II Samuel 23 1-7
These are the last words of David: “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: 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.’ 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.”
These seven verses record David’s last words. They were possibly added to the body of David’s writings after his crown was safely on Solomons head and the preparations he had made for the construction of the temple by Solomon had been transferred to Solomon’s administration. The last words of a person are usually considered to be far-reaching, and, particularly the final requests of great and good men deserve to be recorded and remembered in a special way. David may have wanted these words to be especially remembered and intended that they be added to the psalm in the preceding chapter or added to the records of his reign. The words of verse 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”—had been recorded before and, perhaps, they so expressed David’s feelings that he personally, regularly repeated them for his own encouragement, even to his last breath, which would explain why these are called his “last words.”
When any person, especially an influential person, finds death approaching, he or she should use his last words to honor God and to spiritually build up those who will remain. It would be one last chance to glorify God on earth before we begin to glorify Him in heaven. May those who have had experience of God’s goodness, the blessings of His wisdom and the strength of His companionship, when they come to finish their course and exit the stage of earthly life, leave some record of that experience as a testimony to the truth of God’s promises. We find in Scripture the last words of Jacob, Moses, David and some few of Paul’s, designed to benefit us. A Christian leader can exercise influence right up until the time of departure—and, even after he or she is gone, the influence continues.
1. Who was David? 1
He was a son of Jesse. David was famous and would become even more famous because of the influence of the Bible in the world, but it is good for him to remember or even for the historian to remember the commonness of his beginnings. He was the son of a common man who lived on a hill in Bethlehem. Even so, yet David ascended to an amazing height; He was a “man exalted by the Most High,” He was raised up, “exalted,” as one favored by God, designed for something great, raised up as a king to sit higher and as a prophet, to see further. God has the authority, prerogative and ability to do that when He wants to, but we should all remember that it is God who does it. The lifted person must remember it for his own good, and others, too, should recognize it and give glory to God for it, accepting what God did as beneficial for all. There is no room for jealousy and envy in the kingdom of God. God lifts and God puts down.
How did this happen? He was “the man anointed by the God of Jacob, the hero of Israel’s songs.” He was of service to God’s people, protection of the country and an administration of justice. He gave Israel many psalms which helped them understand and glorify God. The singing of psalms is a sweet practice, with a positive influence to those that delight in praising God. It was one of the honors to which David was raised. It is a high position to be useful in the church. Whatever we do that promotes acts of devotion to our Lord, increases the good influence of prayer in your community or heightens the quality and beauty of praise in your church, is a noble and high calling in the eyes of God. Was David a king? He was for some in his generation. Was he a psalmist? He was for all generations—even ours.
2. What the Lord said 2-4
What did the Lord say and what was the value of what the Lord said? Out of David’s communion with God, he spoke and wrote. “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue” (v 2). What God said to him for his own direction and encouragement as a king, in the same way can be of use to us, his successors. Godly people take pleasure in remembering what they have heard from God; they reflect on it—His Word—and turn it over in their minds. So what God spoke once, David heard twice or more.
Who spoke? Verses 3 & 4 say, “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, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” Do we have here a hint at the trinity? “Spirit” “God” “Rock;” the Father, the God of Israel, the Son, the Rock of Israel, and the Spirit, proceeding from the Father and the Son, “who spoke by the prophets” . . . which included David; the Spirit whose Word was not only in David’s heart, but on his tongue and quill, as well for the benefit of others including us. David, in these words, acknowledged divine inspiration in his psalms, and in these last words the Spirit of God spoke through him. If this understanding is correct, David’s words and psalms are not mere human suggestions, illustrations of what one person thought, or beautiful poetry, but the Word of God; inspired, authoritative, and profitable for reproof, instruction and correction. David and other holy men of old wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. This attaches an honor to the book of Psalms, and highly recommends them to all of us in all their authority, requirements, encouragements and blessings.
The value Paul placed on Scripture, as indicated in II Timothy3:15-17, applies to the Psalms. “. . . and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Let us therefore genuinely, absolutely and sincerely embrace and receive the Psalms of David.
