“David Embodies God’s Justice”
Lesson Text: 2 Samuel 23:1-7; 1 Chronicles 18:14
Background Scripture: 2 Samuel 22:1-23:7; 1 Chronicles 18:14
Devotional Reading: Isaiah 32:1-8
2 Samuel 23:1-7 (KJV)
1Now 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,
2The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.
3The 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.
4And 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.
5Although 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.
6But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands:
7 But 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.
1 Chronicles 18:14 (KJV)
14 So David reigned over all Israel, and executed judgment and justice among all his people.
To recognize that leaders must depend on the Lord and give Him the glory.
To have faith in God as a source of refuge and protection. His promises are sure!
To set the example of true leadership, one that encourages others.
Famous Last Words
Today’s printed text records “the last words of David” (2 Samuel 23:1)—at least the last of his songs or psalms. The last words of someone often reveal much about what that person saw as the true passion or purpose of his or her life. Jesus’ last words on the cross—“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46) and “It is finished” (John 19:30)—reveal His focus on His mission. The heavenly Father had sent Him on the mission to die for sin, He had completed that mission, and He was returning to the one who had sent Him on that mission.
Paul’s last words (as far as his writings in Scripture are concerned) are found in 2 Timothy. There one can read of the apostle’s unshaken confidence and joy even in the face of death. It is clear that he had no regrets whatsoever about his choice to follow Jesus.
We will see in today’s text how David’s last words express an attitude of thanksgiving to God for His blessings through the years and also a firm conviction that the future is under God’s control. Such perspectives do not happen by accident. If we want to conclude our earthly lives on a triumphant note with no regrets, then we must cultivate the proper attitudes today and each day that we live. Our last words will not become a part of sacred Scripture, but they can “last” beyond ourselves and leave a legacy to others, testifying to our faith and our devotion to the Lord.
TIME: About970 B.C.
Samuel, whose leadership of God’s people was the focus of last week’s study, anointed the first two kings of Israel—Saul and David. David rose from humble beginnings as a shepherd in the household of his father, Jesse of Bethlehem, to become Israel’s greatest king. The key to David’s greatness lay in the fact that he was “a man after [God’s] own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David’s passion for the Lord is quite evident when one reads the many psalms that he wrote. He became known, as today’s text indicates, as “the sweet psalmist of Israel” (2 Samuel 23:1).
David’s stellar, consistent walk of faith and obedience was tragically marred by his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and his arrangement of the murder of her husband. Turmoil was the trademark of David’s household from that point on (2 Samuel 12:10; 12:15-19; 13:1-19; etc.). But David was repentant.
The conclusion of 2 Samuel includes two songs of David that provide summaries of his life. The one found in 2 Samuel 22 (also found in Psalm 18) is much longer than the one recorded in our printed text from 2 Samuel 23. Both songs acknowledge God’s guidance and faithfulness through the years.
THE LORD’S APPROVAL (2 Samuel 23:1-4)
1. In what sense were these David’s “last words” (2 Samuel 23:1a)?
The fact that what follows is called the last words of David does not mean that these are David’s very last words. First Kings records other words that David speaks just before dying; to make certain that Solomon succeeds him as king. First Kings 2:1-9 includes what would be David’s literal “last words,” when he gave counsel to Solomon and assured him of the steadfastness of God’s promises. What we have in the passage before us may be considered David’s last inspired song or psalm.
At least seventy-three of the psalms in the Book of Psalms are assigned to David, but his last one is found only here in 2 Samuel 23. The phrase "the last words of David" means "his last inspired written words from the Lord." The psalm may have been written during the closing days of his life, shortly before he died. Since the theme of the psalm is godly leadership, he may have written it especially for Solomon, but it has much to say to all of God's people today.
What Do You Think?
What would you want your last words to say about what was important to you?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Life priorities | Personal holiness | Exercise of spiritual gifts
2. Explain the descriptions given of David in the introduction of 2 Samuel 23:1b?
Some may question whether David could have written the kind of introduction found in this verse since it is in the third person, whereas the contents of the psalm to follow are written in first person. Perhaps the inspired author of 2 Samuel (no author of the books is actually given) included this introduction. At the same time, biblical poetry is sometimes characterized by a frequent “shift in persons” (see, for example, Psalm 32), so perhaps David himself did include these introductory words.
