Summary: It is the everlasting covenant that gives David the courage to hope. Man may fail, but God will not. The covenant is set in place by God, and guaranteed by God.
FAMOUS LAST WORDS
The Bible sometimes permits us to listen in on the death-bed words of a dying saint. We hear Jacob blessing his sons. We hear Moses blessing the twelve tribes. We are interested also to hear the seven last sayings of Jesus from the Cross.
In the passage before us, we are privileged to join the surviving members of King David’s family at his bedside. It has been a turbulent reign, oscillating between triumph and tragedy: but that is already in the past, and David is ready to meet his Maker. Whether a formal testimony, or a bedside conversation, these words are presented to us as David’s “last words” (2 Samuel 23:1).
Listening to words gives us an insight into the personality of the speaker.
(a) David is first of all, just David. There is a deep humility here – for ‘what have we that we did not receive?’ (1 Corinthians 4:7).
(b) David was the youngest son of Jesse, the son who kept the sheep.
(c) If David was anything more at the time of speaking that was not to his own credit, but to the glory of the One who had raised him up on high.
(d) David was the anointed of the God of Jacob.
(e) David was also the sweet psalmist of Israel – the boy who was a shepherd of sheep, who gave us Psalm 23 et al. The man who, under God, was responsible to shepherd his people beyond the transition between ‘the days when judges judged’ (Ruth 1:1) to the establishment of an enduring kingdom.
Furthermore, David identifies himself as one through whom the spirit of the LORD spoke (2 Samuel 23:2). The spirit of the Lord was similarly upon Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1), and upon Jesus Himself (Luke 4:18). In this David is seen as a prophet, just as Jesus acknowledges him to be (Luke 20:42-43).
We see something of the nature of prophecy in the expression, “His words were upon my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). All Scripture is ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16), and ‘holy men of God spoke as they were carried along by the Holy Ghost’ (2 Peter 1:21). Isaiah’s mouth was touched by a live coal of the altar (Isaiah 6:7), and the hand of the LORD touched the mouth of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:9-10), before either commenced their prophetic ministry. David, in his turn, was speaking from God, and we should listen to his words.
The dying king speaks of the LORD as the speaking God, who is both the God of Israel and the Rock of Israel (2 Samuel 23:3). The reference to the LORD as Rock links with Hannah’s song (1 Samuel 2:2), forming bookends for the two books in our canon which carry Samuel’s name. In the sample Psalm of the previous chapter, David owned the LORD as the foundation of his own life (2 Samuel 22:2-3; cf. Psalm 18:2), and recognised the solid reliability of ‘our’ God (2 Samuel 22:32 = Psalm 18:31).
The oracle itself is short and to the point. The one who rules over men must rule justly, and in the fear of God (2 Samuel 23:3). This is in keeping with Messiah’s manifesto (Psalm 72:2; Psalm 72:13). David’s tongue is the pen of a ready writer (cf. Psalm 45:1) – and here he paints a beautiful word-picture (2 Samuel 23:4) which anticipates the dawning of a light which men cannot comprehend, and which darkness cannot overwhelm (John 1:5).
Older translations of 2 Samuel 23:5 see the first and last clause as negative: “Although my house be not so with God… although He make it not to grow”. Thereby the fact of the failures of David’s house are seen in contrast with the wonderful reality at the heart of the verse: that despite all this, God is still true to His covenant. Modern translations favour the idea of interrogation: “Is this not how my house stands with God… will He not cause it to prosper?” (Both of these questions are begging the answer ‘yes!’)
It is the everlasting covenant at the heart of the verse which gives David the courage to hope. Man may fail, but God will not. It is “ordered in all things and sure” (2 Samuel 23:5) - set in place by God, and guaranteed by God (cf. 2 Samuel 7:16).
David’s “desire” (2 Samuel 23:5), incidentally, reaches its zenith in Messiah’s reign (cf. Haggai 2:7). This is not without a meting out of justice against those who persist in their wickedness (2 Samuel 23:6-7). Just as surely as God’s people are saved, so evil will finally be overthrown.
We thank God for the new covenant in the blood of our Saviour, and look forward to His return to reign.