April 11, 2021
During his reign, King David struck down his enemies according to God’s purposes, which were to enact judgment against those who opposed His rule and to preserve a people for Himself. Examining David’s military victories in 2 Samuel 8, Alistair Begg encourages us to see the king’s actions as a foreshadow of the future ultimate victory of the Lord Jesus Christ. To this day, we wait in eager expectation for Christ’s return, when He will subdue every foe—even death—beneath His feet.
We’re going to read from 2 Samuel and chapter 8. And I invite you to follow along as I read the eighteen verses of this chapter. Two Samuel chapter 8, “David’s Victories”:
“After this David defeated the Philistines and subdued them, and David took Metheg-ammah out of the hand of the Philistines.
“And he defeated Moab and … measured them with a line, making them lie down on the ground. Two lines he measured to be put to death, and one full line to be spared. And the Moabites became servants to David and brought tribute.
“David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to restore his power at the river Euphrates. And David took from him 1,700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers. And David hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots. And when the Syrians of Damascus came to help Hadadezer king of Zobah, David struck down 22,000 men of the Syrians. Then David put garrisons in Aram of Damascus, and the Syrians became servants to David and brought tribute. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went. And David took the shields of gold that were carried by the servants of Hadadezer and brought them to Jerusalem. And from Betah and from Berothai, cities of Hadadezer, King David took very much bronze.
“When Toi king of Hamath heard that David had defeated the whole army of Hadadezer, Toi sent his son Joram to King David, to ask about his health and to bless him because he had fought against Hadadezer and defeated him, for Hadadezer had often been at war with Toi. And Joram brought with him articles of silver, of gold, and of bronze. These also King David dedicated to the Lord, together with the silver and gold that he dedicated from all the nations he subdued, from Edom, Moab, the Ammonites, the Philistines, Amalek, and from the spoil of Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah.
“And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. Then he put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David’s servants. And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.
“So David reigned over all Israel. And David administered justice and equity to all his people. Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder, and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Ahimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Seraiah was secretary, and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and David’s sons were priests.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Our gracious God, as we turn now to read the Bible, which records for us one of the very incidents of that about which we’re singing, we pray that your Word will find a resting place in our hearts and that we might be different by the power of the Holy Spirit. In the name of Jesus we ask it. Amen.
Well, as you’re seated, I encourage you to turn with me to the eighth chapter of 2 Samuel. If you’re visiting, we are in a series of studies. I’ve been tempted to stop a number of times, but every time I do, somebody says, “No, you mustn’t.” And since I’m a very responsive person, I haven’t. But I would imagine that as I read that passage, a couple of things could have been going through your mind. You would be forgiven for saying to yourself, “I’m glad that I’m not reading that passage, with all those names.” And the other thing you might have found yourself saying is “This is about as far away from the Easter story as we can possibly get”—in the space of just seven days after gathering together to read from 1 Corinthians 15 and to rehearse the news in the opening section at the tomb from the Gospel of Mark, and here we are now.
Now, if you were thinking that way, or if you’re tempted to think that way, there is a measure of justification to it. After all, that was in the New Testament, and now we’re in the Old. That was all about Jesus, and this apparently is all about David. That was all about triumph, and here in this passage, defeat comes again and again; some six times we’re confronted by this matter of defeat. And so there would be a measure of accuracy in such an assessment, but only a measure. Because what we need to discover this morning—and I mention it at the outset so that we have, if you like, the control that helps us if you lose your way in the course of this study, which is always possible. Then, perhaps, you will get yourself back, as it were, into the fairway by reminding yourself that what we have here—what we have here in the record of David’s victories over all of his enemies—is a deliberate anticipation of the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ over all of his enemies; the victory of the Lord Jesus Christ, who, as he kneels, acknowledges the fact—as he anticipates Calvary, he says, “Now the ruler of this world is cast out.” And so he proceeds from Gethsemane to the cross, and to the tomb, and out from the tomb. And, in the words of the hymnwriter,
From victory unto victory
His army shall he lead,
Till every foe is vanquished
And Christ is Lord indeed.
Now, the commentators have helped me in this way by pointing out that in this chapter we have both, if you like, report and preview, or we have both history and prophecy, insofar as what is recorded is the narrative of how God established his kingdom under David by defeating all opposition—how he established his Davidic kingdom by defeating all opposition. And again I say to you that in this there is a foreshadowing of how the end will come.
