Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This chapter consists of two entirely distinct parts. The first seven verses are “the last words of David,” his last formal and inspired utterance; the rest of the chapter (2Samuel 23:8-39) is an enumeration of the heroes of his life and reign. This prophecy has not been incorporated into the Book of Psalms, because it is not a hymn for public worship, although an unquestionable utterance of David, and laying especial claim to Divine inspiration.
Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said,(1) The son of Jesse said.—The description of the human author of the following prophecy is strikingly analogous to that of Balaam in Numbers 24:3-4; Numbers 24:15-16. The word “said,” used twice, is a peculiar form (used between two hundred and three hundred times) of direct Divine utterances, and applied to human sayings only here, in the places referred to in Numbers, and in Proverbs 30:1, in all which special claim is made to inspiration.
The sweet psalmist of Israel.—Literally, He that is pleasant in Israel’s psalms, i.e., by the composition and arrangement of Israel’s liturgical songs he was entitled to be called “pleasant.” David, with life now closing, fitly sends down this prophetic song to posterity with such description of its human writer as should secure to it authority.
The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.(2) The Spirit of the Lord spake by me.—In accordance with 2Samuel 23:1, there is here, and also in the next clause, most explicit assertion that this was spoken under the prompting and guidance of the Divine Spirit.
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.(3) The Rock of Israel.—Comp. 2Samuel 22:3. A frequent Scriptural comparison, appropriate here, to show the perfect reliability of what God declares.
He that ruleth.—The English gives the true sense, but the original is exceedingly elliptical, both here and in the following verse. The fundamental point of all just government has never been more perfectly set forth:—that it must be “in the fear of God.”
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.(4) A morning without clouds.—This description of the blessings of the ideally perfect government is closely connected with the Divine promise made through Nathan (2 Samuel 7). David recognises that the ruler of God’s people must be just, and here, as in Psalms 72, the highest blessings are depicted as flowing from such a government. David knew far too much of the evil of his own heart and of the troubles in his household to suppose that his ideal could be perfectly realised in any other of his descendants than in Him who should “crush the serpent’s head “and win the victory over the powers of evil. The sense of the verse will be made clearer by the following translation: “And as the light of the morning when the sun ariseth, a morning without clouds; as by means of sunlight and by means of rain the tender grass grows from the earth:—is not my house so with God?”
Although my house be not so with God; yet he hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure: for this is all my salvation, and all my desire, although he make it not to grow.(5) Although my house.—This verse is extremely difficult, and admits of two interpretations. That given in the English is found in the LXX., the Vulg., and the Syriac, and if adopted will mean that David recognises how far he and his house have failed to realise the ideal description set forth; yet since God’s promise is sure, this must be realised in his posterity. Most modern commentators, however, prefer to take the clauses interrogatively: “Is not my house thus with God? for He hath made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all, and sure. For all my salvation and all my desire, shall He not cause it to spring forth?” The Hebrew admits either rendering, but that of the ancient versions gives a higher idea of David’s spiritual discernment.
Ordered in all.—As a carefully drawn legal document, providing for all contingencies and leaving no room for misconstruction.
But the sons of Belial shall be all of them as thorns thrust away, because they cannot be taken with hands:(6) The sons of Belial.—According to the Masoretic punctuation, Belial is not here in the common form, but in the stronger abstract form=worthlessness. The coming in of Divine righteousness leads not only to the assimilation of that which is holy, but also to the rejection of that which is evil, by a law as necessary and immutable as that of action and reaction in the material world. The figures used are to show that, although the wicked injure whatever touches them, means will yet be found by which they may safely be put out of the way.
But the man that shall touch them must be fenced with iron and the staff of a spear; and they shall be utterly burned with fire in the same place.(7) Fenced with iron.—The thorns are to be handled with an iron hook on the end of a spear staff. The phrase, “in the same place,” is used only here, and its meaning is quite uncertain. The Vulg. translates, to nothing, meaning to utter destruction; the LXX. substitutes the word shame. The English rendering is as well sustained as any.