The words of verse 3, “said to me,” suggest that there should be a distinction made between what the Spirit of God spoke “through me” (v 2), which includes all his psalms, and what the Rock of Israel “said to me” (v 3), which concerned himself and his family. For Christian leaders today, this distinction has a special value. Let us acknowledge that those through whom God speaks to others are to be equally concerned to hear and obey what He speaks to themselves. Those whose calling and responsibility it is to teach others their duty must be sure to learn and do their own.
Notice that David wrote wisely about the obligation of the person to whom God gives the responsibility of serving over other people. “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, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.’” The duty of a governmental leader can also apply to a church leader since it is the same God who appoints each. These duties are practical such as when a king or church leader was spoken to from God, he was not to feel complimented with the height of his dignity and the extent of his power, but to be told his duty. He must rule in righteousness and in the fear of God. And all other lesser rulers, too, must follow suit. This is God’s rule for rulers. Let rulers remember they rule over men—not over animals which they may enslave and abuse at will, but over reasonable creatures of the same rank as themselves.
They rule over men that have their weaknesses and infirmities, and therefore they must exercise patience. They rule over men, but under God, and for Him. They must be just, both to those over whom they rule, in allowing them their rights and properties, and between those over whom they rule, using their power to right the victim against the oppressor. Deut 1:16-17 say, “And I charged your judges at that time, ‘Hear the disputes between your people and judge fairly, whether the case is between two Israelites or between an Israelite and a foreigner residing among you. Do not show partiality in judging; hear both small and great alike. Do not be afraid of anyone, for judgment belongs to God. Bring me any case too hard for you, and I will hear it.’” It is not enough that Christian leaders do no wrong, but they also must not allow wrong.
They must rule in the fear of God, that is, they must themselves be possessed with a fear of God, by which they will be effectively restrained from injustice and oppression. Nehemiah was so and gave this testimony in Neh 5:15, “But the earlier governors—those preceding me—placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.” They must also promote the fear of God among those over whom they rule. The God-ordained leader is to protect both godliness and honesty.
If he or she will keep this duty, look at the blessing promised: “he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth” (v 4). Light is sweet and pleasant, and he that does his duty will enjoy its comfort. Light is bright, and a good Christian leader is illustrious; his justice and devoutness will be his honor. Light is a blessing, and there are none greater to the church than those who rule in the fear of God like the light of the morning. It is most welcome after the darkness of the night which is increasing, shines more and more to the perfect day, such is the growing brilliance of good government whether civil or in the church. It is likewise compared to the tender grass, which the earth produces for the service of man; it brings with it a harvest of blessings. Though David may have intended these words to be applied to civil government, is that any reason for church leaders to side-step these good instruction just because they lead in an ecclesiastical organization? What is good for one is good for the other. God wants good government in His church.
If we were to apply these remarks to Christ, the Son of David, and His Kingdom, then it must be taken as a prophecy, and the original expression of David’s in our narrative will certainly allow for that application. Christ’s reign will perfectly well demonstrate that “When one rules over people in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings grass from the earth.” Jesus can lead us by His Spirit so that our worship is according to the will of the Father (in the fear of God), for He is the Light of the world. Here is Isaiah’s picture of Christ’s reign: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice. Each one will be like a shelter from the wind and a refuge from the storm, like streams of water in the desert and the shadow of a great rock in a thirsty land” (Is 32:1-2).
3. David’s Personal Observations 5-7
David apparently personally received no small amount of comfort, encouragement and affirmation as a result of God’s revelation to him. We see this quite clearly for the confidence and assurance he demonstrated in verses 5-7, which say, “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. But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand. Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.” Were it not for the fact that God Himself was David’s Source of confidence and that God had given him this revelation, we might think David was proud, arrogant, egotistical and ambitious. But no, God had spoken and the result was David was confident. David did not say this on his own initiative. God-given confidence is different from mere human self-confidence.
This same thing can happen to you, too. God has called you, spoken to you, affirmed and lifted you to a position of power, influence and opportunity. Rejoice inwardly that God has done this, but it should never become a point of personal pride. Humbly serve and God will continue to lift. He raises up the humble and resists the proud. Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty sprit before a fall.” And Peter, the pastor’s teacher, says in I Pet 5:5c-6, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”
These warning may have been intended to apply to leaders themselves—not to be evil—or possibly to the ones over whom they were responsible. As mentioned earlier, leaders should not be evil and neither should they allow evil.