You see, we’re not so far from 1 Corinthians 15. Because it is in 1 Corinthians 15 that Paul actually says that in light of the resurrection, we know that there is an end that will come, when—and I quote now from verses 24 and 25—when Christ “delivers the kingdom [of God] to … the Father after destroying every rule and … authority and power.” He will deliver the kingdom of God to the Father after destroying every rule, every authority, every power, “for he must reign until he has put all [of] his enemies under his feet.” And then he says, “[And] the last enemy to be destroyed is death.” And having just identified ourselves with the sorrow and sadness of six families in our congregation, we realize that this is not rhetoric from the first century, but this is the very reality. It is the birthright of the sons and daughters of the Lord Jesus Christ.
And so, if you keep that in focus, as I have tried to in my studies this week, then it will help us from going wrong—hitting the ball in the trees. There’ll be a lot of golf metaphors with the Masters going on at the moment. But just… We don’t want to hook it into oblivion. We want to try and just stay straight down on the middle course.
So, what we have, then, here is a description of what was—this is history—and an illustration of what will be. And getting ready for the Q and A tonight, it answers the question. This question: How was God’s great promise—the promise that he made to Abraham about a people and about a land that extended so far and so wide, a promise made to Abraham and then reinforced to David the king—how was that promise going to be fulfilled? And, of course, the unfolding story of the Old Testament and into the New is answering that question. But in short order, in relationship to this section of the Bible, the answer is, as the enemies of God’s kingdom are defeated.
And the territorial aspect of it is not on the surface of this text but is clearly there. The promise of God to his people was of this vast territory. And we’re not going to dive deep into the geography of this or even into the history of this, and certainly not into the chronology of this. You say, “Well, what in the world are you planning on doing?” Well, I’m planning on giving you plenty of scope for your own follow-up, for your own homework—enough for you to say, “I think I need to do more on this passage.” And I hope that’s your response. It would be… I don’t know how I could possibly teach the passage in such a way that everybody says, “Oh, well, that’s it. We know about 2 Samuel chapter 8.” No, you could only say that “we know only as much as he’s been prepared to tell us.”
So… And I mention that because the geography of it is there if you will pursue it, so that in verse 1, the defeat of the Philistines covers the west; in verse 2, it spans the east; in verses 3 and 5, the north; and in verses 13 and 14, the south. All you need is an atlas, and all you need is a little bit of research, and you can get there.
Chronologically, what you need to understand about this is something we’ve noticed before—namely, that what we have here is a summary. It is a summary. And if we deal with it in terms of strict chronology out of 7 into 8 into 9 and into 10, we will find ourselves at sea. Because this summary actually combines some of the events that happened before David even became king and contains events from later on in David’s reign that the writer has chosen to put here after all of the events of chapter 7. So, our approach to it is then thematic.
Now, in order to prevent us from missing the forest for the trees, we will then tackle the chapter from, if you like, a higher elevation. And we will notice just three things: David defeating the enemies; David dedicating the spoil; and David reigning over all Israel. And as I say, that will leave plenty of scope for your own follow-up study.
First of all, then, David defeating the enemies. That’s clearly what we have here in this, beginning there at verse 1.
Let me just say something else in prefacing this. We will inevitably stumble over a passage like this unless we recognize that the defeat of these nations is not simply because there was an argument (like between Scotland and England) for independence, or that there was an argument simply about territory, or there was an argument about natural resources, and David, engaging in warfare on the basis of that, takes the action that he did. No, that is not the case.
What is happening here is that the territorial aspect of it is only subservient to the fact that the enemies that are defeated by David are enemies not simply of David as the king, but they are the enemies of the purposes of God. They are the enemies of Almighty God. They are opposed to God, to his rule, and to all that he has purposed to bring about in all the world, leading to the final day when the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, and we will then reign forever and ever. If we don’t understand that, then we will immediately go wrong.
So, in establishing God’s kingdom, the elimination of these people was essential. Essential. It was, if you like, a demonstration that God is able to save his people and his king from every enemy that threatens them. Now, let me just say that again. It is saying to us, as we read our Bibles, that God, the creator of the universe, who has called out a people for himself, who has redeemed them out of bondage in Egypt, who has led them into the promised land, who has seen them through the judges, who has brought them now into this realm of the kings and so on from there—that in all of this, God is not acting arbitrarily, but he is moving according to a divine calendar. And it is in the context of that that here we find ourselves, what, a thousand years BC.
Now, let’s just notice who David deals with. First of all, the Philistines. We know this. We needn’t spend long on this. His great encounter with the Philistines, you will remember, back in 1 Samuel 17, was when we went up to visit his brothers. His brothers said to him, “Why have you come down here? Did you just want to see the battle?” He’s much more gracious in response than I would have been. He doesn’t say, “What battle?” because there was no battle. And eventually he takes on Goliath, you will remember, and destroys him.
