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William M. (William Mackergo) Taylor.

David, king of Israel: his life and its lessons online

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secrate his service this day unto the Lord ?"



XXIII.

LAST WORDS,
i KINGS ii. ; 2 SAMUEL xxiii., i.

AFTER the solemn assembly of the estates of the realm,
at which David publicly inaugurated the reign of Sol-
omon, the strength of the aged monarch seems gradually to
have ebbed away until " the days drew near that he must
die." During these heart-searching times of silence and re-
tirement, as he lay looking back upon the irrevocable past,
and forward into the dread eternity, many thoughts must
have filled his mind, and much close communion with God
must have been enjoyed by him. He meddled now not
much with earthly things, but when he did give any atten-
tion to them, the reign of Solomon still came uppermost,
and his earnest admonitions to his son concerning the build-
ing of the Temple, and the character which he was to choose
and cultivate, were renewed. One such occasion appears to
have been more important than all the rest ; and it is to that
the sacred historian refers in the portion of the narrative at
which we have now arrived (i Kings ii., 1-9). Feeling with-
in him the sure premonitions of approaching death, he laid
upon Solomon, with all the importance of a last injunction,
a most important charge. First he reminded him of the
conditional promise which God had given to him through
Nathan in these words : " If thy children take heed to their
way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with
all their soul, there shall not fail thee a man on the throne of
Israel ;" and upon this he founded the following exhortation :
" Be thou strong therefore, and show thyself a man ; and keep



416 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways." We
can not read this injunction now without being reminded
of Paul's words to Timothy, in somewhat similar circum-
stances : " Thou, therefore, my son, be strong in the grace
that is in Christ Jesus." Nor can we fail to see the appro-
priateness of the command to ourselves, for God's promises,
even in Christ, are conditioned on our acceptance of them, and
on our obedience of the precepts in connection with which
they are given. It may seem, indeed, strange that we should
be commanded to be strong, since, at first sight, strength
may not appear to be a thing wholly in our own hands ; but
we must never forget that God imparts his strength to us
only through the strenuous forth-putting of our own. If we
would secure his might, we must earnestly employ our own.
If we would receive grace from him to resist temptation,
we must ourselves show firmness and courage; if we would
ultimately, through him, be conquerors in the battle of life,
we must zealously carry on the fight ourselves. In the
Gospel narrative, the man who had the withered arm re-
ceived strength to put it forth, by honestly and believingly
making the attempt to do what Jesus bade him; and we
shall be supported in the discharge of difficult duty only
when we endeavor to perform it as heartily as if the whole
power required were our own ; while at the same time we
look up to God for help as sincerely as if all the might were
really to come from him, as indeed it always does. When
God says " Be strong," we get the strength which we need by
acting in such a way as implies that we already possess it.
This may seem a paradox, but it is the paradox of faith in
every form. Admirably has one said, "The moment relig-
ion ceases to command men to attempt the impossible, it
ceases to be religion ;" and when faith that is really faith at-
tempts the impossible, it changes it forthwith into the possi-
ble ; for then the strength of God is made perfect in human



LAST WORDS. 417

weakness. For the young especially no axiom is more im-
portant than this, contradictory as it may seem, that to gain
divine strength we must be strong, and set ourselves de-
fiantly against all evil. Take then, my friends, a decided
stand for God, and truth, and duty, and the strength needed
to maintain that stand will not be withheld from those who
seek it. " Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like
men, be strong."

Appended to this wise paternal counsel, David gave to
Solomon sundry injunctions as to the discharge of his gov-
ernmental duties toward certain individuals. First he spoke
of Joab ; and, after referring to his murder of Abner and
Amasa in circumstances of peculiar atrocity, he said, " Do
therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head
go down to the grave in peace." Next he alluded in kind-
ly terms to the sons of good old Barzillai, and commended
them to his tender care thus : " Let them be of those that
eat at thy table : for so they came to me when I fled because
of Absalom thy brother." Finally he spake of Shimei, who
had so shamefully and spitefully cursed him on the same sad
occasion ; and after acknowledging the oath by which he had
bound himself to him, he added, " Now therefore hold him
not guiltless : for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou
oughtest to do unto him ; but his hoar head bring thou down
to the grave with blood." Now, so far as regards his request
concerning the sons of Barzillai, we can have no feelings but
those of approbation ; but it does seem as if his injunctions
concerning Joab and Shimei were characterized by a vin-
dictive and revengeful spirit altogether out of harmony with
his usual disposition, and utterly inconsistent with the sol-
emn position in which he was placed. A death-bed is a
place for forgiveness, and not for implacability ; and even
those who in their lives have not been conspicuous for their
religious principle have, as they lay dying, sent messages