The Chaldee Targum upon these verses is very interesting, as giving the ancient Jewish interpretation of the prophecy. It is a much enlarged paraphrase, but gives a Messianic application to the whole. The following is a close translation of 2Samuel 23:1-3 : “(1) These are the words of the prophecy of David, which he prophesied concerning the end of the age, concerning the days of consolation which are to come. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was exalted to the kingdom said, the anointed by the word of the God of Jacob, and appointed that he might preside over the sweetness of the praises of Israel. (2) David said, In the spirit of prophecy of the Lord I speak these things, and the words of His holiness do I order in my mouth. (3) David said, The God of Israel spake concerning me, the Strong One of Israel who ruleth over the sons of men, the true Judge, said that He would appoint for me a king; He is the Messiah, who shall arise and rule in the fear of the Lord.”
These be the names of the mighty men whom David had: The Tachmonite that sat in the seat, chief among the captains; the same was Adino the Eznite: he lift up his spear against eight hundred, whom he slew at one time.(8) These be the names.—Here, in the summary at the close of David’s reign, is very naturally given a list of his chief heroes. A duplicate of this list, with several variations, and with sixteen more names, is given in 1Chronicles 11:10-47, which is useful in correcting such clerical errors as have arisen in both. The list in Chronicles is given in connection with David’s becoming king over all Israel; but in both cases the list is not to be understood as belonging precisely to any definite time, but rather as a catalogue of the chief heroes who distinguished themselves at any time in the life of David.
The Tachmonite that sat in the seat.—The text of this verse has undergone several alterations, which may be corrected by the parallel passage in Chronicles. This clause should read, “Jashobeam the Hachmonite,” as in 1Chronicles 11:11. Jashobeam came to David at Ziklag (1Chronicles 12:1; 1Chronicles 12:6), and afterwards became the general of the first division of the army (1Chronicles 27:2), being immediately followed by Dodo. One of the same family was tutor to David’s sons (1Chronicles 27:32).
The captains.—The word for captain and the word for three are much alike, and the text here and in Chronicles perpetually fluctuates between the two. Probably the sense here is that Jashobeam was the chief of the three who stood highest in rank among the heroes.
No mention is made in either list of Joab, because, as commander-in-chief, he stood in a rank by himself.
The same was Adino the Eznite.—It is difficult to attach any meaning to these words in their connection, and they are generally considered as a corruption of the words in 1Chronicles 11:11, “he lifted up his spear,” which are required and are inserted here in the English. For “eight hundred” Chronicles has “three hundred,” as in 2Samuel 23:18. Variations in numbers are exceedingly common, but the probability is in favour of the correctness of the text here. This large number was slain by Jashobeam and the men under his command in one combat.
And after him was Eleazar the son of Dodo the Ahohite, one of the three mighty men with David, when they defied the Philistines that were there gathered together to battle, and the men of Israel were gone away:(9) Dodo the Ahohite.—So in the Hebrew margin here, and so also in 1Chronicles 11:12; the text here has Dodai, as in 1Chronicles 27:4, where he is mentioned as the general for the second month. The name is the same under slightly differing forms. “Ahohite” is a patronymic derived from Ahoah, son of Bela, Benjamin’s son (1Chronicles 8:4).
When they defied . . . there gathered.—The words “there gathered” require the mention of some place, and the construction of the word for “defied” is unusual. The parallel passage in Chronicles reads, “He was with David at Pas-dammim, and there the Philistines,” &c. The difference between the two readings is not great in the original, and the latter is better. Pas-dammim is the Ephes-dammim of 1Samuel 17:1, where Goliath defied the armies of Israel, and was slain by David.
Were gone away—Rather, were gathered to battle. So it is translated in the LXX., Vulg., and Syriac, and so the Hebrew requires. The error is a curious one, and seems to have arisen in this way: In 1Chronicles 11:13 the mention of the battle in which Shammah was engaged (2Samuel 23:11) is altogether omitted, and the expression “the people fled from before the Philistines” therefore becomes connected with this battle. Josephus follows that text, and our translators were probably misled by him. Several lines have dropped out from the text in Chronicles.