The Philistines have been a pain in the neck of the people of God ever since. And by the time you get to the end of 1 Samuel, chapter 31, they give Saul and the forces of Israel a jolly good beating. And it is in chapter 5, here, of 2 Samuel and verse 17 and following that we read of the great defeat of the Philistines. And I take it that this reference here in the opening verse is a summation of what is described for us back in chapter 5.
From there, he then “defeated Moab”—and here we are in verse 2—“and he measured them with a line,” and so on. Moab was a descendant of one of Lot’s sons. You remember Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and Lot had a number of sons, and one of his sons was Moab. And the Moabites had, if you like, a familial affinity with the Israelites, and yet there was no love lost between them. And when you read, for example, in the earlier books, you discover that there were occasions when they could have been very kind and tenderhearted towards the people; perhaps they needed passage through their land, and they said, “I don’t want you coming through here.” And their hostility was obvious.
The response of David is one of great severity. We’ll say something about that in a moment or two. But in the middle of this, let’s just remember and be surprised by grace. Because if you know your Bible at all, if you know the period from the Judges into 1 and 2 Samuel, you know that you’ve got this lovely wee book there, the book of Ruth, and an amazing story of God’s providence in the triple bereavement of Naomi. She loses her husband. She loses both of her sons. But a Moabitess by the name of Ruth sticks with her. “Intreat me not to leave thee, … to return from following after thee.” “I’m gonna be with you. I’m gonna live with you. I’m gonna die with you,” she says. What a remarkable thing, especially given all that then subsequently unfolds in relationship to Moab. And Ruth, of course, was David’s great-grandmother.
Thirdly, this fellow, whose name I had a hard time with… I can’t remember how to call him: “Ha-dadezer” or “Hay-dadezer,” or just “Ezer.” It wouldn’t be right to say “the geezer Ezer,” but, I mean, it’s … Or “Hadad.” Hadad was, like, a big, ugly god, pagan god, and “Hadadezer” means “God will help me”—which is a bit of an irony, because he clearly didn’t. And even, if you notice that little section there, when the Syrians show up as a kind of support group, they were no help either. And he was absolutely no match for David. David and his forces completely destroy them. His name actually means, as I say, “Hadad is my help.” But apparently, he was no help. And the folks that came along, they were no help either. You know how we sing that song “What a faithful God have I”? You can imagine all these people singing together, “What a useless god have I.” Absolutely useless. The gods of this world are no gods. There is only one God, the living and true God. And as his purpose unfolds, his servants fulfill their role.
David then, you will notice, hamstrings the horses—the chariot horses, that is. We’ve seen this before. It’s interesting—and this is the kind of thing that you usually get in a Q and A, and so, please don’t ask it—where, you will notice, in verse 5 it says that he “hamstrung all the chariot horses but left enough for 100 chariots.” “Dear Pastor, could you please tell us why he left enough for a hundred chariots?” No, actually, I couldn’t. I couldn’t. But thank you for the question. It’s intriguing. You know, he was the one who said, “Some trust in chariots and some [trust] in horses, but we trust in the name of the [living] God.” Do you think maybe he was getting a little shaky? Maybe he said, “Well, you know, we could just keep a hundred of them. It wouldn’t be so bad. We can still trust God.” I don’t know.
And then the Edomites in verses 13 and 14. The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother, Jacob’s brother being Esau. You remember that amazing story, with the hairy arms and all that stuff. And once again, family ties were not strong enough to stifle the hatred that existed between them. And in that animosity, David “made a name for himself,” striking them down.
Incidentally, that word for “defeating” and “striking down” is the same word in Hebrew. The ESV chooses to translate it six times in the opening verses as “he defeated,” “he defeated,” “he defeated.” But if you have in mind the notion, remember, where he was struck down—the enemy came and struck him down and stuck the knife into his belly—you get this horrible atrocity and the forcefulness of it all. That is what is contained here.
Now, let me make just a few observations before we go to the second point. It was not an observation by me; it’s the observation of the narrator. Verse 13: “And David made a name for himself when he returned from” doing this. He “made a name for himself.” Well, of course, we know that God had promised that he would have a name. Verse 9 of chapter 7: “And I will make for you,” he says, “a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” So, yes, it was as a result of the things that David did that his name was emblazoned abroad, but underneath it and because of the plan and purpose of God. We only ever want to make a name for ourselves if God is determined to give us a name.
