God keeps his promises, but not always on our timetable. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.

2 Samuel #9 . 2 Samuel Chapter 8

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Chapter eight chronicles many of the conquests of David after he became king. These did not all necessarily take place at one point in his life; rather this is a record of what David did over a lifetime of military leadership.

In verse one, the writer tells us that “Metheg-ammah” is taken from the Philistines. This is an Hebrew expression that gives translators trouble. Some think it refers to the city of Gath. Literally it says that David took “the bridle out of the mother” of the Philistines. It may be a kind of slang meaning he took control (the bridle) of the chief Philistine city (which would be Gath). The main point is clear – the Philistines have lost any kind of control or initiative that they once had against the Israelites, and they are, for all intents and purposes, subdued. The Philistines had been a problem for Israel for several hundred years, now, through David, the Lord ends the problem.

The second verse describes how David defeated the Moabites. This is a bit troubling, because David was quite severe with them, apparently executing two thirds of the men who fought against him. This is made even more perplexing when we remember that David’s great-grandmother was a Moabite, and David had left his elderly parents in the care of the king of Moab when he was running from Saul. Some Jewish scholars believe that the Moabites killed David’s parents. There is no record of them after David left them in Moab. In addition, the Lord told David not to remain there (1 Samuel 22:5). So it is possible that the Moabites planned all along to betray him, and that the Lord told David to leave there to protect him from their betrayal. His parents, however were still there when the Moabites turned on him. This seems plausible to me.

There is more as well. In Numbers chapters 22-25, the Israelites had left Egypt and were wandering in the wilderness. This was more than four hundred years before the time of David. The Israelites camped near the country of Moab, and the Moabites were afraid of them. They didn’t want to fight the Israelites, so the king of Moab hired a prophet of God to curse the Israelites. Only, the prophet was a true prophet, and he couldn’t curse Israel in God’s name. Instead, he blessed them. The Moabites tried to trick the Israelites into becoming one people with them, and worshipping their false gods. But the prophet prophesied about the future of the two nations. He said:

I see him, but not now; I perceive him, but not near. A star will come from Jacob, and a scepter will arise from Israel. He will smash the forehead of Moab and strike down all the Shethites. (Num 24:17, HCSB)

David fulfilled this prophecy in 2 Samuel chapter 8. Now, I don’t think was consciously trying to fulfill the prophecy. I think he was punishing them for killing his parents. But as it happened that also fulfilled the prophecy given more than four hundred years before.

clip_image002In fact, at one level, this whole passage is about the fulfillment of ancient promises and prophecies. Eight hundred years before David, God promised Abraham that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan. In Genesis 15:18-21, that land was described as extending from the Red Sea in the South to the Euphrates river in the north where it runs southeast through modern-day Syria. Other promises in Deuteronomy 1:7, 11:24 and Joshua 1:4 describe those same borders, and lay out an eastern border that included almost all of modern day Jordan and Syria. However, in all the time that the descendants of Abraham lived in the promised land, they had not possessed nearly that much territory. For four hundred years, they had lived on far less than God had promised. The map at left shows the region. The area outlined in yellow is the area that the Israelites controlled during the time of the Judges and during Saul’s reign.

They were living in far less than God had promised.

However, as a result of the conquest made by David, as described in 2 Samuel chapter 8, the borders of Israel were extended to almost the exact boundaries described in God’s promises to Abraham and to the people through Moses. This next picture shows the approximate area of David’s clip_image004kingdom, outlined in purple. As you can see, Israel now had influence from the Euphrates river to the Red Sea. This is not to say that all of this area was considered “Israelite” however David’s court in Jerusalem controlled and influenced all of it. If you are still having trouble picturing it, look at a world map. This area includes modern Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and most of Syria.

