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In this chapter, we have a summary of David’s very public victories before we return to the narrative of David’s life from a closer vantage. We also see the establishment of the blessed height from which David fell through his sin with Bathsheba—how much he tried to throw away.
“And after this it came to pass, that David smote the Philistines, and subdued them: and David took Metheg- ammah out of the hand of the Philistines . . .” (2 Sam. 8:1-18).
Summary of the Text
The first thing that happened was that David completely subdued the Philistines to the west (v. 1). After that he completely struck Moab, executing two thirds of the prisoners (v. 2). We don’t know what Moab did to warrant such severe treatment, but it must have been pretty bad—David was partly of Moabite descent (Ruth 4:17), and his parents had been given asylum there when Saul was pursuing David (1 Sam. 22:3-4). David smote Hadadezer of the Arameans (v. 3). David took captive a thousand chariots, but ham-strung most of the horses for them (Dt. 17:16). When the Syrians tried to help Hadadezer, David defeated them also (v. 5), placing garrisons in Damascus (v. 6). The Lord preserved David in everything (v. 6). David captured shields (maybe quivers) of gold, and brought them home (v. 7). David took an enormous amount of brass (v. 8). When Toi heard of this, he sent his son Joram with great gifts (v. 9-10). David dedicated this tribute, and his other great plunder, to the Lord (vv. 11-12). David’s reputation soared after he defeated the Edomites in the Valley of Salt (v. 13). He placed garrisons throughout Edom, and the refrain that God was with him is repeated (v. 14). So David reigned in Israel, and he executed judgment and justice for all the people (v. 15). Joab was the military commander and Jehoshaphat the recorder (v. 16). There were two high priests, which is interesting (v. 17). Benaiah was over the foreign palace guard (v. 18), and David’s sons were priests (v. 18).
Some Ends and Odds
We have some manuscript issues to sort out. The Masoretic text has Aram in v. 13, while Chronicles (and the LXX here) has Edom. Because the Valley of Salt is in the region of Edom, I think that is the better reading. David is the one who establishes the line of Zadok as a priestly line, descended from Aaron, while keeping Ahimelech (who was of the Shilonite house of Eli, claiming descent from Moses). David puts representatives of both these rival priestly houses in office, while knowing that the line of Eli had to come to an end sometime (1 Kings 2:27).
We are also told here that David’s sons served as priests (v. 18). The word is cohen, priests. Chronicles uses a different word, one which means chief officials (1 Chron. 18:17), so there are various possibilities. David’s sons were all from Judah, and so could not be priests in the public worship of God. One possibility is that these princes were authorized officials, able to conduct whatever priestly functions were allowed the king. Another possibility is that they were “chaplains” in private worship within the palace.
David established an elite force (probably a palace guard) formed of foreign Gentiles. The Cherethites were from Crete, and perhaps the Pelethites as well. Close loyalties are sometimes a great breeding ground for treachery, as David clearly knew.
The Meaning of Justice
We see that in the establishment of the Israelite monarchy, the king was the final court in the judiciary. It says here that David “executed judgment and justice unto all his people” (v. 15). His son Solomon established his reputation for wisdom in how he resolved a particularly thorny court case (1 Kings 3:16). And in the later revolt of David’s son Absalom, this was how Absalom prepared the way for his revolt, by sowing the seeds of discontent about how the court cases were not being resolved well (2 Sam. 15:3).
One of the things we have to get clear in our minds is the relationship in a society between top-down justice and bottom-up justice. The people get a government that is better than they deserve—that’s true enough. But that doesn’t mean that mercy and deliverance can’t come from the top. We want the dignity of individual responsibility without the idolatry of individualism.
The Meaning of Joram
In the story given of Toi—king of a neo-Hittite kingdom—we have another instance of Gentile conversion. Toi is not just paying tribute, it is a matter of religious allegiance. In 1 Chron. 18:10, his son’s name is given as Hadoram, which means “Hadad is exalted.” The Hadad that is referred to is the Hadad with whom Toi had gone to war in the past (v. 10), wars that had apparently not gone all that well. Joram here means “Yah is exalted.” There are any number of ways where we see how Gentiles were attracted to David.
Son of Jesse, Root of Jesse
David was a righteous king, and a relative type of the coming Son of David. We see him attracting and gathering Gentiles. We saw the Gittites who fought alongside him. We see Obed-edom. We see Toi, the Hittite king. But he was capable of letting them down also, as in the drastic case of Uriah the Hittite.
The image in the type had blemishes. Not so many as to undo the type, but enough to mar it. The antitype, the true gatherer of Gentiles, will never let anyone down in that way. There will be no grievous disappointment. And why?
“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea. And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious” (Is. 11:9-10).