Also, you will notice that the victories, which are striking victories, came about as a result of the initiative of God. Verse 6, you will see it there: “And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.” And in verse 14, the same summation: “And the Lord gave victory to David wherever he went.” I think it’s quite wonderful, and perhaps your mind will jog on like this: here he is saved—he is saved—in turn that he might save his people. He is given victory. He is given—if you like, he is looked after, he is provided for, we could even say he is raised up—in order that he might raise up his people. Well, of course, “And you shall give him a name that is above every name. And at the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess”—the Jesus who said, “Because I live, you will live as well.” The benefit that accrued to the people was on account of the work of the King.
The third thing we need to ask, and just in passing, is, how are we to handle the severity—if you like, we might say the brutality—of David? Which is a question that comes not infrequently in our studying of the Old Testament Scriptures. Well, I think we could say a number of things.
First of all—and we’ve alluded to this—this is not an option for David. This is an obligation for him. They’re not fighting over natural resources. It’s not a territorial squabble. What is at issue here is the opposition of the forces of evil to the purposes of the living God. Therefore, if the kingship is to be established, he must strike down the enemies. So, it is a necessity.
The second thing to say is that as we recoil from this, it is perfectly understandable that we should. If anybody reads this and says, “Oh, I’d like this, I’d like to be involved in this kind of thing,” then I think there’s something warped in your psyche. Because after all, God himself does not rejoice in the death of people. You can read that in the prophecy of Ezekiel, chapter 18, verses 23 and then again in 32. God identifies the fact that even in the execution of his plan, it is not an occasion for God to rejoice in this. He does not rejoice in that.
The third thing to say is this: when we say, as we continue to say, that this activity of David foreshadows Jesus, we have to acknowledge that it doesn’t foreshadow Jesus in every aspect. In every aspect. Clearly it doesn’t! We’re about to get to chapter 11, and he sins with Bathsheba. This is not a foreshadowing of Jesus. Therefore, when we view this, we need to recognize that too.
And we shouldn’t necessarily assume that David’s actions are actually approved by God—approved by him, the way in which this unfolds. Because after all, David is not the righteous judge; Jesus is the righteous judge. He’s the “Judge of all the earth” who will “do right.”
And the last thing I would say is this: that when we come to difficult matters like this in the Bible, as we do, it is ours to submit to the Scriptures, not to have the Scriptures submit to our feeble minds. We cannot sit in moral judgment over the unfolding story that Scripture provides.
When you’re in difficulty, quote Calvin. Here he is: “The stringency which David exercised against the Moabites ought not to be considered cruelty, but to be [considered] the just judgement of God, since they had abused his long patience and had mocked him.” Now, this is no time for a major digression. But one of the reasons that we have such difficulty with this is because we actually have difficulty with this at a far lower level, starting to believe that it is inherently wrong for us to be prepared to take arms to protect our own national security. If we don’t believe that there is any legitimacy at that level, how would we ever bring our feeble minds to bear upon something like this and understand it to be adequate? Also, we have a sneaking suspicion, many of us, that when the Bible talks about hell, it doesn’t mean it, and that when the Bible speaks about judgment, it’s really just a metaphor.
Therefore, are we going to subject the Scriptures to our moral, intellectual arguments, or are we going to bow down as those who profess to believe the Bible? That’s the issue. On the occasion of Acts 17, recorded for us, Paul finally gets to it with the Athenians, with the eggheads, with the intellects. He quotes their poets, he engages them in philosophy, and he does a masterful job. It’s a summary, for sure, ’cause it only takes three minutes to read. But what does he say? “And God has appointed a day when he will judge the world. And he has given proof of this to all men and women by raising Jesus from the dead.”
Now, I’ve spent so long on that first point, we might not get much further. Let’s just try dedicating the spoil. Because that’s exactly what we’re told. The Lord was the one who gave him victory, and in verse 7, David is the one who “took the shields of gold”—who “took the shields of gold,” carried them away, and so on. And you see that again when the Toi story comes in verse 10. I wanted to tell my grandchildren, “Toy Story is in the Bible.” “When Toi king of Hamath heard…” Here’s the story. Here’s the story of Toi—therefore, the “Toy Story.” I like that. But it’s T-o-i, not T-o-y. But anyway, it doesn’t matter.
A recurring question that I have from my lovely wife is “Really? What do you want all that stuff for? Why do we want to take that?” And I would say 90 percent of the time, although it doesn’t seem obvious to me, it works out that it was a really good plan. Pains me to acknowledge it, certainly publicly, but there you go. “What do you want all that stuff for?” If they’d asked David, “What do you want it for?” he might have said, “Well, because it makes me look good. I got a lot of stuff. After all, I have a nice house. I have a cedar house. I can put it all in there, and people will come over, and they’ll see it.”
