His Last Words
2 Samuel 23
The passage for our present consideration (2 Sam. 23:1-7) presents somewhat of a difficulty, especially to those who are not accustomed to the drawing of distinctions and the taking of words relatively as well as absolutely. It opens by telling us, "These be the last words of David," when in fact the close of the patriarchís life was not yet reached. It seems strange that we should read of this here, when so much else is recorded in the chapters which follow, for we naturally associate the "last words" of a person with his closing utterances as life is expiring. Nor is the difficulty decreased when we note what vastly different language is upon his lips in 1 Kings 2:9. Thomas Scott suggested that "perhaps he repeated them in his dying moments as the expression of his faith and hope and the source of his consolation." This may be the case, for quite likely such sentiments were in his heart and mouth again and again during his declining days.
However, it seems to us that 2 Samuel 23 refers to "the last words of David" not so much as those merely of a man, but rather as being a mouthpiece of God, thus forming a brief appendix to his Psalms. That our passage concerns the final inspired utterance of David appears to be quite plain from the specific terms used in it. First, he makes definite mention of himself as "the sweet Psalmist of Israel" (v. 1), which obviously refers to his official character as the Lordís servant and seer. Second, he states "the Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His Word was in my tongue" (v. 2), which language could only be used of one appointed to formally deliver the oracles of God, of one so completely controlled by the Holy Spirit that his utterance was a divine revelation. Third, what he said in verses 3 and 4 looked beyond himself, being a prophetic announcement concerning the antitypical ĎRuler"óproof that he was "moved by the Holy Spirit." Further, there is nothing in the chapters following which indicate David was giving forth a formal utterance by divine revelation.
There is still another distinction which may be drawn, that clears away any remaining difficulty from our passage. Not only are we to distinguish between Davidís utterances as a man and as the mouthpiece of Jehovah, but also between his acts and words looked at historically and considered typically. In the course of this lengthy series of chapters we have pointed out again and again that in many (though by no means in all) of his experiences David is to be viewed representatively, as treading the same path and encountering the temptations and trials common to all the saints as they pass through this wilderness of sin. 1 Kings 1 gives us the historical close of the patriarchís life, the last utterance of the aged king being "but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood." "Blood" is the final word on the lips of the dying warrior, a "man of war" from his youth, as Philistine enemies and Amalekite foes could testify.
But in 2 Samuel 23 we are permitted to gaze upon the other side of the picture, a most blessed and refreshing one. Here, the Spirit of God brings before us not "the man of war" (1 Sam. 16:18), but "the man after Godís own heart," the one who had found favor in His eyes and had been loved with an everlasting love, and thus the representative of His chosen people. Here we listen to the holy breathings of the saint, and the scene becomes to us a "gate of heaven." As the believer draws near the end of his wilderness journey, like David, he reviews the Lordís goodness, dwells upon the amazing grace which lifted him from the dunghill and made him to sit in the heavenlies in Christ (v. 1), and while he laments the spiritual condition of some near and dear to him and his own failure to grow in grace as he ought, yet he found unspeakable comfort in the fact that God had made with him an everlasting covenant.
"Now these be the last words of David" (2 Sam. 23:1). Rightly did Matthew Henry point out that "When we find death approaching, we should endeavour both to honour Cod and to edify those about us with our last words. Let those who have had long experience of Godís goodness and the peacefulness of wisdomís ways, when they come to finish their course, leave a record of that experience and bear their testimony to the truth of the promise." It is not all who are granted a clear token of their approaching dissolution or given a season of consciousness, so that they may clearly avow their faith and hope; but when such is afforded, their duty and privilege is plain. David thus acquitted himself to the glory of God and the comfort of His people, and everything else being equal, so should we.
"David the son of Jesse, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said" (v. 1). The Hebrew word for "said" (twice used in this verse) signifies to speak with assurance and authority, thus confirming what we have pointed out above concerning the divine character of this utterance. David described himself, first, by the lowliness of his originó"the son of Jesse," unknown amongst those arrayed in purple and fine linen. The stock from which he came was indeed an humble one, for when it was asked in Saulís court "whose son is he?" the answer was returned "O king, I cannot tell" (1 Sam. 17:55); and so David had to answer for himself, "I am the son of thy servant Jesse, the Bethlehemite"óa small and despised house, and he the least in that house. Typically speaking, this is the believer owning his humble origin, looking back to the hole of the pit from which he was digged.
