2 Samuel 23:1–7: David’s Last Words
This passage delivers King David’s “last words” (though see below).
1 These are the last words of David:
I don’t think we should take this too literally. I don’t think this was a poem David issued from his deathbed as his dying words; I’m reading it more like a poem he wrote near the end of his life as a summary. I could be wrong, of course; not everything in the book of 1/2 Samuel is written down completely linearly, so maybe this really was the last thing David said.
“The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse,
the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
the hero of Israel’s songs:
I find it interesting that David himself says that his utterance is “inspired.” (The ESV says “The oracle of David” instead of “the inspired utterance.”) I always think of this as something that happens after the fact—that is, someone wrote something down, and over the years or centuries God’s people decided what was “inspired”—but obviously my thinking on that is too simplistic; prophets, for example, would know immediately that what they’re writing down is the inspired word of God. But it’s interesting that even David, when writing poetry, seems to have a sense as to what is inspired.
Or am I putting too much weight on the word “inspired”?
I also find it interesting that David recognizes that he is “a hero of Israel’s songs.” I don’t read this as bragging; he really was a hero of Israel’s songs—it was part of what got him in trouble with Saul in the first place (see 1 Samuel 18 for example).
2 “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
3 The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings grass from the earth.’
It’s worth remembering that “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me” and “the Rock of Israel said to me” are not hyperbolic statements: God really did speak to David! Not every king in Israel’s history could make that claim. We sometimes look back on the Old Testament as if God were performing miracles all the time, and conversing with Israel’s (and Judah’s) kings on a regular basis, but paying closer attention we see that that’s not the case. Miracles only happened at certain times, and God didn’t usually speak to His kings directly; many of the kings of the two nations didn’t get word from God at all, and the vast majority of them who did receive a word from God got it via one of His prophets. But God spoke to David directly.
Speaking of which, when I think of God speaking to David I think of conversations where He told David that David’s son would be building the temple (instead of David), and that God would always have a descendant of David on the throne. But what David remembers is more important: what he remembers of the conversations with God is God telling him to rule in righteousness, so that it would go well for his people. It’s why I keep repeating the phrase “a man after God’s own heart” when talking about David.
5 “If my house were not right with God,
surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,
arranged and secured in every part;
surely he would not bring to fruition my salvation
and grant me my every desire.
6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
which are not gathered with the hand.
7 Whoever touches thorns
uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear;
they are burned up where they lie.”
This is, once again, one of those passages we don’t want to push too far, or take too literally, for fear of creating a simplistic religion where “you obey God and He rewards you, or you disobey God and He punishes you.” That’s what David is saying here, but it’s a poem, so we should read it as such.
However, it’s also true that, in general, David was right with God. And, in general, the ones who were David’s enemies were not. So rather than focusing on whether this is a universal truth that can be applied everywhere (which I don’t think it is), it’s more appropriate to ask myself: Could I say the same thing, if I were writing out my “last words” at the end of my life? Would I be able to say confidently that my house was right with God? I can say that God blessed me—God has been very good to me!—but would I be able, in any way, to point to my own righteousness before Him? And unless I become a lot more righteous as I age (which I definitely hope to, via the Holy Spirit!), what I’d have to say right now is that God has blessed me despite my lack of righteousness. I’m reasonably sure that that will still be my thinking when I get to the end of my life, whenever that is…