David is referred to by four titles or descriptions in this verse. Each calls attention to a special way in which God directed David’s life. The first of these, son of Jesse, highlights David’s humble background. There was nothing especially outstanding about David’s family line. David was watching his father’s sheep when the prophet Samuel came to Jesse’s house in Bethlehem, at God’s command, to anoint a king to replace Saul. Apparently David, being the youngest of eight sons, was thought to be an unlikely candidate. Thus he was relegated to his shepherding duties until Samuel asked that he be brought in from the field (1 Samuel 16:1-13).
The phrase the man who was raised up on high also reflects an awareness of David’s modest beginnings. David did not seek the kingship over Israel. He knows that God raised him up to this position. When the Lord announced to David the special covenant that He was making with him, David’s response expressed a keen understanding of his unworthiness to receive such favored treatment (2 Samuel 7:18-29).
Next, David is described as the anointed of the God of Jacob. David understands that although it was Samuel who had anointed him to be Israel’s king, Samuel was guided by God in his selection. Had it not been for God’s intervention, Samuel would have anointed someone else (1 Samuel 16:6, 7). The Hebrew word translated anointed is where the term Messiah comes from.
Finally, David is referred to as the sweet psalmist of Israel. As previously mentioned, of the 150 psalms in the book of Psalms, 73 are attributed by title to David. Two that have no author given (namely, Psalms 2 and 95) are credited to David in the New Testament (Acts 4:25, 26; Hebrews 4:6, 7).
The Psalms reflect various circumstances in David’s life. Perhaps the most familiar one is Psalm 23, in which David uses the imagery of the shepherd to describe God’s degree of care for him. Psalm 18 (found also in 2 Samuel 22) includes several references to how the Lord has guided David to victory on the battlefield. David’s legacy of praise in the Psalms continues to exert a profound effect on readers today.
3. To whom did David give the credit for his words? (v. 2)
When Samuel anointed David to be king, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward” (1 Samuel 16:13). The Spirit of the Lord, who has empowered David ever since that point, now provides guidance as David conveys his “last words.” David’s statement tells us that his words are not really his at all; they are the Lord’s. The words are important enough that they are not just in David’s mind, but on his tongue also. Further, he does not just speak them, he also commits them to writing.
The Holy Spirit oversaw the process to make sure that David penned only the words God wanted written. Along with the rest of Scripture, the songs authored by David give practical solutions for living according to God’s plan (2 Timothy 3:16). From these passages we can be taught, rebuked, corrected, and thoroughly trained in righteous living. In fact, it is the Bible-with words that have been breathed by God Himself-that equips us to do good (v. 17). Good works that stem from genuine faith have great value and bear much fruit for God’s kingdom.
4.What did God tell David is needed for a person to rule justly? (v. 3)
Again, David emphasizes the source of what he is conveying: the God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me. Likening God to a rock or stone occurs elsewhere in the Old Testament (Genesis 49:24; Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 92:15); the same imagery is used of Jesus in the New Testament (1 Corinthians 10:4; Ephesians 2:19, 20; 1 Peter 2:4-8). It is a fitting comparison, for a rock is associated with firmness and dependability, especially in the face of adverse conditions.
The declaration of God that “when one rules over men in righteousness” (2 Samuel 23:3), one was to rule in an equitable and virtuous manner. It also meant to lead the nation in the “fear of God.” Loving the Lord and relating to Him in reverential fear are so closely linked that in some passages they are virtually synonymous (see Deuteronomy 10:12). “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10), but according to David it is also the vital aspect of justice. Justice implies a sense of order within a society that results in encouraging and promoting what is good and punishing what is wrong. This is how order in a society is maintained.
The more a society drifts from God and His righteous standards, the less likely it is that true justice will be upheld. Ironically, faith in God and an acknowledgement of His standards are viewed in many circles today as liabilities for exercising justice, not as assets. More and more we see that adherence to God’s standards is touted as an obstacle to getting elected or to doing one’s job in the public arena.
God didn't train David just to put him on display, but because He had important work for him to do; and so it is with every true leader. David was to rule over God's own people, "the sheep of his pasture" (Psalm 100:3), which is an awesome responsibility. It demands character and integrity ("just" = righteous) and a submissive attitude toward the Lord ("the fear of God"). Without righteousness and the fear of God, a leader becomes a dictator and abuses God's people, driving them like cattle instead of leading them like sheep. David was a ruler who served and a servant who ruled, and he had the welfare of his people on his heart (24:17).
