David’s Last Words

2Sa 23:1-7 records King David’s last words. Some commentators question whether these are indeed David’s last words since chapter 24 has more of David’s deeds, 1Ki 1 & 2 depict the end of David’s life and in 1Ki 2 he gives his last words to Solomon. Even more, 2Sa 22-24 don’t seem to belong where they are in the book. Chapter 22 (Psa 18 with a few modifications) seems to fit after 2Sa 8 rather than where it is. 2Sa 23:1-7 are David’s last words and it seems like they should end the book. 2Sa 23:8 through the end of the chapter fit more with the end of chapter 20 since both are lists of David’s officers. If we life out chapter 22 and 23, chapter 24 bumps up against the end of chapter 21 and those two fit together also. Both are stories of God’s anger at Israel and its resolution.

So are 22 and 23 insertions? Editorial errors? Redactor clumsiness? I don’t think so. There is no textual evidence that these chapters belong anywhere but where they are. To move them would be to do so without warrant. What we need to do is seek another reason for them being there. They clearly aren’t chronological so is there another reason for the order at the end of 2 Samuel? I think so and I think the author arranged them thematically.

Chapter 21 ends with Israel fighting Philistinian giants. One is even named Goliath. He obviously isn’t the same Goliath that David fought but it interesting that they name is there. As we draw to the end of 2 Samuel the author arrives at this story and his mind is drawn back to the beginning of David’s career. He then launches chapter 22 which is David’s praise of God for his deliverance from all his enemies. Sure, chronologically this psalm may have been penned at the end of the events of chapter 8, but thematically it fits here. David looks back over his life, moving from the youngest of Jesse’s sons tending sheep to the anointed king of Israel. In all of this David praises God for what he’s done on his behalf. Chapter 23:1-7, David’s last words serve as end cap for chapter 21. In his last words he continues the theme of God exalting the humble and humbling the proud.

So when 23:8-39? How does this fit with the theme? Well, David’s last word end with a warning against worthless men. The author then tells us about the excellent men that David had with him. The contrast is supposed to jar us. Yes, David kept Joab around but look at his mighty men also. These were good, solid guys who knew how to handle themselves in a fight.

Then why the story of the census and God’s judgement in chapter 24? This doesn’t seem to fit with the theme at all. Well, I think what the author is doing here really is tied to 22-23. He is warning us that even though we have a good king, we still need to obey God. God can use a good, godly leader as a means of judgement against his people when they are disobedient. Don’t get too comfy just because the right guy is in office.

As I studied this section I consulted commentaries and no one focused the theme of this section. The more liberal commentators just called this section an appendix. The redactors just kind of piled on these stories at the end. The more conservative commentaries acknowledged the problem and then pressed on to interpret each section in isolation. Well, not complete isolation, they did tend to relate chapter 22 with 23:1-7 but that was about it.

What we need to to is ask why the author said what he said, the way he said it in the place that he said it. Sure there may be textual issues but they almost never move large sections of scripture around. It is safe to assume the author knew what he was doing. After all, the author was inspired and the Author definitely knows what He is doing!

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  • Tim! How dare you. How can you actually say that someone other than God Himself wrote these words. And of course God does not make a mistake. (Please note that my tongue was firmly placed in my cheek.)

    I have been lambasted for making such comments in the past on the Webboard. Next time, I hope you will chime in when I say such “crazy” things about people/redactors doing such things.

    Having said that I do agree that the text is such for a reason (a Godly-inspired reason) and I thnk there is something we can learn from reading the narrative in this order.

  • With an e-mail address like that no wonder I don’t support you at the Webboard!! Heretic!

    Sorry Chris, I didn’t see you getting sucker punched in a thread or I’da been there for you.

    God wrote 2 Samuel. But he used a person to do that. The person wrote in their own natural style and language. If there were later redactors, they were inspired as well. What I’ve said (and apparently what you’ve said) doesn’t violate the inspiration or infalliblity of scripture.

    God laid out the last three or four chapters of 2 Samuel thematically. So what’s the big deal?

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