So what does all this mean for us today? I think it always helps to ask, “where is Jesus in this passage?” I see him here in two places: he is fulfilling promises, and defeating enemies. First let’s talk about the promises. On one hand, this seems to show us that God’s promises don’t always get fulfilled in what we consider a timely fashion. It was more than eight hundred years between God’s promise to Abraham about the size of the land, and the complete fulfillment of that promise. That’s a long time, and many generations didn’t live in the full reality of what God had promised. On the other hand, God doesn’t forget his promises, and he does truly bring them to pass. If you wanted to take the time, you could go through the bible, and find dozens of examples of promises that He made and then kept. Many times in the past I have explained where the bible came from, and how it has been verified time and again as a historically valid document. Here, I want to emphasize that it is also a spiritually valid document. We have a historical record of a promise from God and a historical record from a different period showing its fulfillment.

A natural question is “Why did it take so long for God to fulfill this?” The only completely honest answer is “I don’t know.” I do have some thoughts, however. God told Abraham when he made the promise that it wouldn’t happen for at least four-hundred years. He was giving the residents of the land a chance to repent. But when the Israelites came out of Egypt four hundred years later, the Lord told them through Moses to go into the land, drive out the other nations and possess it. They simply didn’t do it. The reason they didn’t do it is because they lacked faith in God’s promise to be with them. In Numbers 13, Moses sent twelve spies into the land prior to invading it. Ten of the spies came back and said it would be impossible to drive out the nations who lived there. But two said it could be done. Their names were Joshua and Caleb. They said:

The land we passed through and explored is an extremely good land. If the LORD is pleased with us, He will bring us into this land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and give it to us. Only don’t rebel against the LORD, and don’t be afraid of the people of the land, for we will devour them. Their protection has been removed from them, and the LORD is with us. Don’t be afraid of them!  (Num 14:7-9, HCSB)

But the people didn’t listen to them. Instead they gave into fear and blaming. The result was forty years more of wandering for that generation, and then four-hundred years more of living in only part of what God promised.

I don’t think the lesson here is “do more.” I think it is “trust more.” As I have said many times, believing comes before doing. If the people were living in trust, they would have done what they were supposed to do. If they had attempted to do it without trust (as indeed they often did in the next four hundred years) their results would also have fallen short. The key is believing what God has promised, and trusting Him. We have seen that the one thing that makes David a hero is that he trusts God. David isn’t perfect. But he lives out of the understanding that his life belongs to God; that through him, God can and should do whatever he wants. So when David came along, the Lord finally had someone he could use, someone who trusted Him enough so that God could fully give everything that was promised.

We can’t always understand why God doesn’t completely fulfill his promises in our own lives. It isn’t always about our faith – sometimes it is about God’s bigger purposes in the world. For many years, David did not live in the fullness of God’s promises to him. That wasn’t his fault – God was arranging other things, because it wasn’t just about David – it was about God’s purposes. So don’t feel badly if you truly trust God, and yet you don’t see the complete reality of his promises in your life. It isn’t just about you. But at least, we can try to eliminate lack of faith as a reason that we don’t experience the fullness of God’s promises to us. David trusted him fully, and eventually, the Lord used that trust in a huge and positive way for both David and the entire people of God.

Now let’s talk about Jesus defeating enemies. is there “unconquered territory” in your life? I mean, are there certain areas of your life that are outside the control of Jesus? Hebrews 2:8 says this:

You put all things under his control.” For when he put all things under his control, he left nothing outside of his control. At present we do not yet see all things under his control, (Heb 2:8, NET)

Like with God’s promises, we often see a partial fulfillment of the Lord ruling in our lives. I’ll be honest and say, usually this is for the same reason – our own lack of trust. But it has the same solution. If we trust Jesus, and let him have us more fully, he will supply the power to defeat the failures, temptations and self-will that we struggle with. Paul writes about the struggle this way:

For though we live as human beings, we do not wage war according to human standards, for the weapons of our warfare are not human weapons, but are made powerful by God for tearing down strongholds. We tear down arguments and every arrogant obstacle that is raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ. (2Cor 10:3-5, NET)

Like David, we are called to wage war while trusting in God’s promises. But our war isn’t physical – it is the war of a mind, to let the Lord conquer all that he has promised for us. Now I could do an entire sermon series on the battle for the mind – maybe I will soon. But for now, I think we should understand this from our text: the key is to trust our Lord, and to be willing to do whatever that trust leads us to do. Sometimes that means opposing whatever opposes the truth of the Word of God in our thoughts. David illustrates physically in the land of Israel what Jesus wants to do spiritually in our hearts and minds.