5.What images did David use to describe a good leader? (v. 4)
David used a beautiful metaphor to picture the work of the leader: rain and sunshine that together produce useful fruit instead of painful thorns. With the coronation of David, the storms that Saul had caused in the land were now over and the light of God's countenance was shining on His people. Under David's leadership, there would be a harvest of blessing from the Lord.
With God's help, leaders must create such a creative atmosphere that their co-laborers will be able to grow and produce fruit. Ministry involves both sunshine and rain, bright days and cloudy days, but a godly leader's ministry will produce gentle rain that brings life and not storms that destroy. What a delight it is to follow a spiritual leader who brings out the best in us and helps us produce fruit for the glory of God! Unspiritual leaders produce thorns that irritate people and make progress very difficult (vs. 6-7).
The images here are those of refreshment and renewal. The book of Proverbs often points out the positive effects of rulers who discharge their duties faithfully (Proverbs 16:10, 12, 13; 20:28; 28:2; 29:4, 14). Also noted are the negative characteristics and consequences of a ruler who executes his responsibilities with no sense of accountability of God or any respect for His ultimate authority (Proverbs 17:7; 28:15, 16; 29:4, 12).
THE LORD’S DELIVERANCE (2 Samuel 23:5-7)
6. What was the purpose of David’s line of questioning in 2 Samuel 23:5?
The negative statement at the beginning of this verse (although my house be not so with God) and the one at the conclusion (although he make it not to grow) sound discordant notes given the positive tone of David’s words to this point. Consequently, various interpretations are proposed.
One suggestion is that the negative statements are David’s reflections on his own failures as a godly leader. David’s house therefore does not receive all the blessings that it could. But despite these failures, God still has chosen to make an everlasting covenant with David.
On the other hand, some students suggest that it is preferable to translate the two negative statements as rhetorical questions. The Hebrew text allows for this possibility. Under this idea, the first phrase of the verse would read something like, “Is not my house so with God?” This would refer back to the promises of refreshment in the previous verse. David would be declaring how the Lord has favored not only him, but also his entire house by virtue of the covenant blessings recorded in 2 Samuel 7:4-16.
As a rhetorical question, the last phrase of this verse would read, “Will he not make it to grow?” If this is valid, it means David is recognizing that human effort cannot bring about something that is everlasting—in this case, an everlasting covenant. Such a covenant and its blessings must come from the Lord.
The text between the opening and concluding phrases adds depth of insight. The fact that God hath made with me [David] an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure acknowledges God’s commitment to carry out everything He has promised to do. There are no loopholes, no escape clauses, no fine print, or anything else to give David reason to question the Lord’s word to him. The fact that God has indeed made such a covenant with David also reflects 2 Samuel 7:16. This covenant includes foreshadowings of Jesus, the Son of David. The New Testament describes Jesus as being on the throne of David and possessing an eternal kingdom (Luke 1:30-33). How assuring when one’s “last words” can express the utmost confidence in the Lord’s promises!
David acknowledges the blessing of protection from the Lord in the statement for this is all my salvation, and all my desire. For David personally, this salvation undoubtedly includes deliverance from earthly enemies (see 2 Samuel 22:1). But it also may reflect David’s insight into the impact of the coming Messiah as the source of salvation in a spiritual sense—from sin. Peter describes David as “a prophet” in Acts 2:29-31, where David is said to have spoken of the resurrection of Jesus (in Psalm 16, which is quoted in Acts 13:35).
Whenever we read David’s many psalms, we come away with an appreciation of this man’s heart of praise and worship of the Lord. It is humbling to consider that David lived prior to the cross of Jesus and His empty tomb. Just think of what David’s praise would have been in response to those!
What Do You Think?
What shapes your expectations of God? How do you test the validity of those expectations?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
In your relationships | In your work or ministry
In what brings you happiness | In what brings you a sense of blessing
7. What is the destiny of the wicked? Why does David use “thorns” as a comparison to “evil” people? (vs. 6-7)
The destiny of the wicked is radically different from that of the righteous. The Hebrew noun rendered “evil” (2 Sam. 23:6) is literally “Belial” and refers to people who are reprobate and wretched in their character. David compared these godless individuals to “thorns,” which is a metaphor of rejection. To gather them with one’s hands risked injury.