1 8*



418 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

of reconciliation to such as have been at variance with
them.

At first, therefore, and without going into the consideration
of the cases in detail, we are disposed to express our aston-
ishment at the spirit here manifested by David, and to pro-
nounce condemnation on -it. In regard to Shimei, indeed,
some have supposed that the case is not so bad as our trans-
lators have made it appear. Kennicott, the learned Hebra-
ist, has affirmed that it is not uncommon in that language to
omit the negative in the second part of a sentence, and con-
sider it as repeated where it has been expressed in the for-
mer part of the sentence, if they be connected by the usual
conjunctive particle. Therefore he would read David's in-
junction as to Shimei thus : " Hold him not guiltless, but
bring thou not his hoar head to the grave with blood." I am
not sufficiently conversant with the niceties of the Hebrew
language to be competent to give an opinion on such a point
as this ; but this proposed rendering has been adopted by
such scholars as Dr. Angus, in his " Bible Hand-book," and
Dr. Jameson, in his excellent commentary on the -historical
books of the Old Testament ; and it must be confessed that
it receives a certain measure of support from Solomon's af-
ter-treatment of Shimei, since he did not put him to death at
first, but merely confined him within the limits of the city of
Jerusalem, and shed his blood only when he had violated the
conditions on which his life had been granted to him.

But whatever may be said regarding Shimei, there remains
the case of Joab ; and when we remember how much David
owed him, we are apt to feel that he might now have con-
doned his faults, and let him go unpunished. All this must
be frankly conceded ; but when we go below the surface of
the narrative and take all the bearings of the subject into
our consideration, the case against David is not so bad
as it looks. I at least am not disposed to pronounce un-



LAST WORDS. 419

qualified censure upon him ; nay rather, I am inclined to
stand up in his defense, and to maintain that his design in
giving these commands was to secure the prosperity of Sol-
omon's reign, and to prevent his son from erring, as he him-
self had erred, by timidly and weakly passing over the crimes
of men simply because they happened to be related to him-
self, or to be powerful and prominent in the land. Let it be
remembered that revenge was not a characteristic feature
of David's disposition. He was chivalrous in a high degree.
He was a generous enemy. He did not cherish malice, or
vindictively plot for a rival's destruction. Once and again,
when he might easily have rid himself of Saul, he allowed
him to go unharmed ; and in his treatment of Joab on the
two occasions to which he here makes reference, there was
a criminal weakness which was unworthy of a king. We
noted the same thing in his dealing with Amnon and Absa-
lom. Hence we can not suppose that when he was on his
death-bed, subdued by the feelings which his conscious near-
ness to the unseen world had produced in him, he would al-
low himself to be hurried away by a passion which had nev-
er moved him at any single period of his history. How,
then, shall we account for these injunctions ? I answer, by
regarding them as deeds of justice, tardily executed, it is
true, but yet executed at last on public grounds, for the wel-
fare of the nation and the happiness of his son. He wish-
ed Solomon's reign to be undisturbed ; and recognizing in
Shimei a turbulent and unprincipled man, who might yet
give trouble as the leader or abettor of some Benjamite re-
volt, he put his successor on his guard against him. Then,
in regard to Joab, we must remember that all through the
old economy the principle is maintained that blood unright-
eously shed cries to God for vengeance ; and it is every-
where implied that if he who shed it should go unpunished,
the slight thus done to justice would certainly bring down