Abner was a corrupt, ambitious politician. But not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work. We can trust God’s good intentions and his ability to fulfill them, no matter what appearances say.


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Download 2 Samuel Part 3

Chapters two through five of second Samuel describe the years after David was made king of Judah, but before he became king of all Israel. There is some natural confusion about the time period involved, because the text puts it like this:

Abner son of Ner, commander of Saul’s army, took Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and moved him to Mahanaim.  He made him king over Gilead, Asher, Jezreel, Ephraim, Benjamin — over all Israel. Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was 40 years old when he began his reign over Israel; he ruled for two years. The house of Judah, however, followed David.  The length of time that David was king in Hebron over the house of Judah was seven years and six months. (2Sam 2:8-11, HCSB)

We are going to go into the political history of all this for moment. 3000 year old politics might seem confusing, irrelevant and boring to you. But please bear with me, for a short time, because I think once we understand the politics, we will actually understand better what the Lord wants to say to us today.

Ish-bosheth (try to say that name quickly!) was clearly not king for the entire time of David’s reign over Judah alone. To put it another way, for five of the years that David was king over Judah, the rest of Israel had no king at all. Those five years may have been split between a time before Ish-bosheth’s rule and after. Or they might have come all before-hand, or all after. There is no way to tell for sure, but here is my guess:

After Saul’s death there was a great deal of confusion among the northern tribes of Israel. Many Israelites were now living in subservience to the Philistines, who had conquered a good portion of the country. The others had no leader or central organization to turn to for national identity. Remember, Saul was the very first king of Israel, and just a generation or so before him, the people had no king, no single leader. So when Saul died, and three of his four sons with him, the tribes reverted back to how they had lived before-hand – as a federation of tribes, loosely connected, but without a strong national identity. Some of them may have recalled Samuel’s warnings about having a king – and they had seen that Saul didn’t work out so well. So I suspect that there were several years immediately following Saul’s death without any strong desire or impetus to get another king.

In the meantime, the writer of the book of Samuel says that there was a war between Saul’s family and David’s. The text says that Abner became more and powerful in the family of Saul (3:6). Abner was Saul’s nephew or cousin, depending on how you read the Hebrew. He had also been Saul’s chief war-leader. It looks as though it was mainly Abner and his ambitions who opposed David’s kingship over all Israel. It took him some time to pull all his plans together. David was king for probably five years, while Abner blocked his every attempt to lead the whole nation. Meanwhile Abner himself was making connections, re-establishing a national identity, and finally setting up Saul’s son as the new king, but with himself as the real power-holder.

I think there are several understandable (but not justifiable) reasons for Abner’s actions. As Saul’s chief general, he had been the second most powerful man in Israel. With Saul dead and everything in confusion, all that went away. I think Abner wanted to go back to the way it was. I think he loved the power and position and wealth, and he was trying to regain it. In addition, Abner had been Saul’s right-hand man since the beginning. He was already there when David killed Goliath. So I imagine he had completely internalized Saul’s attitude toward David. Along with that, he may have felt that David was just like him – a great warrior, to be sure, but not a king. They had served Saul together for a short time – who was David to now pretend he was a king? Why did David think he was better than everyone else? He was a warrior, just like Abner, not a king. Finally, remember when Saul was hunting David, and David and his nephew Abishai stole Saul’s spear and water-bottle? Afterwards, they mocked Abner in front of Saul and his men. So there may have been some personal animosity there also, fueling Abner’s ambitions.

