Sermon preached on 2 Samuel 23:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/10/2016 in Novato, CA.
2 Samuel 23:1-7
“Ordered in All Things and Secure”
We are drawing near to the end of our study of King David. Despite the troubles that his kingdom endured, his reign was nonetheless a great blessing to the people of God. And yet we know we are coming to an end of our study on David because it says that these are the last words of David. To be clear, these last words are artfully crafted Hebrew poetry, and so it is unlikely that these are the last words in the sense of the final words that came out of David’s breath just before he died. No, this is maybe something more like a last will and testament or like a final speech. As David approached his death, he crafted this poem as a final formal deliverance to give to his people. And not only that, we see that in verse 2 David tells us of a message God had given to him. In other words, we see these last words are prophetic.
And so put yourselves in the people’s shoes at that time. As your mighty king is nearing death, the future might seem uncertain to you. Who will fill the king’s shoes? As David’s reign ends, what will come for God’s people? And yet then your mighty king stands to give one final speech to you. And in that speech he shares with you the prophetic Word of God which encourages you about the future. That’s what we have here in this passage. These final words encourage the people that even as the Lord’s anointed dies, David’s house yet will endure because of God’s promise. And that will be good for the people, for all who put their trust in the Lord and in his anointed one. And that’s the encouragement to us as well. As we consider these last words to David we will be reminded of how they still apply to us. They should still encourage us today.
Let’s begin then by noting the first section in verses 2-4. It’s about what the king of God’s people was to be like. Verse 2 contains David essentially saying, “Thus says the Lord.” David then reports the explicit words of God with regard to what Israel’s ruler was to be like. God says there were two main requirements, according to verse 3. First, the king need to be just. In other words, he needs to be a righteous person who determines what is right and what is wrong based on God’s standards of morality. A righteous person will then rule righteously. He’ll make decisions for the nation that are right and good. He’ll make sure the nation is acting righteously. And when judicial cases come before him, he’ll consider them and decide them based on justice and righteousness. That’s the first thing that the king of God’s people must be. He must be righteous.
Second, the king needs to fear God. It relates that to his ruling. He needs to rule in the fear of God. The concept of fearing God is one that as Christians we sometimes struggle to relate to our salvation. We say that we are justified and adopted, fully reconciled to God, why should I fear him? The answer is that you don’t fear him because you are afraid of eternal damnation. But we will recognize his supremacy and his power and might. We will acknowledge in reverence that we deserve his righteous wrath. We act knowing that as a father he can and will discipline us in his love. All of these and more are reasons why we should still have a right fear of God. And this says that God’s people need to have a leader that rules them with that mindset. Part of the idea here includes what we see said in the New Testament household codes that speak to various people in authority. It tells such authorities that they need to remember that they ultimately answer to God. Like what masters are told in Colossians 4:1. They are told to treat their servants fairly because they too have a master in heaven. And so the king of God’s people can’t reign as if he is not accountable to anyone. He must not act like he can just do whatever he wants as king. That’s a mistake kings have made down through the ages. We know the saying. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. But the king of God’s people is to recognize that he does not have absolute power. He needs to instead recognize that God is the ultimately authority.
And so this section then goes on to artfully describe how good it will be for the nation, if God’s people have a ruler like this. David uses imagery from nature. This is verse 4. He speaks of how good it is when that morning light from the sun comes, not hindered by clouds. That along with the rains will bring that tender grass springing out from the ground. The picture is one of vitality and growth. We can think of, for example, how well things went while David was king. Yes, they had their trials and troubles. But overall they won much freedom and rest from so many enemy nations. Troubles like the Philistines seemed to have been largely stopped. Their borders were greatly extended. This was good for the people and it stemmed from having a king that generally ruled in righteousness and with a fear of God.
And of course all of this points beyond David. As David gives his last words, it sets up what the people need in the future. They will continue to need a king like this. It’s what they should expect from David’s house going forward. It’s what they should demand of their future kings from this lineage. Sadly, not all of David’s descendants will rule the nation like this. There will be some godly kings from his line. But there will be some wicked ones too. But this ultimately points forward to King Jesus who would come from the line of David. He fulfills these qualities perfectly. In other words, all the kings from David’s line, David included, at best only imperfectly matched these qualities. Consequently, the fruit that came from their reign was not as complete as what it could have been. But Jesus, the righteous one, brings a perfect reign for God’s people. And in him we have the greatest fruit come forth.