420 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

calamity on the land. Thus, in the book of the law, in con-
nection with the enactment providing cities of refuge for the
accidental man-slayer, we have this injunction : " But if anv
man hate his neighbor, and lie in wait for him, and rise up
against him, and smite him mortally that he die, and fleeth
into one of these cities: then the elders of his city shall send
and fetch him thence, and deliver him into the hand of the
avenger of blood, that he may die. Thine eye shall not pity
him, but thou shalt put away the guilt of innocent blood from
Israel, that it may go well with thee."*

As an instructive commentary upon this portion of the sa-
cred statute-book, we had before us a few evenings ago the
fact that the slaughter of the Gibeonites by Saul, which had
continued unatoned for, brought down upon the land, even
after the lapse of more than thirty years, a visitation of fam-
ine which ceased only when seven of Saul's descendants
had been given up to justice. Hence we may suppose that
David feared lest some similar judgment should come upon
the people in Solomon's time for the unpunished crimes of
Joab, and that he sought, by laying these injunctions upon
his son, to avert such a calamity from the nation. Besides,
though at certain critical times in his history he had been
greatly indebted to Joab, yet he had been galled and irri-
tated by his haughty and overbearing character, and may
have wished that Solomon should be delivered from a yoke
under which he had been fretted and borne down for many
years. With our New Testament ideas, indeed, we almost
instinctively recoil from these injunctions, given on his death-
bed by David to Solomon, but we must place ourselves, like
him, under the Mosaic law, with the old ideas of blood-re-
venge which then prevailed, and which that law sought to
regulate rather than to abolish, before we presume to sit in

* Deuteronomy xix., 11-13.



LAST WORDS. 421

judgment upon them. Now, when we thus regard them, we
can not condemn David so confidently as many have done.
On the contrary, we see, in his anxiety about the disposal of
these malefactors, evidence of a quickening of his conscience
as a magistrate, which was very natural at the approach of
death, while at the same time it indicates the intensity of
his desire to relieve Solomon from the evil consequences
that would else have resulted from his own failure in the
administration of justice. To our thinking, they wrong the
dying man most shamefully who would impute to personal
malice or cruel revenge recommendations which were given
solely on public and judicial grounds by one who felt him-
self already face to face with his own final account. . Nor
can I forbear to add, that the disposition which cavils at
these injunctions thus understood, is of a piece with the
mawkish sentimentalism of these times, which turns every
criminal into a simple object of benevolence, when it does
not exalt him into a hero, and of which we see the results
to-day, when justice is lying torn and bleeding in our streets ;
when human life, instead of being the most sacred object of
protection by society, is almost as little regarded among us
as that of the brutes that perish ; and when the perpetrators
of the most palpable murders contrive, by a thousand plausi-
ble pretexts, to elude that penalty which the law has annexed
to their crime. Let us not forget that the God of Israel is
the God of all nations, and that his providence is still regu-
lated by the principles on which he governed the world in
the days of David. Alas ! what evils may be even now im-
pending over us, because of the indifference to justice which
has characterized so much of our recent so-called judicial
procedure ! We have had all manner of consideration and
pity shown to the criminals; it might be well now if a little
of both were manifested to the community at large.

It only now remains, before we come to the last scene of



422 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

this eventful history, that we glance a little at the interest-
ing oracle which is introduced by the sacred historian in the
twenty-third chapter of 2 Samuel with this phrase : " Now
these be the last words of David." It is not necessary to
believe that the portion of sacred poetry to which this state-
ment is prefixed was the very latest utterance of the Psalm-
ist before he closed his eyes in death. The meaning of the
clause may be that the prediction which it introduces was
the last formal communication made by David in the char-
acter of an inspired prophet, or it may simply indicate that
the oracle belongs to the last illness of the king ; and so,
over and above its divine inspiration, it may serve to show
the current of his thoughts and the support of his heart, as
he was passing through the valley of shadow. In any case,
it has a character which is quite unique among the produc-
tions of David. It is not a Psalm in which we have the ele-
ment of praise commingled with that of prediction, neither
is it a plain declaration of David's spiritual experience in
the near prospect of death ; but it is a prophecy, or oracle, .
commencing with a description of the prophet and an asser-
tion of his inspiration, and then proceeding to delineate the
nature of Messiah's dominion, with its twofold effect of bless-
ing on the obedient and lowly, and punishment on the rebell-
ious and proud. Then, between the indication of the bless-
ing and the curse, we have a kind of parenthetic reference
to David's royal dynasty, the perpetuity of which, as secured
in the Messiah, he declares to be all his salvation and all
his desire.