At some point, Abner was finally able to get the other Israelites to declare Ish-bosheth king over “all Israel.” But I think realistically, we have to assume that Ish-bosheth was more or less just a figurehead. The real driving force behind the civil war and behind Ish-bosheth’s monarchy, was Abner. In fact, we see this reflected when Ish-bosheth was afraid to argue with Abner (3:11), and because once Abner dies, the whole thing comes apart.

Now, I want to pause for a moment to consider this. It seems to me that Abner was not a very admirable man. Later on, we’ll see that he was completely willing to switch his allegiance to David when he realized that David was going to win. Abner was an unscrupulous political hatchet-man looking only for his own gain and ambition. We have plenty of people like that today. Sometimes modern-day politics drives me crazy, because the people in power seem to get there, and hold onto their power, through blatant dishonesty and corruption and scheming. Sometimes it helps to calm me down to realize that this has been going on for at least three-thousand years, since Abner lived that long ago.

But there is more than that here for us. Abner was a scoundrel. For five years, he carried out his schemes successfully. For two more years, it seemed that he had achieved his ambition. For seven years total, it seemed that he had thwarted David and thwarted God. And yet all the work that Abner did for himself and his selfish ambitions, ended up serving God’s purposes and plans for David.

You see, the nation was fractured after the death of Saul. It was Abner who reunited them. It was he who encouraged them to return to a sense of national identity. It was Abner who got Israel to commit once more to having one king over the whole nation. And once that was done, God handed that united kingdom over to his chosen servant David.

If David had become king right after Saul, he would have inherited a kingdom that was disorganized, disheartened and fractured. He would have had to do the work of rallying the tribes and unifying them. But instead, he simply watched while his enemy did the work for him, and watched while God turned it over to him.

This is incredibly encouraging for me. There are long periods of time in my life where I think that God’s will is being thwarted, or that evil is prevailing, and unscrupulous people are successful. But God knows what he is doing. He will use it all, sooner or later, to accomplish his purposes. Not even a man who gained control of an entire nation through dirty politics can stop God from working. And it turns out that all that selfish evil work was turned into God’s work.

Let’s continue on with the historical events. After Ish-bosheth became king, there was a significant battle between his men and David’s. The location of this battle, and of Ish-bosheth’s headquarters, is telling. The battle took place in the heart of the territory belonging to tribe of Benjamin – the tribe of Saul, Ish-bosheth and Abner. Ish-bosheth’s headquarters were located far to the east, across the Jordan valley. This means that by this point, David’s kingdom of Judah was starting to dominate the surrounding areas.

The rest of chapter 2 describes the battle, beginning with the tragic death of twelve young men from each side. If your response is “that’s horrible,” then you got the message. After the twenty-four young men killed each other, the men of Judah fell upon Abner’s men and crushed them. Abner and his forces flat out ran away.

During the chase David’s nephew Ashael fixes upon Abner. Ashael is the brother of Joab and Abishai, the sons of David’s sister Zeruiah. He probably knows that Abner personally is the main source of this war, and he seems determined to kill him, maybe thinking that he could end the war once for all.

Now, we come to the curious sense of honor that often restrained the brutality of war in those days. Abner saw Ashael pursuing him. He knew who Ashael was, and he warned him off.

 Abner said to him, “Turn to your right or left, seize one of the young soldiers, and take whatever you can get from him.” But Asahel would not stop chasing him.  Once again, Abner warned Asahel, “Stop chasing me. Why should I strike you to the ground? How could I ever look your brother Joab in the face? ”

Nowadays we think in terms of total war. But war in those days was a curious mixture of unimaginable brutality combined with strangely restraining rules of honor. Abner and Joab have just been commanding their men to kill each other in hand to hand combat – the most brutal, personal kind of war there is. And yet, Abner now is extremely reluctant to kill one of the chief leaders of the enemy. However, Ashael would not stop. So finally Abner did. The language seems to indicate that Abner stopped with his spear sticking out, butt-first behind him. His intent was probably to knock the wind out of Ashael, and bruise him to the point where he would stop pursuing him. But Ashael was running so fast that blunt end of the spear pierced him through the body and killed him.