He arose, and smote the Philistines until his hand was weary, and his hand clave unto the sword: and the LORD wrought a great victory that day; and the people returned after him only to spoil.(10) Clave unto the sword.—Instances are rare, but well authenticated, of a sort of cramp following excessive exertion, so that the hand could only be released from the sword by external appliances.
Returned after him.—Does not imply that they had at any time deserted him, but only that they turned wherever he went to gather the spoil of the men he slew.
And after him was Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite. And the Philistines were gathered together into a troop, where was a piece of ground full of lentiles: and the people fled from the Philistines.(11) Into a troop.—Josephus, using different vowels, read “to Lehi,” the scene of Samson’s exploit (Judges 15:9; Judges 15:19); but as the same word recurs in 2Samuel 23:13, clearly in the sense of “troop,” the English reading should be retained.
Lentiles.—Chronicles has “barley.” The two words might easily be confounded in the Hebrew, and it is quite immaterial which is correct; the point is that the Philistines had made a foray to gather the ripe crops, the Israelites were terrified and fled, while Shammah, by his courage and valour, turned the tide of battle, and won a great victory.
And three of the thirty chief went down, and came to David in the harvest time unto the cave of Adullam: and the troop of the Philistines pitched in the valley of Rephaim.(13) Three of the thirty.—For “three” the Hebrew text reads “thirty” by a manifest error, which is corrected in the margin. These are not the same three (since there is no definite article) with those just mentioned, but were another three more eminent than the rest of the thirty, two of them being, no doubt, Abishai and Benaiah (2Samuel 23:18; 2Samuel 23:23). “The thirty” seems to have been a common name for this band of heroes (comp. 2Samuel 23:23-24, &c), who were perhaps originally exactly thirty, but whose number varied from time to time, being here given (2Samuel 23:39) as thirty-seven.
In the harvest time.—“The preposition does not mean in, and the reading in 1Chronicles 11:15 ‘to the rock’ is perhaps the true one” (Kirkpatrick). On “the valley of Rephaim,” see Note on 2Samuel 5:18.
And David longed, and said, Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!(15) The well of Bethlehem.—There are now no wells of living water at Bethlehem itself, the town being supplied by an aqueduct. Robinson could find none in the neighbourhood, and was assured that none existed (Bib. R. ii. 157-163); but Ritter (Geog. of Pal. iii. 340) says that a little north of the town “is” David’s well, “with its deep shaft and its clear cool water.”
And the three mighty men brake through the host of the Philistines, and drew water out of the well of Bethlehem, that was by the gate, and took it, and brought it to David: nevertheless he would not drink thereof, but poured it out unto the LORD.(16) Poured it out unto the Lord.—The brave act of the three heroes shows strikingly the personal power of David over his followers and the enthusiasm with which he inspired them. Yet, on the other hand, David would not suffer his own longing to be gratified by the hazard of men’s lives. Taking the water, therefore, he “poured it out unto the Lord.” The word is the technical term for the sacrificial libation, and David assimilated his act to a sacrifice by a solemn consecration of this dangerously won water to the Lord.
And he said, Be it far from me, O LORD, that I should do this: is not this the blood of the men that went in jeopardy of their lives? therefore he would not drink it. These things did these three mighty men.(17) Is not this the blood . . .?—The Hebrew here is simply an interrogative exclamation, “the blood of the men?” but in 1Chronicles 11:19 the text reads, “Shall I drink the blood of these men?” &c., and so the LXX. and Vulg. translate here. To David the water gained only at the risk of life, “seemed the very blood in which the life resides” (Leviticus 17:10-11).
These three.—Rather, the three.
And Abishai, the brother of Joab, the son of Zeruiah, was chief among three. And he lifted up his spear against three hundred, and slew them, and had the name among three.(18) Among three.—The Hebrew margin has “the three,” and so also the text in the following clause. “The three” are the triad of heroes just mentioned, of whom Abishai was first, Benaiah second, with an unnamed third. A somewhat similar feat of daring is told of Abishai in 1Samuel 26:6-12.