No, in actual fact, that wasn’t the case at all. No, what he did was in verse 11: he “dedicated to the Lord” all the stuff. All the spoils of war, all the evidences that God had given him victory were not, then, to line his own nest, to make him look good, but to make sure that the people looking on said, “God is a great and good God, and here are some of the evidences of his triumph over the enemy.”
And if you want to know where the answer to this actually lies, then you only need to go into 1 Kings. “Oh,” you say, “please, we’re not starting 1 Kings.” No, we’re not. But when you get there it says, “And Solomon brought in the things that David his father had dedicated, the silver, [and] the gold,” and the bronze, and the stuff. The temple, which he was not being given the privilege to build, but a privilege that was to be given to his son, he is contributing to in the triumph over all of these forces.
And the gifts that came from Toi in that little section there… Because Toi is a bit of a diplomatic genius, isn’t he? He realizes that he doesn’t need to get hammered. He can actually send his son up there and ask David about his health. Isn’t that interesting? So, he “sent his son Joram to King David” to say, “How are you?” It’s a bit like “Long live the king,” you know? That’s what he’s saying. And “to bless him”—“to bless him” because he had defeated Hedadezer, and Hedadazer was no friend of Toi, and so, you know, “the friend of the enemies” kind of thing, you know. So his gifts were not actually spoils of war; they were emblems of his diplomacy.
In fact, in that Toi story we have an indication of the fact—if you like, a reminder—that… You remember Psalm 2 challenges the kings and the rulers of the earth: “You kings and rulers of the earth, that you would stand in opposition to Almighty God.” And then the exhortation that comes there is “Kiss the Son.” “Bow down before him who is the King. Bring your crowns, and lay them down. Better to do that than to be crushed by him.” The Edomites, Moab, the Philistines: crushed. Toi and his folks come and acknowledge this.
Now, we will have to stop here. But long after this—at least a century and a half—long after this, the prophets spoke of the time that would come when the treasures of the nations would be brought in. It’s looking way forward. The treasures of the nations would be brought in. You can read it in Haggai. You can read it in Isaiah. In fact, in Isaiah it is expressly stated. Isaiah chapter 60, around verse 28: “And the nations will come, and they shall bring gold and frankincense.”
“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the nations, from the east, saying, ‘Where’s the King? Where is he that is born the King of the Jews? For we’ve seen his star.’” His star. “A star will rise in Judah. A scepter will appear from Judah.” “We have seen his star in the east, and we have come to worship him.” And finding Mary, Joseph, and the baby, they bowed down to him, and they offered to him gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh.
Has Christ not won a great victory over sin and death, over shame, over guilt in your life? Then bring all the spoils of his victory—your gifts, your abilities, your capacities, your usefulness—in the service of the King.
And if we had had time—and we can come to it this evening as a PS, perhaps—we would then see how the purpose of the king was to rule and reign over all of Israel, and to do so with justice and with equity, or with righteousness; to be a king that would be better than any other king at the time. Which, of course, points us only to Jesus.
Well, let’s just pause and pray:
Lord, as we think of David, then, reigning over Israel, putting in place his cabinet ministers, putting his administration together, and then deciding that he’ll have nothing to do with hypocrisy, or enslavement, or the trampling of the poor, or the neglecting of the needy, certainly not of the taking of bribes—O Lord, how this speaks to our day. The problem for them was that they had just become like the surrounding nations. Oh, may that not be true of your church, Lord Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.
 John 12:31 (paraphrased).
 George Duffield Jr., “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (1858).
 See Revelation 11:15.
 1 Samuel 17:28 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Samuel 17:40–51.
 See Judges 11:17.
 Ruth 1:16 (KJV).
 Dawn Critchley and David Critchley, “What a Faithful God” (1989).
 Psalm 20:7 (ESV).
 Philippians 2:9–10 (paraphrased).
 John 14:19 (paraphrased).
 Genesis 18:25 (KJV).
 John Calvin, Sermons on 2 Samuel Chapters 1–13, trans. Douglas Kelly (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1992), 406.
 Acts 17:31 (paraphrased).
 1 Kings 7:51 (ESV).
 Psalm 2:2–3 (paraphrased).
 Psalm 2:12 (ESV).
 Isaiah 60:5–6 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 2:1–2 (paraphrased).
 Numbers 24:17 (paraphrased).
 See Matthew 2:11.
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.