Pausing for a moment, I want to offer two quick applications here. One to civil governments today. One to the church today. In Israel, their nation was a theocracy where there was a close connection between church and state. In our government today, that is not the case. But we can find some applications to both. In our civil government, ideally we would want leaders who are righteous and who have a fear of God. We want that to be true of all people, and so that would include our leaders. We know how frustrating it is today when we see that not being the case. When God’s standards of morality are discarded, and when leaders seem to have so little fear of God, it is infuriating for us in the country because we know that such leadership is not only wrong, but it will have negative consequences on ourselves as well. Let us then pray for our leaders. And as much as we are able in the context of this republic that we live in, let us seek such leaders to lead us.
As for in the church, how especially infuriating it is when the church leadership does not express these qualities for leadership. It’s somewhat understandable when our increasingly secular government doesn’t have leaders that lead in righteousness or fear God. But certainly our church leaders need to strive for this. Unfortunately, the enemy has continued to work his way into the church, and this is why we see so many churches and denominations going astray. Many no longer affirm the standards of righteousness as described in the Bible. We know this started from their leaders who failed to lead in the way described here in these last words of King David. Of course we know that King Jesus is ultimately king of his church, and for that we are thankful. But surely we are called in obedience to Christ to seek godly leadership in the church.
Okay, so I’d like to turn now in our second point to review the final section of this passage. We’ll come back then to the middle section after that. So look now at verses 6-7. Here we see David speak against the sons of rebellion. In verse 6, the sons of rebellion could also be translated as worthless people. It’s a description that’s come up throughout 1 and 2 Samuel. We’ve seen various worthless men showing themselves in this book. Eli’s sons were described this way back at the start. There were some of these that didn’t support King Saul at the start of his reign. Nabal who insulted David was described as such a worthless man. Sheba who instigated that rebellion against David was described as one. I could mention other examples as well. David’s time saw his share of worthless men in the kingdom. And so by David speaking forth verses 6 and 7 it alerts the people about the future. In other words, David alerts the people that as the future unfolds there will still be these rebellious worthless people; at least for a time.
He describes these troublesome people with more imagery from nature. This imagery contrasts the prosperous garden imagery given before. Remember what would plague a successful garden; things like weeds and thorns. Well, David says that these worthless men are like thorns that puncture the skin when you touch them. The imagery goes on to say that you can’t take them out with your bare hands. Like in the garden how you need to use some metal tool, so too with these troublesome men. They will need the spear. They will need to be burned up, consumed, like thorns and weeds.
And yet that is the silver lining here in verses 6-7. As much as David acknowledges that there will be in the future these wicked people still among the kingdom, David gives hope. The language here is that these worthless men will ultimately know their destruction. In other words, they will know the judgment of God ultimately. We know from elsewhere what may be implied here. That God will use his Messiah King even to bring about this final judgment. And so these last words of David should also serve to warn any such worthless men to repent now and turn to the Lord and to his anointed one.
As we remember the applications I made in the first point, we can see them again here. In our civil government and in our church, there can be worthless men come in. The government will have to do what it can with the sword God has given the state to try to weed them out. If they reign with justice and a fear of God, this will be easier for them. Likewise, in the church, we must use what we can to address them as we find them in the church. God has not given the church a physical sword, but we do have a spiritual one. We must use the sword of the spirit as we can to root out such thorns from among us. And yet both in the government and in the church, we know how difficult this can be. In the government, I think of the challenge of fighting such people who often live in the shadows until they unleash themselves on others in violent ways. In the church, people can at first profess faith and outwardly act like they are Christian before they ultimately reveal who they truly are. Generally, both the government and the church can only react to such worthless man, after they have done some worthless thing. And often these worthless men will be specifically trying to tear down leadership and authority. So there is this conflict. And so I think we should see then some tension between the first section and this last section of David’s words. The righteous leader will be challenged by these worthless rebels. Like David experienced, so will those future kings from David’s line experience these rebels. The people need to know that such conflicts will be there, at least for a time.
And that brings us then to our third point. I want to examine the middle section now of David’s last words. This is verse 5. This central section is really the heart of these words, and really the great encouragement and hope that is here for the future. At the center of these words is David speaking of God’s everlasting covenant that he has made with David and his house. That’s the central idea in all of this. God’s covenant with David that will not be broken. The Davidic covenant shines brightly here in verse 5.