And Benaiah the son of Jehoiada, the son of a valiant man, of Kabzeel, who had done many acts, he slew two lionlike men of Moab: he went down also and slew a lion in the midst of a pit in time of snow:(20) Benaiah.—He was the general of the third division of the army (1Chronicles 27:5-6). This probably included the Cherethites and Pelethites, since he was also their commander (2Samuel 8:18; 2Samuel 20:23). In consequence of his faithfulness to Solomon in the rebellion of Adonijah, he was finally made commander-in-chief (1Kings 1:8; 1Kings 1:26; 1Kings 1:32; 1Kings 2:25; 1Kings 2:29-35; 1Kings 4:4). His father Jehoiada is called “a chief priest “in 1Chronicles 27:5, and in 1Chronicles 12:27 mention is made of a “Jehoiada the leader of the Aaronites,” who came to David at Hebron, and who may have been the same person.
Kabzeel.—A town on the extreme south of Judah, on the border of Edom (Joshua 15:21).
Lion-like men.—Literally, lion of God, an expression used among Arabs and Persians of great warriors.
Slew a lion.—Comp. 1Samuel 17:34-37. It is not said with what weapons he slew him, but the act was evidently a great feat of valour.
And he slew an Egyptian, a goodly man: and the Egyptian had a spear in his hand; but he went down to him with a staff, and plucked the spear out of the Egyptian's hand, and slew him with his own spear.(21) A goodly man.—The meaning is explained in the parallel place in Chronicles, where he is called “a man of stature,” and it is added “five cubits high.” Benaiah’s exploit, therefore, consisted in coming, armed only with a staff, to this giant Egyptian, wresting his spear from him, and then slaying him with it.
He was more honourable than the thirty, but he attained not to the first three. And David set him over his guard.(23) Set him over his guard.—The word translated guard means rather private audience. David either made him a member of, or set him over his council. If in 1Chronicles 27:34 “Jehoiada son of Benaiah” is an error for “Benaiah son of Jehoiada,” his holding of this office is also mentioned there.
Asahel the brother of Joab was one of the thirty; Elhanan the son of Dodo of Bethlehem,(24) Asahel.—As he was killed by Abner while David reigned over Judah only, it is plain that this list is not restricted to any one definite time in David’s reign. Leaving out Asahel, however, the names that follow are exactly “thirty.” Of but few of them is anything further known.
Shammah the Harodite, Elika the Harodite,(25) Shammah the Harodite.—In 1Chronicles 11:27 Shammoth the Harorite. He may be the same with “Shamhuth the Izrahite,” captain of the fifth division of the army (1Chronicles 27:8). The next name is omitted in Chronicles.
Helez the Paltite, Ira the son of Ikkesh the Tekoite,(26) Helez.—He was general of the seventh army division (1Chronicles 27:10). There, and also in 1Chronicles 11:27, he is called a Pelonite.
Ira was general for the sixth month (1Chronicles 27:9). His home, Tekoah, was about six miles south of Bethlehem.
Abiezer the Anethothite, Mebunnai the Hushathite,(27) Abiezer.—He was general for the ninth month (1Chronicles 27:12). He was of Anathoth, a priestly city of Benjamin, the home of Jeremiah.
Mebunnai.—According to 2Samuel 21:18 Sibbechai, and to 1Chronicles 11:29 Sibbecai, these being the same in the Hebrew. The two names are much alike in the original and might be easily confused. He slew the giant Saph (2Samuel 21:18), and was the general for the eighth month (1Chronicles 27:11).
Zalmon the Ahohite, Maharai the Netophathite,(28) Zalmon.—In Chronicles Ilai.
Maharai.—He commanded the tenth division of the army (1Chronicles 27:13).
Heleb the son of Baanah, a Netophathite, Ittai the son of Ribai out of Gibeah of the children of Benjamin,(29) Heleb.—The name is variously written Heled (1Chronicles 11:30) and Heldai (1Chronicles 27:15). He was the general for the twelfth month.
Ittai, or Ithai (1Chronicles 11:31), is to be distinguished from Ittai the Gittite, since this man was from Gibeah of Benjamin.
Benaiah the Pirathonite, Hiddai of the brooks of Gaash,(30) Benaiah the Pirathonite.—He was general for the eleventh month (1Chronicles 27:14). He is of course to be distinguished from Benaiah of 2Samuel 23:20.
