon the wicked. Actually, since none of us is King David or one of his successors, we are all commanded to judge not. However, Davidís emphatic resistance to wickedness is an instruction to all people of faith to join him in this calling. People of faith are to abhor evil, to actively resist evil when it is encountered. The Holy Spirit empowers the believer to mount such a resistance, one against which satan is powerless. The final judgment of those who David calls ďsons of BelialĒ is reserved for God, and His plan for their eternal separation from Him will not be changed by any doctrine of man.Davidís life, testimony, and prophesy is an example to all of us of the power of God to protect and to save one who places faith and trust in Him, yet is flawed by sin. Each of us experiences many difficult events in our lives, many of which are consequences of our own sin or the sins of others. Yet, regardless of the depth of our sin, God is always faithful to forgive us of that sin and impart His righteousness into our lives if we will simply place our faith and trust in Him. When we do, we will find Him to truly be our Defense, our Protector, and our Savior.