Let us attend to each of these portions of this interesting
passage. There is, first, the description of the prophet him-
self. This is usual in the introduction of important predic-
tions. We find it, for example, in the opening verses of the
books of Isaiah, Amos, and Jeremiah, and, in particular, we
have a strain very similar to that before us in the commence-



LAST WORDS. 423

ment of Balaam's well-known prophecy. In the passage un-
der consideration, David is called by his simple patronymic,
the son of Jesse ; and with special allusion to the fact that he
was elevated from the lowly life of a shepherd to the lofty
glory of a throne, he is styled " the man who was raised up
on high." Nor is this all : he is denominated " the anointed
of the God of Jacob," in recognition of his having been des-
ignated by prophetic anointing for the royal office. Fur-
thermore, he is described as "the sweet Psalmist of Israel."
Some have attempted to render the original phrase here by
the words, " sweet in the Psalms of Israel ;" or, as Bunsen
has translated them, " the darling of the songs of Israel ;"
and they vindicate their view by referring to the victory ode
which was sung concerning him after his defeat of the giant,
and to other similar songs. But I rather regard the phrase,
" the sweet Psalmist of Israel," as a title which, even in his
lifetime, David had received, as the author of those sacred
hymns which form so large a portion of the book of Psalms ;
and I am confident that its appropriateness will be thorough-
ly indorsed by the spiritually-minded even of this latest gen-
eration; for the shepherd-king of Israel, when he sang out of
his own heart, produced lyrics which have found their way
to the heart of humanity itself, and which have been in all
ages, as they are in this, the chosen vehicle through which
devout spirits have sent alike their joys and their sorrows,
their penitence and their praise, their thanksgivings and
their petitions up to God. David seems, indeed, to have
been led through manifold trials and experiences, and to
have been divinely inspired to sing his feelings in them all,
just that he might be a leader of psalmody to God's people
in every age, and in all circumstances ; and so it is that the
pious heart even now finds the emotions which are vainly
struggling within it for expression already uttered in the
book of Psalms, and that, too, to the music of a harp so



424 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

sweet that as one listens he seems to hear for the time the
melody of heaven, and all sorrow and anxiety are charmed
away. His joyful odes bear aloft our praises, as on eagles'
wings, to heights to which alone -and without his assistance
we had never soared ; his Psalms of penitence and sadness
give us minor strains wherewith to humble ourselves before
the Lord ; while in the sweet simplicity of such pastoral
hymns as "The Lord is my shepherd" we have a beauty
that never grows dim, a tenderness that never fails to touch
the heart, and a music that never palls upon the ear. Truly,
therefore, is he styled "the sweet psalmist of Israel."

The next verse sets before us his divine inspiration : " The
Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my
tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake
to me." All his songs, as gathered together in the book
with which his name is associated, were divinely inspired ;
but here, as it seems to me, the reference is specially to the
oracle which he is about to utter, and to which he wishes
that particular importance should be attached. This was to
be his dying prophecy, like that given by Jacob to his sons,
or those given by Moses and Joshua to the tribes ; and he
desired that special attention should be given to it as being
not his only, but the utterance of the Divine Spirit through
him. How the Spirit spake by him we are not informed ;
but the assertion of the union of the divine and human in
the utterances of the prophet is clearly and emphatically
made. David spoke, and the human style had all the char-
acteristics of his usual productions ; for the Spirit used not
the vocal organs of the prophet alone, but his intellectual
and emotional powers as well. But God spoke by David,
and that which he uttered was the truth, infallible as he who
gave it. The style was natural and human, the thought was
supernatural and .divine; and no part of it would fall away
without fulfillment. Indeed, to make this more striking and



LAST WORDS.