The pursuit continued until Abner rallied his men on a hilltop. He called to Joab to stop, and again, following those curious rules of war, Joab agreed to let them go.

Not long after, Abner had a falling-out with king Ish-bosheth. I think he could see the writing on the wall, and he knew that David was going to prevail. The argument with Ish-bosheth was the final breaking point, and Abner decided to change his allegiance, to gain power in David’s new kingdom. He openly promises Ish-bosheth that he will turn the whole kingdom over to David. Chapter 3, verse 11 shows us that Ish-bosheth was indeed merely a figurehead, while Abner held the real power:

Ish-bosheth could not answer Abner because he was afraid of him. (2Sam 3:11, HCSB)

After this, Abner opened negotiations with David. He came to visit David in Hebron, and he left just before David’s nephew and war-leader, Joab, got back from a trip. Remember, Ashael, whom Abner recently killed in the battle, was Joab’s younger brother. Unknown to David, Joab sent messengers to Abner to bring him back. Abner believed he was there under the agreement of truce and safe passage that David had made with him. So he was taken by surprise when Joab pulled him aside and stabbed him, killing him.

David’s reaction to Abner’s death was just like his reaction to Saul’s death. I don’t think David had any illusions about what kind of man Abner was. He had known him for a long time, and Abner had been trying as hard as Saul to put an end to David. Even so, David refused to treat him like an enemy. Instead, he deplored the actions of Joab. David immediately declared that what Joab had done was wrong, and he prayed for God to repay him for it. He made Joab tear his clothes and mourn for Abner, the man who had killed his brother. He publicly praised Abner, and publicly condemned Joab.

Not long after this, with no Abner there to hold it together, Ish-bosheth was betrayed and killed. The murderers brought David his head, believing that David would be pleased to have his rival dead. But David treated them just as he had the Amalekite who claimed to have killed Saul – he has them executed.

This makes three times in five chapters that David punished people who claimed to have killed his enemies. I think we need to pay attention to it. Saul was clearly David’s enemy – he tried to kill him numerous times. Abner was clearly David’s enemy – he too tried to kill David by way of helping Saul. Later, as we see in these chapters, his own ambitions put him opposed to David. Ish-Bosheth, if not David’s enemy, was clearly opposed to David, and to David’s kingship over Israel.

And yet David mourned each of these men. He reacted strongly and negatively to those who caused their deaths. He was not pleased when they died, and he was not pleased with those who killed them. We have seen that David is man with many faults and failings. But we have also seen that however imperfect, he was a man with a real and living faith in the real and living God.

I think what this tells us is two things about David. First, he had perspective. He could look beyond personal rivalry, jealousy and even personal attacks. In the end, David was never willing to consider another Israelite – one of God’s chosen people – to be his enemy. In fact, when we read these chapters carefully, we find that David himself never participated in these battles against other Israelites. David wasn’t stupid. He knew ambition and fear and hatred when he saw it. But he never took it personally, and he didn’t consider the people themselves to be his enemies.

I think there is another lesson here for us. Sometimes we get caught up in personality conflicts and humans who frustrate or oppose us. But the real enemy are the demonic forces that only use and influence other humans (Ephesians 6:12). Other human beings are not the enemy. Particularly, if we follow the example of David, other Christians may often be misled and used by the devil, but they are never our real enemies.

Second, David always returned to trusting God. I would have been very concerned about Abner and his schemes. I would have been upset that for seven years, Abner succeeded. But David simply trusted God and waited. The ultimate result is that his enemy Abner did a lot of hard work on David’s behalf, and David got to reap the benefits – all for God’s glory.

One final thought. Abner, and to some degree the other Israelites, either resisted or passively ignored God’s choice for king. Ultimately, David still became the king, and it was the best possible thing – even for all the people who did not want him at first. Sometimes we resist God’s Lordship in our lives. It would be better for us than us running things ourselves, but we fight it anyway. It is better for us in the long run to let God have his way.