Most of us know the pain of trying to handle thorns without first having donned protective gloves. In the Old Testament world as today, one may also use certain tools to clear away a thicket of thorns. A person must be fenced, or protected, by means of an implement in this situation. This may involve the use of iron and the staff of a spear (functioning as a pitchfork) to pick up the thorns and place them in a pile. There they can be burned, never to be a problem again.
A similar word picture is used in Scripture to depict the wicked as chaff—the husk or shell of grain. Chaff, like thorns, is good for nothing except to be consumed in the fire (Psalm 1:4; Matthew 3:11, 12). Those who reject the Lord’s covenant, established through Jesus the Son of David, face everlasting punishment, as Jesus himself taught (Matthew 13:36-43; 25:41-46).
What Do You Think?
What was a situation in which you suffered harm because you didn’t “handle” a malevolent person properly? What can you do to protect yourself against such people?
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Romans 16:17 | 1 Corinthians 5:11; 15:33 | Ephesians 6:10-18
2 Thessalonians 3:6 | Titus 3:10
THE JUST RULE OF DAVID (1 Chronicles 18:14)
8. How can we summarize David’s reign over Israel (1 Chronicles 18:14)?
The text of today’s lesson includes one verse from 1 Chronicles. This verse summarizes David’s reign over all Israel. Throughout David’s entire reign (1010-970 B.C.), he sought to administer justice and righteous to the chosen people (1 Chron. 18:14). Admittedly, he was far from perfect. Be that as it may, David endeavored to be fair and evenhanded in serving the Israelites before God. David on his best days is a fitting model for leaders in any setting to follow.
What Do You Think?
What are some things you can do to leave a positive, godly legacy? Be specific!
Talking Points for Your Discussion
Example (John 13:15; 1 Corinthians 11:1) | Persistence (Romans 2:7)
Holiness (Hebrews 12:14)
POINTS TO PONDER
1.The privilege of leadership allows us to be a blessing to others from God (2 Samuel 23:1-4).
2.Standing before the Lord is a matter of grace. Our house is right with God only when we accept what Christ has done for us (vs. 5-6).
3.We must use godly wisdom to make good decisions. This makes us useful to God (vs. 6-7)
4.We must be endeavor to be fair and evenhanded in serving others before God (1 Chronicles 18:14).
Leaders Are “Needers”
Ruling in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3) is certainly a noble ideal. Godly individuals add a moral dimension to leadership that, sadly, is all too often lacking in the current climate. But how can this principle realistically be applied in the modern political scene, where money and power seem to determine whose agenda prevails? Those who try to bring a Christian perspective to a particular issue are often ridiculed in the media, lampooned as narrow-minded and intolerant. Is there even a place for the godly leader?
Jesus desires that His followers be salt and light, adding godly seasoning and illumination to every sphere of life (Matthew 5:13-16). The political realm is not excluded. However, anyone who senses a call by the Lord to represent Him in that arena must recognize that he or she is in for a fight! Jesus warned His disciples as He sent them out that they needed to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). That combination will certainly be required of anyone venturing into politics.
When considering David’s example of leadership, it is instructive to study the verses immediately following the ones that are part of today’s printed text. Second Samuel 23:8-39 records actions of the various “mighty men” who supported David and in some cases saved his life. And 1 Chronicles 18:15-17 lists some of the important officials in David’s administration. These lists indicate that David had help in carrying out a wise and just rule.
Anyone who desires to serve God in the political sphere today dare not face such a task alone. Such a person must acknowledge (and this is true of a leader in any setting) that he or she is a “needer”—one who needs a group of people to offer prayer support and encouragement. This group will hold the leader accountable, warning and rebuking when necessary. This will help keep the leader fit for running the larger race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27), fit for gaining the larger prize (Philippians 3:12-14).
Heavenly Father, the more our world drifts from You the more it drifts from an understanding of what is truly right and just. We pray that You will raise up leaders who acknowledge their dependence on You. In Jesus’ name, amen.
THOUGHT TO REMEMBER
Fear of God makes good people great and intelligent people wise.