"And the man that was raised up on high": here he makes mention, secondly, of the dignity of his elevation. Though of such mean parentage, from one of the humblest of Saulís subjects, yet he found favor in the sight of the Lord, being exalted to the throne and made ruler over all Israel. The nearer the believer approaches the close of his life, the more is his heart made to wonder at the sovereign grace of God in laying hold of one so utterly unworthy and raising him to a position of dignity and honor above that occupied by the holy angels. Third, David described himself as "the anointed of Godí: as such he was again the typical believer, for of Christians it is written, "Now He which stablisheth us with you in Christ, and hath anointed us, is God" (2 Cor. 1:21). Finally, "and the sweet psalmist of Israel": that of course refers to his official character, and yet this too is representative: though he composed the Psalms, they are for our use (James 5:13).
"The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue" (v. 2). Though it be useless for us to attempt any explanation of the rationale of divine inspiration, yet this is one of many statements found in Holy Writ which serves to define its nature and extent. When we come face to face with the conjunction of the divine and the human, we confront that which transcends the grasp of the finite mind; nevertheless by the aid of what is revealed we may make certain postulates, so as to guard against terror at either extreme. The Scriptures are indeed the very Word of God, inerrant and imperishable, yet the instrumentality of the creature was employed in the communication and compilation of them. The mouth uttering it was human, but the message was divine; the voice was that of man, but the actual words those of God Himself.
"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). those holy men were the actual mouthpieces of the Almighty: their utterances were so absolutely controlled by Him that what they said and wrote was a perfect expression of His mind and will. It is not simply that their minds were elevated or their spirits sublimated, but that their very tongues were regulated. It was not merely that their wills received a supernatural impulse or that their minds were divinely illuminated, but the very words of their message was conveyed to them. Nothing less than this can be gathered from the verse before us: when David affirmed Godís Word was "in his tongue," far more is denoted than that a concept was conveyed to his mind and he felt free to express it in his own language. Nothing less than their verbal inspiration is predicated of the Scriptures themselvesócompare 1 Corinthians 2:13.
"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" (v. 3). The older writers saw in these verses, and we believe rightly so, a reference to the blessed Trinity. First, in verse 2 David affirmed "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me," and that a divine person rather than a spiritual inflation was denoted is plain from "and His word was in my tongue." Second, "the God of Israel said": that is, God the Father spake, as a reference to Hebrews 1:1 and 2 makes clear. Third, "the Rock of Israel spake to David" alludes to the Son, in His mediatorial capacity, of whom it was predicted, "And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land" (Isa. 32:2). Though a fuller and brighter manifestation of the Godhead has been made under Christianity, nevertheless the Tri-unity of God was definitely revealed in the Old Testament Scriptures.
There is a distinction to be drawn between what is recorded in the verse preceding and in verse 3: there it was "the Spirit of the Lord spake by me," here "spake to me"óthat relates to what he was moved to record by divine inspiration (principally in the Psalms), this a more personal message for himself and family. "Let ministers observe that those by whom God speaks to others are concerned to hear and heed what the Spirit speaks to themselves. They whose office it is to teach others their duty, must be sure to learn and do their own" (Matthew Henry). Particularly must due attention be paid unto these two things: "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." The immediate reference is to civic leaders, hut the principle applies strictly to ecclesiastical ones too: impartiality and righteousness ought ever to characterize both magistrate and minister alike, while the office of each is to be discharged in the awe of Him to whom an account will yet have to be rendered.
"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" (v. 4). Here is the blessing and prosperity assured to those who faithfully discharge their obligations, keeping both tables of the Law. "Light is sweet and pleasant, and he that does his duty shall have the comfort of it; his rejoicing will be the testimony of his conscience. Light is bright, and a good prince (or minister) is illustrious; his justice and piety will be his honor. Light is a blessing, nor are there greater and more extensive blessings to the public than princes that rule in the fear of God. It is like Ďthe light of the morning,í which is most welcome after darkness of the night; so was Davidís government after Saulís. It is likewise compared to the tender grass, which the earth produces for the service of men; it brings with it a harvest of blessings" (Matthew Henry).
