From David’s prophetic song of Christ in 2 Samuel 22, we move to David’s last words, which once again can point only away from himself. V.5 in particular – “he has made with me an everlasting covenant”: is this covenant broken when the house of David has been scattered and dispersed? No – we are indeed grafted in the house of David by Christ Himself. For David’s last words, by the Spirit of the LORD, proclaims the Son of God as the Man who secures one’s eternality in the everlasting House of Israel. To His children, He is the sun shining forth on a cloudless morning, like rain that makes grass to sprout from the earth (v.4) – yet to those standing outside of Christ, these worthless men are subject of a consuming fire (v.7 – Genesis 19:24; Daniel 3:27; compare Genesis 2:5 and Genesis 7:4).
2Sa 23:1-39 Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel: (2) “The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue. (3) The God of Israel has spoken; the Rock of Israel has said to me: When one rules justly over men, ruling in the fear of God, (4) 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. (5) “For does not my house stand so with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. For will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire? (6) But worthless men are all like thorns that are thrown away, for they cannot be taken with the hand; (7) but the man who touches them arms himself with iron and the shaft of a spear, and they are utterly consumed with fire.”
What is interesting to note is that honorific verses following David’s praise of the LORD is key to understanding David’s theology when he describes the good works of the saints; the righteousness of the saints; the cleanness of the saints. The praise song of David in the previous chapter recognizes that it is the LORD who rebukes the waters; it is the LORD who forgives men of sins; it is the LORD who lights the dark path which David would have otherwise trodden. Similarly, it is the LORD who has made with David an everlasting covenant – ordered in all things and secure (v.5). Such assurance of faith is not the same as one who is relying on his “clean” hands for salvation; rather, it is salvation which came first, then came these mighty men.
Note in particular verses 3 and 4 which is currently translated in the ESV as:
3The God of Israel has spoken;
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
When one rules justly over men,
ruling in the fear of God,
4he 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.
Adam Clarke notes that v.3 should be far more theocentric – “He that ruleth over men must be just” (מושל באדם צדיק moshel baadam tsaddik), or “He that ruleth in man is the just one”; or, “The just one is the ruler among men”. It is clear that from Clarke’s rendition of the Hebrew, we cannot escape that this “ruler” is not speaking of any men; it isn’t speaking as if David should aspire to be the alpha and omega of the meaning behind this “ruler”. Rather, this ruler is the just one. Clarke goes on to say regarding the latter half of v.3, “It is by God’s fear that Jesus Christ rules the hearts of all his followers; and he who has not the fear of God before his eyes, can never be a Christian”, explicitly referring to this “ruler” whom David refers to as Christ Jesus. If so, the verses following make more sense – this Ruler, the Light of the world, shall be “like the morning light” (c.f. Genesis 1, “Let there be light” – light is not created on day 1, but is the first Word proclaimed by the Father). Clarke also continues in the same vein of thinking: “As the Messiah seems to be the whole subject of these last words of David, he is probably the person intended. One of Dr. Kennicott’s MSS. Supplies the word יהוה Yehovah; and he therefore translates, As the light of the morning ariseth Jehovah… He shall be the Sun of righteousness, bringing salvation in his rays, and shining – illuminating the children of men, with increasing splendor, as long as the sun and moon endure.”
Yet, it is important to recognize that not all of these mighty men were cut from the same cloth as we turn back to them from v.8 onwards. We begin with the three:
(8) These are the names of the mighty men whom David had: Josheb-basshebeth a Tahchemonite; he was chief of the three. He wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time. (9) And next to him among the three mighty men was Eleazar the son of Dodo, son of Ahohi. He was with David when they defied the Philistines who were gathered there for battle, and the men of Israel withdrew. (10) He rose and struck down the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clung to the sword. And the LORD brought about a great victory that day, and the men returned after him only to strip the slain. (11) And next to him was Shammah, the son of Agee the Hararite. The Philistines gathered together at Lehi, where there was a plot of ground full of lentils, and the men fled from the Philistines. (12) But 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. (13) And three of the thirty chief men went down and came about harvest time to David at the cave of Adullam, when a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim. (14) David was then in the stronghold, and the garrison of the Philistines was then at Bethlehem. (15) And David said longingly, “Oh, that someone would give me water to drink from the well of Bethlehem that is by the gate!” (16) Then the three mighty men broke through the camp of the Philistines and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem that was by the gate and carried and brought it to David. But he would not drink of it. He poured it out to the LORD (17) and said, “Far be it from me, O LORD, that I should do this. Shall I drink the blood of the men who went at the risk of their lives?” Therefore he would not drink it. These things the three mighty men did.
Note how David, upon the willing sacrifice of these three loyal men (c.f. event of v.13 was recorded in 2 Samuel 5:17), poured out what David had considered to be their blood (v.17) to the LORD (v.16) – and such is the definitive picture of the Christ, poured out and anointed (the Hebrew for “poured” in v.16 is nasak, נָסַךְ, which could mean both “poured out” and used in the context of the anointing of a king) before the LORD to fulfill that true thirst of David (Matthew 26:28; John 4:10-11; Revelation 7:17), the water which came from the house of bread the birthplace of the incarnate Son of God. These three are akin to the missional Trinity, working as one family of different roles and Persons to fulfil the salvific work glorified through the Son; the wise Tehchemonite, the aided Eleazar, son of love and rest, and Shammah born of desolation, inflicting judgment and wrath. Is this not the united truth of the Triune Elohim, the wisdom of the Spirit leading us to the beloved and aided Son of the love and Sabbath rest to come from the Father who inflicts both his overflowing love and wrath through His God-man Elect One.