Hiddai.—In 1Chronicles 11:32, Hurai, owing to the frequent confusion of d and r.
Abialbon the Arbathite, Azmaveth the Barhumite,(31) Abi-albon.—In 1Chronicles 11:32 written Abiel, probably correctly, the albon having come in from Sha-albon-ite in the line below.
Eliahba the Shaalbonite, of the sons of Jashen, Jonathan,(32) Of the sons of Jashen, Jonathan.—The preposition of is not in the Hebrew, and should be omitted. For the rest 1Chronicles 11:34 reads “the sons of Hashem the Gizonite. In both the words the sons of may be an accidental repetition of the last three letters of the preceding word; if not, they should be read as part of the proper name, Jashen (Chronicles Hashem), or Bnejashen (Chronicles Bnehashem) the Gizonite. Jonathan is then a separate name.
Shammah the Hararite, Ahiam the son of Sharar the Hararite,(33) Shammah the Hararite.—“Shammah the son of Agee the Hararite” has already been mentioned in 2Samuel 23:11, and here Chronicles reads “Jonathan the son of Shage the Hararite.” As Shage is identical with Agee with a letter prefixed, we should probably read “Jonathan the son of Shammah the Hararite.” Jonathan, one of “the thirty,” was thus the son of one of “the first three.”
Sharar is in Chronicles Sacar, and Hararite is spelt in the Hebrew here differently from the previous clause and from Chronicles.
Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai, the son of the Maachathite, Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,(34) Eliphelet the son of Ahasbai.—The reading in Chronicles is quite different: “Eliphal the son of Ur, Hepher the Mecherathite,” thus making two heroes instead of the one given here. So, also, instead of “Eliam the son of Ahithophel the Gilonite,” Chronicles has Ahijah the Pelonite. In the latter case it seems likely that different persons are intended, one being mentioned in one list and the other in the other. It is interesting to know that a son of David’s astute but treacherous counsellor was among his thirty heroes.
Hezrai the Carmelite, Paarai the Arbite,(35) Hezrai.—So the Hebrew margin; but the text has Hezro, as in Chronicles. He was of Carmel, seven miles S.S.E. of Hebron, famous in David’s early history.
Paarai the Arbite.—In Chronicles “Naarai the son of Ezbai.” It is impossible to decide whether Paarai or Naarai is the correct form, but the son of Ezbai is evidently a scribe’s error for the Arbite, which it must resemble in the original.
Igal the son of Nathan of Zobah, Bani the Gadite,(36) Igal.—Chronicles has Joel. The two names differ in Hebrew only in one letter, and that a very similar one; but he is described here as the son of Nathan of Zobah, in Chronicles as the brother of Nathan. Brother is in Hebrew ahi, and some MSS. in Chronicles read the son of Ahinathan. If this be accepted, the only difference would be in the form of a name, Nathan or Ahinathan.
Bani the Gadite.—In Chronicles Mibhar the son of Haggeri. Entirely unlike as these readings appear, they are not so very different in the original. Mibhar is for Zobah of the previous clause, a word at present missing in Chronicles; the son of (Ben) is for Bani; and the Gadite (with the article) differs from Haggeri only by the change of the often confused letters d and r. The text here is the true one.
Zelek the Ammonite, Naharai the Beerothite, armourbearer to Joab the son of Zeruiah,(37) The Ammonite.—A foreigner, like “Igal of Zobah” (a Syrian), and “Ittai the Gittite,” and “Uriah the Hittite,” who rose to distinction in David’s service, and all of whom were probably proselytes.
Armourbearer.—It appears from 2Samuel 18:15 that Joab had ten armourbearers. This one was probably their chief.
Uriah the Hittite: thirty and seven in all.(39) Thirty and seven in all.—Only thirty-six names have been given, but either the third unnamed person in the second triad of heroes is counted, or else in 2Samuel 23:34 the names of the two given in Chronicles should be substituted for the one in the text here.
In 1Chronicles 11:41-47 sixteen more names are given, either of men who took the place of these heroes as they died, or simply of other heroes thought worthy of record, though hardly reckoned with this especial body.