Verses 3 and 4 can also be rightly regarded as a Messianic prophecy, for the Hebrew may be rendered "There shall be a Ruler over men which is just, ruling in the fear of God." The qualities essential in the one who is to rule for Godís glory and His peopleís good, are righteousness and dependenceófound alone in their perfection in that blessed One who came not to do His own will, but the will of Him who sent Him. Saul wielded the power for himself; David had to hang his head and own "my house be not so with God" (v. 5); which requires us to turn to Christ. He orders the affairs of the Fatherís kingdom according to the divine will. He is "as the light of the morning" because "the Light of the world," and "as the tender grassí because He is "the Branch of the Lord" and the Fruit of the earth (Isa. 4:2).
"Although my house be not so with God" (v. 5). Here again the historical merges into the typical. After the prophetic fore-view just granted him, David turned his reflections upon himself and his own house, and sorrowed over the state of the same. "By his own misconduct, his family was much less religious and prosperous than it might have been expected, and both he and Israel had suffered many things in consequence. Several grievous and scandalous events had occurred: matters were not yet as he could wish, and he seems to have had his fears concerning his descendants, who should succeed him in the kingdom" (Thomas Scott). Grief, then, was mingled with his joy, and dismal forebodings cast a dark shadow over his lot.
As the believer nears the end of his course, he not only meditates upon the lowliness of his original estate and then the elevated position to which sovereign grace has lifted him, but he also reviews his follies, bemoans his failures, and sorrows over the wretched returns he has made unto Godís goodness. This is the common experience of the pious: as they journey through this wilderness they are sorely tried and exercised, pass through deep waters, experience many sharp conflicts, and are often at a loss to maintain their faith.
saints of God,
His messengers and sears,
Thy narrow path have trod,
ĎMid sins, and doubts, and fears.
And at the end they generally have to mourn over the graceless condition of some that are nearest and dearest to them, and exclaim, "Although my house be not so with God."
"Yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure" (v. 5). Blessed antithesis. The opening "yet" is placed over against the "although" at the beginning of the previous clause: it is the faithfulness of God set in delightful contrast from Davidís failures. It illustrates most solemnly the awe-inspiring sovereignty of God: Divine justice had been meted out to his foes, divine grace had dealt with himself. At least one of his children had evidenced himself to be among the reprobate, but God had entered into an eternal compact of peace with the father. Here was indeed sweet consolation for his poor heart. The allusion is to that covenant of grace which God made with all His people in Christ before the foundation of the world. That covenant is from everlasting in its contrivance, and to everlasting in its consequences.
That everlasting covenant is so "ordered" as to promote the glory of God, the honor of the Mediator, and the holiness and blessing of His people. It is "sure" because its promises are those of Him who cannot lie, because full provision is made in it for all the failures of believers, and because its administration is in the hands of Christ. "For this is all my salvation." David rightly traced his salvation back to "the everlasting covenant": alas that so many today are ignorant of this inexhaustible well of comfort. It is not enough that we go back to the hour when we first believed, nor even to the Cross where the Saviour paid the price of our redemption; to the everlasting covenant we must look, and see there God graciously planning to give Christ to die for His people and impart the Spirit to them for quickening and the communicating of faith. This is "all our salvation" for it entirely suffices, containing as it does a draft of all the salvation-acts of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In consequence of the nature, fullness and sufficiency of the everlasting covenant, it must be "all my desire": that is, obtaining by the Spiritís help an assurance of my personal interest in its grand promises. "Although He make it not to grow." First, with reference to his house: "in number, in power; it is God that makes families to grow, or not to grow (Ps. 107:41). Good men have often the melancholy prospect of a declining family, Davidís house was typical of the Church of Christ. "Suppose this be not so with God as we could wish: suppose it be diminished, distressed, disgraced, and weakened by errors and corruptions, yea, almost extinct, yet God has made a covenant with the churchís Head, that He will preserve to Him a seed: this our Saviour comforted Himself with in His sufferings: Isaiah 53:10, 12" (Matthew Henry). Second, with reference to himself: he had received the grace of the covenant, but it had not flourished in him as could be desiredóhis own neglect being the criminal cause.
David concluded (vv. 6 and 7) with a most solemn reference to the awful fate awaiting the reprobate. Destitute of faith, self-willed, unconcerned about Godís glory, despising and ill-treating His servants, righteous retribution shall surely fall upon them. "As thorns thrust away" is a figure of their rejection by God; ultimately they shall be "utterly burnt with fire." It was a prediction of the eternal undoing of all the implacable enemies of Christís kingdom.