425



impressive, Jehovah is here styled " the Rock of Israel ;" for
as a rock is immovable in mid-ocean, so God is unchange-
able and incorruptible ; and the word which he speaks
through his servant partakes of his own character, and is a
part of that Scripture "which can not be broken."

The oracle thus introduced speaks first of the character
of a ruler, whom we easily identify as the Messiah. It is,
indeed, the description of an ideal ruler, but the real in
whom it is fulfilled is Christ : " He that ruleth over men,
just ruling in the fear of God." I have read the clause
without the italic supplement in our version, for I take it to
be not an affirmation of what a ruler ought to be, but a de-
lineation of the sort of ruler the Messiah should be. It is
thus parallel to the prediction in the 72d Psalm. "He
shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with
judgment;" and to that of Isaiah: "There shall come forth
a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out
of his roots. With righteousness shall he judge the poor,
and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth : and he
shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the
breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked." Thus the ef-
fect of his administration should be different on different
individuals. The meek, the righteous, the poor would be
blessed ; but the unrighteous, the disobedient, the proud
would be destroyed. The righteous would be blessed. This
is what is affirmed in the fourth verse. The sense of the
words, indeed, both in the Hebrew and in the English, is ob-
scure by reason both of the brevity of the expression and
the figurative character of the language which is employed ;
but a slight alteration of the rendering brings out a beautiful
and appropriate meaning.

Kennicott found in an old MS. the word Jehovah, and
he gives the following version of the passage : "And as the
morning light, shall Jehovah the sun arise, even an uncloud-



426 DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL.

ed morning, and the verdure shall spring out of the earth by
the warm, bright splendor, after rain." Now, if this be adopt-
ed as the correct rendering, it gives not only an exquisite de-
scription of the blessings flowing from the reign of Messiah
to his friends light symbolizing truth and gladness, and the
fresh springing of the grass after the shower representing
the growth of holiness and peace, which is always consequent
upon the reception of the Gospel but it also furnishes a
striking parallel to other prophetic announcements concern-
ing the Son of David. Thus, in Hosea vi., 3, we read, " His
going forth is prepared as the morning ; and he shall come unto
us as the rain, as the latter and former rain unto the earth."
And in Malachi iv., 2, it is said, " The Sun of righteousness
shall arise with healing in his wings." So again, in the J2d
Psalm, the date of which, as we have seen, was near to the
time at which the oracle before us was given, we read, " He
shall come down like rain upon the mown grass : as showers
that water the earth." The full force of such a figure, how-
ever, can be realized only when we take into account the
physical phenomena of the land of Palestine, in which, as
Jameson has said,* "Little patches of grass are seen rapid-
ly springing up after rain ; and even where the ground has
been long parched and bare, within a few days or hours after
the enriching showers begin to fall, the face of the earth is
so renewed that it is covered over with a pure fresh mantle
of green." Now, could any thing more appropriately illus-
trate the effects which are everywhere produced when the
Gospel has been received and obeyed ? Great joy fills the
hearts of those who, owning Jesus as their Lord, receive for-
giveness at his hands, and forthwith they begin to grow in
all that is beautiful, and good, and godlike, so that (to bor-

* " Commentary, Critical, Experimental, and Practical, on the Old and
New Testaments," by Jameson, Fausset, and Brown, vol. ii., p. 282.



LAST WORDS. 427

row again from the 726. Psalm) the handful of corn sown
even upon the barren mountain top springs up, and its fruit
shakes like Lebanon, while " they of the city flourish like
grass of the earth." Therefore, they are the greatest bene-
factors of the race who labor in the missionary enterprise ; and
the world shall reach its highest excellence when all the na-
tions of men shall own the sceptre of the Prince of Peace.

But while the results of Messiah's administration are thus
beneficent to those who willingly submit themselves to him,
they are fraught with evil to those who refuse to own his
sway ; for thus are his enemies spoken of in this prediction
(verses 6 and 7), " But the sons of Belial shall be all of them
as thorns thrust away, because they can not be taken with



Online LibraryWilliam M. (William Mackergo) TaylorDavid, king of Israel: his life and its lessons → online text (page 33 of 36)