David knew that his house—his family—was not perfect and deserving of God’s favor. Yet he dared to believe that God would keep His promise to his posterity. David’s family was not altogether righteous as he could wish, not so good and not so happy as he might have wanted. It had been that way when he lived and he could see that it would not be righteous when he was gone either, that his house would be neither so devout nor so prosperous as one might have expected the offspring of such a godly father to be.
We are whatever we are with God. Others may see only the facade, not the real us, but God sees it all and what He knows about us is true about us. This influenced David’s desire concerning his children, that they might be right with God, faithful to him and zealous for him. Unfortunately, the children of godly parents are often neither so holy nor so happy and we are obligated to try to remedy this for the sake of the next generation. We must admit that it is corruption, not grace, that runs in the blood, that the race is not to the swift, but that God gives his Spirit as an influence for good.
God’s covenant with David’s house and the growth and strength of Christ’s church are related since Jesus, the Son of David, is working today through His Church which He said He would build. The Church, its health and growth is not all that God is doing, since He is still also working with Israel the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but the covenant promises God gave to David do also have a meaning for us in His Church. Here is the promise God gave to David rephrased these many years since the time that Nathan first presented the promise from God to David. “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" (v 5). There are five aspects to the covenant that David reviewed. 1. Everlasting covenant, 2. Arranged, 3. Secured, 4. My salvation, and 5. Every desire.
The Church may at times appear diminished, distressed, disgraced, and weakened by errors and corruptions, and almost extinct, yet God has made a covenant with the Church’s head, the Son of David, that He will preserve to Him a seed and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against His house. The hope of all Christians and members of Christ’s body is that we may look to the covenant of grace He made with all believers. God’s covenant was indicated numerous times like it was in Is 55:3: “Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”
David probably was referring to this covenant again in these last words. We cannot imagine that David, who, in so many of his psalms, spoke so clearly concerning Christ and the grace of the gospel, should forget it in his last words. God has made a covenant of grace with us in Jesus Christ, and we are clearly informed of it. It is: (1) an everlasting covenant. It will last and endure from everlasting in its conceptualization and counsel to everlasting in the continuance and functioning of it, (2) arranged, organized and set in place, and (3) secured, solid and cared for by the good Shepherd. It is, (4) my salvation, that is to say we will be saved. It is the only salvation, an adequate salvation and it belongs to each of us; it is my salvation and it (5) provides every desire (v 5). Let me have a part and a place in this covenant and its promises and I have enough, I desire no more. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”
On the other hand, there is an opposite side and David does not fail to mention it. Perhaps it is a warning or a prophesy or both. Verses 6-7 say, “But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns, which are not gathered with the hand. Whoever touches thorns uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear; they are burned up where they lie.” It is a declaration regarding the doom of the wicked, they will be thrust away as thorns, rejected and abandoned. We don’t want to touch a thorn—it is untouchable. The lost may become “untouchable” in the sense that others will want to keep their distance from them. The thorns may be so passionate and furious that they cannot be managed or dealt with by any wise or faithful reproof, but must be restrained by law and the sword of justice and therefore, like thorns, will be utterly burnt with fire. Heb 6:8 mentions: “But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.” Ps 32:9 gives further warning to rebellious, untouchable and unteachable persons. It says, “Do not be like the horse or the mule, which have no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle or they will not come to you.”
This part of David’s last words is probably a prediction of the ruin of all the unrepentant enemies of Christ’s kingdom. There are enemies without, that openly oppose it and fight against it, and enemies on the inside, that secretly betray it and are unfaithful to it; both types are evil men, children of the wicked one, both are as thorns, grievous, aggravating and annoying, but both shall be cast out and Christ will setup his kingdom despite their enmity.
Words like win, victory, overcome, succeed, achieve and triumph all presuppose and require an opponent. None of these words have any meaning or significance if there is nothing over which to overcome. A better good—victory—is only possible when there is an adversary. With no antagonist, competitor or enemy, life would be insipid and the word “victory” would not even exist. David’s last words show foresight and wisdom. The Church has an enemy and a Savior. Because we have a foe, we need a Savior. Because our Savior is superior to our antagonist, we expect victory. Winning is therefore both necessary and possible.