(18) Now Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief of the thirty. And he wielded his spear against three hundred men and killed them and won a name beside the three. (19) He was the most renowned of the thirty and became their commander, but he did not attain to the three. (20) And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was a valiant man of Kabzeel, a doer of great deeds. He struck down two ariels of Moab. He also went down and struck down a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen. (21) And he struck down an Egyptian, a handsome man. The Egyptian had a spear in his hand, but Benaiah went down to him with a staff and snatched the spear out of the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with his own spear. (22) These things did Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, and won a name beside the three mighty men. (23) He was renowned among the thirty, but he did not attain to the three. And David set him over his bodyguard. (24) Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem, (25) Shammah of Harod, Elika of Harod, (26) Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh of Tekoa, (27) Abiezer of Anathoth, Mebunnai the Hushathite, (28) Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai of Netophah, (29) Heleb the son of Baanah of Netophah, Ittai the son of Ribai of Gibeah of the people of Benjamin, (30) Benaiah of Pirathon, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash, (31) Abi-albon the Arbathite, Azmaveth of Bahurim, (32) Eliahba the Shaalbonite, the sons of Jashen, Jonathan, (33) Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite, (34) Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai of Maacah, Eliam the son of Ahithophel of Gilo, (35) Hezro of Carmel, Paarai the Arbite, (36) Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite, (37) Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai of Beeroth, the armor-bearer of Joab the son of Zeruiah, (38) Ira the Ithrite, Gareb the Ithrite, (39) Uriah the Hittite: thirty-seven in all.
And it is from v.18 to 39 that we see the church formation – from David the pastor, to the three elders / deacons (Numbers 11; Titus 1; 1 Timothy 3), to the church. Here we see the hierarchy of the early ancient church which had begun in Moses’ time, which truly stems from the Trinitarian creator Elohim who had commanded Adam to populate the earth with His children (though it seems the mandate came after the fall in His promise of the Son as Messiah – Genesis 3:15-16), rather than children of darkness. It is in the names of these 37 (including David), that we are brought to recognize the might of these heroes of David’s league – from Abishai (father of gift) who as chief of the thirty won his name in walking victoriously before the three hundred men, to Benaiah, the man whom Yahweh has built up and struck down the heroes of Moab ( ית תרין רברבי מואב yath terein rabrebey Moab, “The two princes of Moab.” – according to Adam Clarke’s translation) (v.18-20); he who also struck down a lion and approached the man of appearance, the powerful seemingly supernatural (as the Hebrew would describe it) man of Egypt with his seemingly feeble staff, only to turn on the enemy with his own weapon (Habbakuk 3:14).
And these are but the great deeds (c.f. v.20) of two of the thirty, let alone the God-made (Asahel) to He has saved (Helez); from milk and full richness / fatness (Heleb) to whom God is salvation (Eliphelet); but also from my God rejects (Elika) to shady (Zalmon); from desolation and astonishment (Shammah) to scabby (Gareb). We do not merely have men of renown, but also men of disrepute; men of Israel, but also men who have newly joined Israel (e.g. Ittai); and in this thirty we see the great mixed multitude of the church brought out of Egypt (Exodus 12:38), of the prophecy fulfilled (Genesis 9) and the Gentiles and Israelites fulfilling the commission of the Trinity in the same tent (Isaiah 54:2). Note especially Matthew Henry’s words in closing of this chapter:
“The surnames here given them are taken, as it should seem, from the places of their birth or habitation, as many surnames with us originally were. From all parts of the nation, the most wise and valiant were picked up to serve the king. Several of those who are named we find captains of the twelve courses which David appointed, one for each month in the year, 1 Chr. 27. Those that did worthily were preferred according to their merits. One of them was the son of Ahithophel (2Sa_23:34), the son famous in the camp as the father at the council-board. But to find Uriah the Hittite bringing up the rear of these worthies, as it revives the remembrance of David’s sin, so it aggravates it, that a man who deserved so well of his king and country should be so ill treated. Joab is not mentioned among all these, either, (1.) to be mentioned; the first, of the first three sat chief among the captains, but Joab was over them as general. Or, (2.) Because he was so bad that he did not deserve to be mentioned; for though he was confessedly a great soldier, and one that had so much religion in him as to dedicate of his spoils to the house of God (1Ch_26:28), yet he lost as much honour by slaying two of David’s friends as ever he got by slaying his enemies.
Christ, the Son of David, has his worthies too, who like David’s, are influenced by his example, fight his battles against the spiritual enemies of his kingdom, and in his strength are more than conquerors. Christ’s apostles were his immediate attendants, did and suffered great things for him, and at length came to reign with him. They are mentioned with honour in the New Testament, as these in the Old, especially, Rev_21:14. Nay, all the good soldiers of Jesus Christ have their names better preserved than even these worthies have; for they are written in heaven. This honour have all his saints.”
It is also important for us not to forget the refrain in v.19 and v.23 – “but he did not attain to the three”. There is something special about the three which is fundamentally different from the thirty. Though they had enjoyed the equal fellowship of David the King, they were not of a compromised quality like the son of Zeruiah – let alone that Joab has not even been mentioned amongst these great men (1 Kings 2:5); but the key difference lies in them pouring out their life for David as if pouring out their blood before the LORD. In the three, we see a picture of the Trinity working through the Son in achieving that great picture of redemption in the pouring out of the water. This is not a duty which the sons of Zeruiah can do.
Finally, what a sting it is that Uriah should be mentioned at the end of the thirty, as if to highlight once again that David is but one of these men and not the true centre of the three, nor the true king of the great thirty or of the chosen nation Israel. He is no different and is redeemed from his humble youth and anointed king despite being the grand schemer, murderer and adulterer who had been promised to be given an eternal kingdom through his offspring (2 Samuel 7), just as Adam had (Genesis 3:15) the moment he subverted Christ’s headship and replaced it with the serpent’s.