Let’s look at it a little. The first thing to take note of is the first part of verse 5. If you compare our pew Bible with a few other major translations, you’ll see some fairly different interpretations of the Hebrew. Remember, this is poetry, and like in English, a common feature of poetry is that it is often very tersely written for artistic reasons. Our pew Bible translation reads that David is saying that is house does not fit God’s description for the ideal reader. Other translations understand the verse to be asking it rhetorically with the implication that David is saying that his house does meet God’s description. For example, the very literal translation of the NASB reads, “Truly is not my house so with God?” That’s a very different understanding, but I think it is probably the better understanding of the poetry here. I think we should see that David is saying that God gave him instructions for being a king of God’s choosing, and David’s asserting that this is what he and has house has sought.
Of course the interesting thing about the way its stated is that it does leave open the question. And I think that is a fair question to leave open. Yes, to some degree, David fit the description of what kind of king God wanted. But we also know that David didn’t do it perfectly. Just remember the Bathsheba incident. Or how he handled the Amnon and the Absalom incidents. David had his failings. His descendants who reign after him will also. So, the fact that it does leave open the question, only again points us to Jesus. Jesus, who is of the house of David, will finally be that ideal righteous one who rules in the fear of God.
Yet what I wanted us to particularly notice about this everlasting covenant in verse 5, is that there is nothing conditional about it. Even though God commands David and his house to rule in a certain way, it actually doesn’t condition the covenant on that. Not here in this passage. Yes, back in 2 Samuel 7 we saw God stated that if David’s descendants turned from these things, then God would be a father that disciplined them. But even then in 2 Samuel 7 God said that even under those circumstances, he would not take his love from David or his house. Rather, God covenanted with David that he would ultimately establish his house over an eternal kingdom.
And that is the dynamic that worked itself out. There were varying kings, some good and some bad that came from David’s line. God was faithful to discipline them when they needed it. But God’s eternal covenant would not be broken. God would be faithful to his promise. And so look at what verse 5 goes on to say about this covenant. “Ordered in all things and secure. For this is all my salvation and all my desire. Will he not make it increase?” Again, the poetic terseness might make this a little hard to understand our translation. But I think the idea here is nonetheless pretty clear. David is saying that God will order everything so that his covenant to David will be fulfilled. God will arrange all the history going forward so that the promised salvation and joy and blessing in the Davidic kingdom would be realized. David’s kingdom will be increased and established to be what God promised it would be, and God promised that it would be that forever.
I hope we are all getting this. I hope you are connecting the dots. As David is nearing death, he encourages the people. The kind of king they need, will ultimately come. Yes, even though there are going to be battles with more worthless men, David’s kingdom will be established. Why? Because God has promised. How? By God ordering all things to bring it about. So, in the grand scheme of things, David tells the people that the future is a good one. He encourages them to trust in God. He tells them to believe in the eternal covenant God gave David.
Do you see then how this speaks to us today? We have seen the initial fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. And we are called to trust in its final fulfillment. Even now there will be bad leaders sometimes in this world, in the government, and sadly even in the church. But our king is Jesus. Even now there will be worthless people in the world, in the state, and sadly even in the church. But there are also the true saints of God, and King Jesus lives in them by his Spirit. And so when we look to the future, what should we think? Should we despair because Jesus is not physically here with us right now? Should we despair when we see troubles and tribulations in this world? Should we fret when we are arrested and brought before courts and maybe even martyred for our faith? Should we be surprised and scared when there continues to be wars and rumors of wars and famines and other horrible things? No, we should not fear. We should not fear because of verse 5. It says that God will order all things to bring about his eternal covenant. I love how the NLT translates verse 5. It’s a certainly a more free and loose translation, but it gets at the overall spirit of it. It translates verse 5 like this, “Is it not my family God has chosen? Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me. His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail. He will ensure my safety and success.” That’s our hope in Christ. If the people back then were encouraged by this, we should be all the more. For Christ of the house of David has already come. And we witnessed his power and authority. He was vindicated at the resurrection. And he has told us he is coming again to complete the victory. So in the face of obstacles and troubles yet in this world, we remember verse 5. The Davidic covenant is arranged and guaranteed in every detail. All the circumstances of this present age are working toward it. Believe in that. Be encouraged again in that today.
And so as we await the day of Christ’s return, let us not approach our great king as sons of rebellion. Let us embrace our perfect King, Jesus Christ of the house of David. May this be why we also want good leaders in this life, because we know who is our ultimate leader and what he wants us to stand for. And yet whether or not we have good leaders in this world, trust God’s plan to establish his Christ. Look forward to that day when it will be declared, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” Amen!
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.